Carnegie Mellon University – School of Art
Professor: Paolo Pedercini
Course number: 60427
Classroom: CFA 303 + CFA 318 (Mac Lab)
Time: 6:30PM – 9:20PM
Office: CFA 419A – 4th Floor
Office hours: By appointment
Email address: paolop [at] andrew [dot] cmu [dot] edu

A hands-on game design course focused on innovative and expressive forms of gameplay. The emphasis is on the complex relationship between storytelling and games: from point-and-click graphic adventure games to AI-driven interactive narratives. The class involves frontal lectures, design exercises and in-depth analysis of works from the digital arts and the independent gaming world. This installment of Experimental Game Design does not require any substantial coding experience but all students will be required to tackle some programming and produce visual content.


Upon completion of the course students will (hopefully) be able to:

* Create playable games or prototypes with innovative gameplays or expressive/political value.

* Critically analyze the mechanics of games including its ideological and cultural underpinnings.

* Discuss their interactive works in the context of new media art and/or in relation with mainstream cultural production.


* Being passionate about game might help but please keep in mind this is not a class for sharing our love for video games or video game culture. We’ll try to approach the subject critically and focus on cutting-edge developments at the margins of the mainstream game industry.

* This is an art course and CMU School of Art is focused on conceptual practice, it means that your primary goal will be to create meaningful, personal and unique works – not necessarily elegant, balanced, well designed, entertaining products. More industry-oriented game design classes are offered by the ETC.


The course is structured in 4 units and a “main project”. Every unit revolves around an assignment, a digital production tool and various theoretical topics. The main project will take about half of the semester and consists in the production of a complete playable artifact.

Home play: you will be strongly encouraged to play some games that relates to the unit, and present them to your classmates for discussion. A schedule for the presentations will be defined soon.

Tool: this is an ETB class so the emphasis is on digital tools but I’m open to the possibility of computer-less projects (card/board games, rpgs, outdoor/urban games, performances…). Each unit is associated to a “recommended” development tool that will be properly introduced and supported. If you have significant previous experience with other tools you are free to adopt them.

Readings: being a studio class, Experimental Game Design is relatively light on theory. However you’ll be required to read and respond to a short text chosen among the one I recommend for each unit.



Topics: Ludology & Narratology. Branching narrative from Borges to the Hypertext.

Tools: Twine

Assignment: Write a text-only branching story with one or more of the following features:
Non-human (or better, non-animal) main character
Events out of chronological order
Multiple characters

Note: avoid dialogues (it’s the next assignment), life choices, choose your own adventure tropes (moving, fighting, dying etc.).

Home Play:
253 by Geoff Ryman (1996)
Everybody Dies by Jim Munroe and Michael Cho (2008)
Hummingbird Mind by Jake Elliot (2010)
The Immoral Ms. Conduct by Hannah Epstein (2011)
Digital: a love story by Christine Love (2010)
Spent by McKinney (2011)
Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog by Thecatamites (2011)

The garden forking paths – Jorge Luis Borges (1941)
CYOA – Christian Swinehart (200?)
Computer Lib / Dream Machines – Ted Nelson (1974)
1000 Plateaux: Rhizome – Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1980)


Topics: Character design. The Eliza effect.

Tools: Ren Py

Assignment: Use a “visual novel” editor to create a multiple choice dialogue with a virtual character. The project may have one or more of the following features:

The character is a portrait/caricature of a person you know
The character is based on the personality types from the Myers-Briggs test (note: pseudo-science)
The character is a credible depiction of a person affected by mental or behavioral disorder
Any of the above, but applied to the player’s character

Note: you can make it goal-oriented (persuade the character) but avoid “dating sims” tropes.

Home Play:
Gamer Mom by Mordechai Buckman & Kyler Kelly (2012)
Air pressure by BentoSmile (2010)
Ultimate Flirt off by Radstronomical (2012)
Galatea by Emily Short (2000)
Facade by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern (2005)
Prom Week by Expressive Intelligence Studio (2012)


Topics: Indie revolution. Elements of animation.

