Game Design

ARTS 4510
section 01 CRN: 45749 & section 02 CRN: 47354
Fall 2013 Wednesdays  2 - 5:50PM
VAST Studio, Sage 2411
4 Credits

Prerequisites: Part of GSAS Core/MSI
(see your GSAS advisor or permission of instructor)

from The Watershed Project by Dan Hawkins, Bryce Miller, Evan Minto, Evan-Daniel Rose-Gonzalez,
Randy Sabella, Anthony Szymczyk, Beth Towns, Rosa Tung, Kathleen Ruiz,  Beth Werbaneth & Colin Neville




Kathleen Ruiz
Associate Professor of Integrated Arts
email: ruiz@rpi.edu  
phone: 518-276-2539
office: West Hall 314c
office hours: Thursdays 1 to 3 pm by appointment
(please use sign up board on office door WH 314c or via email)

Required Events
Drop Box Information


Course Topics

EMAC Thesis Students: A B C
Conferences and Groups

Experimental Game Design is a studio arts course focusing on the creation of innovative workable game prototypes using a variety of multimedia approaches, methodologies and materials. Games are analyzed as cultural artifacts reflecting behavior, social formation, and the representation of gender, ethnicity and identity.  Primary to this course is the formation of trans-disciplinary collaborative teams doing groundbreaking work that spans across a variety of genres. Alternate gaming paradigms and emerging forms and interfaces are encouraged.


Starting with creating an archeological, socio-cultural and ethical overview of their own history of game and toy preferences, students then create a short individual game project followed by a short temporary team project. The final project teams are then formulated for the remainder of the semester. The final project, which is the main focus of the course, is a purposeful work which shows depth and quality of ideation, innovation and interaction. The game must be fully functional and must be accompanied by a completed, detailed, multidiscipline exemplary game design document using the format: Model Game Design Document


Social action simulation, art games, applied or serious games, indy games, complex scenario planning, problem solving, blended reality, educational games, abstract play, and other forms have been created in the course. Factors in game design including flow and game play gestalt are taken into consideration. The aesthetics of game design including interaction design, character development, level design, game play experience, and delivery systems are developed as students create the various game assignments. Primary to this course is the formation of interdisciplinary collaborative teams consisting of talents from visual and sound artists, programmers, cognitive scientists, designers, engineers, IT professionals and others. Elements of successful collaboration are covered and camaraderie of invention is encouraged.


Course Objectives/Outcomes:
1. Upon successful completion of the course students will have the ability to explore new approaches to the concepts of “game,” “play”, and “simulation” and start to define alternate paradigms within this emerging expressive form as demonstrated in the individual and team based projects.

2. Upon successful completion of the course students will develop one or more of the following skills: design, art making, game programming, or engineering strategies which merge concept, process and form - encouraging approaches that are at once inquisitive, analytical, creative, experimental and articulate.

Upon successful completion of the course students will be able to create an archeological, socio-cultural and ethical overview of their own history of game and toy preferences.

4. Upon successful completion of the course, students will demonstrate the ability to work together in trans-disciplinary teams to conceptualize, design, produce and express ideas through game or simulation projects.

5. Students will become articulate in the work of artists, theorists, and institutions who engage in game creation.

6. Upon successful completion of the course students will demonstrate their process, code, art and experiments in a detailed game design document, summation overview, and poster. 

7. Upon successful completion of the course  students will successfully articulate informed ideas relating to the representation of gender, race, and behavior in games and simulations and an increased awareness of games as cultural and aesthetic artifacts as demonstrated in class discussions and critiques and in short written reaction papers to relevant readings and events.

Course Assessment/Measures:  Assignments:
please see assignments website for more detail

1. Personal Game Archeology & Analysis
due Aug 28

Archeology and analysis of personal gaming preferences from:
a. childhood and
b. today as an adult.
Research and present a short power point or html presentation and demonstration of your favorite game/toy as a child and why it was your favorite, and your favorite game/toy as an adult and why. Include a brief history of the origins of each game, and why this is/was a compelling game experience for you. Include references in your presentation—web links, documentation, the socio-political context of the game/toy you have chosen and its use.


