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Programmer gives NES Tetris game “Hard Drop” after three decades

One of the most recognizable versions of Tetris is found on the original NES, but it lacks some of the features we now consider standard for the puzzle. One of the biggest omissions is “hard drop”, which allows you to save precious time by instantly slamming a piece into place without waiting for it to fall, and programmer Stephen Sherratt took it upon himself to make the feature work in the classic NES version, complete with a “ghost” piece for guidance.

As he explained on his website Grid Bugs, Sherratt decided to add two related features to the NES Tetris game. The first is the hard drop itself, obtained by pressing up on the directional pad as it is done in most other Tetris games. The second modification he made added an overview of the current controlled piece to where it was landed, making the hard fall more accurate. Again, this is a feature seen in virtually all modern Tetris games such as Tetris 99 and Tetris Effect. In the challenge video below, a player even dropped hard every single piece he got in Tetris 99.

Sherratt used a program that uses the Rust programming language, and combined with his own NES emulator, made it easier for him to experiment with changes. For example, he had to write instructions for the outlined “ghost piece”, so it appeared in the right place based on how many movements it would take before the real piece collided with something.

After adding the hard drop functionality and solving a problem that seemed to cause a slight delay based on the game’s clock speed, he made it work properly. Could Sherratt have just played a slightly newer version of Tetris and had a very similar experience? Yes, but it’s nice to see a game that is decades old undergo a fundamental change in mechanics. Others have put down hard via modding in the past, but from what we could find, none included the ghost piece before.

Tetris on the NES was one of three games included on the Nintendo World Cartridge, with the other two being Super Mario Bros. and Rad Racer. These cartridges were made for use in the competition of the same name back in 1990, and their rarity has made them extremely expensive collectibles. At the time of writing, someone is trying to sell a gold variant – originally provided via Nintendo Power – for $ 1 million.

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