Syllabus and Schedule


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
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61 Responses to “Syllabus and Schedule”

  1. Randolpho Says:

    Well, I’m officially looking forward to this. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do much at first; I plan to bookmark and absorb later, when I have the time.

    One question arises from that plan: you mentioned change… will you be propagating changes as they occur to previous entries, or will you save them for later blog entries?

  2. ai864 Says:

    The note about change is more of a disclaimer: if I find that things are going too slow or too fast, I might modify some of the later topics as I go. First time around, I will probably keep everything in its initial state for posterity. If I update earlier entries for some reason, I will clearly mark the updates so that it is clear which parts were the original post and which parts were updated.

  3. johnnyjohnjohns Says:

    I can’t wait to get going on this course- thanks a million Ian! I picked up the “Challenges for Games Designers” book and I’m really enjoying it so far. Just 1 queation on the course/book:

    For the materials required to create a prototype are you talking about basically paper, pens, selotape, etc for real basic porotypes or is there anything specific that might come in handy when prototyping?

    Great job Ian, you’re an inspiration!

  4. Pen Says:

    Definitely looking forward to this. Out of curiosity, is all work going to be done through the blog/email, or is there going to be a forum for us to muck around with too? When you’ve got 290+ people all working towards the same end but with vastly different methods there’s bound to be some interesting discussion.

  5. GBGames Says:

    Wow, not only did I buy Challenges for Game Designers when I first signed up, but I just ordered A Theory of Fun for Game Design hours ago. I already have Understanding Comics, so I guess that will make me the studious nerd in this course. B-)

  6. ai864 Says:

    @johnnyjohnjohns: Yes, that is the basic idea for prototyping. There are other materials I find helpful, and I’ll go into details early on in the course.

    @Pen: Yes, there will be some other forum, something along the lines of a forum or wiki. I think I’ll avoid email… with as many people as we have, even a single post per person per week would still be more email than most of us would want to deal with :-)

  7. wicak hidayat Says:


    i’m very interested in following this course.

    but as i’m in indonesia, i wonder if anyone know how can i get a copy Challenges for Game Designers and perhaps A Theory of Fun for Game Design also. i already own a copy of Undertstanding Comics (translated).

    I know you can order from Amazon and all. Sadly, certain situation makes it hard for me to order through amazon.

  8. Christopher Weeks Says:

    Neat. I already have your book and Koster’s and the McCloud book is on my wishlist — now I have an excuse!

  9. Satya Hody Says:

    GREEAATT! got all the textbook looking forward for this!;

    @Wicak Hidayat : you could get those books from;
    Its pretty straight forward, all you need is a credit card (VISA,MASTERCARD,AMEX), if you dont have CC, you can even ask other ppl to order for you;

    the postal service in indonesia is unreliable so i lost a shipment, if this happen just change your shipping address to more reliable address (permanent home with easy access to the mailman) and amazon will re-send or re-fund your shipment. there’s usually 0% – 10% of tax from the postal service when you claim the books.

    If all fails, you can contact me :)

    • wicak hidayat Says:

      @Satya Hody:

      yeah bro, so i finally brave myself to try it through amazon. just the required text book first though. standard shipping is such a drag, estimate time of arrival is June 4 – June 24.

      fingercrossed all the way through june :p

  10. Andrew Dang Says:

    Alright! I’m going to get the books from Amazon within the next month. Very excited, especially for McCloud’s book; everyone’s been recommending it.

  11. Luca Botturi Says:

    Really looking forward to this – I got the books from Amazon right now!
    Will I really have 290+ colleagues for this course? Awesome!

  12. ai864 Says:

    @Satya: Thanks for the assist!

    @Luca: I’m keeping an updated count on the main site. As of right now we’re up to 313 registrations in 37 states, and 30 countries outside the US. I get a few more every day. It’s pretty exciting!

  13. Jason Tam Says:

    little help here. will borders have these books?

  14. ai864 Says:

    @Jason: The big-name brick-and-mortar stores should have them, and if they don’t, they can special-order them for you. In my experience they’ll usually get a book in within a few weeks or so. Most smaller book stores will do the same.

