If you’re old enough to remember the Nokia 6110, you probably had the joy of playing the game “Snake.” Old Nokia phones from the late 90s and early 2000s came with Snake as a standard feature. It wasn’t really an app, at least not in the way we define apps today. It was a game that was simply built into the phone. Everyone could play. There were no in-app purchases or extra downloads. Snake became an enormous hit, but the people behind the game had no idea that they were pioneering a new industry and transforming the mobile market.
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The Story Behind Nokia’s Snake Game
In 1995, Nokia hired a software developer named Armanto from Finland. Armanto was an experienced game developer who was put in charge of creating “cool games” for the Nokia 6110 phone. Armanto had no idea that his simple Snake game would pave the way for an entirely new industry that, today, has the potential to be worth nearly $100 billion. It’s hard to imagine modern smartphones without mobile games.
Initially, Armanto wanted to bring Tetris to the Nokia phone, but Tetris Company wanted a share of each device Nokia sold. Armanto was forced to abandon that idea and go with something different. The 6110 was very limited in terms of screen size, controls, and available memory. The Snake’s simple design and function seemed like a great fit.
Snake isn’t unique to Nokia phones. It was inspired by vintage arcade games, like the Blockade machine from 1976. Other Snake variations include Worm, Nibbler and Rattler Race.
The uncomplicated game concept was a great fit for the 6110.
Development and Testing
Snake was created before we had mobile app testing services, which meant that the testing phase was long and complicated at times. Fortunately, Snake’s simple mechanics meant that testing didn’t have to be a nightmare.
Armanto found that it in early versions of the game, it was difficult to control the snake near the field boundary and to prevent crashes in this region. To counteract the problem, he added a slight delay of a few milliseconds to give players a chance to change directions.
At the most difficult level, the snake moves at the highest possible speed, but Armanto developed the game so that the quick speed did not cause memory leaks.
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Reaching Viral Status
Snake was released in 1997 with the launch of the Nokia 6110. But it wasn’t until 2000 with the release of the Nokia 3310 that Snake would go viral.
The 3310 was one of the best-selling mobile phones of all time, selling 126 million units in 2000 alone. But this new device had a different, updated version of Snake.
Nokia’s hit device brought with it the release of Snake 2. The concept was the same, but the new version gave the snake an actual snake appearance. It also added bonuses that you could pick up along the way. Mazes were added to make gameplay more challenging.3
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The original Snake and Snake 2 launched a successful franchise for what became the original mobile game.
As Nokia’s phones evolved and improved, Snake also evolved. The first major improvement came with Snake EX, which kept all of Snake 2’s features, but had improved graphics. The game added a top-down view of the snake, and you could actually see the snake opening its mouth and eating bugs while you moved around the screen.
Snake would continue to evolve for several years. Some variations, like the 3D versions, failed or weren’t as popular as the original games.
In 2008, Snake Subsonic was released, and this would be the final version of the game for the era. Around this time, Nokia joined Microsoft in creating Windows phones.
In 2017, Nokia announced the release of a new 3310 and the return of Snake. While similar to the original, the Snake on the new 3310 is colorful and features a happy snake on the hunt for cherries.
Although Nokia has failed to make the same mark it did with the original 3310 and Snake, the world will forever remember spending hours chasing a tiny block pixel on a screen. Snake launched a multi-million-dollar industry that will continue growing for decades to come.