Depending on how old you are, the above image will cause one of two reactions. If you're young, you'll be wondering what this old thing is. And if you're not, you're thinking: OMG! Snake!
Nokia's Snake turns 25 today, and Nokia is celebrating by claiming the 16th of July as World Snake Day and offering 33% off (opens in new tab) its latest re-imagined feature phones, which are giving me a serious nostalgia hit. All you need to do is use the code SNAKE22.
Snake first appeared on the Nokia 6110 back in 1997, and immediately captured the attention of pretty much every Nokia owner after that. At the risk of sounding like an old woman yelling at the kids to get off her lawn, we didn't have fancy-dan iPhones and Samsung phones back then; a phone that could do SMS was about as exciting as it got. So when Nokia launched Snake, it was pretty much the only game in town. I must have lost years playing it.
Although Snake is 25, its story goes back much further. And it's a great story.
Snakes on a brain
The first version of Snake was created back in 1976. It was called Blockage, and it was a two-player game developed by a company called Gremlin Interactive. It wasn't the full Snake, but the core mechanic of pressing arrow keys to move was there from the get-go. It inspired a whole host of simple arcade games such as Atari's Worm (1978) and 1982's single-player Nibbler.
Nokia's version was made by Taneli Armanto, whose long-time love of board games would turn out to be the perfect match for his programming skills. At first he worked on ringtones, then calculators, then games. Snake was designed to show off the infra-red link that Nokia had developed to communicate between two phones, so it was multiplayer – something I only learnt when I read Armanto's story (opens in new tab) recently. For most of us, Snake was a single-player, utterly addictive time waster.
When you consider the limitations Armanto and team had to deal with – a keypad-only control, a display of just 48 x 84 black pixels and the tiniest amount of RAM – Snake is a work of genius. And it's still being played today: there are over 400 variations of it in the iOS App Store, never mind on other platforms.
Mobile gaming is very different now, with even the best cheap phones delivering specifications Armanto's team could only dream of and the best gaming phones offering stupendously fast processors and incredible graphics. But Snake was a real milestone, and one of the first indications that mobile phones could be more than just phones. I hope Nokia has baked Snake a cake.