  15. David Lawson Says:

    This just keeps getting better and better. I already have McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Koster’s Theory of Fun in my library. They are easy, fun, informative books. I recently picked up McCloud’s Reinventing Comics, in essence a sequel to Understanding Comics. I’ll try to have that read before we get started.

    Just about every Half-Price Books I’ve been in has one or two copies of Understanding Comics hidden among the graphics novels. Other Brick’n’Mortar stores also keep any copies they might have with the graphics novels as well.

    You may also find McCloud’s Making Comics while looking for Understanding Comics. While a good and useful book, be aware that it is a different sort of beast. Making Comics is aimed at the artist and would-be comic author, and I found it much less useful in my efforts to deepen my skill as a game developer.

    • David Lawson Says:

      I finally got around to starting McCloud’s Reinventing Comics. Unless this course goes in directions I don’t expect, Reinventing Comics likely won’t be immediately relevant.

      However, in much the same way as Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics can easily be cross-applied to the game design/development discipline. I would recommend the book as follow-up reading for anyone looking to pursue a career in games.

  16. parcalto Says:

    Just bought your and Brenda’s book at B&N a couple days ago. I can’t wait for this course to start up.

  17. Justin Says:

    This is really cool! Next time at B&N I will have to pick up the book! Looking forward to learning more about the field I hope to break into!

  18. Lincoln Li Says:

    Very awesome! I’m loving the course description, and syllabus, and will definitely be grabbing the books early on to check them out.

    Can’t wait to get started with this course!

  19. xeoncat Says:

    Definitely looking forward to this. kudos.

  20. Jason M Says:

    Very Cool ! I am very much looking forward to this.

  21. swatjester Says:

    @ai864: If you’ll remember, I offered to do a guest spot on legal issues for game designers, but I don’t see that in the syllabus. If you’re still interested, I think it would be a valuable addition to the course.

  22. Phil Willis Says:

    Wow – as the Zen monk once said “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

    And you appeared!

    Thanks so much for being so generous.

    Looking forward to future posts.

  23. Ryan H Says:

    I cannot wait for the course to begin. Thanks for doing this and I’ll be ordering the books immediately.

  24. Links for a Bank Holiday weekend « Welcome to Spinksville! Says:

    [...] Game Design Concepts is running a free online course on game design from June til September this year. He notes: 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. [...]

  25. Sean Nittner Says:

    Thanks for teaching this course Ian, I’m really looking forward to it.

    Once the course is started will you be creating a Yahoo/Google group for all the participants to keep in touch with you and each other?

    • ai864 Says:

      Sean, I will be creating something for keeping in touch. It will likely not be an email list, because with as many people as there are (we’re over 400 as of the time of this comment!) I don’t want everyone’s email to be flooded.

  26. Gabi Luduvice Says:

    are there any sign ups open yet? i want to participate too! thanks for creating such a generous project! “D

  27. Paulo Lopes Says:

    Well, I am impatient.

  28. Free E-Learning – Game Design Concepts « Rebecca Agra | Designer Says:

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  29. Erick Goes Says:

    Hello, Ian

    My name is Erick and lives in the Brazil. All good with you?

    I was knowing of the course online about introduction to the game design that you will go to offer from the next month.

    This course will have some cost?

    I am interested in this course.


    • ai864 Says:

      In case the website is unclear:
      Registration for the course has no cost at all (other than the “cost” of your time to send me an email).
      There is a required textbook and two recommended books. Those will obviously cost money.
      We’ll also be creating our own non-digital game projects over the summer. You’ll need to provide your own materials (things like paper, cards, and so on). This will have a cost, but the cost varies depending on the game. If you have no easy access to materials (or money for them) then you will have to design a game using whatever you have available.

  30. Joel Says:

    Looks interesting. Read the books he recommended before hand. Good taste.

  31. Benjamin Pastrana Says:

    Sign me up!
    Puerto Rico

  32. TheKid Says:

    Well I’m locked and loaded with those recommended books.

  33. Shah Says:

    Will the course include how to create a full design document as well as a proposal?