2. 3. 4. 5. Indy Pangaea Mobile Game Temporary Team Based, due in 3 parts

Working collaboratively in temporary teams, (ideally creating a balanced team consisting of the following talents: visual artist, programmer, engineer, sound composer & designer, manager) you will do in-depth research into existing mobile/hand held games. After meeting with the client, Ralph Brill, your team will then design, create and produce an original workable game prototype for Project Pangaea and the parameters of the IAT International Appalachian Trail Project for client review and possible (paid) inclusion into the IAT Project for further development. Each person in the group must detail their contributions throughout the process.

2. Research and Idea Sketches
due Sept 4

Power Point Research Presentation on Existing Mobile Games/Technology: power point research presentation on existing mobile, hand held, and locative games that include environment, trail hiking/biking, art, educational, commercial and social media games. This presentation should cover your team’s explorations into the technical, philosophical and theoretical aspects of mobile game design, development, production and distribution.

Research findings in Power point presentation with references, links
Preliminary Sketches of Original Game Designs: After researching, discussing and understanding the history of Pangaea and the IAT (International Appalachian Trail) (The director will come to class Sept 11) and using your own experience and previous research on what games/toys were engaging to you from the Game Archeology & Analysis study, temporary teams create an original game based on the parameters of Project Pangaea and the International Appalachian Trail to excite and engage people to get out and experience the trail, the countries, the people, nature, international travel and relations, fresh air, good health, food and drink, and life beyond the computer. This could be an educational game, an environment game, a cartography game, a puzzle game, a geocaching game (finding hidden things in the woods, or on the trial), a commercial game, a social media game, a tween or teen game, a college age game, young 20’s, 30’s, young family game older person’s game, etc. Do your market research see what is already out there, then create your own original ideas.
Original ideas are more important than polished graphics and optimized code for this part of the study.)

* concept ideas and sketches
* storyboards
* GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT TEMPLATE rough out ideas as they develop, refine and build over the course of the project

* Game Structure template
* Answer Ernest Adams Game Design Philosophy Questions:
  - What dreams does the game fulfill?
  - What is the player going to do?
  - What are the physical, intellectual, emotional, economic and ethical spaces of the game world?
* List of technical information and methodologies of production: any necessary software, SDKs, and APIs, etc. needed.

Readings: due Sept 4
* your research readings and
* http://civictripod.com/ The Civic Tripod for Mobile and Games: Activism, Art and Learning Released in IJLM Volume 3 :: Issue 3 / MIT Press
* Experimental gameplay project - How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days
*create a short, one page, printed reaction paper to each of the above

Optional Extra Credit Readings for Masters and Ph.D. Students:
Homo Ludens: A study of the Play Element in Culture by Johan Huizinga
* Man, Play, and Games by Roger Caillois


3. Workable game prototypes
Due Sept 11
Prototypes or games in an embryonic state, something between a developed idea and a full game. Think of them as short studies or experiments. They should be playable or, at the very least, the mechanics should be evident. You can choose any tools and techniques you find most adequate to develop your ideas.

Readings: due Sept 11
* your research readings and
* On the Edge of the Magic Circle Understanding Role-Playing and Pervasive Games, pages 101 to 137 by MARKUS MONTOLA
*create a short, one page, printed reaction paper to each of the above

Optional Extra Credit Readings for Masters and Ph.D. Students:
* Learning to Play or Playing to Learn - A Critical Account of the Models of Communication Informing Educational Research on Computer Gameplay by Hans Christian Arnseth


4. Refinement of games
Due Sept 18

prototypes are now refined based on class feedback and further research and technical development

Readings: due Sept 18
* your research readings

Optional, but interesting, info on revenues from indy mobile apps:


5. Completed polished indy game
Due Sept 25
Presentation and client review

Readings: due Sept 25
* your research readings
* Play as Design by Brenda Laurel Play as Design by Eric Zimmerman
*create a short, one page, printed reaction paper to
each of the above

Final Project Experimental Game Trajectory
working with permanent teams from this point out


6. Prototype 1 Concepts  Informal presentation
due Oct 2

First ideas about your game
Please include the following: These are all
ITERATIVE and will be changed and perfected as your ideas unfold.
* Concept ideas and sketches
* storyboards
* rough Game Design Document
GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT TEMPLATE reflecting the progress as your refine and reiterate your game
* Game Structure template
* Answer Ernest Adams Game Design Philosophy Questions:
  - What dreams does the game fulfill?
  - What is the player going to do?
  - What are the physical, intellectual, emotional, economic and ethical spaces of the game world?
List of technical information and methodologies of production: any necessary software, SDKs, and APIs, etc. needed.

