Category Archives: Game Education
Prior to doing their final Game Production projects, students at the Los Angeles Film School take a course called Concepting and Preprodution. The first half of this course involves each student creating a PowerPoint presentation for pitching a game concept of his or her choice. The students then all pitch their concepts to a Greenlight Committee consisting of faculty and other members of the school staff, who afterwards deliberate in private and select one or more projects for the students to develop as their Final Project.
Once informed of the Greenlight Committee’s decision, the students then break into development teams and spend the last half of the course creating a game design document, technical design document, asset document, and schedule for the development work to be done in their following courses, Game Production 1 & 2.
After serving on several Greenlight Committees, I found that many students did not provide the members with the information necessary to truly understand the game being propose, while others spent far too much time on story or other details that really did not impact the Committee’s decision. So I decided to create the following template for the students to use, and it seems to have worked out well.
The first slide presents the game’s title and key art, as well as the student’s name. While this slide is displayed, students introduce themselves and the game they are pitching. This gives the students an opportunity to grab the Committe’s attention before launching into the details of their game.
Students say their elevator pitches while displaying an overview of the game’s essential aspects: it’s genre, theme (setting), play value (what makes it fun to play), a well-known game that’s similar, what features will make the student’s game different from the competition, and what game engine will be used to develop the game. This overview provides the Committee with a high-level understanding of the game, providing context for when the student begins discussing the details.
Students describe the game’s goals, core mechanics the player uses to achieve those goals, and the obstacles that determine the difficulty of performing the mechanics’ actions successfully. Students are also encouraged to include a diagram that illustrates how the mechanics work in relation to the game objects.
Students describe the resources used to “fuel” the mechanics, along with any other ways those resources are produced and consumed. Finally, the students explain the different ways the game concludes through a win, loss and/or a draw so that the Greenlight Committee understands the player’s goals.
Students explain the control scheme for the player’s use of keyboard, controller, mouse or other input device; the camera perspective used; and where game state information is displayed on the screen. Their PowerPoint should include a wireframe or other mock-up of the game screen and highlight the elements being discussed.
If the game has any semblance of a story, students give a short synopsis of its narrative in terms of its protagonist, antagonists, backstory, complication, and resolution, as well as the number of levels in the game. Because some students create overly-elaborate stories for their games, we limit the overall presentation to 8 minutes and begin to give warnings about going over the time limit at about this time in the presentation.
Students have the option to play samples of their choice of music for the game, including its main theme, low-key music (such as for an exploration mode), and intense music (such as during a combat mode). The music is embedded into the slide and played by clicking on a Speaker icon.
Students name who they would like to have on their team and the roles to which each would be assigned. Our rules are is that the Project Manager, Lead Audio, and Marketing person must have at least one other role, and that the Lead Programmer cannot have any other role. This prevents students from being assigned too much responsibility or too little.
Finally, students are required to explain at least three risks that might cause their project to be unsuccessful and what steps they can take to mitigate those risks. The one risk they are not permitted to list is “No enough time”, since they are required to pitch concepts of an appropriate scope to be done in the two months they have to produce the game.
This final slide informs the Committee that the presentation is done and invites them to ask the students follow-up questions.
As I wrote above, this template seems to have worked well for our student’s Greenlight Presentations, and perhaps it would work well for you when you need to pitch a small-scale game project.
If you follow my blog, you know that I was part of the team that created the Game Design Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America. It became the scouting organization’s 131st merit badge, each of which introduces scouts to such hobbies and occupations as archeology, chemistry, stamp collecting, and robotics, as well as such scouting skills as camping and orienteering. Several years ago, two scouters and game enthusiasts, Tom Miller and David Radue, proposed that the Boy Scouts introduce a merit badge for game design, and after a year of studies to gauge interest and two years of development from a team that included myself, the new merit badge was unveiled at the 2013 South by Southwest conference.
To earn the badge, a scout must analyze different types of games; describe play value, content, and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry. However, analyzing a game is only the first step. A scout must then propose three rule changes to an existing game and observe how the players’ action and emotional experiences are affected by the rule changes. After that,scouts then design, build, and blind test a game of their own design. The Game Design merit badge is not limited to video games; scouts can also choose to develop board, card, and pen-and-paper role-playing games too.
Since helping to create the requirements and instruction manual for this merit badge, I’ve stayed involved with it by serving as a merit badge counsellor to assist scouts with the requirements, and I also run game design workshops at local merit badge midways. However, right now I am counseling scouts at even bigger event that’s thousands of miles from my home. The National Boy Scout Jamboree is a gathering of over 40,000 Scouts held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia to do activities like zip-lining, scuba diving, BMX biking, patch trading, whitewater rafting…. and game design.
Game Design Merit Badge Team leader Tom Miller is stationed at a tent for assisting scouts to earn the Game Design merit badge, and he asked me to assist him by allowing scouts to interview me about my work in game design to fulfill one of the merit badge requirements about careers in the game industry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip to West Virginia this year, so I’ve been attending virtually via Google Hangouts. While the acoustics in the tent weren’t the greatest due to all the scouts having fun making and playing games, we managed to communicate via a combination of gestures, texting, and shouting.
I did attend a Boy Scout National Jamboree in person many years ago. In 1985, my business partner, Pam Pollack, and I were there to demonstrate our company’s wilderness survival simulation, Wilderness: A Survival Adventure. We had been in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America’s National Office about allowing scouts to use our game to satisfy one of the requirements of the Wilderness Survival merit badge, and the BSA invited us up be in the Apple Computer booth. Although we were never successful to get the BSA’s endorsement of our game (they were rightly concerned that the technology would become obsolete too quickly), we had a great time at the Jamboree, meeting all the scouts.
Never would I have imagine that I’d return some three decades later, but do so through technology I would not have imagined possible back then. So this year, I’ve been talking to scouts in groups of three about careers in game development. I’ve often done virtual lectures to school classrooms located throughout the country, but I have to say, the scouts ask the best questions. Instead of “Did you work on Game X or Y?”, the scouts have asked me, “What hands-on education do you need to supplement your college courses to get into game development?”, “What is the process for balancing a game?”, and “How does your average workday change from prep-roduction to post-production?”
So far, the scouts haven’t stumped me. And as long as they don’t ask me to remember how to tie two half-hitches for a game involving knot tying, I should make it through the week just fine.