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COURSE NAME: "Introduction to Video Game Design"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Brian Thomson
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TH12:30 PM 3:15 PM

Introduction to Video Game Design will take a hands-on journey through the process of creating a third-person video game, from initial idea to functioning prototype. Students in the course will explore character, narrative, and level design; consider how game mechanics influence story (and vice versa); model various asset production pipelines; get comfortable with game logic and learn to build the systems contemporary games require; and consider the various avenues available to independent developers for getting their games into the hands of their players.
For nearly a decade the video game industry has generated more revenue than the film and music industries combined, a trend that appears likely to continue for the foreseeable future. And as the industry has grown, so too has the variety of experiences to which games expose their players: from the Kafkaesque nightmare of customs officer simulator “Papers, Please” to the existential dread and dystopian paranoia of “Limbo” and “Inside” to the surreal pastoral of “Goat Simulator” contemporary games are often as interested in provoking their audiences to question their easy certainities and unarticulated biases as they are in encouraging the next in-app purchase.

Introduction to Video Game Design is a project-based course whose structure is modelled on the stages of independent game development. In the “research” stage the course will examine different genres, styles, controls, as well as consider strategies for market evaluation. The course will then move on to preparation of a game design document before plunging into asset development, the implementation of controls, game mechanics and systems, visual effects, and audio, before finally addressing the design and implementation of user interface elements (including menus), and discussing the qualities (“polish”) that help distinguish a game in a space that grows more crowded by the hour.

There will be homework assignments nearly every week that aim to reinforce the material covered in class, provide additional context for development practices and industry organization, and create a firm foundation for the development of the student’s final project.

The course will use Unreal Engine for its development environment with Blueprints visual scripting.

Required course materials/study visits and expected expenditure for the students. Although we will be working on the Macs in the lab during class students MUST have their own computers with 8GB of RAM and a discrete graphics card at an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM. 16GB+ of RAM and Nvidia GTX1060+/AMD 570+ are recommended. Macbook Airs and Macs with M1 CPUs may prove unworkable. Please download Unreal and test your setup before class begins.

We will be using Blender, Unreal Engine, Quixel Mixer, and Photoshop in the class. Blender is free. Students who do not have access to Photoshop are free to use GIMP, an open-source alternative. Unreal is free. Quixel is also free, although you will need to set up your Unreal account prior to activating it.
By the end of the class students should be able to:
• develop a viable game idea and present it through a comprehensive game design document
• design and produce appealing assets for their chosen genre
• source and customize free, public domain, and CC0 assets for use in their games
• use a visual scripting language to implement game controls, mechanics, animations, audio, and effects Students should understand
• how the economics of the game industry have changed over the years and how it shapes the sort of games we play
• how the player’s engagement with a game differs from a viewer’s engagement with a film or video, or a reader’s engagement with a book
• how contemporary game design functions within a matrix of cultural assumptions and ideology

Asset production and development assignmentsThere will be homework assignments nearly every week, including readings and supplemental lectures, drafting, modelling and texturing, animating, and scripting. Together, these assignments are worth 50% of your final grade. 50
Game Design DocumentYou will be presenting a game design document for your own game during mid-term week. The GDD is worth 20% of your final grade. 20
Playable PrototypeA working prototype of the game presented in the GDD is due on the day of the final exam and is worth 30% of your final grade. 30

AWork of this quality demonstrates a deep understanding of the medium (e.g., “audio”) and an ability to communicate complex ideas within the parameters of the discipline (e.g., “documentary”) or even in rare cases beyond them. The techniques deployed go well beyond those required for the course, and the execution demonstrates a substantial degree of planning. No technical errors or issues. Work of this quality would not generally be identifiable as “student” work. Students working at this level will generally take a leadership role in group work and actively foster a productive and collaborative working environment. Equipment is returned in a timely fashion and in the same (or better) condition than it was received.
BWork of this quality demonstrates a highly competent mastery of the tools and techniques associated with the medium and/or a unique approach to communicating ideas within the parameters of the discipline. Any technical errors or issues would be minor enough to go unremarked by casual audiences. Students working at this level will often take a leadership role in group work. Equipment is returned in a timely fashion and in the same (or better) condition than it was received.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance that demonstrates competence with the tools and techniques discussed during lectures, and contains a minimal number of technical errors or issues. Content falls within the parameters of the discipline. Students working at this level will often play a supporting role in group work. Equipment is generally returned in a timely fashion in the same condition than it was received.
DWork of this quality demonstrates a lack of competence with the tools and techniques discussed during lectures, contains substantial technical errors and issues, and suggests only a superficial engagement with the discipline. Students working at this level may hamper the maintenance of a productive working environment during group exercises. Equipment is often returned late and/or in poor condition.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of either the medium or the discipline in question. Students working at this level make maintaining a productive working environment difficult and may actively inhibit effective collaboration. Equipment is generally returned late and/or in poor condition.

Attendance at all sessions is strongly recommended. Students will not be penalised for absences; nor, however, will they be given credit for late assignments.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Week 1: Surveying the gaming landscape
Topics include: industry overview, development roles, publishing and distribution, marketing considerations for independent developers, genres and platforms. This class will also introduce the Unity development environment. We will set up our in-class projects with correct settings and learn how to import internal and external packages for use in our projects.
Assignment: Elevator Pitches for the game you’d like to make, readings from 101 Things I Lear-ned in Architecture School


Week 2: Designing the core game loop
Topics include story and gameplay; character, cameras, combat, and mechanics; systems and progression, and an overview of the game design document.
Assignment: There will be several required videos from the Gamemakers Toolkit and Architect of Games YouTube channels. (And you will be encouraged to binge as many of them as you can!) Start working on your game design document. Install Unity if you haven’t already.


Week 3: Level Design
Topics include overview of level taxonomy, open and closed worlds, quests, defining objectives, hazards and enemies, and a brief introduction to grey boxing with Unity Probuilder.


Weeks 4-7: The asset pipeline
Topics will include an overview of 3D assets and the asset production pipeline; tools and techni-ques of box and sub-d modelling, low- and high-poly techniques (including sculpting) for game development, UV unwrapping, PBR shaders, textures and baking, as well as basic character de-sign and rigging for animation.
Assignment: Begin producing models to replace “grey-box assets”. Prepare a weekly briefing (1-2 minutes) on changes/improvements and issues you encounter.
The game design document will be due at the end of week 7.


Weeks 8-13: The Unity Development Environment and the Playmaker framework
Topics will include: importing/exporting assets, configuring user input, building a third-person character controller, using Mecanim to control animations, using colliders and triggers to create interactions in the game, rigging particle systems for visual effects, realtime/baked lighting stra-tegies, implementing game systems (health, inventory, experience, quest, dialogue, etc.) and user interface/head’s up display elements with visual scripting.
Assignment: Implement controls and game systems that are relevant for your game. Iterate and playtest, tweak and debug continuously.


Week Fourteen: Distribution Considerations
Topics include title screens, load screens, options menus, optimizations, deliverables, presenting your game on a platform (in our case, itch.io), FTP and the Butler client, screenshots, trailers Assignment: Create an itch.io page for distributing your game including description, screen-shots, gameplay trailer, etc. Secure keys for the class.
Final Exam: Games due