The risks and rewards of developing indie games with unusual controls
"[Snake Pass] challenged you to reprogram your gaming brain and almost learn new motor controls, which is a big ask all on its own."
- Snake Pass creator Seb Liese on how developers should approach unusual control schemes
There’s an unofficial standard that has emerged since the dawn of the gamepad that largely dictates how developers assign movement and action to controller buttons. But what happens when a development team decides to break away from that norm?
Zam sat down with the developers of Snake Pass and Tumbleseed, two games with less-than-conventional control schemes, to explore some of the risks and challenges that arise when designing novel controls.
No matter how well an unusual control scheme works within a game, both developers interviewed seem to agree that the biggest obstacle will always be getting players to feel comfortable with something new. In the case of Tumbleseed, the unusual controls coupled with other mechanics in the game often led to player struggle.
“We never thought the controls were a huge risk, we thought it was a huge asset to the game,” Tumbleseed developer Greg Wohlwend told Zam. “But people didn’t get it, and then the difficult nature of the game really pushed people away.”
On the other side of things, Snake Pass creator Seb Liese noted that the Sumo Digital team nixed a number of other potential features early on in development to keep the focus on the unique movement, in hopes of helping to ease that adjustment period.
The full interview over on Zam touches on the outlooks of each developer individually, and offers a look at how both Tumbleseed and Snake Pass found and refined their unconventional control schemes.