    • ai864 Says:

      Shah: Great question. This was not my original plan, since non-digital projects (such as board games and card games) tend to require playable prototypes more than design documents. While I realize that this is not directly relevant for video games, this course is more about the fundamental concepts of game design: what makes games “fun” and what is “fun” anyway, how do you come up with an effective set of core mechanics, what is the role of story in games, and so on.

      Actually creating a video game (including proposal, design documentation, technical documentation, implementation, and so on) is outside the scope of what I am trying to do here.

      That said, as you read through the “Game Design Challenges” textbook, there are many challenges there that are of the form “generate a concept/proposal document” and you could take any of those to flesh out to a full GDD on your own, time permitting. So, this summer won’t instruct you about writing design docs for video games directly, but the course tools will allow you to learn on your own.

  34. Mitchell Allen Says:

    Hi Ian,

    I just bought all three books (treated myself for my birthday).
    Sent out a tweet to others. Hopefully, some game designers and curious folk will check out your article.



  35. Moley Says:

    Hello, I got a little over excited in reading Challenges for Games Designers and now I think I’ve finished almost all the challenges (the handy thing about having a captive playtest team) will this make the course less useful and do you have any reccomendations for books to look at after Challenges for Games Designers?

    • ai864 Says:

      @Moley: You… finished all of the challenges? There are about 300 of them! Seriously?

      Anyway, the reason we wrote “Challenges” is that there was not another book like it, so I can’t exactly recommend a sequel. I doubt it will make the course any less useful, though; by going through the process along with others, there’s a lot you can do to further your learning and experience. And even if you’ve already done a challenge once, it’s not like any of them have just one “answer”, there are an infinite number of games or concepts or whatever from each challenge. You also might gain some extra insights just by going through some things a second time with the guidance of the course content (that I will start releasing in just a few weeks).

  36. Chris Says:

    What what what? This exists? I’m so here as much as I can be here. I started mapping in Hammer 2 weeks ago and I love it! I can’t wait. Thanks

  37. Hosun Says:

    Do I need to sign up for this course? If so, how can I do that?

  38. Tina Says:

    Hello! one question (I see there is a recent post about it, but I don’t see the answer): is the course happening just on this blog, or somewhere else as well? How will people be able to interact with each other?

    anyway, looking forward

    • ai864 Says:

      @Tina: Great question! The primary content will be on this blog, but for those who sign up there will be other ways to interact. I do not have exact details yet as I’m still setting up the infrastructure, but everyone registered will receive an email prior to the beginning of the course with full details.

  39. Shelly Says:

    I’m excited! And my books arrive today! Yea!

  40. Dave Says:

    It seems most people here are video game designers (or that is the goal). I’m more interested in Board Game and Card Game design. If I’m understanding correctly, this course focuses more on the tabletop games as opposed to video games but the course is geared towards video game designers? Am I correct here? Or is the course geared towards both video and tabletop game designers?

    • ai864 Says:

      @Dave: Some people here are interested in the design of tabletop games, others in video games. I’ve received registrations from many people in both camps. This course focuses on the principles and core concepts of game design that are generalizable between media, the same way that a “visual art concepts” course might be applicable to both oil paints and watercolors, or that a “programming concepts” course would include principles that are common to C++ and Java. I will use many examples in the course, some from tabletop and some from video games. So this course should be useful for anyone interested in game design, no matter the medium.

      That is my goal, at any point. If at any point someone feels otherwise, I would like to hear about it! It is a big experiment, after all…

  41. incobalt Says:

    Have you figured out how you’re going to connect all of the signed up people together? I had been thinking of suggesting Google Sites (it was used once in a class I had), but I don’t know if their infrastucture can handle 800+ collaborators on a single site (and the sheer amount of space you’d need to do it would be crazy expencive, now that I think about it).

    • ai864 Says:

      @incobalt: Still working on setting up the infrastructure. I’ll send an email to everyone who has registered, with info once it’s all set up.

  42. Game Design Concepts Course « twobitgames Says:

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  43. homam Says:

    This is my goal. after starting the class there could be more concepts.

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  46. mista Says:

    Hi, interesting post. Actually I was looking for more info in Game Mechanic. Right now I’m teaching on Computer Games Development and now we try to create new syllabus for Computer Games course.

    Any of us know more about Game Mechanic hope can give some info.


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