In the summer of 2015, brothers Adam and Tom Vian spent eight hours building a prototype game about two cute pieces of paper who could snip each other into different shapes in order to solve puzzles. They called it Friendshapes. Two years later, the game — under the new moniker Snipperclips — was one of just a handful of Nintendo-published titles available at the launch of the Switch, alongside the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
For the small team at London-based SFB Games, it’s been a surreal journey, one that continues today with the launch of an enhanced version called Snipperclips Plus, which will see the previously digital-only game sold at retail for the first time. “[The game’s success] cemented in my mind that it deserved to be something bigger,” Adam, the game’s creative director, says of the new release.
That initial prototype for Snipperclips was built as part of a game jam, a sort of self-imposed competition where developers task themselves with completing a prototype in a short period of time. The Vian brothers managed to accomplish a lot in that brief span. It took less than a day to build the initial version of Snipperclips, and they say that the basis of the entire game was already in place after those eight hours. It had the same school stationery aesthetic as the final version, and the cutting mechanic was in place from the start. Some of the puzzles they originally designed even made it into the final game.
Even with the game in such an early state, with placeholder art and some rudimentary puzzles, the brothers knew they were on to something. “We were already laughing really hard at this thing that we made,” says Tom. Up until that point, the tiny studio, which was founded in 2012, had mostly focused on Flash and mobile games. But they had high hopes for Snipperclips, and they started pitching the idea to publishers, hoping to get some funding to turn it into a bigger production.
One of those publishers was Nintendo. Earlier in 2015, the pair had met a representative from the company at a European games show, and they kept his card handy just in case. While it seemed like a long shot, they felt that Snipperclips would be a great fit for Nintendo, with the game’s family-friendly aesthetic and focus on local multiplayer. They weren’t the only ones who saw the connection — eventually Nintendo agreed to publish the game. “We actually hadn’t heard any other offers,” says Tom, “so it worked out perfectly.”
Both sides describe the relationship as a collaboration, as opposed to the typical developer / publisher dynamic, where one side creates the game and the other funds that creation. While SFB handled much of the programming, level design, and art, Nintendo also chipped in with game ideas and art, contributing the majority of the interface and menu designs. “All of the major design decisions about the game were a discussion between SFB and [Nintendo of America],” says Tom. “It really was both of us developing it.”
For the first six months of the collaboration, SFB wasn’t even sure what platform the game would be on. They initially assumed it would be on the Wii U, but at that point the Switch — then known under the codename NX — was the subject of many rumors, so they weren’t sure. In the meantime, the six-person studio developed the game on PC. Then, about midway through 2016, Nintendo invited the team to its American headquarters in Redmond, and showed them the Switch for the first time. With its built-in capacity for local multiplayer — the Switch’s packed-in Joy-Con controllers can be used individually — it seemed like a great fit. “This is the perfect place to put it,” Adam thought at the time. Outside of reworking the controls slightly to fit the controller, the game remained largely unchanged on the Switch.
From there, it became a process of refining the game until it was ready for the console’s launch in March. Nintendo is known for a particular level of polish in its games, and one of the big challenges for the team at SFB was to meet that level of expectation. “Raising it up from a game like the ones we were making on our own, to a Nintendo product... Nintendo really pushed for that, and it worked,” says Adam. “They really demanded excellence throughout the whole game.”
The team knew they were on the right track in January of this year, when Nintendo previewed the Switch for the very first time. There was Snipperclips — a title that started life as a tiny game jam experiment built in less than a day — onstage alongside the likes of a massive new Legend of Zelda adventure and the party game 1-2-Switch. “It’s a very strange thing to have happened to us,” says Tom.
After the game launched in March, the team started thinking about how they could expand the concept. Watching people play Snipperclips at events and streaming on Twitch and YouTube gave them a new perspective on what else they could do with the concept. Adam says that it “opened up our minds even more to further ideas.” Snipperclips Plus — which is available as a downloadable add-on starting today, as well as a retail release bundled with the original game — adds two new worlds to explore, and 30 more puzzles to solve. The new content is also designed to have a more gradual difficulty curve, one of the few common issues players had with the original. The expansion takes an already quirky, fun game and makes it even better.
Now that the expansion is out, it’s not clear what SFB will be working on next, whether it will be more Snipperclips or something entirely new. But whatever it is, the journey showed them that with a little extra polish — and some help from Nintendo — it’s possible to turn their ideas into something even bigger. In fact, for a period after Snipperclips was first revealed, many journalists were under the impression that it was actually an internally developed Nintendo game.
“That’s a huge compliment,” says Adam. “That’s what we were aiming for the whole time.”