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The Video Game Design Program

Charles emailed me a reminder to post that game design proposal, so without further ado, here is a start.

So I have been thinking about this, and I decided to finally start figuring out how to make this Game Design program. I don’t know where I will be going with this, but I guess it’s a start to making something bigger.

Production, Design, Theory

When discussing game design, there are three types of education that should be available. Production is what most schools vocational schools offer. I am talking about Full Sail and DigiPen, and even Guildhall at SMU. While you can argue USC and Carnegie Mellon are also production, I believe there are trying to be more design focused. Then you have the full theory schools, like Georgia Tech, MIT, and Michigan State. These are programs that are very interested in games interacting with other disciplines.

BA, MA, and PhD

So the question becomes which does NYU focus on? Well I believe it has to do all three, and have them properly timed so each can build off the others.

The Undergraduate program is more geared toward production, with students receiving Computer Science, Animation, English, Architecture, or Business type degrees with it, they will become integral players in the industry. Students will still take Game Design courses but must also Major (or Minor, perhaps) in another area of study involved in game design. The game design courses will focus on the aspect they deal with most, while later classes involve working in groups to make games.

The Graduate program will be more design based, with students taking crash courses in Computer Science, Animation, and other Design elements involved in game design. Then students will also begin with a paper prototyping class, that does not allow for computers to be involved. The next semester students will begin creating computer games, but can also continue with a board game class.

Each student will also have to work on a large scale game project involving 3+ students. The size of the group depends on the project. These projects will involve undergraduate students, who will also receive credit. Each grad student will have a semester to work on an idea, which at the end of the semester will be pitched to the faculty, who will choose the concepts they think are feasible, and help them find students to work on the team. Each game will have a faculty mentor attached. The game will not have to be digital.

The PhD program will involve a yearly ‘Deathmatch’ between Ludologists and Naratologists over which is superior.

Seriously, the PhD will involve students studying more of the theory behind the game, including discussions on classification of gaming archetypes, and development of new genres. It will be geared more towards what is coming in the near and far off future. This will be similar to the Cinema Studies field, but more about what will happen, rather than what has happened.

So now we need to know what I got right, and what I got wrong. Let’s get a good proposal together and we can put it in the right hands.


  1. Charles wrote:

    Oren, I think this is a good start but I am wondering about a few things. I’m not quite clear on your distinction between ‘production’ and ‘design’. While I understand the difference you’re trying to draw, I feel like the a game design program shouldn’t treat them as separate entities. I guess that’s actually my sentiment as a whole. Why limit real theoretical work to PhD students. The program needs to be flexible enough for the person who likes design, but is interested in theory, or the student that really loves to animate, but would also like to understand the mechanical design of games.

    Thursday, May 31, 2007 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Bob wrote:

    This is a pretty good first step. I think considering what types of courses students would take would be the next step from here– yes, we know computer science, animation, english, architecture and even design, etc., but there needs to be some kind of context for the appreciation of games, in and of themselves. If you’re going to major in creative writing, for example, you’re either required to take heavy doses of literature courses, as well, or you’d be an idiot not to. This would probably fall under your idea of “theory,” perhaps, and proof positive that you’d need more of it in the undergrad and grad programs than you’re considering. We can’t take it for granted that people in game design majors will be playing lots of games automatically, just as you can’t naturally assume that fiction majors will necessarily be reading, considering extraneous college schedules you have to compete with. Just as it’s smart for a writer to take a class in Joyce, Dante, Shakespeare or a particular school or era of writing, it’d be smart for a designer to take a class in Wright, Miyamoto, Kojima or a particular system of gaming.

    As for whether you’d want to focus on a series of games or just a couple per class each semester (imagine the nightmare of having to complete all the “Final Fantasy” games in only a handful of months!), that’s a question for another day. But as it stands, this brief outline you’ve got could definitely go places. Bravo!

    Thursday, May 31, 2007 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  3. Oren wrote:

    Charles- While I seperate the major areas of study, I excpect all students to take classes in any class of interest. The undergrad will take as many theory classes as they like, along with something to facilitate their video game development. They will need to fulfill their low level classes of programming or animation, and then take appropriate game related classes. If you are a programmer, you can take the paper prototyping game design, but unless you take the animation class, you wont get the drawing/ art for games class.

