Creating a video game development course for my university - what should students learn?

Aerosteam

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I'm the student representative for the Directorial Academic Committee at my university so I have some influence when it comes to what and how courses are run in it.

The uni is based in Scotland, and despite the massive interest in video game development for young people (due to successes in game jams and a high number of applicants in courses like this which already exist), there's pretty much only a single city in the entire country that has these courses to offer.

I have a friend currently in one of those courses, it sounds awful - they're working with PlayStation Vita devkits for crying out loud.

So, there's definitely a demand for such a thing, and I have the ability to directly contact head lecturers and the vice principal. Now I'll need some help on what things such a course will teach. There's some things that the majority of computing courses include like website development, mobile development and database management (which is unavoidable, courses like this MUST include these things) so no need to suggest things like that.

Of course I already have ideas, but I won't be able to think of everything on my own, so that's why I've come to you guys to suggest some things a video game development course should teach. Maybe look at the video game industry currently and see what more people within it should know?
 

Scarim Coral

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I think it is ok to link this given that no one can necro threads anymore. Just making sure those students of yours DON'T have this mindset! http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/663.878566-We-are-developers-not-gamers

Other than that, I got nothing well the ones I'm thinking were video games design (my brother went to get a master degrees).
 

American Tanker

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First and foremost, you should directly and bluntly denounce that recent presentation at the GDC. You know, the source of this image:

Make it clear to your students that games are not meant as tools of propaganda, and that anyone who thinks they are is fucking stupid.
 

Redryhno

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From what I understand from a friend that went through a game dev degree thing as an art major, make coding and creating board game rulesets be at least entry level courses. Way too fucking many people in them that come up with an idea or a theme without thinking of how they're going to make it into a game sign up and think game development is easy shit. Don't know how many times I heard him ***** about the people in his courses not knowing why rulesets are important or why it's important to think of ways to break your game.

Also, from him directly, "game dev degrees don't mean shit. You want a job in the industry, go with some kind of practical skillset that can actually land you a job in the mainstream tech industry, have a portfolio(whether it be art or coding) or don't even fucking bother."

Though note this is coming from a guy that went with a game dev degree with an art minor/major(I forget exactly which, whatever gives him two equal degrees basically) aimed for video games and has found himself alot happier since being picked up by a board game company. Guy got a bit jaded from alot of the bullshit involved with office politics alone, much less anything to do with work hours, an overflooded market, or publisher junk.
 

Smoketrail

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I don't want to be a downer about this but: you're setting up a university course and part of your process is consulting a random forum full of people who like playing games?

It seems that you'd be better off talking to people with actual industry experience. Or better yet get them actively involved in the course. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to set up a course like this if my starting level of knowledge in the subject was so low that talk about it on forums would be a positive step in the process.
 

Aerosteam

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Redryhno said:
"game dev degrees don't mean shit. You want a job in the industry, go with some kind of practical skillset that can actually land you a job in the mainstream tech industry, have a portfolio(whether it be art or coding) or don't even fucking bother."
I've heard that too, but sometimes you take on a uni course for the knowledge, experience and networks, not the degrees. I will press down hard on the students that a portfolio matters though.
Smoketrail said:
I don't want to be a downer about this but: you're setting up a university course and part of your process is consulting a random forum full of people who like playing games?

It seems that you'd be better off talking to people with actual industry experience. Or better yet get them actively involved in the course. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to set up a course like this if my starting level of knowledge in the subject was so low that talk about it on forums would be a positive step in the process.
The idea come about earlier today, gimme some time!

Yeah, I'm asking essentially strangers right now but that doesn't mean all the info is coming from this. The most prominent game dev in the county I live in is a bicycle ride away, met some of them last week during a game jam as well as a bunch of other industry peeps.

I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard to defend my idea but I REALLY don't want to look like someone who doesn't know how to go about this.
 

Smoketrail

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Aerosteam said:
Yeah, I'm asking essentially strangers right now but that doesn't mean all the info is coming from this. The most prominent game dev in the county I live in is a bicycle ride away, met some of them last week during a game jam as well as a bunch of other industry peeps.

I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard to defend my idea but I REALLY don't want to look like someone who doesn't know how to go about this.
Ah right, that makes a lot of sense. It just struck me as odd to try start an academic course whilst not already an pretty knowledgeable in said subject. But then again games development doesn't have the same pool of preexisting academics that other fields do, and these things do have to start somewhere. It sounds like you're in for a lot of work but I wish you the best of luck.

Though for the record I still think consulting gaming forums on this topic is a recipe for hearing a lot of strongly held, but not particularly useful opinions. But that's all a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff I suppose.
 

Bad Jim

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I suspect that modern game development involves too many specialized roles and one course will never cover it all. If someone wants to get into game development, it is better to pick a role and take a course appropriate to that eg:

Programmer - Computer Science
Modeller/Animator - 3D modelling & animation
Mo-cap/voice work - acting
Texture work - Art
Musician - Music

It might be worth asking industry people if there are any roles that you can't train for with standard university courses and set up a course to fill whatever gaps they have.
 

sXeth

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Most "Game Developer" courses seem to largely focus on the raw technical aspects (Coding and Graphics work). Which is a solid entry base I guess (and potentially keeps options open for a broader job prospect), but lacks some of the finer detail work.

