Snake Pass Interview: Sumo Digital on Thinking Like a Snake and Nintendo Switch Development
The recently-released Snake Pass has a unique twist on 3D platforming, with Sumo Digital's David Dino offering insights on how to "think like a snake."
Over the years, Sumo Digital has developed a wide variety of games. From cute platformers like LittleBigPlanet 3, to racing games such as Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and even upcoming action games such as Dead Island 2 and Crackdown 3, these developers have experience in developing within a wide variety of game genres. Their newest game, Snake Pass, is a 3D puzzle platformer where players control a snake named Rattle and take part in a variety of puzzles, using the snake’s slithery body to navigate through complex levels, and performing actions such as pulling levers.
Birthed from a game jam, Snake Pass has resonated with fans of the NES game Snake: Rattle ‘n Roll, and gives a unique twist to the now re-surging 3D platformer genre, thanks to upcoming titles such as Yooka-Laylee. DualShockers got the chance to sit down with David Dino, a Game Designer and PR Analyst at Sumo Digital, at GDC to discuss developing the game for the Nintendo Switch and how it helps to “think like a snake” when playing the title.
DualShockers: For those who do not yet know about Snake Pass, could you quickly pitch the game to them and let us know what the game is all about?
David Dino: Snake Pass is a 3D physics-based puzzle platformer where you play as a snake. The structure is very familiar, like other platformers, but the focus of it is trying to understand how to do it as a snake, because you can’t jump. There is no jumping mechanic, and the mechanics themselves are trying to emulate a real snake’s musculature, so you really have to move left and right, in serpentine motions, pulling around things. It’s actually really fun.
DS: Sumo Digital has made a wide variety of games in the past. What drew you to make a 3D puzzle platformer?
DD: This actually came from an internal game jam. [Seb Liese], who used to be my biology teacher, and owned several pet snakes as well, when he actually created Snake Pass, he always wanted to make a game that harkened back to the old N64 and PS1 days, with those colorful platformers because that’s what he grew up with.
Snake Pass tries to not necessarily fill that void, because there are other colorful games such as Yooka-Laylee coming out too, which turned out to be a random coincidence, but that’s what it is trying to embrace a slot within the plethora of games that are out there there now and differentiate versus the big mainstream ones. He wants to go with that easy flowing, play-at-your-own-pace type stuff so you don’t feel stressed, and you are just going along for the ride more than anything else.
There is no jumping mechanic, and the mechanics themselves are trying to emulate a real snake’s musculature, so you really have to move left and right, in serpentine motions, pulling around things. It’s actually really fun.
DS: Is that the main goal of the game, to create a relaxing and fun experience?
DD: Yeah, definitely. It’s a very much play-at-your-pace game. There are no enemies in the game; it is all about trying to figure out how to navigate the environmental hazards as a snake more than anything.
DS: And how hard was that during development to create a platformer where you can’t jump?
DD: It was really hard, actually. Obviously, the mechanic of moving the snake came first, but when we actually took it into a concept phase after Seb won the game jam, there was a long time where we couldn’t actually figure out what was the best way to platform with the snake. Was it like “Are you constantly going up with verticality, and what happens if you fall? You have to redo it over and over again.”
I think there was a “eureka” moment when we were trying to do the concept art for the game, and one of our concept artists – he created floating islands – and that almost immediately solved the issue of players having to restart from the bottom if they fall down, so it wasn’t punishing, and it kept the verticality of the game with being too grounded: literally.
DS: How far into the development process did you know you were going to develop Snake Pass for the Nintendo Switch?
DD: We were getting closer to the end of everything, because we were looking for that March time frame anyway. We got our Switch kits relatively early in the year, and we took about seven days-ish, so the story goes, to get it running on the Switch.
DS: What was that process like? Did you see any big differences between the other console versions and the Switch?
DD: Even Nintendo themselves say you are not going to see a huge separation between them, even though those are obviously stronger than the Switch. Because of the scaleability of Unreal Engine 4 and the architecture of that Nvidia tech, Nintendo made it a lot easier to port these things – to port Snake Pass – and not take away from the overall experience.
It is a very colorful game, and the snake itself is running loads of individual calculations on each of its multiple spheres, and when we were first making the game, even our huge rigs were chugging just because of the way calculations were being put out.
DS: And how hard was it for you guys to release on Nintendo Switch?
DD: Considering the heritage of this game as well, we definitely wanted to get it to everybody: not just for PC players, not just for Xbox One players, not just for console players in general, and we just want people to be able to see what Sumo Digital can do, and hopefully that be done through the Nintendo Switch as well.
We took about seven days-ish, so the story goes, to get it running on the Switch.“
DS: Is there any consideration for DLC?
DD: We have lots of things to work on once the game is released, but we do have plans for additional content, and we can hopefully tell you guys more as we closer to release as well!
DS: Is there anything else you’d like to say to fans of the game?
DD: I was about to say “Please be excited.” to quote a famous Square Enix executive (chuckles), but I would just say when you get the game in your hands: “think like a snake!”
Snake Pass is now available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One: you can read our review of the game by clicking here.