Fond Remembrances And Fresh Starts
People throughout much of the world are celebrating the new year, a practice dating back to four thousand years ago in Iraq (then called Mesopotamia). However, back then, the new year was celebrated in what we would now call mid-March, around the time of the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar, which was composed of ten months, designated March 1 as the beginning of the new year, but later changed the start of the year to January 1 at some point after that became the day for the inaugurating new consuls cin 153 BC. Most nations of Western Europe officially adopted 1 January as New Year’s Day somewhat before they adopted the Gregorian Calendar that we use today.
While the starting point of the new year has always been, to some degree, an arbitrary thing, we still celebrate it as a period of remembrance of the passing year and a fresh start to the new year. However, this year is not an arbitrary celebration for me, because two months ago I taught my final class at The Los Angeles Film School due to the closure of its Game Production and Design degree program, and in two weeks I will start teaching at the ArtCenter College of Design, which has launched a new Game Design track in its Entertainment Design department.
There is much for me to fondly remember about my five years at The Los Angeles Film School, including:
- Brilliant speakers like Google Chief Game Designer Noah Falstein, “Game Thinking” author Amy Jo Kim, and The History Channel’s “Inventions USA” host Reichart Von Wolfsheild visit my classroom, either in person or virtually.
- Taking students on field trips to Activision-Blizzard, E3, and Indiecade.
- Joining in Pokemon Go Level Design Hike to the Wisdom Tree near Los Angeles’ Hollywood Sign.
- Hosting Rally Point Radio Podcast episodes and interviewing game studio managers and executive recruiters.
- Co-hosting an Analog Game Prototyping Event at the John Anson Ford Theater with the International Game Developers Association.
- Having “Unlocked: The World Of Games” and host Sean Astin visit LAFS to tape an episode about our Game Production and Design program.
- Putting on our monthly Game Fair, where our students showcased the awesome analog, video, and virtual reality games they created in class.
I am even more excited about my future at ArtCenter College of Design, one of the country’s leading art and design private colleges. I look forward to revising my approach to teaching game design for a very different student population, and I’ll be sharing my teaching methods and assignments with my readers here as I develop them.
In the meantime, while the start of the new year may still be an arbitrary thing, I still wish all of you the very best for 2019.
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.