    The masters will hone his development skills, taking classes in art and animation if he was a programmer. He will also be taking the high level theory classes that are more positioned for the doctoral students. Most of his time will be spent designing and re-designing many games, learning different types of games, or focusing on MGS. (Because Bob can do it!)

    The doctoral student will be taking those high level theory classes, along with teaching the undergraduate classes (it is a University after all!). Most of their time will be spent actually creating a single game or paper of significance. The game might implement new ideas and challenge current gaming trends, while the theorist will question the very existence of self in the game or things of such nature.

    Though they are separate, they are as many departments are already structured. Look film school: Undergrad is how to use a camera and all that jazz, along with some theory on close-up and zooms. Grad is spent testing out the ideas, filming and editing based on those new ideas you heard about color treating and pacing. And those doctors wrote some crazy thoughts on cinema, that few read, or created some insane new film, that few watch.

    Bob- I had a class where only one game was made as homework, Civ 3. It worked out well, because we saw a lot of other games, and you could play them in one of their rooms, but I played most of them already. We still did the insane amount of reading these theory classes had, but it was nice to know I wasn’t procrastinating rather doing work when I played Civ until sunrise.

    I think the best thing to do would be similar to ITP, but quite different; make a lounge and put consoles on corners, book cases filled with games, and many tables to play them at. Along with that, we could have a weekly game night, where a particular game corresponding to whichever class will be played with a professor, or something of that ilk.

    I started a weekly game night for the games club I started in undergrad, and it has been very fun to visit them now, as some of the members bring games I have never seen before. I would like to get one of those going again, if anyone is interested in just coming or helping plan (hosting and game procurement), let me know.

    Monday, June 4, 2007 at 6:28 am | Permalink
  4. Bob wrote:

    What you’re describing for the consoles lounge sounds interesting, though basically it amounts to using an arcade as a semi-classroom. It’s not a bad idea, but it only really facilitates growth with certain type of communal multiplayer games, either co-op or competitive. You won’t really be able to get in deeper to single-player games unless you’re going to develop some kind of an isolated booth-type atmosphere where students can sequester themselves off and play without fear of interruption, which is pretty much bound to happen if nobody’s closed off. Using portable systems with headphones, etc., can provide a certain type of privacy, but the types of games offered would be pretty limited. Without library-type cubicles where people can ignore everyone and be ignored in-turn, this social atmosphere will only really work for games which encourage group play. Either that or you’re likely to see more advanced gamers just hog the machines while all the newbies are forced to simply watch from the background, which kind of defeats the purposes of this space as a learning environment. Still, it’s interesting.

    I’m willing to volunteer some games from my collection for another game night (though everyone knows basically what my library will consist of). As for MGS, when can I sign up to start teaching a course here, eh?

    Monday, June 4, 2007 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  5. CosMind wrote:

    i think that what we first and foremost need is a class to enlighten the masses to what game design, specifically, even is – what it is compared to game ideas, game production, game art, game programming, and the many other facets of game development.

    that, from what i can see, is the biggest fundamental misunderstanding that is floating around. and, what i feel is really holding formal game design education back in the first place. every single school that i’ve seen who claims to teach game design tends to do nothing of the sort – but, rather, they teach some other facet of game development.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2007 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  6. Charles wrote:

    That’s a pretty great insight, CosMind. I’ve been shocked by how many times I’ve told people I’m a game designer and they ask me if I program.

    I think part of the problem with schools teaching everything but game design has something to do with the industry. There’s still no clear road to becoming a game designer in one of these huge developers, so if schools start churning out people with degrees in actual game design, instead of programming or animation/modeling, those businesses aren’t going to know what to do with them. Right now the recommended route is through QA, but there’s nothing there that needs a college education.

    This is why I think that any department that does get built at NYU will need to have a strong emphasis on independent development, because I think the best road to becoming a professional game designer is still just going out and building games.

    Thursday, June 7, 2007 at 2:55 am | Permalink

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