Carnegie Mellon University – School of Art
Professor: Paolo Pedercini
Graduate Assistant: Katie Rose Pipkin
Course number: 60419
Classroom: CFA 303 + CFA 318 (Mac Lab)
Time: 09:00AM – 11:50AM + 01:30PM – 04:20PM Friday
Office: CFA 419A – 4th Floor
Office hours: By appointment
Email address: paolop [at] andrew [dot] cmu [dot] edu
GA: katierosepipkin [at] gmail [dot] com

A hands-on game design course focused on innovative and expressive forms of gameplay.
In this installment of Experimental Game Design the emphasis is placed on games as social interfaces: from local multiplayer to analog table-top games, from folk and street games to play experiences in alternative contexts (alternative arcade, gallery/museum spaces, urban environments etc…).
The class consists in one long session per week that allows for extended prototyping exercises (mini-jams), technical tutorials, as well as frontal lectures, and in-depth playtesting sessions.
Projects are team based, coding experience is recommended but not required.


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.

* Have a good foundation with the game engine Unity


* 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 School of Art is focused on conceptual practice, it means that your primary goal will be to create meaningful, personal and unique works.

* Each installment of Experimental Game Design has a different focus. This year it’s about local multiplayer games, teamwork, and rapid prototyping. If you are interested in storytelling and world building, I recommend you to take this class on fall 2018.


This class meets only once a week in a long morning + afternoon session. Each session is a combination of frontal lectures, critiques, workshops, and in-class work (aka mini game jams aka the assignments).

Deliverables: you are expected to produce a playable prototype every one or two weeks and a complete final project. You will mostly work in teams of 3, teams rotate at every assignment.

Readings: being a studio class, Experimental Game Design is relatively light on theory. However you’ll be required to read and respond to a pair of short texts or video lectures every week.

Social media: like it or not, you can’t be a independent game maker/artist today without self-promoting relentlessly on social media. You will be required to start an account on Twitter, follow the often obnoxious gaming “discourse”, and post entertaining work in progress of your projects.


Week by week plan, units may shift and change.

In Public

Intro: Games / Play / Fun.
Children and folk games, happenings, street/urban/pervasive games, new sports, playgrounds, skateboarding, parcour, flash mobs etc.

Playshop: experimental hopscotch

Assignment: Make one “tiny game” or an instruction piece a day for a week.

What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun? by David Graeber
Play is by Miguel Sicart (from play Matters)

Play the world

Assignment: Games are experiences governed by rules, like many non-playful activities. Find a real world system, an activity or a place that can be turned into a game.
Does it reveal something about the activity or context? Does it encourage a different kind of behavior or interaction?
(Groups of 3)

Playshop: no tech games mini jam

Patterns of Transformation by Ida de Benedetto
Deep play by Diane Ackerman

In Private

Board games, card games, tabletop games, parlor/party/drinking games. Game design vocabulary part 1.

Workshop: Callois’ elements of play

Playtime: LOTR the confrontation, Modern Art, Fluxx, Carcassonne, Lost Cities, Gloom, One night ultimate werewolf

Assignment: fix the classics.
Monopoli – Make it playable in 10 minutes.
Risk – Make it appropriate for 21st century conflicts.
The game of life – Make it relatable to millennials.
Candy Land – Make it deep, strategic and adult oriented.
Pit – Make it more specific to one aspect of financial capitalism.
Battleship – Make it story-centered.
You can start from the actual games and materials or distill their core gameplay into a new game.

Why did ancient Egypt spend 3000 years playing a game nobody else liked? by Christian Donlan
How Settlers of Catan Created an American Boardgame Revolution by Ian Schreiber

In Private II

Playtesting, iteration, theme, polish, tactility.

Assignment: iterate on the game, and appropriately update its theme and visual design

Life and Death and Middle Pair: Go, Poker and the Sublime by Frank Lantz
Train (or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design) by Brenda Brathwaite

Going Digital

Game design vocabulary part 2. Intro to Unity and elements of game development.

