Giant Tetris Comes to Philadelphia
In 2014, during Philly Tech Week, Drexel University professor Frank Lee set the Guinness World Record for "largest architectural videogame display" by programming Pong to be played using the LEDs on the side of the 29-story Cira Centre. This year, it was Tetris.
The giant Tetris hack fulfilled Lee's original vision — when he first imagined the "World's Largest Videogame Project," as he calls it, he imagined Tetris.
One night in 2008, Lee was driving east on I-76 toward Center City, when he saw the lights of the Cira Centre as usual. But this time, he saw their potential to be Tetris pieces. Quickly his thoughts expanded to Pong, Centipede, and other classic arcade games. Due to logistics, Pong was the first to come in 2013, and with it the world record. This only served to heighten the anticipation for Tetris, which also happened to coincide with the game's 30th anniversary.
Encouraged by the success of Pong (it won Geek Story of the Year at the Philly Geek Awards), Lee wanted to make this year's event an even more visible and interactive way for the people of Philadelphia to have a unique, shared experience, so he doubled the real estate: Tetris was played on both the north and south sides of the Cira Centre, and opponents at control stations on opposite sides of the city could square off against each other. The "outdoor arcade" opened Philly Tech Week at The Oval, and spectators and players (those lucky enough to win the lottery) enjoyed live music, snacks from more than 10 food trucks, and game and app displays from local developers.
Founder of Drexel's Entrepreneurial Game Studio and co-founder of the game design program (ranked by Princeton Review as #9 in undergraduate and #8 in graduate programs of its kind in the nation), Lee sees events like Pong and Tetris not only as great fun, but also as a way to inspire wonder, creativity, and support for his mission of turning Philadelphia into a leading hub for game development. The Entrepreneurial Game Studio does this through supporting entrepreneurs as they develop and commercialize their games and encouraging the next generation of gaming leaders to establish themselves in Philadelphia.
"I'm especially proud to help highlight the vibrant and innovative local, independent game companies in Philadelphia at the event," Lee told CNN. "My hope is that some of these great startup game design companies will stay and grow in Philadelphia. I want to see Philadelphia become a mobile gaming hub, and I think an event like this is a way to get others to share my vision."
Events like Pong and Tetris simultaneously spark nostalgia for the games of the past and excitement for the possibilities of the future — imagine a world where Philadelphia is synonymous with gaming (and cheesesteaks, of course). Visit the Entrepreneurial Game Studio website to see what else Lee and his students are working on.