Capstone Game Project Syllabus
Professor Joshua Tanenbaum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
TA: Marcel Pufal (email@example.com)
Time: Wednesdays 4-6:50pm
Students work in teams to design and implement a new computer game or virtual world. Emphasis on sound, art, and level design, building a community, cut scenes, production values, full utilization of hardware and software platform, and current industry trends.
Course Objectives and Philosophy
In this course students work in teams to design and develop a game. This game can be in any genre, developed on any platform, and be about any subject. As a final project class, things are pretty wide open, but there are some “learning objectives” for the class:
- Learn how to work within a diverse team as a specialist, while also taking ownership of the “big picture”.
- Learn how to “scope” and “polish” a comparatively “long term” game project.
- Learn how to coordinate with outside “contractors”, mentors, and collaborators, and how to manage complex communication and organizational tasks.
- Learn how to position your game within a market that is saturated with independent games so that it stands out.
- Learn how to test and refine your game with naïve players, how to take critical feedback, and how to “find the fun” through iterative design.
By the end of these two quarters, you should have a portfolio piece that you can proudly take with you as you enter the job market. You should have a game that you can enter into local, regional, and national design competitions. You should have something that you could conceivably polish and further refine and attempt to publish or otherwise distribute. By the end of the Fall Quarter you should have a playable prototype that is “feature complete”, meaning that the core mechanics are in place, and the “fun” is present. You will need the entire Winter Quarter to polish and refine that prototype into something that approaches “content complete”.
Course Related Outside Activities
In the past students from this class have won game competitions and showcases, and participated in a number of game making events in the area. We will host some of these at UCI, but others will be happening in the area. Some of these are mandatory and others are highly encouraged!
Save the date now! January 26-28, 2018! I will be coordinating UCI’s GGJ location this year for the fourth year in a row. Previous GGJs have had amazing turnouts, with participants from UCI, other colleges in the area, and local game companies. This year, you all will participate in the Jam: it will be a chance to clear out the cobwebs, to iterate over some ideas that you might have had to put on the back-burner during the Fall, and a chance to bond with your colleagues. Ordinarily I ask students to come to the Jam without pre-planned teams, but this year, if you want to Jam in your teams for the class I’ll allow it. More details to come!
Capstone Games Showcase
We will be having a “Capstone Games Showcase” at the end of the Winter Quarter on March 14th. Each team will set up a table to demo their games, and will have 3 minutes to introduce their game to the assembled guests. Please feel free to invite family and friends. We will invite all of the industry mentors to attend, and will also be inviting students and faculty across ICS, and members of the IVECG to join us and see what everyone has made.
This event happens annually in Orange County, and our teams have done quite well in the competition. In 2017, teams from the capstone course took 1st and 2nd place! Submissions are usually in the Spring, and you are highly encouraged to polish and submit your games to this!
We meet once a week for three hours. Every other Tuesday the Industry Mentors will visit, and meet with their teams. The other Tuesdays will be for team consulting with the teaching team, and for the occasional guest lecture from industry guests. Thursdays will alternate between lectures, activities, and team check-in time.
The syllabus will be posted on the course website, along with any digital resources for your use.
We will provide each team with a Google Drive folder, which we will have access to. This should be used for storing any design documentation, game assets (excluding code), and other materials that you generate during the class. Do not keep source code in this folder: that is what GitHub is for!
We will be using GitHub to store and track the files created for the games in this class. I will create private repositories for each team as part of the course setup. Every student should create a GitHub account if they do not already have one.
Each team will create a project on itch.io where they will be able to post playable builds as the game progresses.
We are joined by an exciting group of professional game developers from the games industry! Each team will have at least 1 official mentor, as well as access to the “floating mentors” in the room. These folks have a lot of wisdom and experience to offer, and are committed to helping you make your games the best they can be.
Assignments and Grading
In the Winter Quarter the grade weighting will change:
- 10%, Index cards and participation
- 10%, weekly status reports
- 80%, Final Game Project
Deliverables (Winter Quarter)
Index Cards and Participation – 10% of your grade
In the Winter quarter attendance and participation are still important, but are weighted less heavilly than the final submission.
