Gened Course Proposal - Game Creation

Course Title: The Art and Science of Computer Game Design

Proposer: Amir Michail


Adapted from: Teaching Computer Science through Game Design by Mark Overmars, IEEE Computer, April 2004 (Vol 37, No 4).

Playing computer games is a very popular recreational activity among university students. Indeed, many of them would love to create their own computer game if they could. So why not use game design as a vehicle to teach them computer science?

Developing computer games involves many aspects of computing, including computer graphics, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, security, distributed programming, simulation, and software engineering. Thus, computer games provide a way to learn about many fundamental principles of computer science.

Moreover, game development also brings into play aspects of the liberal arts, the social sciences, and psychology. Thus, students would be able to see a fascinating synergy between art and science that results in spectacular entertainment.

Creating a state-of-the-art commercial computer game is an incredibly difficult task that typically requires a multimillion-dollar budget and a development team that includes 40 or more people.

Consequently, in this course, students will be asked to implement simpler games of their own choosing, such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, or simple platform games.

Moreover, they will be asked to use "Game Maker", rather than a traditional programming language. With Game maker's drag-and-drop techniques, students can create games without writing a single line of code -- which is important given that this is a general education course designed to appeal to students of all majors.

Why is the new course being proposed?

To introduce non-computing majors to fundamental computer science principles by way of computer games and to also show them the synergy between art and science in game development.

What are the academic objectives?

The academic objects are three-fold: (1) to demonstrate fundamental computer science principles through computer games; (2) to demonstrate how art and science can mix to produce compelling computer games; and (3) to actually have the students build a computer game using "Game Maker".

Which programs/stage does it serve?

This is a general education course. It serves all non-computing students.

Why can the same objectives not be achieved with existing courses?

The following course may appear similar:

SOMA9740 Narrative and Gameplay

This course provides a detailed examination of screen based media in both popular cinema and interactive games. Principles of narrative structure are introduced, with a detailed examination of the roles of archetype, genre and myth in the development of narrative experience. Students undertake creative exercises in the development of scenarios based on these principles. These concepts lead into a detailed examination of the games media its history and current developments in both technology and gameplay as they relate to use experience. Different games are explored from a theoretical point of view, while students develop original scenarios for their own games.

However, the proposed course will cover not just the "art" part, but also the "computer science" part. Moreover, students will create a game of their choosing using "Game Maker".

How does the proposed course relate to other courses?

What overlap is there?

As mentioned above, there is some overlap with SOMA9740 Narrative and Gameplay

If there is any overlap, why is this justified/not a problem?

See comments above.

Stakeholders and Consultation

Who are the potential stakeholders, who was consulted about the proposal (inside the School as well as outside), what was the result of that consultation?

Enrolment Impacts

Likely enrolment (with justification), and impact on enrolments of other courses.

I would expect an enrollment of at least 100 students / session due to the popularity of computer games and the fact that students would create computer games of their choosing using "Game Maker".

Justification of Prerequisites (or lack thereof)

This is a general education course, so there are no prerequisites.

Any Courses this is Replacing, and Why?


Delivery and Assessment
Anything noteworthy about delivery mode, assessment (with justification).

The assignment involves creating a computer game using a "Game Maker": (university course that uses game maker)

Handbook Entry

(Handbook entry adapted from and Teaching Computer Science through Game Design paper)

In this course we will study the art and science of computer game design. Game design brings into play the liberal arts, the social sciences, and psychology. Moreover, game design also brings into play scientific concepts from computing such as computer graphics, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, security, distributed programming, simulation, and software engineering. In this course, you will build a computer game of your choosing using the "Game Maker" software. Game Maker can be used to build games without writing a single line of code.



Book: Andrew Rollings, Ernest Adams, On Game Design, New Riders Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-5927-3001-9.