Please remember that your completed game project is an innovative, original, purposeful work which goes beyond conventional style gaming paradigms and shows depth of creative goals, sensitivity to social issues, and quality of interaction. The game must be functional, or at the very least demonstrate some dynamic game play with a high end trailer illustrating the core game play concepts, and it must be accompanied by a completed, (web ready, standalone) game design document and a well-designed poster.

Readings:  due Oct 2
* From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games by Ed Halter
* Baudrillard and Hollywood: subverting the mechanism of control and The Matrix by Jim Rovira
* The Oxymoron of Virtual Violence, J. Baudrillard
*create a short, one page, printed reaction paper to each of the above

Optional Extra Credit Readings for Masters and Ph.D. Students:
* Origins of FPS by Galloway
* Lenoir-Lowood_TheatersOfWar

See: Oct 2 Film Directed by Alan Schneider with a talk with film theorist Ed Halter


7. Phase I Proposal  Formal Group Presentation
due Oct 9

team meetings with Game Industry Experts

rethink and refine your project based on your resonation of the feedback your team received in class previously:
* concept ideas and sketches
* storyboards
GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT TEMPLATE with blocked out time frame of production
* Game Structure template
list of technical information and methodologies of production: any necessary software, SDKs, and APIs, etc. needed.
* produce new work and progress on your game assets including design, art, programming, etc.

Readings: due Oct 9
* Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered PlaySpaces by Henry Jenkins
*create a short, one page, printed reaction paper for the above
*create a short, one page, printed reaction paper for each

Optional Extra Credit Readings for Masters and Ph.D. Students:
* The Construction of Experience: Interface as Content David Rokeby
*Everything But the Words: A Dramatic Writing Primer for Gamers
by Hal Barwood
* Storytelling in Action by Bob Bates
* The Rhetoric of Video Games by Ian Bogost
* Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society by Manuel Castells
* Delightful Identification & Persuasion: Towards an Analytical and Applied Rhetoric of Digital Games by
Steffen P. Walz


8. Phase II Reiteration Informal presentation
due Oct 16

Midterm assessments
(please upload all perfected work to drop box for evaluation)

* produce new research, work and progress on your game assets
* present a creative statement including treatment, narrative, more refined story board, and at least 5 citations of games/ websites/readings/ literature/ films that have influenced your team’s research

Reality check on scope of project, schedule, including individual responsibilities and deadlines, more refined game design document, (conceptual geography, maps, scenarios, trainers, strategies, symbolism, scoring, rules, etc.)
Reflect all work to date in your GAME DESIGN DOCUMENT TEMPLATE as a working evolving document

due Oct 16
final project research readings

Optional Extra Credit Readings for Masters and Ph.D. Students:

* A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space by Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, and Celia Pearce


9. Phase III Game Prototype Formal Group Presentation
due Oct 23

* gameplay experiments showing clear proof of concept
* evidence of progress incorporating critical feedback, polishing and refinement of content, assets, methodology, and delivery system
* definitive schedule for entire project which will be used as clear milestones for further project development
* your team’s progress of the above reflected in your evolving game design document including game overview sheet, answers to the philosophical question section, and schedule. Please print and hand in prior to your team’s presentation in class.

Related Readings: final project research readings


10. Phase IV Game Content  Informal presentation
due Oct 30

* evidence of refinement and progress on your team’s project in design, development, gameplay and depth of research
Related Readings: final project research readings


11. Phase V Refinement & Formal Group Presentation
due Nov6

* Refinement and progress on your team’s project for pre-review and three week trajectory for individual team work

Related Readings:
final project research readings


 12. Phase VI Further Refinement & Informal Group Presentation
due Nov 13

* Refinement and progress on your team’s project based on critiques
* Play Testing Plans due
* Printed Project Posters 34” x 24”

 Instructions for Printing your Poster at the VCC (Voorhees Computing Center) on the RCS Public Plotters:

You need to configure your computer with the proper drivers in order to print to the plotter

and for general info: http://helpdesk.rpi.edu/update.do?catcenterkey=78
The plotter paper is 36 inches wide, but the actual content space is 34 inches. So your document should be 36 wide, but have an inch of whitespace on either side.
The minimum height is 24 inches, but I would recommend the same amount of padding there. If your poster is vertical you can of course rotate it to fit into this space for the lowest cost. File formats: .jpg or even a .png file works from a well configured computer, but to ensure success you should make a PDF. You can possibly use Photoshop and output your file as a PDF or use Illustrator (proven to work very well) (it is on the VAST lab computers if you don't have it), create a document 36" by height + 2", then use File->Place to insert your document. You can then do "Save As" and switch the file type to PDF.

