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Student video games score on the national scene

Video games created by Cornell students are moving out of the classroom to a national audience.

“Apsis,” exhibited at the Cornell Game Design Showcase two years ago, was named Most Promising Indie Title at the Casual Connect game industry conference July 24 in San Francisco. Three games from this year’s Cornell showcase have been selected for exhibition at the Boston Festival of Indie Games, Sept. 13.

“Apsis” is an innovative departure from the usual shooting and platform-hopping video game tradition. The player guides a flock of birds across the skies of a far-off world.

“‘Apsis’ cannot be lost, there are no goals, no points, few obstacles,” the designers say. Rather, it’s an ”emotional journey” inspired by the experience of lying on the ground and watching birds in the sky. Creators John Rogers Oliver ’14, Matt Blair ’12 and Crystal Ngai ’13 have formed a company, A Stranger Gravity, to market the game, currently available in beta for Android tablets and Mac, Windows and Linux computers.

scene from game
A scene from the game “Apsis.”

A scene from the video game “Dash.”

Cornell games accepted for the Boston Festival are “Over the Arctic Hills,” in which a snowman tries to lead his tribe to a colder place before the arrival of summer; “Dash,” where the player must learn to fly and then dash safely through enemies; and “Beck and Chuck,” in which a young girl and her robot companion move through the evil Safari Robotics facility to save the world.

The games were created by students in beginning and advanced game design courses offered through the Game Design Initiative at Cornell (GDIAC). The interdisciplinary courses are open to students outside computer science, and games are created by teams of artists, musicians and programmers, many of whom go on to jobs in the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry. Each year’s crop of new games is exhibited on campus in the spring at the Game Design Showcase, where players’ responses help to determine the students’ grades.

Current and past games are available for free download from the GDIAC website.

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Syl Kacapyr