University Developing a New Games Design Course - Open floor Discussion

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SSquir33 polycounter lvl 9
Hello All, 

I'm currently in the midst of re-structuring a University level course that teaches Games Design.

I myself have been a product of such course many years ago, and felt it came up short in many ways. Fast forward X amount of years, and I've seen many Uni's flourish and churn out amazing students to plug into the Games sector. Whilst I'm primarily self-taught - I have been head hunted by my local University to inject some life into its faculty.

That being said, it was this forum that inspired me to evolve into the professional artist I am today. So I figured to return to the epicentre that is PC.

Now I'm in a fortunate position to craft a course that suits the needs of the aspiring Games Designer. A Course for the 'Indie' Artist to flourish with a broad skill set that propels them into a future in the Games industry.

My question I present (and its a Very broad general question)

What would you want to see in a modern Games Design course? This could be methodologies, certain programs (Unity, Unreal), maybe new trending workflows that are emerging, or simply ways to boost confidence in students to achieve the best they can. The course would focus towards the Design aspect (game design, mechanics etc) but would have a deliverable as a working game for the final year project. 

This goes out to professionals, students and hobbyists alike. I'm researching every single possibility we can take this course, and primarily as an Artist (not an Academic) - This is a rare opportunity to build a ground-up course and I truly want it to serve the Games Community hence the reach-out .

Thanks for any suggestions, feedback and comments,
Vee

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  • JacqueChoi
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    JacqueChoi interpolator
    A long time ago, Nintendo used to run a "design test" (not sure if this is still done).

    They would have a box of "game props".

    They would randomly grab several items such as:
    - A bunch of Black and White tokens
    - Cue Cards
    - Some Dice
    - Some Dominos
    - Deck of Cards.

    Then you would be required to make a game with whatever random props they pulled.

    Also you had to write down ALL the rules.
    And you could not be present when the game was played.

  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor polycount lvl 666
    All the theory and strategy in the world goes out the window if person doesn't have confidence to be themselves and do their best work. Many millenials have problems with self-esteem, so fixing that is prereq to anything else IMO. 

    It's simple to do. Provide challenge, eliminate judgement. Repeat over and over. Root out insecurity and destroy it by putting people on the spot and challenging them over and over. When there is failure, keep moving fast so there is no time for dwelling on negatives. "What did we learn? Okay, next!" 
    Eliminate judgement doesn't mean you must coddle and talk to adults like they are babies. In fact, if you do that, it is a subtle form of judgement, isn't it? You treat every person like it is expected they are confident. In time they learn on their own to measure up to expectations.

    Some people have less experience in facing challenge than others. If that seems to be the case, don't coddle. Just ramp them up more slowly. It is important that everybody faces the same expectations. How quick they rise to them can be individual -- and again no judgement is essential.

    Jacques example is perfect challenge. Every day somebody new is in charge of making the game. 

    First time being in charge, an insecure person in charge is worried about everything but making the best game. Most likely mind is centered around fear of judgement. This is why repetition and judgement free environment is so important. The twentieth time this person is in charge, they have removed unecessary baggage and are 100% focused on the mission. Now they are ready to do their best work. They are set up for success.

    TL:DR  Challenge + judgement free environment + repetition = set up for success



  • tynew
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    tynew polycounter lvl 6
    I co-created and primarily designed Blackwake, so here are my thoughts. 
    Most designers I've seen still don't understand the overall scale/scope efficiently. Their design for the game is either super simple or overly complex, they never hit that balanced point. 
    In their projects they produce, I would carry across some major points. 
    1.  Don't design a game that only YOU would find enjoyable, this era of thinking is over for any chance of success. Appeal to a larger audience. The fact that you would enjoy it is an addition. Their small projects should interest more than a niche audience. They need to think, would this kind of game go viral, or be spread all over games news sites/youtube/twitch. 
    2. In aid to point 1. Minimize RISK by working in a genre that will SELL. Noone cares about your point and click adventure anymore (unless satirical like grim fandango), or your next flappy bird clone. FPS, TPS, RPGs are the biggest moneymakers. Don't multiplayer indie games anymore, there are more games out there than people that can play them. 
    3. You NEED to have some stand out mechanic or function that is unique, thought outside the box. Steal good ideas from other games but lead the way with your own unique idea. The initial idea of Blackwake came from a mod for Garry's mod called pirate ship wars. We felt there were no large scale pirate PVP games out there so that's how it branched out. Another example is Getting Over It. Hard games have been done before, but the fact that you scaled walls with a hammer using your mouse melded a unique element into an existing genre. 
    4. Design LONG not short. Design a game loop that can keep people playing for hours, not minutes. This is far too frequent with minimum viable products. Sure it's cool for 25 minutes, but after that, there is no draw or place it could expand to. Whether that be in difficulty, unique mechanics added, later on, unique levels built around the base loop, or a long progressive loop. PLAYER RETENTION. 

