The Rolling Revolution: The Never-Ending Story of NES Tetris

In the past few years, the Classic Tetris community has broken boundaries in the game of NES Tetris.

In 2017, the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) started going viral when YouTube was recommending the 2016 Finals video to people.

That is how 15-year-old, Joseph Saelee, discovered the CTWC. From there, he decided to pick up the NES console and cartridge to play the game.

Mastering the Hypertapping Technique

Inspired by CTWC competitors Thor Aackerlund and Koryan, Joseph Saelee pushed himself to get good at the game by using the Hypertapping technique. With hypertapping, the players press on the directional pad (D-Pad) more than 10 times per second.

DAS Technique: Playing the Old-Fashion Way

At the time, most players used the DAS technique in the tournaments, holding down the D-Pad to move the pieces. DAS stands for Delayed Auto Shift.

When the player holds down on the D-Pad, the piece moves one space, stops, and then continues to move at a constant speed. It’s easier to show you. On the desktop, hold down the space bar in a Word document. The cursor moves one space, stops, and then it moves again at a constant speed.

aGameScout’s video goes more in-depth into how the players bypass some of the limitations of the delayed auto shift.

Inspiring a New Generation to Play NES Tetris

Jonas Neubauer and Joseph Saelee with their 2018 CTWC Trophies

At the 2018 CTWC, 16-year-old Joseph Saelee made his debut appearance. He was the youngest competitor to qualify for the tournament. And only the third competitor to use the hypertapping technique.

In a surprising feat, Joseph defeated 7-time World Champion Jonas Neubauer in the Finals to win the tournament and become the new Tetris World Champion.

Joseph Saelee’s victory inspired a new generation of players to pick up the game. New players showed up to the 2019 CTWC to compete in their first World Championship.

Throughout the years, many of those younger players dominated the tournament with the hypertapping technique.

The Rolling Revolution

In late 2020, Cheez discovered a new technique called Rolling. Which was easier and faster than hypertapping. With Rolling, the player uses multiple fingers to hit the back of the controller towards their other hand.

The players wear gloves to reduce friction between the hand and the controller. This allows for faster inputs on the controller. Some players, such as Fractal, use lotion to enhance their performance.

aGameScout’s video goes more in-depth on Rolling.

Rolling Breaks The Game

The Rolling technique was revolutionary in the NES Tetris scene. In NES Tetris, the game is designed to end at Level 29. This is done by making the pieces fall too fast for players to move the pieces left and right by holding down the D-Pad (using the DAS technique).

For that reason, Level 29 is considered the Killscreen. As it was impossible to go past that level with DAS. That is why the level display counter glitches when the player reaches Level 30 and beyond.

Rolling was revolutionary because players were able to go past the game’s intended killscreen.

Setting Unbelievable World Records

The scoring potential was limitless now that players were able to play far beyond Level 29. The speed does not get any faster once the player reaches Level 29.

In June 2021, Cheez got the first recorded 1.4 million score. (Joseph Saelee had a 1.4 million score with hypertapping back in June of 2020, but did not record it)

In September 2021, an unknown player named Jounce scored an unprecedented 1.6 million during a Classic Tetris Monthly (CTM) match. Before the rolling technique was discovered, no one in the community believed it was possible to obtain that score. The highest possible score someone could get before reaching Level 29 is 1.5 million points.

People were wondering who Jounce was. After some investigation, it was revealed that Jounce was HydrantDude. Hydrant used an alternate account, under the name Jounce, to participate in CTM. As a result, he faced a few months ban from the tournament.

2 Million Points!

In November 2021, Cheez broke the 2 million barrier with a score of 2.3 million points. It is crazy to think that getting 2 million points in NES Tetris was a joke before the Rolling technique.

3 Million Points!

In April 2022, EricICX reached the 3 million mark by getting 3.7 million points.

Reaching Glitched Colors and 6 Million Points

During an August 2022 CTM match, EricICX became the first player to reach glitched colors on the NTSC version of NES Tetris.

The colors of the pieces glitch out at Level 138 because the program that determines the colors breaks down.

During Eric’s run, he became the first person to reach 6 million points.

EricICX’s video goes into details on the journey to reach these scores. This part talks about the Rolling Revolution.

The community keeps track of these scores via spreadsheets.

Crashing the Game – “Beating” NES Tetris

When using AI to play NES Tetris, it went so far that the game crashed.

The game developers did not notice the game crash and glitched colors in the game. This is mainly because they did not believe players were able to make it past Level 29.

In 2022, some players in the Classic Tetris community researched the mechanics of the game crash. Eventually, they discovered that the game would crash at specific events at certain levels. Some of those events include clearing a certain number of lines at once or what pieces the player has.

Hydrant created a spreadsheet that showed where the game crash can happen.

With that knowledge in mind, Fractal and Blue Scuti raced against each other to become the first player to crash the game.

Eventually, Blue Scuti won that race to become the first player to crash the game. This later got referred to as “beating” NES Tetris.

Since then, Fractal and PixelAndy became the 2nd and 3rd players, respectively to crash NES Tetris.

Rebirth Screen – Will It Happen?

Dodging the various crash points becomes challenging at the last 9 levels (Levels 247-255). Just placing a piece can crash the game. Depending on the level, the player has to either push down the pieces or quickly turn the “Next” box on and off rapidly to dodge the crash.

If the player beats Level 255, the game’s level resets to 0 (the Rebirth Screen). The speed resets to the Level 0 speeds, while the score and line counter carry over into the Rebirth Screen.

It remains to be seen if it is humanly possible to pull this off. Players may opt to play a patched version of the game where the crash points are removed.

Either way, reaching the Rebirth Screen will be an impressive feat.

At the time of writing this, no one has reached this point.

Biggiemac’s article and EricICX’s video provide in-depth analysis of the path to avoiding game crash.

Going for Score World Record – A Never-Ending Story

When Blue Scuti crashed the game, he had a Score World Record of 6,850,560.

On January 11, 2024, PixelAndy broke that record with a score of 8,952,432. Since then, players have been grinding to get to 10 Million points.

Race To 10 Million Points!

On February 1, 2024, the Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) announced a weekly show, featuring players who will race each other to become the first person to reach 10 million points. It will be livestreamed on their Twitch and YouTube channel.

The winner of the race will receive a fan-funded bounty.

Once someone reaches 10 million points, we will see what the next score milestone will be.

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