Syllabus

Carnegie Mellon University School of Art
Term: Fall 2022
Course number: 60419
Location: CFA 303 + discord
Days / time: Tuesday + Thursday  06:40PM09:30PM
Professor: Paolo Pedercini (paolop)
Graduate Assistant: Inbar Hagai (ihagai)
Office:
 School of art 419A – 4th Floor
Office hours: By appointment
Description: Experimental Game Studio: Digital Playgrounds is a hands-on intermediate course focused on immersive environments, world building, and real time experiences at the boundaries of gaming.
On a conceptual level we’ll look at practices within digital art and independent game development: virtual architecture and sculpture, walking simulators, avatar-based performances, environmental storytelling.
On a technical level the course will introduce you to 3D modeling (Blender), game engine workflows and scripting (Unity) as a scaffolding for advanced game design courses.

UNITS

Each of the units will include a lecture/brainstorming, some technical tutorials, a warm-up workshops, self-directed work time, and a critique. Week by week schedule here (subject to change).

Sculpture

Assignment:  Create a virtual sculpture by using 3D models found online. Look for mundane objects with baggage, history and built-in symbolism.

Speed project: Glitching hour. You have one hour to find an ordinary 3D object online and radically transform it.

Technical topics: finding objects online, clean up, basic manipulation, modifiers, sculpting, materials, Blender to Unity pipeline.

Artifact

Assignment: Model an archeological item from another planet, dimension, or alternate history.
Can you avoid sci-fi or fantasy cliches? Can you imagine a world around it? Does the object suggest its own use?

Speed project: make a series of 3 abstract, or semi abstract, models. Give them titles. Are they interesting from all angles? Do they have a distinct silhouette? Are they engine-ready? 

Technical Topics: box modeling in Blender, basic UV unwrapping, texturing, texture painting.

Avatar 

Assignment: Design an avatar/costume for a very specific circumstance. It has to be riggable as a humanoid.

Speed projects:  Create a base mesh for a non-normative/conforming/stereotypical body type. Design a non-humanoid character to be animated by mocap data.

Technical Topics: character design, auto-rigging, character animations. 

Mask

Speed project: starting from a found model, create a metamorphosis using blendshapes.

Assignment: Model an attention-grabbing virtual mask to be controlled with live capture. Record a short performance for it (eg: non verbal, skit, lip-sync). Post it on Tiktok.

Topics: blend shapes, face capture.

Space

Speed project: mood blockout, block out a minimalistic environment starting from a mood-setting prompt.

Assignment: Create an expressive environment you can explore in first person. It can be a virtual monument, an art installation, or a narrative space.

Topics: level design, environmental storytelling, Unity input, blockout tool, terrain tools.

Playground

Speed project: parcour blockout, starting from a template, create a simple obstacle course game.

Assignment: Create a “high concept” virtual playground/sandbox with some form of interactivity or simulated behavior.

Topics: Unity scripting, physics, events, playtesting. 

Final Project

Expand the most successful assignment(s) into a polished piece.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

Upon completion of the course you will be able to:

  • Scope a project according to limited time and resources
  • Use game engines and 3D modeling 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

REQUIRED MATERIAL

Hardware:
-A laptop. You don’t need a powerful gaming computer but consider we won’t be working in a school lab.
-The charger is not optional.
-A 3 button mouse. You can’t work in 3D without it.
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.

GRADING

Qualitative feedback during in-class critiques is the most important form of evaluation and you will get plenty of it, but we live in a quantified society so grades need to happen.

Your grade is going to be determined by your fellow students.
We are going to have a class discussion about the meaning of grades and design a custom peer grading system.

Final grade composition
The unit score includes assignment, exercises, and class participation. 

Sculpture: 10%
Artifact: 10%
Avatar: 10%
Mask: 10%
Space: 20%
Playground: 20%
Final: 20%

HOMEPLAY

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.

POLICIES

– Attendance: three or more unexcused absences result in the drop of a letter grade.
– Tardiness: arriving late counts as 1/2 absence.
– 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: 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. 
– 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.

INCLUSIVITY STATEMENT

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.

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS

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 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.

COVID 19

In order to attend class meetings in person, all students are expected to abide by all behaviors indicated by CMU policies, including any timely updates based on the current conditions.

Header image from Hohokum by Honeyslug and Richard Hogg