Archive for April, 2009

Syllabus and Schedule

April 21, 2009


This class runs from Monday, June 29 through Sunday, September 6. Posts appear on the blog Mondays and Thursdays each week at noon GMT. Discussions and sharing of ideas happen on a continual basis.


This course has one required text, and two recommended texts that will be referenced in several places and provide good “next steps” after the summer course ends.

Required Text: Challenges for Game Designers, by Brathwaite & Schreiber. This book covers a lot of basic information on both practical and theoretical game design, and we will be using it heavily, supplemented with some readings from other online sources. Yes, I am one of the authors. The reason Brenda and I wrote this book was because we wanted a text to use in our classes, and nothing like it existed at the time… so we made our own.

Recommended Texts:

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by McCloud. While this book claims to be about comics, many of the lessons within can be applied to game design and other forms of art. It also happens to be a comic book itself, and fun to read.

A Theory of Fun for Game Design, by Koster. This book shows the similarities between game design and education, with a good discussion of the concept of Flow. Half text and half cartoons, this short book flows nicely and can be read in an afternoon or two.

Course Description:

This course provides students with a theoretical and conceptual understanding of the field of game design, along with practical exposure to the process of creating a game. Topics covered include iteration, rapid prototyping, mechanics, dynamics, flow theory, the nature of fun, game balance, and user interface design. Primary focus is on non-digital games.

Course Objectives:

In this class, we will discuss games and game design. We will discover what the components of games are, and what parts of games are influenced by their design. We will learn several ways to approach the design of a game, and processes and best practices for prototyping, playtesting and balancing a game after it has been designed.

Student Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this course, you will be familiar with the (relatively small) body of work that is accepted in the game industry as the theoretical foundation of game design. You will also be comfortable enough in processes to start designing your own games, as well as critically analyzing other people’s games.

A Note About Change:

As this entire course is an experiment, the schedule in this syllabus is subject to change based on the needs of the students and the overall pace of the course.


Date Topics Covered
M 6/29
  • Overview of games and design
  • Critical vocabulary: what is a game?
Th 7/2
  • What is game design?
  • Iteration and rapid prototyping.
M 7/6
  • Formal elements of games
Th 7/9
  • Overview of the game design process
  • Idea generation, brainstorming, and paper prototyping
M 7/13
  • Mechanics and dynamics
  • Special dynamics: feedback loops, emergence and intentionality
Th 7/16
  • Games and art


M 7/20
  • Decision-making, types of decisions
  • Flow theory
Th 7/23
  • Kinds of fun
  • Player types
M 7/27
  • Dramatic elements in games


Th 7/30
  • Nonlinear storytelling
M 8/3
  • Game design process in detail
  • Intro to the Design Project for this course
Th 8/6
  • Solo testing techniques
  • Design Project: solo testing
M 8/10
  • Designer testing techniques, critical analysis
  • Design Project: designer testing
Th 8/13
  • Player testing techniques
  • Design Project: player testing
M 8/17
  • Blindtesting techniques
  • Design Project: Blindtesting
Th 8/20
  • Game balance techniques
  • Design Project: balancing
M 8/24
  • User Interface design
  • Differences between digital and non-digital UI
Th 8/27
  • Design Project: User Interface iteration
M 8/31
  • Design Project: final materials and presentation
  • Critical analysis of design projects
Th 9/3
  • Course summary
  • Next steps