Game Design I (GAM-350)
Fall 2014 - Syllabus

Cogswell Polytechnical College
Instructor: Stone Librande

  1) Sept. 20 - Introduction

Basics of game design: definition of a game, terminology and basic design categories.

    Workshop: Teams
    Design a team game that can be played by everyone in the class. You can only use items found in the classroom.
    Pick a non-electronic game you enjoy playing and play the game with a group of friends.Analyze the game using the topics discussed in class. Write a review of the game.
    Optimal Game Design
    Classics of Game Design Theory
    I Have No Words & I Must Design
    Download Windows Go program
  2) Sept. 27 - Game History

A brief history of gaming from early folk games to today’s game corporations. An overview of popular game genres will also be presented.

    Workshop: Goals

Play a simple game multiple times, changing the goal each time. How does the emotional feel of the game change as the goal changes?

    Begin work on your final project. Come up with a theme for your game and write up a short description of your game idea. You will present this idea to the class next week.
    History of Gambling in the United States
    2013 Survey of Casino Entertainment
  3) Oct. 4 - Writing Rules

Students will present their final project ideas to the class. After the presentations, we will discuss a basic framework for writing game rules.

    Workshop: Decision Making

Divide into small groups and create a game that requires players to make a choice between 2 different interesting options each turn. Each choice should advance the player towards victory, but in a slightly different way. Write up the rules and playtest your game with other groups.

    Using the techniques discussed in class, write an outline of the rules for your final project.
    Download Rules Template (.doc file)
    Four Square rules
    Little Wars - H.G. Wells (.pdf file)
  4) Oct. 11 - History of Computer Games

Overview of computer games, from early Teletype text games to the latest generation of consoles. We will also examine the different genres of computer games.

    Workshop: Obstacles

Make a “par 5” obstacle course using a ball and random objects found in the classroom. All the students will play each other’s courses. Keep score to find out if the average player can make it to the goal in five attempts.

    Work on your final project and bring the rules and pieces to class next week for playtesting with the group.
    The first videogame
    Java Spacewar!
    Williams Arcade Classics
    The Art of Computer Game Design
  Oct. 18 - No Class

I will be out of the country. We will discuss a suitable make-up date.

  5) TBD - Final Project Review 1

Students will present their final projects to the class.

    Workshop: Playtesting

We will playtest the games and provide feedback and critiques to the designer.

    Play your final project with your friends or family members. Take detailed notes about their interest levels and the comments they make. Using your notes, write a paper that describes your play session. What worked? What didn't? What changes need to be made?
  6) Oct. 25 - Play Balance

Play balance theory and practical techniques used to balance games.

    Workshop: Opposition

Design a game where players must work together to stop a rampaging robot from destroying a nearby town. Design the AI for the robot and then try to beat your own creation.

    Play a single player game on and write a paper that describes the game balance. Was the opposition balanced? Did the game get more interesting as you played? Were the decisions that you made balanced against each other?
    Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide
    Erasmatazz: Writings of Chris Crawford
  7) Nov 1 - Statistics and Probabilities

Thorough game design requires an understanding and analysis of the odds and probabilities in the game. In this class we will cover simple statistical formulas that can be used to analyze a game.

    Workshop: Odds

Make a squadron of spaceships using dice. Create odds tables based on the different events that might occur. Play the game with others in the class and record the actual numbers. How does the reality correspond to the odds?


Solve all the problems on the probability worksheet.

    Thunderstorm and Pig
    Tomb Raider Player Modeling
    Heat Maps for Halo 3
    Squoddron Odds Chart (Excel file)
    Dice Designer (find the best 6-sided die)
  8) Nov. 8 - Reward Systems

Why are we compelled to keep playing certain games when our bodies are telling us to eat or sleep? We will look at some basic behavioral psychology studies and apply the results to game design. We will also examine many different types of games and try to understand why some can be played repeatedly, while others are played once then shelved.

    Workshop: Rewards

Design a Vegas casino game. Try to entice players to your table and keep them there. Be careful about giving away too much money or your casino will go broke. But if you give away too little then your players will leave to visit another table.

    Replay the game from that you played 2 weeks ago. Write a paper that describes the reward system. How does the game reward and penalize you?
    Slot Machines
    Horseshoes, Hand Grenades - and Slot Machines?
    Going for Broke
  9) Nov. 15 - Level Design

We will talk about general design principles for designing a level. Many of these techniques can be applied to both board games and computer games.

    Workshop: Paper Simulation

Pick a favorite video game and create a simulation of it using only blank index cards, tokens and dice. You will lose the graphics, the sound effects and input controllers. But what elements of the game survive the conversion from electronics to paper?


Update the rules for your final project and make sure your game is ready for others to play. Bring the rules and the game in next week.

    Team Fortress 2
  10) Nov. 22 - Final Project Review 2

Presentations of the students’ final projects.

    Workshop: Playtesting

Play and critique the final project games. The game designer will not be allowed to settle rules disputes and questions. Instead, the players must rely completely on the rulebook.

    Bring in a board game for the next workshop.
  11) Nov. 29 - No Class

Thanksgiving break.

  12) Dec. 6 - Atmosphere

While a game can be abstract, adding a theme can help draw players into your game world. This week’s lecture will examine how the “flavor” of a game can enhance the game player’s experience.

    Workshop: Mash-up

In a group of two, combine two board games together and make a new game. We will also take a look at recent commercial updates to classic games.


Write a second draft version of the rulebook for your final project. Include illustrations.

    MIT Mystery Hunt
  13) Dec. 13 - Design Documents

While some card and board games can be designed and created by one author, many games (especially electronic games) require a large team. This class will discuss writing a design document to keep large projects organized.

    Workshop: Design Jam

You will be given a random design problem involving a budget, staff, deadline, creative vision, and technology platform. Working in a small team, quickly design the game's structure and make a paper prototype of one of its systems.

    Finish your final projects and bring them to class next week. Be prepared to discuss your game and its evolution. What changed and why? Your final game should be extensively playtested. (You will need to turn in your playtest results along with a statistical analysis).
    Design Document Outlines (28K Word file)
  14) Dec. 20 - Final Projects

Presentations of the students’ final projects.

    Workshop: Playing games

We will play the final projects. Projects will be graded offsite over the weekend and final grades will be emailed to the students.

    No homework.
  Grading Policy

Grading is based on a percentage scale from 0 – 100%. Attendance is worth 60%, homework counts as 15% and the final project is worth 25%.
90 – 100%:      A
80 – 89%:        B
70 – 79%:        C
60 – 69%:        D
0 – 59%:          Failure


Since this is a workshop class, grading will primarily be based on attendance and class participation. 65% of a student’s grade will be determined by attendance; there are 14 classes, each worth approximately 5% of your grade.

Attendance is the most important factor of a student’s final grade. In addition to losing the attendance score, missing a class will usually result in another minus 1% because of the late homework. There is no way to make up a missed class.

There will be one homework assignment each week. Homework must be turned in the following week. Late homework assignments will be reviewed, but will not add to a student’s final grade. Ten of the assignments are worth 1 point each.

Homework assignments must be written on a computer and printed out prior to class. Homework sent through email will not be accepted.
    Final Project

Final projects count for 25% of each student’s grade. The final project is a complete game and is graded as follows:
5%:      Rulebook (ease of use, organization, clearly written)
5%:      Design (layout, colors, interface, etc.)
5%:      Analysis (statistics and probability charts)
10%:    “Fun” factor (replayability, theme, originality, etc.)

    Download as a Microsoft Word document