Carnegie Mellon University – School of Art
Professor: Paolo Pedercini
Graduate Assistant: Nick Crockett
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: nickjcrockett [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 the complex relationship between stories and games. Topics include: environmental storytelling, world building, branching narratives, Virtual Reality, visual novels, AI-driven narratives and more.
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 innovative and expressive games and game prototypes .

* 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.

* Produce interactive works using the Unity engine.


* 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 storytelling and world building. If you are interested in system design or alternative interfaces, I recommend you to take this class next Fall.


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).

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 people. 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 discuss a few short articles or watch video lectures every week.

Homeplay: You will be required to play some longer games at home and present them to the class in groups of two. Many of these games are only available commercially. The total cost per student should be less than $50 for the entire semester, consider it equivalent to a textbook or a materials fee (all the other tools and texts are free). Please let me know if you have issues with purchasing games, we can make special arrangements.


Rough week by week plan, units may shift and change.


Interactive texts
Hypertext, branching stories
Jam: make a short twine game. It must have a spatial element, i.e. some choices represent movements (start from a map).
Readings: Standard Patterns in Choice-Based Games, Storytelling excerpt from A game design Vocabulary.

Visual storytelling
Style, palette, 2d character design.
Jam: make a short game with Flickgame or Wick editor on a random theme.
Readings: Echoing Histories: Impressionism, Indie Games and Artistic Revolutions, Are Videogames Bad at Images?,  Bad Images.

Homeplay: 20 Mesi, The Matter of the Monster, Harmonia, With Those we love alive, Save the Date, MURDER DOG IV, Galatea, Secret Agent Cinder, Coming out simulator, Gamer mom,Unmanned, 80 Days, Botanicula, Samorost, Chuchel.


Environmental storytelling
World building, tile based level design.
Jam: make a game using Bitsy on a random theme.
Readings: Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock, Ludonarrative dissonance doesn’t exist because it isn’t dissonant and no one cares anyway.

Atmosphere, mood, world building
Jam: starting from a mood or a psychological state, make an environment using VertexMeadow, find or create a soundtrack.
Readings: Slouching toward relevant video games, Coziness in Games:
An Exploration of Safety, Softness, and Satisfied Needs.

Homeplay: Kentucky Route Zero, Oxenfree, Night in the Woods, Oiκοςpiel Book I , Everything is going to be Ok, A Mortician’s Tale, Hohokum, Old Man’s Journey, Burly Men at Sea, 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, Four Last Things, Sword and Sworcery.


First Person
Intro to unity, Doodlestudio, walking simulators
Jam: make a “flat game”
Assignment (2 weeks, groups of 3): make a 2.5D walking simulator on the theme “alien ecology”, it must have elements of procedural generation.
Readings: What Happened Here? Environmental Storytelling, Video Games Are Better Without Stories, That wasn’t supposed to be a choice: metafiction and the Stanley Parable.

Level design
Asset hunting, alteration, and import, greyboxing, game feel
Jam: Make a virtual sculpture using found and repurposed assets.
Assignment (1 week, groups of 3): Make a virtual memorial for a real world event or group.
Readings: Local level design, and a history / future of level design, Liquid Architecture in Cyberspace, The Door Problem,Dan Pinchbeck — Parachuting into the Story, Into the Black: On Videogame Exploration.

Homeplay: Proteus, Islands: non places, Little Party, Thirty Flights of Loving, The Stanley Parable, The Path, Dear Esther, Tacoma , Gone home , What Remains of Edith Finch, The beginner’s Guide.

Character design
Basic 3d character animation with Mixamo, branching text with Yarn and/or Fungus
Assignment (1 week, groups of 3): Design a character with their own background and personality, and let the player explore it through in a “speed dating” scenario.
Screening: Janet Murray – Dramatic Agency: The Next Evolution of Storytelling.

(Intermission) Collaborative Storytelling
Improvisational storytelling, analog role play
 Make a 200 Words RPG/story game using a physical prop and an innovative mechanic/hook.
Homeplay: Sleep is Death, selected 200 words RPG, Downfall, Dog Eat Dog, Feast

kr0 pueblo de nada

Final Project
You have two options:

Group of 2 or 3: Choose something that worked well or had the most promise in the short exercises and expand it into a game.

Solo: Identify your main strength, your strongest skill *as narrowly as possible* (e.g. modeling hands) and design a game around it.

Viewings: PRACTICE 2015: Meg Jayanth, Queens of the Phone Age: The Narrative Design of ‘Reigns: Her Majesty’.

Homeplay: The Yawgh, HerStory, Papers, please, Where water tastes like wine, Bury Me my love, Sonic Dreams Collection, Reigns, Undertale, Cultist Simulator, KR0 un pueblo de nada, Cart Life, Facade, Florence, 18 cadence.

Short games (presented in class): How do you Do It?, Try to dress up, dys4ia, The Cat & the coup, Statues, Like roots in the soil, I fell in love with the majesty of colors, Storyteller, The Immoral Ms. Conduct, and i made sure to hold your head sideways, LIM, Let’s Play: The Shining, Storyseeker, Cyborg Goddess, Queers in Love at the End of the World, A Kiss, Tiny Soccer Manager Stories, Alien Caseno, bundlekitt, Two Interviewees, Foldscape, One of them, Slave of God.



40% Jams/Assignments
40% Final project
20% Class participation and readings

A: You made something good
B: You made something that works
C: You tried to make something
D: You didn’t even try
F: You didn’t even show up


* 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 tweeting, facebooking, chatting, texting, emailing, and especially watching Twitch. Any laptop or device for mediated communication is banned during presentations and discussion, unless you need it for some reason. During work hours you will be allowed to network as long as your behavior 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.


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.