words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Retro Affect for PC, PS3, and Vita, originally released in 2012.
As the game begins, a series of photographs is seen lying in a pile, and each press of the action button slides one a way, slowly revealing the premise in picture format. We see a metal container lying in an overgrown forest. Inside is a laboratory with drawings on the wall, including one that shows the design of a robot. A pair of canisters sits in the back of the lab, covered with spider webs from years of inactivity. One canister is broken, but the other contains a robot that appears to be sleeping within. A light comes on and the robot awakes. We see a label that says Portable Intelligent Camera, providing us with the robot’s name and function. Lights turn red and a sign comes on with the word “EJECT”, and the canister blasts off, leaving behind a plume of smoke in the middle of a forest.

And then the game begins, with the player controlling the robot who functions as a Portable Intelligent Camera (PIC) as he stands in a strange looking forest with a doorway in the background. This forest acts as a hub for the first area, allowing Pic to enter doors to individual levels, with new doors opening as levels are completed.

Pic is able to walk to the left and right, duck and crawl, grab ledges, and initiate a 3x variable-height jump, and while his platforming abilities are important, his greatest ability lies in his function as a camera. By taking pictures of certain items, they will disappear from the game world and be stored on a photograph, and the robot is able to take up to 3 pictures and hold them in his inventory. Then, by selecting a photograph, the item can be placed back into the world. At first, this gives the player the ability to clear obstructions and create stepping stones, but the use of the camera becomes ever more complex as the game continues.

The camera controls are fairly straightforward when using a mouse and keyboard. The mouse moves the reticle around the environment, with the left mouse button taking a snapshot, and the right mouse button dropping the picture and returning any stored objects to the game world. Things become a bit more difficult, however, when attempting to play the game with a gamepad, where movement is assigned to the left analogue stick and camera control is assigned to the right. On the upside, this gives the player analogue control, allowing for more precise movement as Pic’s speed can be easily shifted from a walk into a run. Unfortunately, there is no sensitivity adjustment for the analogue sticks, and the camera control on the right analogue stick is far too sensitive.

This isn’t a major issue in earlier levels where the player is free to take his time to suss out puzzle solutions and use the camera, but in later levels the player must snap photos on the fly, often while running, jumping, or sailing through the air. In these cases, lining up a quick snapshot can be very difficult, putting the player at odds with the controls to complete puzzles during action-heavy sequences. This control conundrum is made more perplexing by the fact that the game was not only created for the PC, which can rely on mouse/touch controls, but also for the PS3 where gamepad support is a must (although the port is being handled by another studio). So, to fully enjoy the experience in the PC version, the player must use a mouse and keyboard rather than a gamepad. Even using a touchpad on a laptop doesn’t quite offer the same precision as a standalone mouse and can make action-based puzzles much more difficult to solve.

Each doorway from the hub world leads into a set of 3 levels. These levels must be completed in order, but the player may return to the hub at will. Completing individual levels opens up new doors in the hub, and these doors may be accessed in any order. This is similar in design to one of the developer’s previous works, Offspring Fling, which allowed players to skip over troublesome levels and continue to make progress. There are 4 worlds, with 9 doors each, and 3 levels per door, giving the player over 100 levels to complete in total.

Even when skipping around a bit, there is an overall sense of progression. Objects and lessons learned in earlier levels apply to later ones, and many of the 3-level series have themes of their own, such as manipulating bouncy elephants, moving light sources, or lining up a series of electric tubes.

The player is slowly eased into the mechanics with some pictographs that show what types of actions are available, and the game starts out with some basic box puzzles. Take a picture of a box to remove it from the environment and then drop it elsewhere. Plain brown boxes can be pushed by leaning against them while boxes with red outlines are stationary.

You’ll also be introduced to special “no photo” zones that are marked with a red grating. In these areas, you cannot take a picture, so you must first figure out how to manipulate the environment to expose the object you wish to photograph. Often, this means finding a switch that slides the grating out of the way, but sometimes you need to find a way to move the object with thoughtful placement of another object.

When you get to the second world, you’ll be dealing with a lot of puzzles that involve moving objects. Taking a picture of a moving object preserves its momentum and direction. As such, a captured fireball will keep moving when you drop the picture back in the environment, potentially activating a switch, and rolling snowballs can be used to slide into an area you can’t reach, which again could be used to activate a switch, or to push something out from behind a grating.

