Cut to the Point: Students Create Innovative New Video Game “Snip”

By Tom McLaughlin

As Kelley Riley recalls, she spent much of her turbulent teenage years in and out of foster homes, enduring what she remembers as a seemingly never-ending tide of unpleasant experiences.

However, she says, those experiences taught her something important about herself.

“I learned that, no matter what the obstacles or challenges were, I was strong enough to overcome them,” says the senior biology major at Rutgers University–Camden.

anais_1024Today, the Gloucester City resident is using her enlightening lessons learned as the inspiration behind an innovative new video game, called “Snip.”

She is currently one of 36 Rutgers–Camden students who are creating the 2D side-scrolling game – requiring players to use their wits to overcome a series of physical obstacles in order to advance through the scene – under the tutelage of the Digital Studies Center at Rutgers–Camden.

“This project is entirely student driven, and the initiative that students have taken to develop teams, project-management procedures, and deadlines, has really blown us away,” says Jim Brown, director of the Digital Studies Center. “They’re not only learning how to design, program, and release a video game; they are learning how to run an organization, and it’s all happening outside the structure of a specific course.”

According to Riley, the game’s backstory centers around a nine-year old girl named Anais, whose parents died when she was young and now lives in foster care. All that she has left from them are her mother’s sewing scissors – but these are no ordinary snips.

“If Anais uses them to ‘cut’ certain points in reality, it takes her to a pseudo-reality, where objects are reminiscent of her reality, but depicted as much more fantastical,” explains Riley. “This alternate realm is graphically represented as pretty and vibrant, with bold colors, as opposed to Anais’ reality, which is depicted with darker, muted colors, intended to convey a sense of loss or despair.”

Once she has entered this pseudo-reality, Riley continues, Anais’ menial, everyday tasks take on new life as the basis for a series of brainteasers and challenges, which must be solved in order to advance through the scene. The successful completion of the task is then signified by a cutscene – a non-interactive sequence – to show Anais’ ability to triumph over obstacles, both literally and figuratively, in her path.

“In these moments, we want the player to realize that she or he has the strength to take care of herself,” says Riley. “The character is learning new, empowering coping skills that she will carry with her when she returns to reality.”

The game’s concept is highly unique in terms of its character depiction and narrative, adds Steven Gussman, the lead programmer on the project, whose student-proposed major at Rutgers–Camden focuses on video game development.

videogameprojectgroup-resized“Anais is not a stereotypical character – you don’t see many non-white or orphaned characters in video games,” says Gussman, a Medford resident. “It’s boring to see the same character over and over again, so I am excited to be working on something that stands out in this way. In addition, the platformer is my favorite genre, so it is especially fun to program and test those mechanics.”

Beginning in early September, the team of dedicated, participating Rutgers–Camden students – working under the guidance of Adam Nash, a professional game designer, writer, and music composer who serves as a Digital Studies fellow at Rutgers–Camden – chose Riley’s concept from a variety of pitches and split into several subgroups, comprised of graphic artists, writers, animators, and programmers. They now meet once a week, as well as communicate regularly via interactive, online media, such as Skype and Slack, in order to design and execute the concept.

As the lead programmer, Gussman says, he is also responsible for facilitating the communication between the programmers, as well as with the other subgroups – a welcome and exciting challenge.

“It has been a lot of fun to stay up late on Skype solving a programming problem with my fellow programmers and to play around with accidental glitches before removing them!” exclaims Gussman. “Of course, being such a large group, there are naturally more communication challenges, such as waiting for the work to come down the pipeline from other groups so that we can get it into the game.”

The project team hopes to have a working demo completed soon. However, says Riley, even before the game has been completed, she feels like the students have already won something – a positive, rewarding experience that they will always remember.

“It is very gratifying to work on a unique project like this with students who come from different backgrounds, but share many common interests and enjoy one another’s company,” says Riley. “To me, that’s just as important as the finished product.”

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