    Eg; A few friends I know made a game where the base loop is that you herd sheep into a pen as a dog, but the sheep can die/explode from traps such as mines or falling off cliffs etc. This could easily be expanded by unique death elements, plus difficulty per level. This could also have been procedurally generated with parameters to make it have a ton of replayability. This game was hilarious and the core loop of the game hit all the 4 points above.
    Humor is also an unexplored subject in games a fair bit. This contributed to Blackwake's success a fair bit. If a game can make you constantly laugh it makes it more fun, but it should not be forced. If the designers don't have a good sense of humor it won't work out so well, like a bad joke told in a movie. 
    While the first two points are sort of business-related, a good game designer should know these off the bat. Understanding what you should design and how to apply it effectively is extremely important.
    That's all I can think of, for now, hope it helps. 
  • sacboi
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    sacboi sublime tool
    For consideration as perhaps a course module inclusion.
    That students recieve an ongoing critique of their work whether per semester or by a calender year's end throughout their individual course of study, in other words basically portfolio preparation. 
    Time and again on these boards, I see recent graduates submit a selection of pieces for peer review which generally fall well short of the standard required and usually the accompanying poster's remarks point too substandard training, shallow course depth of applicable industry art workflows..etc. To be clear my perspective originates via that of a freelance background but nonetheless through friends/acquaintances working within a studio system will often comment that aside from folio quality, luck and timing also play a crucial part securing a full time role.
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown polycounter
    sacboi said:
    For consideration as perhaps a course module inclusion.
    That students recieve an ongoing critique of their work whether per semester or by a calender year's end throughout their individual course of study, in other words basically portfolio preparation. 
    Time and again on these boards, I see recent graduates submit a selection of pieces for peer review which generally fall well short of the standard required and usually the accompanying poster's remarks point too substandard training, shallow course depth of applicable industry art workflows..etc. To be clear my perspective originates via that of a freelance background but nonetheless through friends/acquaintances working within a studio system will often comment that aside from folio quality, luck and timing also play a crucial part securing a full time role.
    I'm not sure how applicable that could be for a Game Design course. What does a portfolio review for design look like?
  • sacboi
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    sacboi sublime tool
    @Taylor Brown I'd respectfully disagree mate, but anyway here you go:
    http://www.davidshaver.net/
    When I ran a quick sesrch, David Shaver topped the list, he kind of rang a bell somewhere, though not until I'd scanned through his stuff then *forehead palm slap* ah!...of course his credits are amoung a selection of games I'm into, hardcore : P
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown polycounter
    @sacboi while I still don't know how a game design portfolio is reviewed, that one you linked was really a treat to look at.
  • sacboi
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    sacboi sublime tool
    I'm not entirely sure what you're asking, here?
    However I may've initially misread this thread's starter post but my understanding was that the course would emphasise design aspects?! which too my mind lean toward art related elements plus given that game design encapsulates a myriad of disciplines, I'd hazard a guess once up and running will present quite a challenge for both tutor/s and students, alike..
  • SSquir33
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    SSquir33 polycounter lvl 9
    @JacqueChoi - Thats a great idea!   We have something similar but we use tokens and dice 

    @Alex Javor - Very much agree - the right environment allows creative minds to flourish

    @tynew - Thats a solid list and even more so that you've released a game by this mantra.i'm sure every designer has their own bullet point list , I'd love for more of these so I can see any 'universal truths' amongst designers to preach

    @sacboi  - great link - I liked his GDC presentation and the workflow he used . 

    Yes this is a games design course that focuses on the design aspect . They learn Unity and Maya to build basic 'prototypes' and test out their ideas.