If your computer is not configured you can physically take the PDF file to the VCC and open it in Acrobat (or Reader? whatever it's called these days). Switch the printer to vcpltg for glossy ($0.25 more per foot, not bad for the shiny effect). I think the checkboxes are something like:
"Automatically select paper size"
"Allow use of custom sizes"
 Select both of those and the rulers in the preview should update to be your document's size. Then you should be able to send it.

The printouts show up rolled in the racks on the right side of the VCC building, near the glass-enclosed classroom on that side. In general, they will put obviously bad printouts up without saying anything, but you can get a refund if there was a problem on their end by going to the help desk.

Print soon as other students across the campus will be vying for this printer soon.

Related Readings:
final project research readings


13. Phase VII & Formal Group Presentation
due Nov 20 (second to last class)

* Your printed project summary in .doc format with summation image

* Play Testing Summary results and Recommendations

* high quality edited high def. 1920 x 1080, H264 mp4 video trailer of game play. Please include your title, overview, interaction, gameplay and credits. This video will be used to judge whether your game gets into the competition.

* order all gear for Gamefest in advance for April 26, 2014

Related Readings: final project research readings


14. Thanksgiving Break Enjoy, but polish up your work


15. Phase VIII Formal Group Presentation LAST CLASS 
due Dec 4 (last class of the semester)

All perfected work due this day.  NO EXCEPTIONS

Please ensure that all work is spell checked


All work must be printed and also submitted on a labeled DVD :


* Your game and all elements including all art, programming code, files, etc.

* Printed and digital posters
* Printed and digital Final Game Design Document

* Printed and digital project summary in .doc format with summation image
* Printed and digital final user Evaluation Testing Summary and Recommendations

* High quality edited high def. 1920 x 1080, H264 mp4 video trailer of game play. Please include your title, overview, interaction, gameplay and credits. This video will be used to judge whether your game gets into the Gamefest competition.


 Gamefest will be April 26, 2014


Evaluation: Students must demonstrate satisfactory achievement of course objectives through fulfillment of course projects and by contributing to class discussions and critiques.
Short study# 1=  5%
Short study #2= 15%

60% Final Project with Final Game Design Document: incremental evaluation over 9 due dates, each 6.67%
10% Participation in class 
10% reaction papers

Letter grade equivalents for the course are as follows: A=4.0, A-=3.67, B+=3.33 B=3.0, B-= 2.67, C+= 2.33, C=2.0 C-= 1.67, D+=1.33, D=1.0, F=0.0

Participation: you are invited, encouraged, and expected to engage in discussion, reflection and activities.


Class Attendance Policy

As an enrolled student, you have made a commitment to this class and your attendance is a significant part of that commitment. Attendance will be taken at every class. An absence is considered excused if the student has informed the course instructor by email or in person before the beginning of the class and the excuse is considered reasonable by the instructor.

Late Policy:
All students are required to be on time and in attendance for each and every class. Students arriving to class more than 10 minutes late may be counted as absent.  Two (2) unexcused absences will result in a reduction of one entire letter grade. 


Adherence to deadlines is expected. It is the individual student's responsibility to keep track of deadlines and to present the work to the class and instructor on the specified dates. 15% per day will be subtracted from late assignments.


If you are concerned about your creative trajectory or your grade at any point during the semester, please do not hesitate to contact your Instructor and schedule an appointment.


Academic Honesty:

Statement On Academic Integrity

Class Specific

Collaboration and discussion about class projects is actively encouraged, and is in no way considered cheating. This is a studio course, and personal ownership of information is not deemed to be appropriate. Original game design, art and design, programming and production are required. Projects are expected to reflect personal endeavor, but may also be collaborative in nature when the nature of the collaboration is clearly indicated.


Academic Integrity

Student-teacher relationships are built on trust. For example, students must trust that teachers have made appropriate decisions about the structure and content of the courses they teach, and teachers must trust that the assignments that students turn in are their own. Acts, which violate this trust, undermine the educational process. The Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities defines various forms of Academic Dishonesty and you should make yourself familiar with these. In this class, all assignments that are turned in for a grade must represent the student’s own work. In cases where help was received, or teamwork was allowed, a notation on the assignment should indicate your collaboration. Submission of any assignment that is in violation of this policy will result in a penalty of a grade of F given for failure in the course and also further disciplinary action as outlined in the Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities.


