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Fordham College at Lincoln Center

Department of Computer & Information Science


 Semester:  Fall, 2014
 Course Number:  CISC 2540 L01
 Course Title:  Intro to Video Game Design
 Instructor:  Dr. Robert K. Moniot
    Office LL 821-A, Phone (212) 636-6334
    Office hours: TF 2:30-3:30 pm
    Other office hours by appointment
 Class Hours:  TF 1:00-2:15 pm Room LL-508
 Required Texts:  Fundamentals of Game Development, by Heather Maxwell Chandler & Rafael Chandler, Jones & Bartlett, 2010 (ISBN: 978-0-7637-7895-8)
    Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal, Penguin Press, 2011 (ISBN: 978-1-5942-0285-8)
    Recommended: Game Maker's Apprentice, by Jacob Habgood & Mark Overmars, Springer, 2006 (ISBN: 978-1-59059-615-9)

Course Outline: This course provides a gentle and fun introduction to the design and production of computer-based video games, for students with no prior programming experience. Students will learn principles of game design, and apply them to create an actual computer game of their own design. Students will also research selected aspects of games and/or the game industry, write term papers about their topics, and give presentations.

Grade will be based on:

There will be no midterm or final exam. The class is required to meet during the final exam period. This time will be used to demo students' completed game projects.

This course fulfills the EP 3 core requirement. It may be used as a 2000-level elective for the Computer Science or Information Science major or minor. This course has no pre-requisite.

Course Objectives: After completion of this course, the student will:

Attendance: Attendance is mandatory, and is graded. Attendance grades are posted on the Blackboard grade book and updated within a day or two of each class meeting. The attendance grade for a given day is on a scale of 5 points. Students get 3 points for mere presence. Points are added, up to a maximum of 5 points, depending on the amount of contribution to class discussion: a score of 4 is for participating a little, and 5 for participating a lot. Students who give a presentation automatically receive a score of 5 for that day. Points may be deducted for lateness or for anything else that interferes with the conduct of the class, so grades below 3 are also possible. An unexcused absence or extreme lateness receives a grade of 0. Students may request in advance to be excused from class for a valid reason. (Excused absences appear in the Blackboard grade book as an ``x'' and are not counted in the total grade.)

Students are expected to arrive on time for class. If you do arrive late, please enter the classroom quietly so as not to disrupt the class in session. If you are expecting to receive papers back, wait and ask me at the end of class.

Students are expected to remain until the end of class, barring a true emergency. If you know in advance that you will need to leave early, inform me before the start of class, and sit near the door so that you can leave without causing a disruption.

Please turn off all cell phones, beepers, etc. during class. Laptops are permitted if used only to take notes. Tape recorders are not permitted unless as an accommodation approved by the Office of Disability Services.

A few reaction essays will be assigned. These essays will be written during class time (15 minutes), and will aim to test students' understanding of topics covered in the assigned readings. They are counted as part of the class participation score.

The term papers: The topic for a term paper may be: a review of a commercial video game; exploration of some aspect of the social impact of a game or of some genre of games in general; a study of issues raised by some aspect of the game industry; or other topics of interest related to video games. Papers are expected to be of academic quality, based on at least some research and including critical analysis. For instance, a game review should not be based solely on opinion, like most of those found on IGN, but should relate the good or bad qualities of the game to fundamental principles of game design and explore the cultural context of the game.

In order to meet the requirements for an EP course, the two papers must total at least 15 pages of material that has undergone at least one cycle of revision. The 15 page minimum (which does not count the bibliography or any figures) is divided between the midterm (minimum 6½ pages) and final (minimum 8½ pages). For each paper, I request, at intervals of about two weeks, a proposal (about a page long) describing your topic and the thesis you will argue in the paper, as well as an indication of the research you have done initially; then a rough draft that should be at least 2/3 of the final length and containing some citations to sources; and finally the finished paper.

The presentation: Your presentation topic should be the same as the topic of one of your two term papers, but no two students are to give a presentation on the same topic. (Your term paper topic other than your presentation topic can be the same as another student's topic.) The presentations will be scheduled in the last few weeks of class. Three students will present each day. This provides about 25 minutes for each student. The oral presentation should be 15 to 20 minutes long, followed by a few minutes of question and answer. Presentations will be evaluated by the other students for qualities of effectiveness, clarity, organization, etc. These peer evaluations will be a part of the grade assigned for the presentation.

In order to provide feedback and guidance to improve the presentation, I request students to send me a preview, namely their visuals and notes, one week before the presentation. One class day will also be devoted to a review of good presentation technique.

The game project: Each student is required to create an original game project. We will have a brainstorming session early in the term to help generate ideas. Because the aim is for each student to experience the complete game development process from concept to finished product, team projects are not permitted.

All game projects must be implemented using GameMaker 8.1 (not Studio). This is a very easy-to-use game creation system that requires no prior programming experience. The software is available for free download from this location:

The free version is sufficient to create games that will get full credit for this course. If you desire, you can upgrade to the licensed version, which has some extra features, for $40. The licensed version is also installed on the computers in the instructional lab in LL 304.

