A 13-year-old boy from Oklahoma has accomplished what was long thought to be impossible – becoming the first person to officially beat the classic video game Tetris. Willis Gibson reached the game’s theoretical maximum score and cleared level 256, achieving the coveted “kill screen”.
Lead Up to Tetris Record
Tetris, the addictive tile-matching puzzle video game, was created in 1984 by Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov. It was first released on the Electronika 60 computer before being ported to countless platforms over the past 40 years, selling over 170 million copies.
The version that Willis beat to set the world record was the 1989 Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) edition. This iteration of Tetris is notorious for its increasing difficulty curve, with pieces falling at faster speeds each time the player clears 10 lines.
Most competitive Tetris players could reach somewhere between level 25 and 30 before topping out, where pieces stack beyond the height of the playing field. But the theoretical maximum score that could ever be achieved was long thought to be unreachable by any human player.
Reaching the Kill Screen
The reason for this belief ties back to a limitation in the original NES hardware and programming of Tetris. Level 256 is the maximum level that can be rendered before the game essentially breaks. Upon reaching this threshold, the game enters into what’s known as a “kill screen”, where further progression is impossible due to software glitches.
Willis entered into this fabled kill screen while playing Tetris on December 28th, 2023 in his home state of Oklahoma, effectively shattering the confines that were hard-coded into the NES game. Through practice, skill, determination and likely some luck, Willis kept clearing lines even as pieces fell at blazing speeds.
He live-streamed his achievement on Twitch, where an audience watched in anticipation as Willis approached the kill screen. The video shows Willis barely keeping up as he frantically rotates and slots each piece into place, until the level 256 graphics begin to glitch out and the score counter freezes at 1,195,935.
| Level | Score | Lines | Pieces Placed |
| 255 | 1,050K | 246 | 19,932 |
| 256 | 1,195K | 249 | 20,317 |
The final score of 1,195,935 points comfortably beats the accepted record for NES Tetris, which was 896,980 points held by John McCurry. It’s unclear if Willis can or will attempt to break his own barrier-shattering record. But for now, he stands alone as the first and only person that has seen the true end of classic Tetris gameplay.
Controversy and Praise
Willis’ accomplishment has made headlines globally, but not all the reactions have been positive. Some downplayed the achievement as an arbitrary quirk of an outdated game, while others criticized the teen for spending too much time playing video games.
Timothy Lockhart, a presenter on Sky News Breakfast, told Willis he should “go outside” and that “many parents will be scowling” at the news. These remarks were widely criticized as dismissive and failing to acknowledge the significance of Willis’ gaming feat.
But Willis has also received tons of praise from gamers, Tetris experts and computer scientists who note that his performance likely will not be duplicated anytime soon, if ever. Match Three master Jonas Neubauer called Willis’ game the “perfect run essentially.” Henk Rogers, who secured the rights that brought Tetris out of the Soviet Union and introduced it worldwide, congratulated Willis on mastering an “impossible” challenge.
What’s Next for Tetris and Willis
It’s unclear if Willis intends to continue pursuing Tetris world records, or if he achieved this history-making run as a personal goal and won’t take things further competitively. Based on his comments, it seems Willis himself didn’t set out to be the first to beat Tetris – it just happened through constant practice over years of play.
As for Tetris itself, Willis reaching the kill screen poses an interesting question – can the classic game become even harder? Modern versions of Tetris now rely on algorithms to increase difficulty dynamically. But the NES edition that Willis played relies on pre-programmed levels. To make Tetris more challenging, the underlying game logic would likely need revising rather than simply adjusting speed or other mechanics.
So while Willis stands alone in gaming history as the “Tetris King”, for now his throne seems safe. As long as the 1989 NES version remains unmodified, his name will forever be tied to pulling off this paradigm-shattering accomplishment. It’s unlikely any human – teen or not – has the skill, stamina and determination to ever beat Tetris again like Willis accomplished.
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