Addressing Academic Dishonesty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Intellectual integrity is critical to the foundation of all academic work. Academic dishonesty, therefore, is considered a serious matter and will be addressed as such. As defined in the current Rensselaer Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, examples of academic dishonesty include, but are not limited to: academic fraud, collaboration, copying, cribbing, fabrication, plagiarism, sabotage, and substitution. Additionally, attempts to commit academic dishonesty, or to assist in the commission or attempt of such an act, are also violations of the academic dishonesty policy. If found in violation of the academic dishonesty policy, students may be subject to two types of penalties. The instructor administers an academic (grade) penalty of F, and the student may also enter the Institute judicial process and be subject to such additional sanctions as: warning, probation, suspension, expulsion, and alternative actions as defined in the current Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities.


Required Materials

• An active RCS account.

• Approximately 10  to 15 dvds, or  a 60 GB usb drive and or high capacity external hard drive will be necessary to back up and archive your work

• Other materials on a project basis

You may be making a number of digital prints/manifestations of your work on and off campus. The costs of digital printing vary, but be prepared to incur at least $25 in fabrication/material costs.


Electronic Communication

Email: All students are expected to have an active electronic mail account, and should check mail at least four times a week for class information. Some essential class information is communicated by email only.  


Work Habits

Always back-up your work frequently; that is, every time you make something you think is worth keeping.  Systems crash when least expected and you could lose all your work.   It is a good idea to make three backups (on different media), as storage media are sometimes unstable. Always save onto your own media or into your account as files left on hard drives will be removed.


Also, please keep in mind the highly addictive aspects of working with computers. Many people lose track of time and later wonder why they have severe back, neck and eye problems.  It is a good idea to take a rest every 15 to 20 minutes.  Look up or beyond your computer or, better still, at a long distance to relax your eyes.  Take a walk or stretch.  Fatigue can lead to frustration. Stay in touch with your body's needs.


Try not to harm or deface any equipment or software in any way or lose files and folders belonging to our class or other classes. 

For problems in the studio please be specific in your email and contact: hasshelp@rpi.edu

HASS Information Services assistance: http://www.hass.rpi.edu/pl/helpdesk

Please follow the guidelines for working in each studio very carefully, as you will be held personally responsible for problems you incur. At all times please keep the lab clean and sanitary.

Overview of Game Design Document:
Title of the Game, Artist Statement/Philosophy/The WHY Factor (why create this game? why would someone want to play it?), Predecessors or previous games/ distinctive factors in this genre, Target Audience, Introduction & Story, Immediate and long term projected socio/cultural project impact, Delivery System & Requirements, Interface, User Interaction, The World Layout, Level Design, Visualization (characters, flow charts), Music/ Sound Design, Rules and Game play (Setup, Scoring (if applicable)), Program Structure, Technical Specs (such as Physics, Rendering Systems, Lighting Models), Implementation, Production Timeframe, Research, References and other Features Unique to the Project.

Background needed:
Students entering the course should have a basic general awareness of contemporary socio-cultural issues, have some exposure to interactive digital simulation, and possess the ability for personal expression using any one or combinations of the following: media applications, drawing, music composition, programming, visual art, design, or narration. Students entering this course have had varied backgrounds coming from Arts, Communication & Media, Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Engineering, IT and other areas.

Technical Skills Covered:
Concept development and storyboarding, game design, art, elements of interactivity, multimedia game play experience, and delivery systems.

Suggested further readings:

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah   and Pat Harrigan, Editors. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game

Laurel, Brenda and Zimmerman, Eric, editors.  Play as Design

Halter, Ed.  From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games


Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: A study of the Play Element in Culture


Caillois, Roger. Man, Play, and Games


Schell, Jesse. The Art of Game Design


Lenoir-Lowood. Theaters Of War


Nitsche, Michael. Video Game Spaces. Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Worlds


Adams, Ernest. Fundamentals of Game Design, Second Edition


Jenkins, Henry.  Complete Freedom of Movement: Video Games as Gendered PlaySpaces


Baudrillard, Jean. Passwords


(There are many other evolving and emerging relevant titles of interest.  Please ask the instructor.)