Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Game Design Curriculum: Game Design Classes

Wrapping up my series on the game design curriculum, I wanted to suggest some game design classes. You can't have a game design major without some classes that focus on game design, right?
(I realize these are not practical for students who may have no control over their university's curriculum. That's why I saved this section for last.)

Since these courses aren't standardized anywhere, I'm making up the names as I go.

Game Industry Survey. Game design students, especially, need some kind of survey class that talks about the important people, companies and games that every developer (whether a designer or not) should know; and also, an overview of the types of companies and jobs found in the game industry. As I said earlier, you should have at least one minor related to another area of game development, so this course would help you decide which area to minor in.

Theory of Game Design. Every game designer wants to have their own Grand Unifying Theory Of What Makes Games Fun. Most of them are useless. A precious few have gained acceptance (or at least acknowledgement) within the industry: LeBlanc's MDA, Koster's Theory of Fun, Bartle's player types, and some others. Students should be introduced to the prevailing theories of what Fun is, where it comes from, and how to make it.

Core Systems Design, Creative Design and Level Design. Those of us in the industry largely learned game design by doing it; the same is true for artists in other media. The bulk of game design courses in school, then, should be practical and not theoretical. I would envision several "pure" design courses where students are given a set of projects, each with their own constraints. Students then create designs, test them and iterate on them, ideally under the watchful eye of an experienced designer who provides guidance. By "Core Systems Design" I mean creating the basic rules of the core of a game; "Creative Design" would deal with the design of characters, plots and storylines, and UI; and "Level Design" is, well, level design.

Technical Design. A designer should have some experience in the left-brained side of their field. This course would include some Game Theory (prisoner's dilemma, payoff matrices, stuff like that), some applications of mathematics in game design (e.g. solving intransitive games, use of triangular numbers in games), and some basic understanding of numerical methods and computation (for example, what the difference is between integers and floating points... and why Hit Points -- and most numbers in a game, in fact -- should be integer).

Prototyping. As far as I can tell, the only people in the entire game industry who like to see 500-page "Design Bibles" are Producers and Publishers, because it gives them the impression that work is being done. Designers don't like them because they take a long time to write and they're impossible to maintain halfway through the project, and the written word is static while most game systems you're documenting are dynamic. Programmers don't like them because reading a massive design doc is boring, confusing, and obsolete as soon as the designers stop maintaining it. A far better way to communicate and "document" living systems is with a prototype, whether it be in the form of a paper boardgame or an actual computer program. Designers should be able to whip up a quick prototype of a small system (say, a subscreen or a turn-based combat model) in Flash or a similarly "light" scripting language, even if they don't know C++ or Java.

Team-Based Game Development. This wouldn't be a game design class per se, but an interdisciplinary class where students work together in moderately-sized teams to create a full game or game demo. Of all disciplines, game designers cannot exist alone; they need to learn to work well with programmers and artists. Luckily, finding strong programmers and artists who want to make games isn't that hard at most universities :). If you look hard enough you can usually even find one student who's skilled enough at game audio, and maybe another student for production (or the teacher can act as producer). This course might also be called a "capstone" or a "portfolio-building" class.

For what it's worth, this year I'm teaching Game Industry Survey; plus a Prototyping course (my university calls it Game Development) and an advanced variant that will be closer to what I'm calling Core Systems Design; and a 20-week Team-Based Game Development class (we're calling it a Capstone), and something else (TBD) in the Spring. So, I'm practicing what I preach here.


Darius Kazemi said...


I agree with your whole outline.

schools game design said...

Thanks for the basic Outline of Game design and Development.