Game Design Fundamentals
Spring 2014 - Syllabus

CMU - ETC
Instructor: Stone Librande
Email: slibrande@cmu.edu

     
     
  1) Jan. 18 - 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.
     
    Homework
    Pick a non-computer 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.
     
    Links
    Optimal Game Design
    Classics of Game Design Theory
    I Have No Words & I Must Design
    Download Windows Go program
     
     
  2) Jan. 25 - 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?

     
    Homework
    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.
     
    Links
    I-Ching
    History of Gambling in the United States
     
     
  3) Feb. 1 - 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

     
    Homework
    Using the techniques discussed in class, write an outline of the rules for your final project.
     
    Links
    Download Rules Template (.doc file)
    Four Square rules
    Little Wars - H.G. Wells (.pdf file)
     
     
  4) Feb. 8 - 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: 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?

     
    Homework
    Work on your final project and bring the rules and pieces to class next week for playtesting with the group.
     
    Links
    The first videogame
    Java Spacewar!
    Hammurabi
    Williams Arcade Classics
    The Art of Computer Game Design
     
     
  5) Feb. 15 - 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.

     
    Homework
    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 changes you would like to make to your game. Explain why.
     
     
  6) Feb. 22 - 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.

     
    Homework
    Play a single player game on Kongregate.com 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?
     
    Links
    Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide
    Erasmatazz: Writings of Chris Crawford
     
     
  7) March 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 gambling game from a collection of dice and blank index cards. 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?

     
    Homework
   

Solve all the problems on the probability worksheet.

     
    Links
    Thunderstorm and Pig
    Tomb Raider Player Modeling
    Heat Maps for Halo 3
    Squoddron Odds Chart (Excel file)
     
     
  8) March 8 - Psychology
   

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 card game with 3 different resources, each with its own special power. If the players favor one resource over another then increase the rewards on the weaker resources (or decrease them on the stronger ones) in an attempt to make all 3 as attractive as possible.

     
    Homework
    Replay the game from Kongregate.com that you played 2 weeks ago. Write a paper that describes the reward system. How does the game reward and penalize you?
     
    Links
    Slot Machines
    Horseshoes, Hand Grenades - and Slot Machines?
    Going for Broke
     
     
  9) March 15 - No Class
   

Spring break.

     
     
  10) March 22 - 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: Obstacle Course
   

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.

     
    Homework
   

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.

     
    Links
    Team Fortress 2
     
     
  11) March 29 - 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.

     
    Homework
    Bring in a board game for the next workshop.
     
     
  12) April 5 - 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.

     
    Homework
   

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

     
    Links
    MIT Mystery Hunt
     
     
  13) April 12 - Design Documents
   

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

     
    Workshop: Card Wars
   

Create a set of cards, each with their own unique rule. Battle other players and discuss which cards are too strong and which ones are too weak. Tune your cards accordingly and then repeat the process with another player. Try to get everyone’s cards balanced.

     
    Homework
    Write a mini design document for a fictitious computer game. Also, bring in your final project for the next workshop
     
    Links
    Design Document Outlines (28K Word file)
     
     
  14) April 19 - No Class
   

Easter break.

     
     
  15) April 26 - Social Gaming
   

Social games, from casual Facebook games to large scale MMOs, present many challenges for a game designer. How do you make changes while the game is live? How do you balance cooperation vs. competition? What happens when the players begin to play the game in ways the original designers never intended?

     
    Workshop: Playtesting
    This is the last chance to playtest your final project game. Work on formalizing the rules, enhancing the player interface and polishing the play mechanics.
     
    Homework
    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).
     
    Links
    MMO Data
    Multiplayer Gaming - Essays
    On-line Personality Test (Explorer-Achiever-Killer-Socializer)
    Facebook App Data
     
     
  16) May 3 - 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.

     
    Homework
    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

     
    Attendance
   

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.
     
    Homework
   

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