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Teenage Game Developers Tell The Hole Story

Levi Rubeck Kill Screen author

The Hole Story isn’t a typical game. The group of teenagers behind that game aren’t what most people have in mind when they think of game designers. Summer camp isn’t typically thought of as a birthplace for the next big computer game.

When 15-year-old Serena Rusboldt attended the inaugural Girls Make Games summer camp in Calif., becoming a legitimate game designer was little more than a dream. Giving it her best shot, she and her team, called The Negatives, went on to win the camp’s grand prize for their game The Hole Story.

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“We didn’t know each other at first, so we couldn’t just find our one friend and talk only to them,” said Rusbolt, who carries a spiral notebook everywhere and jots down, thoughts, lyrics, and fiction, along with sketches of ghosts and trees.

“Being in this group helped build my people skills, which was something I wasn’t really good at before.”

Since camp, the group has raised more than $30,000 through Kickstarter to polish up their game and make it available on as many gaming platforms as possible within a year.

They showed off the game last month at the PAX East tabletop game convention in Boston.

The Hole Story begins with Wendy, an archaeologist and unabashed digger of holes. One of Wendy’s favorite spots to break earth is near old trees. The player controls Wendy, clicking around to poke a few holes in the ground.

That’s when things get wild.

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Wendy shovels through dirt and time to an unfamiliar kingdom that is missing its princess. The King and Queen of the land promise Wendy a way back home if she can help find their daughter. Wendy digs up clues and solves riddles.

It’s an adventure stuffed with riddles, puns, unicorns and surprises.

Rusboldt said the idea itself emerged from a combination of brainstorming jams early in the camp, which encourages young women in all aspects of making video games.

The Negatives often met around lunchtime, so a lot of their inspiration came from food.

“One idea, was about having a maze of cheesecake that you had to eat your way out of,” said Rusboldt.

She adds that each aspect of The Hole Story, from art through programming, was handled in some way by each member of The Negatives, making this a game-wide team effort. Character art, level design, music, programming and everything in between was collectively shaped by the group, with some technical assistance when needed.

In the end The Hole Story came out of two other sketches.

One sketch featured a princess getting kidnapped while her brother was too lazy to do anything about it. “That was based on my brother,” Rusboldt said.

The other sketch was featured an aspiring archaeologist who wanted to dig through the earth to China.

The final sketch evolved into a story about a girl with a shovel digging through dirt and puns to help someone in need.

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The Hole Story is still getting tweaked with help from Charlotte M. Ellett of c63 Industries. Ellett claims that she’s mostly around for programming backup.

“The design is being handled by the girls entirely,” Ellett insisted.

While their early release certainly has the feel of a first work, the ideas are fresh and the execution feels original, not bogged down by the baggage of video game history.

This is the kind of dynamic shift that emerges when girls are encouraged to create games on their own terms.

The Hole Story promises to be the first taste of potential in a multi-course career for each of the developers involved.

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