“I have had it with these mother***ing snakes on this Euclidean plane!” -not Samuel L. Jackson
Let us remember these words of wisdom as we look back on the granddaddy of snake games. Although not the first game to feature snakes, Snake Byte did set the template off of which countless games would be based. Just as Pong and Space Invaders before it, Snake Byte was at the head of a list that would only grow longer and longer just like its myriad protagonists.
When you think about it, Snake Byte has a woeful premise. I mean, just consider the object of the game–the snake has to slither around to eat apples. That doesn’t seem so bad, right? But think of the consequences. The more the snake grows, the more likely he is to accidentally kill himself. This is why sometimes it pays not to think about the game you’re playing. The snake seems to enjoy himself, though.
Sirius Software really went all-out with Snake Byte. Rather than just having one simple game mechanic, it includes a bevy of options allowing you to customize it to your fancy. Whereas other games of the time just dumped you in the game and said “Deal with it,” (I’m looking at you, Sinistar!) Snake Byte allows the player to set the number of plums, the snake’s speed, and the number of walls in the room. It’s going to get harder the longer you play, but you can at least start farther back. I really appreciate that.
The apples are good for you, but the plums’ll kill you. Go figure.
One interesting thing about the control of Snake Byte is that it is character-relative. In most games, the control is camera-relative or room-relative, meaning that if you press left, the character will move to the left of the screen and so on. With Snake Byte, however, pressing left will make the snake turn to its left, not yours. This simplifies the control since you’ll only ever press left or right, but it takes some getting used to.
Snake Byte and others like it have spawned many clones, chief among them the game simply titled Snake, otherwise known as “that game on Nokia phones.” Snake does away with the flying plums and the obstacles, presenting a stripped-down level with only the snake and the apples. This version, thanks to its distribution on cell phones, has completely supplanted the original in our culture’s collective memory.
If Sirius Software, Inc. enjoyed such great success with Snake Byte and its many variants, they must be rolling in the dough, right? Sadly, no. Sirius Software’s meteoric rise to fame was matched only by its sudden bankruptcy in 1984. It seems that their publisher, a certain 20th Century Fox (mirror), neglected to pay $18 Million in royalties, leading Sirius Software to instantly go flat broke. What a tragedy that Fox was unable to make good on its commitment, seeing as how 1984 was such a dismal year for them.
Well, aside from Fox maybe paying royalties out of a $70 Million profit margin, I don’t see how this could have been avoided. Another year, another casualty of the volatile gaming market. It’s not all bad though! The first co-founder Nasir Gebelli went on to work for Square where he earned a credited role as the programmer for Final Fantasy. Jerry Jewell, the other co-founder, currently runs a non-profit organization in California that teaches children about teamwork. Way to go, guys!