Meaningful Play by Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman
Level design lesson: to the right, hold on tight by Anna Anthropy


Prototyping, Game feel, A very incomplete history of control systems in videogames.

Assignment: starting from one avatar and simple “world” conditions (walls, gravity, q etc…), design 3 satisfying and unique control systems: one using mouse/or multi touch, one using buttons/keyboards, one using an analog input controller. (groups of 3)

Playtime: retrogaming

How to prototype a game in under 7 days by Kyle Gray, Kyle Gabler, Shalin Shodhan, Matt Kucic
Finishing a game by Derek Yu


Assignment: Starting from one of your previous prototypes, turn it into a two player game adding one of the randomly assigned elements:
asymmetry, co-op, different players – different controllers, hidden information, new sport, off-screen interaction, turn-based. (groups of 3)

Playtime: Crawl, Ultimate chicken horse, Overcooked, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, FRU, Space Team, Chicanery, JS Joust, Push me pull You, Super Pole Riders, The Yawhg, Glitch tank

Jocks without borders by Willie Osterweil
At Play on the Field of Ghosts by James Bridle
Screening: King of Kong


A survey of contemporary indie aesthetics. Character design discussion.

Assignment: find an appropriate world and visual design for your game. Make a mock screenshot for critique, implement it.
(groups of 3)

Screening: Feminist frequency – Ms. Male Character

Queering Human-game relations by Merritt Kopas and Naomi Clark
Queer as in fuck me by Mattie Brice


crowd game
Games for way too many players: design challenges.

Assignment: design a videogame for more than 4 players using a randomly assigned technology: microphone input, smartphone input, one-button keyboard input, makey makey, 10 joysticks.
(groups of 4-6)

Playtime/case studies: the WUUUUU, Ghost-ring, Alphabet, Elbowroom, Airconsole selection, Block-party, Speed Chess, Renga, Choice chamber, Wizard takes all, Dancingularity.


Assignment: playtest, iterate, and add polish: sound, feedback, effects, ui and titles.

Juice it or lose it by Martin Jonasson & Petri Purho
The art of screenshake by Jan Willem Nijman


Indie,, AAA, III, indiepocalypse.
Games vs art, artgames, game art.

Final project: expand a prototype you worked on this semester into a publishable game.

Looking outwards: explore the GDC vault and the NYU game center lecture series, find a talk that you really recommend and summarize it.

Looking outwards II: research the developer or artist you want to be. Present your findings in class.

You Can Sleep Here All Night: Video Games and Labor by Ian Williams
The Door Problem by Liz England
Punk Games by Zoe Quinn
Lol we are all poor by Robert Yang

Indie Game: the movie
What Do We Mean When We Say “Indiepocalypse”? – GDC panel


10% In Public
10% Play the world
15% In Private
15% Multiplayer
15% Crowd
15% Final 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).


It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, and that the diversity that students bring to this class be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. It is my intent to present activities that accommodate and value a diversity of gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and culture.
I will gladly honor your request to address you by your preferred name and gender pronoun. I commit to make individual arrangements to address disabilities or religious needs (e.g. religious events in conflict with class meetings). Please advise me of these preferences and needs early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my plans and records.
Debate and free exchange of ideas is encouraged but I will not tolerate harassment, i.e. a pattern of behavior directed against a particular individual with the intent of humiliating or intimidating.


Being in an art school, you should expect to be exposed to content that challenges your moral, ethical, and aesthetic values. In case of extremely graphic content I will warn the class in advance, but if you have a history of PTSD please let me know privately if there are types of content that are known to act as trauma triggers for you.

Stress Culture

Collaborative work and projects also fulfilling other classes’ requirements are encouraged as long as it makes sense, and the other professors agree.

Official university language: Take care of yourself. Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

Header Image credit Axor heroes