    Thanks for the input this is exactly the feedback the course needs =)

  • tynew
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    tynew polycounter lvl 6
    @SSquir33
    My first two points might seem a bit brutal but these come from a purely statistical and analytical perspective. There's plenty of GDC talks on what games become successful ln steam as well. 
    A majority of game design students I've seen around the globe, or even locally at universities here never get any success. I see them time and time again designing things that don't hit the first two points I labelled. When I go to pax or other game events and see aspiring developers trying to make a name for themself, they designed some niche mobile clone game or something that has no power. They aren't trying hard enough to make something that will appeal to more than themself. 
    Making games is business whether we like it or not, so you have to make something that will sell. 
    Games like Crossy road, framed, screencheat were designed and created here. You could tell they would have been big sellers before they even released, they did something unique and broadly appealing. 
    To add onto genres in point 2, there's a lot of room for infinite situation generators. Where unexpected gameplay behaviours can happen. Stuff like Kenshi (which was initially created by one person) and bannerlord are good examples. Although these are too advanced for a university demo. Unless they program some small surprising npc behaviours that react to what you do or interact with. 
    These students are spending tens of thousands on their courses, so they should try to analyse and understand why games sell. Their main goal is to make that game succeed with their ideas and mechanics.  
    Sorry for the ranting, I had a few friends do game design courses and didn't get anywhere. And understanding how the industry really works after making my own game for 5 years really opens my eyes as a designer. I'm very passionate on game design and the industry in general. 

    I will say though, I do believe there will be a higher demand for good game designers in the future. Since art is becoming more streamlined, more creative thinking is required to keep players engaged. It's no longer about amazing graphics that will make people buy games now. It's about what they do different. 
  • defragger
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    defragger polycounter
    completely agree with what @tynew said.

  • Barbarian
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    Barbarian polycounter lvl 8
    Sacboi "That students recieve an ongoing critique of their work whether per semester or by a calender year's end throughout their individual course of study, in other words basically portfolio preparation" and tynew "A majority of game design students I've seen around the globe, or even locally at universities here never get any success.", "Making games is business whether we like it or not, so you have to make something that will sell. " hit the nail on the head.

    One key problem with most current college and university programs is that the focus is on producing degrees and retaining students ("customers") at the expense of rigor. Trade schools that provide skill acquisition and some form of experience in the field are preferable (but rare).

    Requirements for success: Teacher with current pipeline skill, rigor (no fluff), and realistic critiques (and grading).

    I can refer you to a lot of experienced pros that gave teaching a whirl and got fed up because of the lack of rigor and shackles that prevented them from thinning the herd so that those who want to succeed get more attention. I can also draw your attention to many graduates with degrees that have lots of debt, working jobs not related to their degree, and that have expectations that are not real.

    Visit with some of the CGMA instructors about the percentage of students that actually complete all the assignments and spend the time to produce quality results. The students that take those courses supposedly are more motivated than general uni students.

    You can design the "best course" in the world, but under most uni administrations your hands will be severely tied.



  • sacboi
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    sacboi sublime tool

    Great insights @tynew

    These students are spending tens of thousands on their courses, so they should try to analyse and understand why games sell. Their main goal is to make that game succeed with their ideas and mechanics.  

    There's something too be said about what indeed makes just a few standout games so financially successful.

    From a simple 2D sidescroller, developed over several days by a single person for mobile, "Flappy Bird" as opposed too a multi hundred million dollar budget AAA behemoth "GTA V".

    So in my opinion the fine line between addiction and pure player immersion can be difficult to navigate intuitively, no?  

  • SSquir33
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    SSquir33 polycounter lvl 9
    @Barbarian - Yes in today's world the rigorous and realistic grading in the classroom has fallen short . 

    Attracting students who genuinely want to work hard, and students that take a 'Games' course like its a 'media studies' course (not taking anything away from Media studies students) is a pretty fine line. We attract such a vast range of skillsets - to get everyone on the boat is the main challenge of Uni's (imo). 

    I am interested in myself in how this course will shape up - and will do everything I can to make it relevant and applicable to the games industry. 

    @tynew - Exactly. This course was specifically created to promote the next wave of designers . Critical thinking and analysis of existing successful games is the hallmark of every good designer. Indeed it is a broad topic to teach in 3 years, but each module will be tailored to hit all areas of good game design coupled with good business practices. Also your examples on game mechanics that sell are spot on! I'll have to drop you a message soon :)

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