Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Formal Elements of Snake

I considered a lot of different games while thinking about this topic before finally settling on the game of Snake, as popularized by it's inclusion on many Nokia handsets (the 3210 and 3310 in particular!). Snake's a bloody simple game- you control it with a mere 4 keys and there really isn't much strategy involved; it's a pure test of skill, really. And yet, it's supremely addictive and somehow oddly appealing to people who would otherwise never play electronic games of any sort. Me and my classmates used to play Snake (actually it was Snake 2) during lectures in JC (anything to avoid actually listening to the lecture, really) and the guy who would consistently score the highest was a macho-macho rugby player who would break you in half if you so much as insinuated that he was a gamer. So yeah, that's Snake for you. A game for people who hate games. The Tetris of the late 90's, in a way. Too bad Nokia took it out of their newer handsets. My 7260 came with a really crap game where you bounce a ball around levels. It actually might've interesting if not for it's general sluggishness.

So, the formal elements of Snake.

The game can either be played solo or as a 2-player game- but only if you connect two phones via infra-red. I tried this once, but it lost it's novelty pretty fast. As far as roles go, there's only 1- each player controls a snake. As a one-player game, the interaction-patterns clearly single-player versus game. The two-player version operates on two levels: firstly, both players are playing against the game (to keep from dying) but at the same time they're engaged in player versus player competition as they fight over in-game resources and attempt to trick the other player into killing him/herself.

Snake has 2 inter-related objectives: survival and scoring. You want to keep your snake alive for as long as possible in order to achieve a high score. In the 2-player version, there's a 3rd objective- outwitting your opponent.

The starting action consists of going through the handphone's (assuming, as I do, that you're playing the game on a handphone) menus to open up the game application and selecting the New Game option from the game's start menu. Alternately, if you're starting a multiplayer game, select the 2-player mode option, make sure both players phones' IR ports are aligned and wait for them to connect.

The progression of action? If your snake is moving horizontally, you can turn it up or down. If your snake is moving vertically, you can turn it left or right. That's about it, from start to end of the game. There aren't any special actions, and the only resolving action to end the game is to die. How do you die? That's defined by the...

The rules of the game serve to define the moveset of the player (as defined above) and also the conditions for losing- since there isn't a "win" condition, so to speak. You die if your snake's head a) touches part of it's own body, b) touches a wall or c) touches part of an opponent's body.
The other important rule defines how you progress in the game: when your snake's head touches the little dot that's randomly placed on the game screen, your snake grows longer and your score is incremented by x points (I can't remember exactly what it was!). I think that's about it. The rules are so simple a player should be able to pick them up if not by the first game, then at least by a 2nd or 3rd.

The little dots that you consume to grow bigger and increase your score.

The conflict in this game comes from obstacles and, in the 2 player game, opponents. The obstacles in the game are the walls that you need to avoid and also your own body, which grows larger and larger the higher your score gets. The sequel, Snake 2, would add a new element of conflict- the dilemma. That game included special animal-shaped icons to consume that would add more points to your score than the normal dots- but these ones would only stay on the screen for a short duration of time. So the dilemma would be whether or not to risk turning quickly (assuming you weren't heading directly for the animal-shaped icon) towards the icon to consume it, even if it results in your snake careening towards itself dangerously.

If you're doing something else on your phone (talking, sms-ing, whatever) you're not playing the game. You're only playin it once you open the game app and run it. Simple enough, I think. The conceptual boundaries for the 2-player game are well, that you agree to play, I guess!

You die. Like many old arcade games, there's no way to "win" the game. You just try and get as high a score as you can. In the original Snake (and in the sequel too, actually) there's a set limit as to how high a score you can get, determined by the maximum size of the snake's body. So maybe if you actually manage to fill the entire screen with your snake and THEN you die, you can be considered to have won. Cos there's no way to get a higher score than that.

So, does this description fully describe the requirements for playing the game? Not really. I had a friend in JC who couldn't play the game- not cos she didn't understand the rules- she just didn't have the reflexes to play the game (which I thought curious because she was an accomplished violinist- but that's off-topic :P). So yeah, additional requirement to play Snake- fast reflexes. And of course, the requisite hardware/software.

I'm gonna take a breather and look at the game from Doug Church's Formal Abstract Design Tools perspective in another entry.


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