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.
This Saturday I again volunteered at a local merit badge midway to run a workshop for the game design merit badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. To earn this merit badge, the scouts not only have to create a game of their own design, but also engage in the process of playtesting and redesign for at least three iterations. Now, the average merit badge takes about ten hours of a scout’s time to complete, and Game Design is no exception. So, in my three-hour workshop, I help scouts to either get started on the merit badge or to finish it up. And therein lies a problem: how to deal with a dozen scouts at different stages during the limited time I have with them.
This time, I decided to try something different. Although I did my normal process of doing a “classroom lecture” about the elements of a game, different types of play value, game design terms, and intellectual property protection, I broke up the lecture into four segments for the scouts who were just starting their merit badge, this time I had these scouts do playtesting between the segments for the scouts who had already completed their games. This had the double benefit of breaking up the lecture for the scouts starting their merit badge, while providing playtesters for the scouts who were finishing up. And overall, it worked quite well.
To playtest a game in my workshop, scouts must first contact me with a vision statement, play value description, and initial set of rules for a game they want to make, and if I approve it, they can proceed with making a game to bring in. Only three scouts did the prerequisites this time, but the rest who attended the workshop got to playtest their games.
Here were the games that we playtested.
Vision Statement: Crayon Wars is a free-for-all party game where players uses crayons as money to defeat the opponent. The game has play value of challenge because you have to practice to be better. It has stimulation because it is exciting and threat because you are challenging each other and it is fun to play
Set-Up: Each player is given 2 crayons for lives and two crayons for buying stuff.
Progression: Players take turns moving play around the circle to the left
The first player can buy something or skip and save up for later. Each turn players get 2 crayons for money. You can also attack after the first round.
There are 12 items you can buy
- plane 2
- helicopter 3
- army men 4
- bazooka 5 strong against planes +1 crayon
- 5. jet 5
- health pack 6 plus 2 health
- take it 7 2 crayons health taken away
- tank 8
- hill 9 stops tank
- Godzilla’s wife 10 stops Godzilla
- Godzilla 11 defeats volcanoes
- volcano 12 +2 crayons every turn
To attack, you pick a token to attack with. It damages the other player’s token or their health the value of your token and your token will go down in value the amount of damage you did. You can attack the other players health after attacking all of their resources.
Resolution: The game ends when someone’s health goes to zero.
Vision Statement: Around is a free-for-all board game for 2 to 4 players in which players roll dice to move along a circular path to reach the end.
Set-Up: Players place their pieces at the Start, receives $50 in play money, and then rolls the dice to determine who goes first.
Progression: The game is played in turns.
- The player rolls the dice to find out the number of turns to move.
- After rolling the dice, the player moves that number of spaces anywhere on the game board.
- Some spaces will take or give money to the player.
- The player must move the exact number of spaces to reach the Finish.
Resolution: The game ends when one player reaches the Finish.
Vision Statement: Diamond Dreams is a Minecraft-themed board game for 2 to 4 players in which players try to reach a diamond block that rules everything.
Set-Up: Players place their character in one of four gray boxes around the edge of the board and are given 10 health points. Players role a die to determine who goes first.
Progression: The game is played in turns.
- Each player rolls a die to determine the number of spaces to move.
- The player can move only left, right, or forward.
- Some spaces have special properties:
- Lava: Lose 7 health points
- TNT: Lose 8 hit points
- Creeper: Lose 5 hit points
- Hole: Returns player to start
- Armor: Adds 5 hit points
- Wolf: Lowers damage done by monsters by half.
- If the player looses all of their hit points, they return to the start and regain them.
Resolution: The game ends when one player reaches the Diamond.
Of the three games, I’d say the scouts most enjoyed Diamond Dreams. It had the best presentation, the most complete rules, and the greater depth of game play. Of course, earning a Game Design merit badge is not about creating the best game, but learning what it is like to be a game designer — that the game does not end with the initial design, but is refined and polished based on the experience of the players who are playing the game.