Want to know more about the addictive genius that is Snakeball? Lead Designer Duncan Mcintosh talks about some of the creative decisions behind the Gamoola Soft developed game exclusive to PlayStation Network.
Can you explain the concept of Snakeball for those unfamiliar with the game?
Duncan Mcintosh: Well it's a fairly simple concept with plenty of depth. Multiple coloured balls are launched in an arena [and] the aim of Snakeball is to collect as many of these balls as possible. You control a hoversnake which pulls any collected balls behind it in a snake-like tail and only upon dropping these balls into a goal will you score points [while] balls collected in colour sequence will score you most points. Now take these game rules, add occasional weapons and compete with up to seven other people and you have the arcade sport of Snakeball.
Where did the idea come from?
DM: The idea was born from a desire to play a more accessible online sports experience. We wanted to make a competitive sports title where the skills you need to play are very much of the old school: immediate, instinct gaming, [and] dodging baddies collecting brightly coloured things. We wanted to create an arcade sports title which is non-intimidating to new online game players. I personally find it quite daunting and intimidating to join many online first-person shooters. I appear and I get shot, not fully aware of which direction I should go or who is on my side... will they kick me out of the game for being rubbish?
What made you take the colourful neon-and-nostalgia direction of the game compared to say, a darker tone?
DM: We were just getting really bored of the gritty mech look, [even though it's] a consistently popular art direction for many games and popular with boys of all ages. However in our mission to make online gaming more accessible and less intimidating to all sexes we needed and wanted to go in a different direction. Our look is perhaps described as fun, retro and future - we wanted to tip our hat to the more simple and abstract graphics of old but bring some gloss and slickness of a 'future' title.
On a more practical level, part of the art direction we are most proud of is our lovely disco floor. It looks very pretty and captures the pixelated nostalgia of past games, as well as the obvious disco associations.
However, as pretty as it is, its main purpose is functionality... a kind of extended Heads Up Display for the player. The lights and patterns generating from baddies and balls alike will radiate in or out depending on whether the player should stay away or gobble it up. It also serves as a device to alert players of the status of other players: if a blue player scores a goal, a blue ring will radiate over the entire arena. Nobody can escape awareness that the blue player has scored.
Snakeball is extremely well designed in its accessibility as well as its numerous gameplay tactics - how much testing and various evolutions did the game go through before it got to its final stage of readiness?
DM: The concept has been very much on the slow boil for a few years. There are a lot of directions we could have gone with Snakeball: full-on shooting, puzzle type gameplay, deathmatch... and at some point there was a danger of over complication. We addressed these concerns by offering three unique modes of play, each with a different focus and objective.
In Snakeball mode, the driving mechanic was always risk and reward. We wanted to encourage the player to collect a large amount of balls before choosing to score in the goal, the risk being that you may crash or get shot before scoring and get zero points.
Also, collected balls are added to your snake, serving you defensively as bullets and baddies bounce off your tail, protecting the vulnerable head and serve as an attacking force, so the more balls you have the more protected you are and aggressive you can be to other players, forcing them to crash into your tail so you can then steal their collected balls.
This balance I believe is now pretty spot on. The depth and tactics that emerge based around this risk-reward mechanic is worthy of any sports game; players can play it safe and consistent, or they can risk it all.
How did the idea of using PlayStation Eye and the motion control capabilities of the SIXAXIS Wireless Controller come about?
DM: As the snake is constantly moving, we could not really expect the player to remove their hands from the controller to fire certain weapons, so SIXAXIS [motion control] was really our only option. Our hunter missile is a SIXAXIS guided missile which is just really fun and satisfying to use.
We always wanted to map our faces onto the characters with avatars of a conventional body-to-head size ratio, bumps for noses and eyelids etc, [but] it is just really hard to implement and to justify as the face would be so small. You would rarely get to see it. However, the Snakeballers are very small characters with really large heads and flat faces so it was just too good an opportunity to miss, and we also really wanted to add another kind of social aspect to online play for the player to really know they are playing another human.
What was it like developing Snakeball for PlayStation Network? Can you give us an idea of the process you went through in getting the game live?
DM: It was evident from the start that SCEE understood our desire to make Snakeball a more accessible online experience. So the whole creative process was very satisfying. Features were suggested from within SCEE that were gladly included in the game and our voices were clearly heard with regards to other development issues.
Ensuring the game is playable over four separate regions was challenging, as we have to deal with different network connections, upload and download speeds, etc, but its all been very much worth it when we can enjoy an eight player online game, with players from Japan, USA, Korea, and Europe all in the same game.