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This video game is the 3-D equivalent of Tetris. A series of pieces each consisting of 1 to 5 connected cubes falls down into a pit, and the player can move it around in 4 directions and rotate along 3 axes. When you fill an entire layer, that layer is removed and blocks in above layers fall. Playing this game is a great way to learn to think three-dimensionally.

The original Blockout game was created by California Dreams in 1989, designed by Alexander Ustaszewski and Mirek Zablocki. Blockout is the first official Tetris clone not directly published by Spectrum Holobyte and is almost certainly the best clone in existence (the most original, at least). To imagine what the game looks like, picture regular Tetris board and add a third dimention to it. It is seen from top view, so instead of falling down the y-axis, the blocks fall down the z-axis (that is, "into" the screen). You are allowed to move the blocks in the x and y axes, and move forward in the z-axis. Your goal is to fill 3D layers (starting from the further-most one) with blocks. Unlike in most Tetris clones, here you are allowed to rotate the pieces in any way imaginable (including the z-dimension).

Don't be fooled by the slow pace in which the blocks fall in early levels - it's quite difficult even then. In fact, the game would be quite tricky even if the blocks didn't advance at all! Filling the squares can become rather impossible, especially if you play with the optional 3D pieces feature (normally you play with regular Tetris pieces). However, the difficulty of the game is not due to poor design like some believe and there is very little luck involved in the game-play. It requires a strong grasp of the 3D world, coordination, strategy and concentration.

The game was playable on many different types of machines due to multiple graphics mode and efficient code. And the graphics are quite good for the time! That is, they include perspective, Backface Culling, and smooth rotation.

When you learn the basic strategies, the game becomes based a lot on instinct and allows you to think of other things while playing. For instance, when I play block out I think about life, universe and everything. Some of my best ideas for projects, programming solutions, realizations about my life come while playing this game. When you play, it is in fact easier to concentrate on other things. For example, you can have music playing in the background and you hear the lyrics as though for the first time, thinking about their true meaning (provided, of course, that you listen to music with lyrics that are worth thinking about). Another example is the fact that I listen better in computer science lectures while playing the game. It's as though as this simple 3D game is the gateway to enlightenment.

Another thing about this game is the fact that it is addictive as hell. Once you get used to the controls, it's impossible to play just one game!

The game allows to configure a pit and set of pieces, but most players play preset modes that are known to be most strategic:

Flat Fun: Uses the standard Tetris set of pieces and a 5x5x12 pit. This mode is easiest to learn but can still be rather challenging if played for a high score (the speeds after level 5 or so make it absolutly vital for the player to think of the perfect placement for a piece as soon as it appears). The best strategy on this mode is to fill 5 whole layers while leaving a hole somewhere near the centre and then filling it with a 5-block piece.

3D Mania: This is the mode most commonly played by experts. It is set in a 3x3x10 pit, and includes odd 3D pieces that make it absolutly necessery to think in pure 3D. Each piece is carefully designed to be usable in numerous ways based on rotation. The expert's way of playing this mode involves building 2 layers with a single hole in the middle and then closing them with a 3-block L shaped piece. However, playing like this is very risky since it may be a long time until such a piece appears. This is why it may be a good idea to play this mode one layer at a time.

Out of Control: An interesting and challenging game, but not as strategic as 3D Mania. In this mode you will see pieces from both the previous modes (3D pieces and standard pieces) and also some 'extended' ones. This means a standard piece with some sort of an extention. For example, a _|_ piece can be extended in the x, y or z direction. Uses a 5x5x10 pit.

Other features of the game inculde:

Demo Mode: This is not a pre-recorded game of an expert playing but a well programmed bot that plays a perfect game at any given setup (including user specified ones). It is quite amazing to see how perfectly such a game can be played.

Practice Mode: A game where the pieces are not moving downward with time. It can be applied to any mode and is very usefull for beginners and experts who want to improve their strategy. Just like with music, it's always a good idea to start slow and move your way up. Needless to say that practice mode scores are not recorded in the High Scores file.

Currently the game is considered legal abandonware and is available for download on many sites including Home of the Underdogs and the German Block Out community webpage at http://www.blockout.de/.

I encourage you to download it and play for a while, even if you are not a Tetris fan (this game plays nothing like Tetris).

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