Monday, October 5, 2009

Three Questions: Monica Evans on Game Design at UTD


The following is a brief interview with Professor Monica Evans of the University of Texas at Dallas on the topic of game design and how it is approached by the curriculum.


Design VS Development


Design and development are two distinct aspects of game design. How are they linked and how are they separated in UTD's curriculum?


We try not separate them any more than they need to be. Development and design are two sides of the same coin. However, in order to prepare them for the production of an actual game, students are encouraged to take both the Computer Game Development and Computer Game Design courses.

The development class is a fast-paced production environment in which students create small-scale games, typically in Flash, the Neverwinter Nights engine, or as board games. We have plans for the course to deal exclusively with board game creation so that students can better focus on the development process. Specific constraints are placed on every project to mimic real-life conditions and every game student's create is play-tested by their peers.

While project limitations are a big part of the development course, in the design course students are encouraged to dream big. The course provides an overview of the history and culture of games, but focuses on aiding students to refine their concepts and commit them to paper. Learning to write a good design document is an essential part of this class.

Finally, the two elements of game creation come together in the Game Production Lab. Students interested in taking this advanced course are required to submit a portfolio of previous work. Three to five students are chosen to act as creative directors based on the strength of their submitted design ideas and ability to lead. The purpose of this lab is to produce complete games or demos.


Traditional VS Innovative


The video game industry is constantly changing and adapting to new technology, making innovation one of its defining qualities. But there is still much that can be improved within more traditional games. How does UTD handle the balance between innovation and the study of traditional games?


As discussed, the Computer Game Design course does cover the history and culture of games, but it also encourages innovation. When I taught the course, students were forced to come up with ideas for games that didn't involve saving the world or other common clich├ęs.

The strength of designs proposed for the Game Production Lab are often measured by how innovative they are.

UTD also offers a Mobile Lab course, taught by Dean Terry, in which students can produce games for smartphones. These games typically make use of the phones' GPS module, but the greater portion of student's efforts go into refining the existing technology, because its current state has proven inadequate for many of their game concepts.


A Collaborative Effort


Creating a game is no easy task. It can take hundreds of skillful professionals to make a single game. Teaching someone how to actually make a game is no different. What steps has UTD taken to ensure that faculty with the appropriate expertise is made available to the students as they endeavor to produce a game?


Collaboration is a big part of the Game Production Lab. Although some lectures are given, much of class time is spent on working directly with the student and providing them the feedback they need. We bring in professors from multiple disciplines to help with this process. For instance, Todd Fechter may be brought in to help students with all issues concerning 3D digital art, while Bruce Barnes is made available to them to help with aspects of 2D art and animation, and Frank Dufour provides his sound design expertise.

But collaboration within the Game Production Lab is not limited to the student-professor relationship. We've recently begun a collaboration that will see students in France creating the sound design for games produced here in UTD. This international partnership was arranged by Professor Dufour.


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