Weekly Status Reports – 10% of your grade
Likewise, you should continue to post status reports, however they will have a lower impact on your overall grade.
Final Game Project
Your main deliverable for this course is your final game project. I will assign it a letter grade, based on the following factors:
- Gameplay: Did you find the fun? Is the game fun in more than one way? Do the mechanics give rise to the desired dynamics, and do these lead to the aesthetics that you are trying to produce? Is the game replayable? Are the controls effective and appropriate to the game design? Does it use challenge and difficulty effectively? Does the game reward desired behavior? Are the rewards intrinsically motivating? Does the game support a range of strategies, approaches, and playstyles?
- Narrative, concept, mood, or theme: Does the game have a strong concept that informs and integrates the different aspects of its design? Is this concept reflected in the gameplay? If the game includes narrative elements, are they realized through quality writing, environmental design, and character design?
- Aesthetics: Are the visuals pleasing and appropriate to the design? Is there a clear and consistent visual language in the game? Does it convey the desired mood or theme? Are animations polished and physically believable?
- Audio: Does it have music and sound? Are the audio assets complete, polished, and effectively integrated into the experience? Do they convey the desired mood or theme?
- (Note: credit is given for art and sound assets created by team members, and for the work required to wrangle external artists and their creations)
- User Experience and Interface: Are there appropriate menus, options, and interfaces for getting into and out of the game? Does the in-game UI communicate essential game-state information? Is the game-state legible to the player when necessary? Is the controller or keyboard/mouse configuration learnable, legible, and in service to the the design goals of the game? Does the interface leverage existing literacies or conventions where appropriate? Do the interface elements reinforce and support the narrative, theme, and emotional content of the game?
- Bookmarking and “scaffolding”: Does the game support save-states, player profiles, warps, passwords, checkpoints, or other systems for preserving progress and allowing players to interrupt and continue play across multiple sessions? Does the game provide tutorials, in-game support, training systems, and other mechanisms for teaching the player how to play, where to proceed, and how to engage with the game?
- Technical accomplishment: Does the game do something that required complex computation or infrastructure development (e.g.: complex AI, networked multi-player, procedural content generation, etc.)
- Depth and breadth: Does the game support extended play? Are there extensive levels to explore? Are there multiple characters or playstyles or weapons, or skills? Does the game support and reward the development of mastery and skill over repeated play?
- Innovation: Does the game attempt to do something new at the level of mechanics, dynamics, or aesthetics? Is it pushing the boundaries of existing games, or breaking new ground with aspects of its design?
For the most part, everyone on the team will receive the same grade, however I reserve the right to modify this grade at the individual level if it becomes clear that some members of a team are doing either exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly when compared to their peers.
This is the schedule for the Winter Quarter. The Fall schedule and materials are still available below.
Week 1 – January 10th
- Welcome Back Lecture:
- Winter Deliverables Overview
- Game Feel & Polish
- Deep Dive: Narrativized Interface
Week 2 – January 17th
- Shuffle Mentors
- Meet with Mentors
Week 3 – January 24th
- Team Check-In Meetings and Playtesting
Week 4 – January 31st
- Meet with Mentors
Week 5 – February 7th
- Guest Lecture: Paul Rybicki (UX Design Director EA & Maxis)
Week 6 – February 14th
- Meet with Mentors
Week 7 – February 21st
- Mock Interviews with Blizzard Guests
Week 8 – February 28th
- Meet with Mentors
Week 9 – March 7th
- Guest Lecture: Andrew Fan (Recruiter, Blizzard Entertainment)
Week 10 – March 14th
- Capstone Project Showcase: DBH 6011
Finals Week – March 21st
- Final Presentations in Class
Additional Important Course Policies and Resources
Please read and heed the following information regarding academic dishonesty. The instructor cannot and will not tolerate academic dishonesty. For more information, refer to the UCI Student Handbook. The UCI campus policy on academic honesty resides here: http://honesty.uci.edu/
The penalty for plagiarism is at a minimum to receive a 0 on the assignment and have the case reported to the Associate Dean’s office. Particularly flagrant cases may receive more severe punishment (notably failing the course).
