Carnegie Mellon University School of Art
Term: Fall 2021
Course number: 60418
Location: CFA 303 + discord
Days / time: 08:00AM – 10:50AM + 1:25PM – 04:15PM Friday
Professor: Paolo Pedercini – paolop [at] andrew [dot] cmu [dot] edu
Office: School of art 419A – 4th Floor
Office hours: By appointment
Description: 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, visual novels, level and environmental design, immersive experiences, and more. The class consists in one double session a week (morning + afternoon) which allows for extended prototyping exercises, technical tutorials, as well as frontal lectures and in-depth playtesting. Projects are team-based. Coding experience is recommended but not required.
Upon completion of the course you will be able to:
- Work in teams remotely and in person
- Scope a project according to limited time and resources
- Use game engines and tools for game and non game projects
- Identify promising concepts and accept failures and dead ends
- Contextualize your own work within contemporary cultural practices
- Develop your personal style and artistic identity
- Add at least one piece to your creative portfolio
Hardware: A laptop. You don’t need a powerful gaming computer but consider we won’t be working on a school lab.
Software: all the programs used in this class are free or provided by the school. You may have to purchase some individual licenses and subscriptions to certain games or plugins depending on your project, the overall expenses should not exceed $100.
Throughout the semester you will create a game or playable object centered around exploration and storytelling. Each unit will introduce an aspect of game creation and the related technical, aesthetic, and conceptual topics.
We’ll be mostly adopting a “flipped classrom” model: frontal lectures and technical tutorials will be prerecorded and viewed as homework, while synchronous class time will be mostly devoted to team development and critique.
Each students creates a prototype in bitsy. Teams of 3 are formed around the prototypes worth expanding.
Topics: narrative design, non linear storytelling, brainstorming, prototyping.
Tools: Bitsy, miro.
Prototype a control system that will determine the player relationship with the avatar and the game world. Topics: input, game feel, camera, point of view, basic physics, player controller, interfaces, accessibility.
Tools: Unity, gold player controller, cinemachine, collaborate.
Define the scope of your world and create a navigable sketch (blocking) of the environment.
Topics: level design, blocking, game architecture, scoping.
Tools: Sabre, Probuilder, Magika Voxel, Unity terrain.
Come up with a distinctive mood and visual style for your environment. Create a “vertical slice” of the game.
Topics: found assets, materials, shaders, post processing, environment art, logo, key art, sound, finding inspirations outside of games.
Tools: Various quick asset creation tools.
Integrate narration, dialogue, or choices in your environment.
Topics: writing, dialogue system, branching stories, UI, voiceover.
Tools: Ink, Inky, Unity canvas.
Populate your world with playable and non playable characters.
Topics: character design, avatar, basic rigging and animation, animation controller.
Tools: Blender, Mixamo.
Incorporate game mechanics and interaction.
Topics: scripting, physics.
Tool: Unity, Visual Studio, various templates.
You have now a viable prototype. The last 1/3 of the semester is about finishing it.
Topics: Playtesting, debugging, iteration, task management, polishing. Tools: Codecks.
You have a game and now what?
Topics: Release, promotion, documentation, community, the game industry, post mortem.
Qualitative feedback during in-class critiques is the most important form of evaluation, but we live in a quantified society so grades need to happen.
Final project phase
A. Outstanding concept and implementation. It looks and feels like a complete project, not an assignment or prototype.
B. The project is original and complete, all the core components are functional, but it feel unpolished and not ready to “ship”.
C. The project is incomplete and/or the idea is derivative.
D. The project doesn’t work, it has major bugs or is incomplete to a point that is impossible to get a clear idea of the user experience.
E. The student failed to deliver the assignment.
Making (and teaching) games is hard because there different dimension of success and failure. Ideally your game:
Works as artwork – does something innovative, it’s in dialogue with contemporary artmaking, it tackles complex issues.
Works as experience – the player understands what to do, it’s aesthetically polished, it’s well presented and enticing, the difficulty level and learning curve are adequate for the intended audience.
Works as game – the gameplay is not broken, there are no dominant strategies, the gameplay succeeds in its own terms (a roguelike is replayable, an exploration game makes you want to explore, a match 3 game is addictive).
Works as software – it runs, the features are complete, it doesn’t crash, there are no bugs.
Final grade composition
15% Your prototype
40% The team project
10% Readings and homeplay
15% Class and discord participation
20% Peer evaluations
In addition to occasional reading you are expected to play at least one short game every week and two longer games throughout the semester and write a short report. The titles are related to the class topics and are mostly free or cost a few dollars. The longer games can be around $20.
> 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.
> Tardiness: students who arrive late over three times without an excuse will have their class participation grade lowered to z e r o.
> Participation: you are invited, encouraged, and expected to engage actively in discussion, reflection and activities.
> Net addiction: there will be plenty of unstructured work time in which you’ll be able to take breaks and check social media. You are categorically forbidden to “multitask” during frontal lectures and critiques.
> 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.
> Office hours: office hours are by appointment but there will be at least two brief required one-to-one meetings for feedback and a general check-in.
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 http://www.cmu.edu/counseling/. Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.
In order to attend class meetings in person, all students are expected to abide by all behaviors indicated in A Tartan’s Responsibility, including any timely updates based on the current conditions.
In terms of specific classroom expectations, whenever the requirement to wear a facial covering is in effect on campus, students are expected to wear a facial covering throughout class. Note: the requirement to wear a facial covering is in effect for the start of the Fall 2021 semester. If you do not wear a facial covering to class, I will ask you to put one on (and if you don’t have one with you, I will direct you to a distribution location on campus, see https://www.cmu.edu/coronavirus/health-and-wellness/facial-covering.html). If you do not comply, you will be referred to the Office of Community Standards and Integrity for follow up, which could include student conduct action. Finally, please note that sanitizing wipes should be available in our classroom for those who wish to use them.