slither.io


After I killed the rainbow snake; before I killed the orange snake.

I’ve been playing slither.io ever since that rat bastard Rob Beschizza of Boing Boing posted about it in late April. I run in somewhat nerdy gamer circles so I’ve been surprised at how little mention I’ve seen about it since then. If Grantland were still around I would have expected a 5,000 word Ben Lindbergh article about it, but I’m basing that on how much I like the game, not any idea I have of how popular it is. (Well, I guess I have some idea how popular it is… 61.4K uniques and 21,241 US Rank as estimated by Quantcast today with a healthy Alpine growth trend.)

It is a very simple in-browser game where you drive a snake around eating magic glowy things that make you grow. Your snake always moves forward, and you control its direction with mouse or keyboard. You will normally meander along but you also have the option to boost your snake’s speed at the cost of some of its size. If a snake’s head hits any part of another snake, it bursts into super magic glowy things in proportion to its size. It is very similar in concept to the Lightcycles in Tron. You’ll be playing on a server with around 500 other people and/or bot programs, and the top 10 players in length are displayed on a persistent leaderboard in the interface.


Precursor.

I started out playing slither.io as a pacifist. There are magic glowy things all over the game board, enough to turn every snake fat and sleek, free for all. So, with the end goal of survival and growth at all costs, I avoided contact with other players as much as I could and made regular use of the turn-back-across-yourself move that makes a shield of your own body and turns you in the opposite direction, away from an aggressor. If you play the game defensively and try to stay out of trouble, it is fairly likely that you’ll live a long time. At the beginning I never boosted, telling myself that snakes who boosted got themselves in trouble as often as not.

I was able to make the Top 10 with that strategy, but I ran into a couple of problems with it. First, I found it really irritating when, despite my clear policy of non-violence and ironclad commitment to meekly yield right-of-way to any snake, some alpha asswipe snake succeeded in murdering me. I remember moments of vivid purple outrage, and I started learning how to boost myself just to get away from jerk snakes like these.

A more serious issue with non-assertion came into focus as I learned the same lesson Louis Bloom did in Nightcrawler: the best place to be is right next to someone important, right after the worst thing has happened to them. The magic glowy things scattered around the game will give you a few feet in length, but the super magic glowy things that a dead snake turns into are worth several times that amount, and they are packed together solid in the area the snake’s body used to occupy. And big dead snakes attract boosting live snakes, and there are often multiple waves of collisions as big snakes get greedy, die, and create another trail of goodies to bring the other big snakes to dash themselves into each other. You can loop yourself around a share most of the time, repeating as the opportunity presents itself, and you can gain 1000 feet in couple of seconds if you are in the right place. I found these situations, but as a slow defensive snake I wasn’t finding them often enough. There was misery out there and I was fixing to be a part of as much of it as I could.


As in everyday life, sometimes I overestimate my own competence.

I’ve transitioned from slow and steady defensive growth to running with a somewhat more aggressive variant of Joel Johnson’s detailed writeup on his strategy, the only other place I’ve seen the game broken down. I’m usually driving toward the center of the map, where the highest concentration of snakes are. I boost a lot when I’m close to other snakes, and the larger I get the more I boost overall. I run north-south a lot, as that gives other snakes with standard aspect ratio displays about half the notice and reaction time once they see me. (If you’re playing slither.io on a computer, chances are you’ve got almost twice as many pixels horizontally as vertically in your interface. That’s almost twice as much time for you to take some sort of action I might not like.) And if you’re a large snake, or you’re shadowing me, or you act aggressive, I’ll probably attempt to kill you.

I’ve decided that if I’m pretty small, and I see a pretty large snake, it makes sense to try to kill and eat it even if all I’ve got is a low-percentage play. I fail a lot, especially if I’m so small that I can’t boost, but then I’m back in roughly the same state seconds later, after I hit the restart button. If I make an obvious and unsuccessful attempt without killing myself, there’s not much of a downside. The snake might boost aggressively, and they often end up doing something stupid when they do that. Or they might boost or crawl away from me, to which I say there’s plenty of fishes in the ocean, pal–I don’t need you. Meanwhile, if I can cut in front of a nice big snake and consume most of its body, I am at my sweet spot size-wise.


This is my happy place.

I love being a snake of three or low four figures in length. You still have a tight turning radius; you can boost for thirty seconds; and you’re big enough that if you stretch out, you can make it hard for a larger snake to circle you. I like to hang out right in the middle of a bunch of nice big snakes. If one of them miscalculates I can cut them off and kill them. Or if someone else someone else throws down and there’s a loser, the feeding frenzy starts anew. Sometimes you’ll find a single snake take everyone else out and crash right into you in the process, and you’re left sitting alone in a field of super magic glowy things.

I also like boosting to grab a portion of any glowy things I can. You’ll see players act possessively about the glowy things left behind after they kill a snake, which is understandable–they did all the work. You’ll often be able to bait them into making a hasty move and exposing themselves, and then you eat.


Always loop around the glowy bits when you can.

I disagree somewhat with Joel Johnson on the cross move; it is a low-risk approach, but if I’m going east-west I’ll usually boost on the trail of super magic glowy things with an eye towards turning off towards any other glowy things I see if I run into a snake going the other way. It is true that I sometimes run head-on into someone with better reflexes than me, but I’ve eaten lots of glowy things I wouldn’t have gotten to the other way around. As you get larger, you want to drag your body in a big defensive circle around any concentrations of glowy things you find, so you can eat them without interference.

One of the standard moves for larger snakes is to loop around smaller snakes so the smaller snake hits the larger snake’s body and becomes snake food. As I get to prime lariat size of 15,000 or more, I tend to do this less and less. I will try to encircle someone when I’m competing with them for the same corpus of glowy things; or if I see another snake that has encircled a snake–love punishing the dicks who live on this move; or if I can loop around a bunch of snakes at once. Even then, you’ve got to watch out for a larger snake doing the same thing to you, so I like to stay pretty stretched out and hard to encircle myself.


I ended up letting them go when another big snake started circling.

I’ll often boost towards other snakes, then turn at the last minute. I’m consistently surprised with how poorly even larger snakes handle that. And if I can ever cut another snake off, I’m happy to try it. I’m also easy to rile up and pretty willing to get in a race with another snake. If everything is going right, I’m at 20,000 length within 5 minutes, but I’ll probably die a half-dozen times in shorter games and at pedestrian length to get there. C’est la vie, I can watch an advertisement every so often. If I’m a larger snake and I try to attack another snake and lose, I’m much happier about it than if I’m trying to stay out of trouble and trouble finds me anyway.

I feel like you could do a lot of interesting things with the slither.io data that they most be compiling on players. You’d have a ton of data to work with, as you can play many games in an evening instead of one or two. I bet you could build a pretty sophisticated behavior and quality profile of a player based on their results. I’d love to see more public facing work in this direction. It is time for the slither.io sabermetric revolution.

slither.io is approachable, polished, and the best in-browser game I’ve ever played. Give it a try… and remember, if you happen to assassinated by Cobra Commander, it was just business.

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