Carnegie Mellon University – School of Art
Professor: Paolo Pedercini
Course number: 60427
Classroom: CFA 303 + CFA 318 (Mac Lab)
Time: 1:30PM – 4:20PM Monday + Wednesday
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 audio visual content.


Upon completion of the course students will be able to:

* Create playable games or prototypes with innovative and expressive gameplays.

* Critically analyze the mechanics of games including their 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.

* This class will provide basic skills to create functional games and prototypes but it is not centered on asset creation or programming. To properly learn 3D modeling, animation, rigging and the whole development pipeline, please check complete Ideate course offer.


The course is structured in 3 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: for every unit groups of 3 people are assigned one game to play at home. The group will then have a structured discussion in class and prepare a brief presentation. All the assigned games are relatively short, but some of them will have to be purchased (typically for less than $10).

Tools: 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. This is an ETB class so the emphasis is on digital tools but I’m open to computer-less projects (card/board games, rpgs, outdoor/urban games, performances…).

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.).

Homeplay (story and mechanics): 18 Cadence, 80 days, Papers Please, How do you Do It?, The Yawhg, Cart Life, Unmanned, dys4ia, Storyteller, Sleep is Death, Jostle Parent, LIM, I fell in love with the majesty of colors, Trauma, Pry.

Home Play (branching stories):
Save the Date, With Those we love alive, HorseMaster, Device 6 , The Stanley Parable, Ultra Business Tycoon III,Cyborg goddess, The Immoral Ms. Conduct, Digital: a love story, Murder Dog IV: Trial of the Murder Dog, ‘Til Cows Tear us Apart, Depression Quest, Nested (by Orteil).

Storytelling from A Game Design Vocabulary – Naomi Clark, Anna Anthropy
The garden forking paths – Jorge Luis Borges (1941)

Class exercise: Flavor Change/retheming


Topics: Character design, dialogues.

Tools: Ren Py

Assignment: Use a “visual novel” editor to create a multiple choice dialogue with a virtual character.

Class exercises: Flick game, Dialog writing exercise.

Home Play:
Facade, Gone Home, Coming Out Simulator 2014, HerStory, Hatoful Boyfriend, Gamer Mom, Ultimate Flirt off, Galatea, Fuck Everything, One of them, Dinner Date, Little Party, Sext Adventure, I get this call every day.

An essay of your choice:
* Chapter 2 – Eliza Effect from Expressive Processing by Noah Wardrip-Fruin.
* Expressive AI by Michael Mateas
* Chapter 3: Face excerpt from Better Game Characters by Design – A Psychological Approach by Katherine Isbister.


Topics: Art games. Walking simulators.

Tools: Unity

Assignment: Starting from the template make an explorable space that tells a non-linear/environmental story.

Class exercise Shortform roleplay session with Dog eat dog, Collapse, Pantheon etc.

Homeplay (world creation):
Botanicula, Machinarium, Kentucky Route Zero, Thirty Flights of Loving, The Cat and the Coup, The Path
Moon Stories, Sword and Sworcery, Mirror Stage, Love Punks, Journey, Proteus, Hohokum, Pale Machine.

Two of the following
* Theory of the Dérive and Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography by Guy Debord
* How to do things with videogames – Transit – Ian Bogost
* Gamer Theory – Atopia (on Vice City) by Mckenzie Wark
* Game Design as Narrative Architecture by Henry Jenkins


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
50% Main project
20% Class participation and readings

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).

Header image by Nicky Case