Other references:

  • Katie Salen, Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play, Game Design Fundamentals, The MIT Press, 2004, ISBN 0-262-24045-9.
  • Andrew Rollings, Dave Morris, Game architecture and design, New Riders Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-73571363-4.
  • Chris Crawford, On Game Design, New Riders Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-13-146099-4.
  • Articles from the journal Game Developer.

    Indicative syllabus / overview of contents (at a level of detail
    well beyond that of the handbook entry)

    Similar to:

    (We will likely also spend some time on "high concept" games such as "Black and White" and "The Sims", perhaps emphasizing the "art" part more than the course syllabus below copied from Moreover, we will discuss research issues such as how to advance plot points in the presence of freedom.)

    Part 1: What is a Game

    1. Introduction and history

      • Course organization.
      • Why does everybody follow the course?
      • Group discussion on what people like and dislike in games.
      • History of computer games

    2. Game play
      • Overview of types of games
      • Basic aspects of games: Story, game play, interaction, interface, graphics/sound/music (immersion), level design, packaging (doc, tutorials, cinematics)
      • Short game presentations
      • Types of users

    3. Designing a game
      • Important ingredients of games
      • Exercise: design a simple game
      • Rules (explicit and implicit)
      • Setting

    Part 2: Basic Game Programming

    1. Game architecture
      • Initialization, main loop, ending
      • Software architecture
      • Basic steps: user interaction, actions, reactions, rendering
      • Object-oriented design

    2. Basic game techniques in Game Maker
      • Global introduction on how the program works
      • What is possible and what is not
      • What is easy and what is difficult
      • Using sprites
      • Sprite design
      • Animated sprites
      • Sounds and music
      • Timing

    Part 3: Game Design

    1. Game worlds
      • The physical dimension
      • Dealing with time
      • Emotions
      • Etics
      • Realism

    2. Storytelling and narrative
      • The role of the story
      • The hero story
      • Plot pacing
      • Character development

    3. Interactivity
      • Game versus toy
      • Control
      • Interface techniques

    4. Game balance
      • Player-Player
      • Player-Gameplay
      • Gameplay-Gameplay
      • Level design
      • Features versus chrome

    5. Game genres
      • Strategy games
      • Role-playing games
      • Management simulations
      • Adventure games

    Part 4: Further Game Programming

    1. Isometric games
      • Tiles and sprites
      • Hidden surface removal
      • Collision detection
      • Advanced issues

    2. Behavior
      • reactive behavior
      • finite state machines
      • rule-based approaches
      • agents
      • A-life

    3. Motion control
      • Interaction
      • Moving around

    4. Animation
      • Character animation
      • Particle animation
      • Dynamic simulation

    5. Motion planning
      • waypoints
      • potential fields
      • A* algorithm
      • Roadmap methods
      • Collision detection

    Part 5: Final Words

    1. 3D games
      • advanced graphics
      • 3d modeling
      • camera control

    2. A game company
      • Different stages of game development
      • Type of people involved
      • Structure of a games company
      • The market

    Effect on School Resources:

    1. Who is proposed to teach the proposed new course, and what impact would this have on their planned/current allocation?

      I would be interested in teaching it, but preferrably without increasing my teaching load.

    2. What sort of tutorial component is proposed, if any?


    3. What is the likely impact on lab utilisation (this relates to assignment and project work as well as scheduled labs?

      The assignment will be done using "Game Maker", which runs only on Windows and requires DirectX 5+.

      Of course, if the vast majority of students have Windows at home (or access to Windows from their school), then perhaps CSE need not provide a lab for them to use. However, if this is not the case, then not providing a lab may end up reducing enrollment.

    4. Any other resource needs? E.g. special print/disk quota, access to servers, access to special machines, special labs.

      See above comment about "Game Maker".

      Incidentally, there are free and commercial versions of Game Maker. The free one is missing some features such as networking but can still be used to make interesting games.

      There is a site license available for Game Maker, but it is a bit problematic since it does not allow students to use the commercial version at home.

    UNSW's CRICOS Provider No. is 00098G
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