Due to the nature of this course, there are few opportunities to plagiarize. However, there are lots of pitfalls around licensing, copyright infringement, and open/closed source software to be on guard for. There are plenty of resources out there for game developers including asset packs of sprites, sounds, and animations. There is also a lot of open source code that can be used to solve problems that others have already solved so that you can focus on your designs. I’m generally comfortable with you using these resources in moderation, but you need to be extremely disciplined about maintaining records of where you are sourcing materials, and be confident that you are not violating any copyrights or other intellectual property agreements by including 3rd party materials in your game.
If you are a student with a disability (e.g., physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) and think that you might need special assistance or a special accommodation in this class or any other class, please check out the Disability Center online or visit them in person at: 100 Disability Services Center, Building 313, Irvine, CA 92697-5130. If you are having difficulty with the class for any of these reasons, please let me know so that I can work with you to meet your learning needs. If for any reason you are uncomfortable discussing the details surrounding a given situation you need not disclose anything, but at least let me know that something is going on so that arrangements can be made to adjust things for you before you fall too far behind.
I am always available to meet with students who are having trouble, and I am usually willing to make some reasonable accommodations if you have a legitimate issue, but I require that you check-in with me before a problem gets out of control so we can work something out. If you come to me during finals week to explain that you were in the hospital for 6 weeks and couldn’t complete your work, my first question will be: “why am I just now finding this out?”
Likewise, if you find that personal problems, career indecision, study and time management difficulties, etc. are adversely impacting your successful progress at UCI, please check out the Counseling Center or Student Services. College can often have adverse effects on one’s physical and mental health, and it is better to seek help early than allow the trials of pursing and advanced degree to cause serious harm.
Info from the Fall version of the syllabus:
Fall Quarter Grading and Deliverables
ICS 169A and 169B are graded together; your official grade for the Fall quarter will be IP (In Progress). Each student will receive an unofficial, “tentative” grade for the Fall quarter, which will be determined as follows:
- 10%, attendance during lecture periods
- 20%, participation at team meetings
- 20%, weekly status reports
- 50%, “feature complete” playable prototype
The tentative Fall quarter grade will be weighted as 45% of the overall grade.
Index Cards and Attendance – 10% of your grade
I will use the tried and true Index Card method to track attendance, and solicit feedback from you. The TA will distribute index cards at the beginning of each class – please return them by the end of class with your name, student number, the date, and any comments or questions you may have for the teaching team.
Participation at Team Meetings – 20% of your grade
Every team member should be at the team meetings in class, and should engage with the discussion about the state of your project. These check-ins are the best time to ask questions, get help with design problems, or resolve issues within the team.
Weekly Status Reports – 20% of your grade
I will create a shared Google Form for each team. Each week, before Tuesday’s class, each member of the team should add a brief statement about what they plan to do in the coming week, and what they actually did the previous week
Playable Prototype – 50% of your grade
For the final presentation each team will present their game prototype to the class. This should be playable, and should capture the core mechanics and experience of the game that you are developing. The second quarter of the class should be polishing and testing, so you want your prototype to be as feature complete as possible.
Week 1 – October 4th
- Introduction to Course (lecture)
- Game Concept Development
- Team Building
Week 2 – October 11th
- Meet the Mentors
- Continued Concept Development
- Pitch games to class
Week 3 – October 18th
- Professor Tanenbaum @ CHI Play Conference
- Guest Lecture: Austin Rucker (Product Designer, Amazon)
Week 4 – October 25th
- Meet with Mentors
- Guest Lecture (TBD)
Week 5 – November 1st
- Student Presentations of Current Prototypes
Week 6 – November 8th
- Meet with Mentors
- Lecture: Avoiding and Resolving Design Pitfalls (sunk cost fallacy, specialization, communication, etc.)
Week 7 – November 15th
- Playtesting & Check ins
Week 8 – November 22nd
- Meet with Mentors
- Guest Lecture: Billy Shih (Senior Technical Artist, Blizzard)
Week 9 – November 29th
- Tissue Tests # 1
Week 10 – December 6th
- Meet with Mentors
- Work in groups
Finals Week – December 13th
- Prototype Presentations