More specific concepts (like designing a playtesting cycle or creating rulesets and gameplay mechanics) tend to get a pretty light brush. Some of the more intangible creative work like choosing a genre that suits your idea, or a broader knowledge on genres and game history. There's also the core creative concepts like writing or art direction, but in an university environment those are probably availabe courses in their own right.

The potential indie game developer would probably also be decently served with some marketing, business ethics, management/HR, finance, contract law agreements and the like too. Its the boring chore side of things, but one of the areas where the hobbyist gets separated from the professional pretty quickly.
 

CaitSeith

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Smoketrail said:
Aerosteam said:
Yeah, I'm asking essentially strangers right now but that doesn't mean all the info is coming from this. The most prominent game dev in the county I live in is a bicycle ride away, met some of them last week during a game jam as well as a bunch of other industry peeps.

I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard to defend my idea but I REALLY don't want to look like someone who doesn't know how to go about this.
Ah right, that makes a lot of sense. It just struck me as odd to try start an academic course whilst not already an pretty knowledgeable in said subject. But then again games development doesn't have the same pool of preexisting academics that other fields do, and these things do have to start somewhere. It sounds like you're in for a lot of work but I wish you the best of luck.

Though for the record I still think consulting gaming forums on this topic is a recipe for hearing a lot of strongly held, but not particularly useful opinions. But that's all a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff I suppose.
My thoughts exactly. How many people here are actually game developers? That being said, I suggest one of the courses dedicated to analyzing a game badly developed, how to fix it, and make the course test to be creating a better version of the game.
 

Marik2

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American Tanker said:
First and foremost, you should directly and bluntly denounce that recent presentation at the GDC. You know, the source of this image:

Make it clear to your students that games are not meant as tools of propaganda, and that anyone who thinks they are is fucking stupid.
But spec ops was a game criticizing military games for inadvertently glorifying war and making children think they're heroes.

And metal gear solid has a clear anti war message and the dangers of abusing technology.
 

American Tanker

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Marik2 said:
But spec ops was a game criticizing military games for inadvertently glorifying war and making children think they're heroes.

And metal gear solid has a clear anti war message and the dangers of abusing technology.
That doesn't justify the idea that we need every FUCKING thing about game development to be god damned political.

As long as you're not being obnoxiously preachy about it(*cough*Horizon: Zero Dawn's ending*cough*), make whatever political statement you want. But don't go into it thinking that the ENTIRE FUCKING PROCESS is political by default. That's just setting yourself up for disaster.
 

Marik2

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American Tanker said:
Marik2 said:
But spec ops was a game criticizing military games for inadvertently glorifying war and making children think they're heroes.

And metal gear solid has a clear anti war message and the dangers of abusing technology.
That doesn't justify the idea that we need every FUCKING thing about game development to be god damned political.

As long as you're not being obnoxiously preachy about it(*cough*Horizon: Zero Dawn's ending*cough*), make whatever political statement you want. But don't go into it thinking that the ENTIRE FUCKING PROCESS is political by default. That's just setting yourself up for disaster.
Ah ok I get you
 
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Before I get into my post, I want to mention that I'm almost exclusively addressing 3D games where a substantial amount of the code you're using is being written by yourself (At most using Unity or Unreal Engine). If you're making a game using something like GameMaker, and/or doing a very basic gameplay 2D sprite style game, then you can outright ignore what I'm saying, as the workloads shift completely. (Though I don't think that you learn nearly as much from making a game like that, or display much in the way of marketable skills, at least not those that you couldn't just as easily market without the course)

Bad Jim said:
I suspect that modern game development involves too many specialized roles and one course will never cover it all. If someone wants to get into game development, it is better to pick a role and take a course appropriate to that eg:

Programmer - Computer Science
Modeller/Animator - 3D modelling & animation
Mo-cap/voice work - acting
Texture work - Art
Musician - Music

It might be worth asking industry people if there are any roles that you can't train for with standard university courses and set up a course to fill whatever gaps they have.
EDIT 2: I see what you were saying now, and totally agree with it. Kindly ignore the rest of my response. I interpreted this as having students paired off into a group and given specialized roles such as these. That being said, I've seen this idea pitched before, so I'll leave my tirade against it.

This isn't solely addressed to you, but depending on what sort of tools you plan on using for this course, this sort of specialization is a bad idea in my mind. Not that I don't have respect for the talent required for art, music, and voice work, and writing or how much it can improve a game, but when you're looking at something to the scale of a game that you'd finish in a course, the programmers, modelers and animators are going to be overworked to death compared to the other roles.

In the realm of importance, if you just have programmers and modelers/animators, you can make a game. It might not be too dramatically engaging or pretty, but you'll have a game with gameplay, and it can be fun. A huge amount of time and effort goes into getting it there, and the rest is just icing on the cake.

