Learning Foundational Game Design Skills: Research, Sketching, Process
I just accepted a teaching position at the ArtCenter College of Design, a very well regarded college in Pasadena, California offering undergraduate and graduate programs in a wide variety of art and design fields. Many of the game artists I’ve hired are ArtCenter graduates, and the school has just launched a Game Design track within its Entertainment Design program, which is why they asked me to join their faculty. I won’t be teaching my first class, Game Design Fundamentals, until next month, but I am well into the onboarding process of filling out paperwork and learning about the school and its curriculum.
Everyone is very welcoming, and one of the other instructors invited me to attend his class on the final day of the semester last week to watch his student’s final presentation. The name of the class is “How Things Work”, where each student is required to select a product, take it apart and analyze its constituents, record this information, and then reassemble the product. They examine a wide range of products to gain a useful understanding of things from motors to materials. The goal of the class is to provide students with an intuitive understanding of how products function in various ways, in order that design solutions be intelligent.
For their final presentation, students were allowed to invent their own object to analyze — a weapon, a vehicle, an article of clothing or even an alchemic potion. Their presentation was broken into the following parts:
- Story: The (fictional) circumstances that prompted this object to be invented.
- Requirements: What problems the invention must solve.
- Limitations: Restrictions to which the invention must adhere.
- Research: An examination of the (real-life) science and technology on which the invention depends.
- Initial Design: A first pass at describing with rough sketches and bullet points an invention that fulfills the requirements and adheres to the limitations.
- Final Design: A more polished illustration and description of the invention, informed by what the student learned in doing the initial design.
At first I thought this class seemed more appropriate for industrial design than game design, but as I watched the presentations for ray guns, space ships, and magic spells, I appreciated how the students were developing the introductory skills required to become a professional game designer: research, sketching, and process. This, I realized, was a much more effective start to a game design curriculum than, say, learning about the history of games. Knowledge is a great thing, but its even better when built on a foundation of skills.
I look forward to putting those skills to the test when the students take my Game Design Fundamentals class next month.