ICS 169 a/b Capstone Game Project 2019-20

Class Syllabus

Professor
Theresa (Tess) Tanenbaum

(ttanen@uci.edu)

TA
Jeffrey Bryan

(jsbryan@uci.edu)

Time
Wednesdays 4-6:50pm

Location
Anteater Learning Pavilion Room 1600

Catalog Description

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

Save the date now!  January 31-February 02, 2020! I will be coordinating UCI’s GGJ location this year for the sixth year in a row.  Previous GGJs have had amazing turnouts, with participants from UCI, other colleges in the area, and local game companies.  Last year we were the second largest site in the US and the 8th largest site in the world!  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. 

We will be having a “Capstone Games Showcase” at the end of the Winter Quarter in week 10. Each team will set up a table to demo their games, and will have 2 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. UCI capstone students have placed first for the last 5 years in a row. Submissions are usually in the Spring, and you are highly encouraged to polish and submit your games to this!

GameSIG Website

Course Logistics and Resources

Course Structure

We meet once a week for three hours. Every other Wednesday the Industry Mentors will visit, and meet with their teams. The other Wednesdays will be for team consulting with the teaching team, and for the occasional guest lecture from industry guests.

Mentors

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.

Course Website

You've found it! This is it!

The syllabus will be posted on the course website, along with any digital resources for your use.

ITCH.IO Sites

Each team will create a project on itch.io where they will be able to post playable builds as the game progresses.

Google Drive

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!

GitHub Repositories

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.

Assignments and Grading

Winter 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:

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.

I will create a shared Google Form for each team. Each week, before Wednesday’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

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.

The Winter Quarter grades are worth 55% of your overall grade in the class

Winter Weekly Schedule

Week 1

January 8

  • Welcome Back!
  • Winter Deliverables overview
  • Lecture: “Game Feel & Polish”
Week 2

January 15

  • Shuffle Mentors
  • Meet the Mentors
  • Sign up for team check-ins with Jeff and Tess
Week 3

January 22

  •  Lecture: Game Narrative and Dramatic Structures for Game Design
  • Team meeting time
Week 4

January 29

  • Meet with Mentors
  • Sign up for team check-ins with Jeff and Tess
Week 5

February 5

  • Lecture: Narrativized Game Interface
  • Team meeting time
Week 6

February 12

  • Meet with Mentors
  • Guest Lecture: TBD
Week 7

February 19

  • Workshop and present games in class
Week 8

February 26

  • Meet with Mentors
  • Guest Lecture: TBD
Week 9

March 5

  • Showcase Prep
  • Final Submission Prep
  • Playtesting and Check-Ins
Week 10

March 11

Final showcase!

The final showcase event is open to the public!  Feel free to invite family and friends so you can share your games with them!  The mentors will be there, along with assorted ICS faculty and other interested folks from the community.

We will be holding the showcase in ALP 1600 this year.

Here’s an overview of the night:

  • 4:00pm: Students arrive and set up games for demoing
  • 4:30pm: Doors open to the public, mentors arrive
  • 4:45pm: Professor Tanenbaum welcoming remarks
  • 5:00pm: Team Introductions
  • 5:30pm: Game Demos
  • 7:30pm: Public departs, and we debrief and celebrate!
Finals Week

March 18

No class meeting during Finals Week

Final Builds and design materials are due by 11:59pm on Wednesday March 19th.

Fall Assignments and Grading

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:

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.

Please let the teaching team know if you will be missing class.  While you will NOT be able to get credit for attendance, it is helpful for your team and for us to know that your absence is planned.

I will create a shared Google Form for each team. Starting in week 2, by 11:59 pm on the Tuesday before 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.  This is done individually, using the same form every week.

Please submit your status reports HERE!

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

The tentative Fall quarter grade will be weighted as 45% of the overall grade.

Late submissions will not be accepted under any circumstances.

Additional Important Course Policies and Resources

Helpful Resources, Tips, and Tricks

Old Obsolete Fall Weekly Schedule

Week 1

October 2

  • Welcomes
  • Game Concept Development
  • Team Building
Week 2

October 9

Due FRIDAY October 11: First Weekly Status Report

Due the night before class: Final Teams and contact info (submit via an e-mail to entire teaching team)

  • Meet the Mentors
  • Course policy overview
  • Intro to project management tools.

Week 2 Lecture Slides

Week 3

October 16

Due the night before class:  Itch.io links and initial brainstorming info. (submit via an e-mail to entire teaching team)

Due Tuesday October 15, and every Tuesday hereafter: Second Weekly Status Report

  • Paper Prototyping Activity

Week 3 Lecture Slides

Week 4

October 23

Due the night before class: First playable build, posted to Itch.io site. (submit via an e-mail to entire teaching team)

  • Meet with Mentors
  • Guest Lecture: Linden Reid
Week 5

October 30

Due the night before class: Second playable build, posted to Itch.io site. (submit via an e-mail to entire teaching team)

During class we’ll be playing the games in their current state:

  • One person at a time from each team is the “demo person”.
  • Everyone else will circulate and playtest the other games.
  • Swap out demo people at the halfway mark.
Week 6

November 6

DUE BY BEGINNING OF CLASS: List of technical problems/questions/blockers (submit via an e-mail to entire teaching team)

  • Meet with Mentors
  • Lecture: Fun Doctoring!

Week 6 Lecture Slides

"Fun Doctoring"

Week 7

November 13

 Tissue Testing #1
Week 8

November 20

  • Meet with Mentors
  • We play your games!
Week 9

November 27

  • (Professor Tanenbaum out of town)
  • No class due to Thanksgiving
Week 10

December 4

Finals Week

December 11th

We will meet in the usual place, at the usual time on the usual day in finals week.

  • Prototype Presentations