I was in a games programming course and a guy who considered himself a weak programmer suggested he do the story (For a racing game that we were building over a period of 4 months and had ~20,000 lines of code written by the end). Needless to say, we didn't let him off with that. A writer is definitely a specialization I'd recommend against, unless they're also well versed in scripting and something else. Generally, every hour you write will require many more hours by others to script, model, animate and program. That's okay when you have a massive development team, not for a university course project.

Redryhno said:
creating board game rulesets be at least entry level courses
While it certainly wouldn't hurt, I don't think I've ever heard of a course based on making game rulesets, though I might just not be aware of it. Game theory is a thing, but it's not really in the same ballpark.

-------

My general advice, is that you need to decide what sort of games you want them to make, and who it's going to be for. If you're doing anything 3D, you want programmers, and you want animators. In order of importance for programmers comes:

3D Graphics (With this usually comes physics and mathematical knowledge which are damn, damn important)
Large scale code development (Every person working on a project adds diminishing returns for productivity, you need good coding practices and group experience to maximize this)
General problem solving ability

And I'm pretty sure that's it. Don't talk to me about AI experts, we had two and they had no opportunity to apply any of their knowledge. Networking is really, really easy for the scope that you would need it for.

In terms of art abilities Animation is of the greatest importance if you'd have anything with articulated figures. Animation is hard, and time consuming and just all around really important. If you're doing something like a racing game, art assets in general are much less expensive to create.

If you're making a 2D sprite style game in a game maker, you probably don't need much in the way of graphics knowledge (Though you definitely need some), problem solving ability floats to the top with large scale code development next. That being said, you will likely do a lot more with scripting than coding for a game like this.

EDIT:

Oops, I kind of just assumed that the course could only be formed in the way mine was. The way my course worked was we got a solid 9-5 week of lectures (Though these could definitely be spread over the semester), then spent the rest of the semester broken into teams making a game. I strongly recommend something like this. Nothing better prepares you for the challenges involved in making games than actually making one.
 

Nismu

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I was on game developing course in my school bit over year ago and there we concentrated on more of creating the idea instead actual programming. Like how to get ideas for game (we got bunch of pictures and then watching those we had to form some game concept on each of them. ) how to make short pitch of game and then how to develop idea forward from there like thinking what makes game fun and learning about target groups and looking statistics what they tend to like (And most of all, 'Everyone' is not a target group. ). and test was to make game concept (that best of which would be made to demo on later course working with programmers and artists aso. )
 

Zhukov

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American Tanker said:
But don't go into it thinking that the ENTIRE FUCKING PROCESS is political by default. That's just setting yourself up for disaster.
But it is. Inherently so. Whether you want it to be or not.

Even if you go about it trying to be intentionally non-political the end result will still be a reflection of the values, priorities, beliefs and preferences of the people making it. KEEP POLITICS OUT OF X is itself a political statement.

Add to that the fact that most games are made with the intention of attracting an audience and selling copies in a capitalist market and boom, you're up to your neck in politics.
 

Mr.Mattress

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I think the first part of your course would be to demonstrate a good simple game, a good complex game, a bad complex game, and a bad simple game. Gaming is more then just coding; it's also about gameplay. Making sure your students know good gameplay from bad gameplay, I think, is important to any Game Development College Course. And then as you help them learn Coding, you can relay the Good Gameplay/Bad Gameplay idea through out.
 

Redryhno

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The Almighty Aardvark said:
Redryhno said:
creating board game rulesets be at least entry level courses
While it certainly wouldn't hurt, I don't think I've ever heard of a course based on making game rulesets, though I might just not be aware of it. Game theory is a thing, but it's not really in the same ballpark.
Guy was going to UTD at the time like...five, eight years ago now?(something like that) I'm not sure exactly what the class was called, but they did alot of "make your own game" type projects. Started on solo projects with simple board games, then got into teams for complex rulesets and then got up to Game Maker and Unity back when it was brand new or something. Said the idea was for people to learn about rulesets and gameplay before moving onto the videogame aspect or something.

Maybe that'll get you a course name and description?
 

Trunkage

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American Tanker said:
Marik2 said:
But spec ops was a game criticizing military games for inadvertently glorifying war and making children think they're heroes.

And metal gear solid has a clear anti war message and the dangers of abusing technology.
That doesn't justify the idea that we need every FUCKING thing about game development to be god damned political.

As long as you're not being obnoxiously preachy about it(*cough*Horizon: Zero Dawn's ending*cough*), make whatever political statement you want. But don't go into it thinking that the ENTIRE FUCKING PROCESS is political by default. That's just setting yourself up for disaster.
Even if you don't intend to have a message, most games inherently have one. Doom celebrated violence, GTA celebrates crime, Sonic is an Eco-terrorist fighting against mechanical progress and Mass Effect celebrates the power of friendship (kidding - but not really). It's not necessarily intent, it's just what is. Mass Effect only let's you play as a human and is the only person who tries to unite the races. They didn't intend that but that ended up being the story told.