As Sachi and I strolled through the Unreal section of EGX Rezzed, a particular game caught our eye. Squeezing our way past the obscene crowds for a VR showing called Nerve, we came upon a hidden gem called Snake Pass. Developers, Sumo Digital, had a couple of games running for people to try. We saw a wonderfully colourful puzzle world that pits the player as Noodle – a cartoonish snake, wriggling and writhing its way through obstacles. Doing my best not to get distracted by the hypnotically charming game, I had a chance to interview the title’s creator, Seb Liese.
Of course, Seb gives credit where it’s due and instantly reminds me the whole team at Sumo is to be thanked for the current game’s existence.
“Well obviously, the whole team has worked on it but the original idea comes from a Game Jam that we did in 2015. I was the only one working on it at that point, it was my entry to the Game Jam. That has led to the final result that you see now.”
For those who may not be aware, the Game Jam is an event open to all with game development skills. Taking place in different physical meeting points once a year, the challenge for developers like Seb is to create a game within just two days. To be clear, the Snake Pass we see today is a very different beast that took a whole development team behind Seb to create.
Clarifying that what we were dealing with here was indeed a puzzle game, I went on to ask if Seb went into this feeling confident of an original product and just how Snake Pass came to be.
“Well it was a lucky find really. I was trying to learn Unreal Engine and I was following tutorials. At one point, I challenged myself to make a rope that would swing once the player moved into it. While I was making this rope, I forgot to attach it properly. It fell to the floor in this nice shape on top of itself. I thought to myself, wow, I’ve never seen that kind of smooth collision before. I wondered if I could make a character out of this rope. So the very first version was a rope sliding off the floor. When I saw that I realised it wasn’t very fun to control when it just flops uncontrollably. So let’s see if we can make this thing into a snake.”
“I’ve actually got a masters in biology and I’ve had pet snakes. So I know a lot about them already. So I decided to not just make this rope into a snake. But also consider how a real snake functions and make the whole body work like an actual set of muscles. So I did a ton of calculations and maths on this rope to make this snake.”
After all of Seb’s and Sumo Digital’s hard work, the final result of Noodle, while cartoonish is a very convincing rendition of a snake. The fact that Seb has owned pet snakes before definitely shows. Where Noodle really shines is down to how well the player controls him. Original button mapping for things like “raise head” or “straighten out” will need to mastered to truly leverage Noodle to advantage.
“So there’s five buttons in use here. But three of them is what the core of the game is. It’s all about how you use those three buttons. So there’s one to control the direction of the head, one to lift your head. One to stretch out your body. Combine those together and you get movement and climbing abilities”
“So you get to extend Noodle outwards then?”
“Yeah. A lot of people think the right trigger is like a gas pedal, like a boost. That’s not actually what it does. What’s happening is that it stretches you out. So as long as there are curves in your body, the right trigger will push you forwards, straighten you out. As soon as you run out of curves, you stop moving forward. It’s also the key to climbing. The more curves you have in your body… So all these curved muscles store energy in them and when you press the trigger to stretch out, it can push you upwards towards your goal.”
I got to thinking just how technical a job this could have been. Going from a lifeless rope flopping about uncontrollably to a digitally accurate presentation of a snake must have been no small task. Not only had nothing like this been done prior as a basis to work from. But Seb also had deep knowledge of real life snakes and how they function. That must have added some frustration into the mix at the design phase.
“Well like I said, I really approached the design of the character from a biology point of view. I really wanted areas of Noodle to function like a muscle. I’ve treated the whole body of the snake as a muscle. I never went about thinking “I want my character to be able to do this that and the other”. It was more a case of seeing this character take shape and starting to behave like a real snake, the more he was able to do all this stuff. Then the question was “how are we going to map this to a controller”. Then it was just a matter of trying hundreds of different control schemes and tweaking values. Long long nights of tinkering around trying to get that perfect feel.”
You’d think that with all this technicality, Snake Pass would have taken a long time to create for the small team at Sumo Digital. You’d be surprised.
“I’ve been working on this for 14-16 months now. There was a two month waiting period between winning the Game Jam and getting started on development. So just over a year really…Yeah it was a high pressure situation. Everybody believed in what we were doing and we were also aware from the beginning that we only had a little bit of time to really nail it.”
Seb went on to inform just how happy he and the team were with the final result. As you can see, Snake Pass is vibrant and nostalgic of an older gaming generation. Yet, that next-gen sheen is still there and Snake Pass does not lack for charm. Having been so pleasantly surprised by the originality of Snake Pass, I asked if Seb had any other great and original ideas. Or if the focus was first to take care of Snake Pass, post release.
“Well that’s definitely going to happen. We’re going forward making sure that it’s completely bug free and we’ll make some small improvements here and there. But because we had such a small team and such small amounts of money and time to work with, while creating this game we came up with a ton of awesome ideas. We couldn’t really put those things in because we didn’t have the time and money to do it right. So in the end we boiled it down to the strongest elements of the game and tried to keep it simple. Still, there’s loads of awesome ideas that we’ve come up with over that year. I’d love to somehow see them in a real game. Personally I hope we can do DLC.”
“We can assume that everybody who buys DLC will have played the entire game. It takes a while to get to grips with Noodle. So if they’ve finished the game, they’ve likely mastered controlling him. I’d love to work on a bunch of levels for people who I know have mastered Noodle. I felt held back for designing the first half of the game because we needed to teach everybody how to play. With DLC we already know people have the skills to play in levels where we could design some really cool stuff.”
“So this DLC is going to happen? It’s set in stone?”
“No that completely depends on how the game does. It just came out so we’ll have to see. But we already have a big list of things we want to do. All the ideas that we came up with in the year’s development can be made for the game. So I really hope we release that in DLC”
From where I was standing, it looked like Snake Pass deserves to do very well indeed. Hopefully it will to the extent that DLC can be made available to faithful fans of this original and charming new IP. Snake Pass is available now and you can check out the official home page right here!