Further adding to the complexity is the fact that you can rotate pictures when placing them back in the environment. In early levels, this can be used to pick up a platform with the spikes facing upward, rotate it 180 degrees, and drop it back in the world so you can safely stand on it. Later, you’ll be taking moving objects and turning them sideways or upside-down to change their movement direction, letting you do things like knock over a stack of bricks with a captured projectile, or even capture a photograph of wind and use it to push yourself in a new direction. Other puzzles involve moving creatures, such as bouncy elephants that patrol back and forth, wall-climbing robots, projectile firing cannons, and belching hippos, which can lead to some interesting results. For instance, you can place wall-climbing robots and stand on them to move over pits of spikes and up walls, and you can drop cannons to get them out of your way, activate switches, or even melt blocks of ice.

Some object oddities include boxes that exist in pieces, appearing on different levels in the background, and the player must use parallax scrolling to move them together and snap a picture. There are also some levels that have doorways, where passing through one door will drop you out of its twin elsewhere in the level. Door puzzles can be particularly mind-bending as you move them around to leapfrog through walls and reach out-of-the-way platforms. Each new area introduces new objects and new ways to use them to influence gameplay.

A physics engine applies weight and gravity to objects, so you have to be careful when placing them because gravity will pull them down. You don’t want to send an object like a springboard tumbling on its head or off the bottom of the screen. Dropping an object will mean some repeated gameplay as you go to retrieve it, and more drastic mistakes – such as dropping a necessary object into a no photo zone – will require a full level restart. Levels tend to be fairly short, but there are no checkpoints so death means a complete level restart. You can take a few hits from projectiles (and restore some health by collecting stars), but falling into a pit of spikes will kill you instantly.

The ultimate goal in each of the levels is to make it to the large glowing star at the end. Along the way, you will find a number of smaller stars strewn about the levels. Collecting these allows you to earn points toward opening the exit door on the hub map, leading you into the next area. Environments differ greatly from one area to the next, as the player starts out in a forest, then moves into snowy mountains which give way to volcanoes and lava, and eventually to electricity-filled factories and cloudy sky-based levels. Each area presents new environmental themes and challenges while building upon the lessons learned in previous areas.

There is a secondary objective in each level to capture a photo of a unique object. Hidden in each level is some sort of object that you won’t find anywhere else. Snap a picture of it, and get to the end of the level with the picture in your inventory, and you will earn a bonus medal, as well as adding that picture to one of the frames in the hub area (placed outside the door of the level where the object was found).

After completing each level, you’ll see a tally of how many stars you collected versus the total number in the level, whether or not you found the unique picture, and how close you got to beating the goal time. The goal time for each level is very low, generally requiring a dedicated speedrun, and as mentioned previously, this is considerably easier to achieve with a mouse and keyboard than it is with a gamepad. At the end of each set of 3 levels, you get a tally for your overall performance and you can earn up to 4 medals: one for beating all 3 levels, one for finding all of the stars in each level, one for beating all of the goal times, and one for collecting pictures of all the unique objects.

Snapshot was developed by Retro Affect, a small development studio based in Meredith, New Hampshire. The studio was founded by Kyle Pulver, David Carrigg, and Peter Jones in 2008. Game designer Kyle Pulver previously worked on a number of titles, most recently releasing Offspring Fling (check out the 2D CRED section of that article for a full list of Pulver's previous credits). David Carrigg was the game’s programmer and he developed the engine that powers the photography and physics. Peter Jones created the artwork for the game, although he has since left the studio to pursue other interests. Jonathan Grzybowski did much of the game’s animation, the music was composed by Wil Whitlark, and the sound effects were created by Jordan Fehr. Jordan Fehr also created sound effects for Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, Krunch, Shank 2, Hotline Miami, and Incredipede.

Also released under the Retro Affect label is a game called depict1. This is a platformer originally created for the Global Game Jam 2010. The theme for the competition was deception. This is a basic run & jump platformer, but a text box on the top of the screen gives the player bad advice throughout his journey, acting as a deceitful tutorial. The game plays on a number of platforming tropes, tasking the player with not hopping on enemies to kill them, avoiding shiny gems, and running headlong into rows of spikes (which can actually be picked up and used to create makeshift platforms to climb walls and break blocks). Also, picking up the “high jump boots” actually causes your jump to become lower, but also lets you crush certain blocks by jumping on them. By the end, you’ll even encounter areas where the platforms themselves act oppositely from the expected.