Your game project is due at the time set for the final exam period. That period will be used for game demos. We will meet in the lab so that we can use the full licensed version. You will have about 5 minutes to demo your game. In practice, this has been found to be plenty of time, if you come well prepared.

On that day, bring your game in GameMaker form (*.gm81 or *.gmk). You can bring it on a flash drive or use an online service such as Dropbox. (Be aware that game files are often too large for email.) Copy it to the podium PC, preferably beforehand to save time. At the end of the demos, I will collect all the GameMaker files from the podium PC for grading purposes.

To help me keep track of all the game projects, please name your GameMaker file something containing your own name. For example, Jane Smith's game titled ``Weird Waldo'' might be named smith-weird-waldo.gm81.

Your game should include a help screen (F1 and/or a start page) that gives a complete description of the game controls. It can also provide some back story or narrative if that helps. The help screen should also provide acknowledgements for any assets (sprites, sounds, etc.) that are not your own creations or part of the GameMaker resources. The acknowledgements need not be detailed: for instance, a statement like ``all sprites and sounds were found at'' would suffice.

Assets do not need to be of professional quality. A homemade look is just fine.

There is no requirement for how many levels your game should contain. It is perfectly OK to have a well designed and executed game with only one level. You are expected to put an appropriate amount of work into the project, but there are no extra points for elaborateness.

The peer reviews on demo day will rate your game based on five factors: originality of concept, challenge, feedback system, storytelling or theme, and fun. My own evaluation of your game will include those factors as well as adequacy of effort, help system, good game design principles, and correct and clean implementation.

I will be looking more for an original, balanced, and fun game than for fancy effects, polished graphics, or laboriously built environments.

Other matters:

Academic integrity is very important to the mission of the university. Plagiarism or failure to properly cite sources will result in an F on the assignment and may result in an F for the course. You are responsible for and expected to follow the Fordham College at Lincoln Center policy regarding matters of academic integrity.

Legal note: Under the doctrine of Fair Use, it is permissible for you to use copyrighted materials in your game project. For example, you could use a Mickey Mouse sprite for one of the characters. You must, of course, properly acknowledge such use of others' creations, e.g. in the credits on the help screen. It would not be OK under copyright law to take a game containing such materials commercial. Furthermore, rights to all intellectual property produced by students for class assignments belong to the University. If you have a great idea for a game project that you plan to try to market, I recommend you save your idea until after the course is over, and use a different idea for your project.

If you believe that you have a disabling condition that may interfere with your ability to participate in the activities, coursework, or assessment of the object of this course, you may be entitled to accommodations. If so, please schedule an appointment to speak with me immediately or you may go to the Office of Disability Services (Room LL 207, x6282).

Schedule of Topics, Readings and Assignments:

Sep. 5-9
What is a game? History of computer games. The game industry. Pitching a game. Reading: Chandler, chaps. 1-2.
Sep. 12-16
Game concept. Game genres. Brainstorming. Characters, setting, story. Reading: Chandler, chaps. 7-8.
Sep. 19
(in lab) Intro to GameMaker. Reading (optional): Habgood & Overmars, chap. 1.
Sep. 23-26
(in lab) GameMaker tutorials. Sprites, objects, events, actions. Rooms, backgrounds, sounds. Reading (optional): Habgood & Overmars, chap. 2.
Sep. 30-Oct. 3
(in lab) GameMaker tutorials, cont'd. Working with sprites. Scores and levels. Reading (optional): Habgood & Overmars, chap. 3.
Oct. 7-10
(in lab) GameMaker tutorials, cont'd. Timelines and views. Reading (optional): Habgood & Overmars, chap. 6.
Oct. 14-17
(in lab) Parent objects and inheritance. Simulating 3D. Reading (optional): Habgood & Overmars, chap. 7.
Oct. 21
(return to classroom) Game design principles. Reading (posted on Blackboard): Habgood & Overmars, chaps. 5, 8.
Oct. 24
Roles on the team. Reading: Chandler, chap. 3.
Oct. 28-31
Design teams; effective communication. How to give an effective presentation. Reading: Chandler, chaps. 4-5.
Nov. 4
Game production overview. Reading: Chandler, chap. 6.
Nov. 7
Game design: what makes a good game. Reading: McGonigal, chaps. 1-2.
Nov. 11-14
Game motivations. Games & society. Reading: McGonigal, chaps. 3-6.
Nov. 18-25
Student presentations (three per class meeting).
Nov. 26-30
Thanksgiving break.
Dec. 2-9
Student presentations.
Dec. 11
(first reading day)
Dec. 19, 1:30 pm
(Final exam day: tentative date.) Game demos. (No final exam.)
(Note that this schedule may need to be adjusted slightly as the course progresses. Any changes will be announced in class and posted on the Blackboard web site.)

Due Dates:

Midterm paper proposal
due Sep. 19.
Midterm paper first draft
due Oct. 3.
Midterm paper
due Oct. 17.
Game proposal
due Oct. 10.
Game project
due Dec. 19.
Presentation proposal
due Oct. 28.
Presentation preview
due 1 week before presentation.
Final term paper proposal
due Nov. 14.
Final term paper first draft
due Nov. 25.
Final term paper
due Dec 11.

Robert Moniot 2014-09-06