Tool: Flash – point and click toolkit provided

Assignment: Make a one-screen interactive scenario that introduces the player to a visually unique and consistent world. Think about where it can go from there. The project may have one or more of the following features:

The palette is made by only 4 colors
The scenario portrays a non-humanoid extraterrestrial sexual intercourse
The scenario doesn’t represent a physical space but an abstract concept(s)

Notes: It can be a point and click puzzle and have a resolution, but avoid the straightforward “room escape” tropes.

Home play:
Samorost by Amanitadesign (2005)
Machinarium by Amanitadesign (2009)
Botanicula by Amanitadesign (2012)
Windosill by Patrick Smith (2009)
Coil by Edmund McMillen (2008)
I Fell in Love With the Majesty of Colors by Ludus Novus (2008)
Moon Stories by Daniel Benmergui (2008)
A House in California by Jake Elliott (2011)


Topics: Art games. Joystick envy: women and games.

Tools: Flash – Template provided

Assignment: Starting from the template make an explorable space that tells a non-linear story. The work may have one or more of the following features:

Broken time-space continuum
Non stereotypical female protagonist
Character and/or scenario are affected by players’ interaction

The Cat and the Coup by Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad (2011)
Passage by Jason Roher (2007)
Sword and Sworcery by Superbrothers and Capybara Games (2011)
Today I Die by Daniel Benmergui (2008)
Cart life by Richard Hofmeier (2011)
Dys4ia by Anna Anthropy (2012)
Trauma by Krystian Majewski (2010)
Norrland by Cactus (2010)
Mirror Stage by Increpare (2009)
Love Punks by Yijala Yala (2012)
Sissy Magical Ponycorn adventure by Untold Entertainment (2011)

Homeplay (3D):
Bad day on the Midway by The Residents (1995)
Dear Esther by the Chinese Room (2008-2012)
Stanley Parable by Davey Wreden (2011)
Proteus by Ed Key & David Kanaga (201-)
The Path by Tale of tales (2009)
Dinner Date by Jerome Stout (2010)
In Ruins by Tom Betts (2012)


Ideally, the main project is a development of one of the ideas emerged in the first four assignments.
You can also pitch an entirely new idea.

Groups (up to 3 students) are allowed.

You’ll be required to report on your progress weekly.

Home play:
Case studies proposed by students


10% Unit 1
10% Unit 2
10% Unit 3
10% Unit 4
40% Main project
20% Class participation

Grading sucks but someone has to do the dirty job. Assignments and final project are graded according to the following criteria:

E. The student failed to deliver the assignment.
D. The game/prototype doesn’t work, has major bugs or is incomplete to a point that is impossible to get a clear idea of the user experience.
C. The game/prototype is functional and complete in all of its parts. Both the technical execution and the concept are sufficient but not outstanding.
B. Good concept and excellent technical execution. Or, vice versa, excellent idea and good technical execution.
A. Outstanding concept and implementation. This is usually reserved to the top 10%.


* Attendance: three or more unexcused absences result in the drop of a letter grade.

* Absences: you are responsible for what happens in class whether you’re here or not. Organize with your classmates to get class information and material that you have missed.

* Participation: you are invited, encouraged, and expected to engage actively in discussion, reflection and activities.

* Net addiction: you can exist for few hours without tweettering, facebooking, chatting, texting or emailing. Any device for mediated communication is banned during theory classes, crits and discussions. A 1% grade reduction will result from being found using them.
During the lab hours you will be allowed to network as long as your behaviour is not disruptive.

* Assignments: late assignments are only accepted with permission of instructor. You lose 10% of your points per day late up to a max of 7 days late.

* Tardiness: 1st tardy = free.
Less than 10 minutes late = 1% grade reduction.
Over 20 minutes late = absence (unless justified).