Special Project in Informatics

“Games: From Concept to Pitchable Prototypes”

Professor Theresa Jean Tanenbaum, Department of Informatics

Wednesday from 6:30 – 9:30pm, Spring 2015

Location: ICS2-170 (The COGS Lab)

We’re excited to announce a very special “Special Topics” course in the CGS program: a unique project-based course in collaboration with the award winning producer and director of Rango and Where the Wild Things Are.  This “Special Projects in Informatics and Game Design” course is a chance for a small group of diverse student designers, programmers, artists, writers, and musicians to work with professional animators, artists, directors, and producers to develop and launch two prototype interactive applications intended for commercialization.

Students will work as “studios,” and will divide up roles to parallel common configurations for small games industry teams.  Each studio will have 10-14 members and will work to develop, pitch, prototype, test, and refine a game prototype based on a piece of secret intellectual property provided by Professor Tanenbaum and by John Carls, our collaborator in Hollywood.

This is a chance to make something ambitious, creative, and innovative and to put that work into the world: the final deliverable for the class will be a pitch package to accompany the playable prototype which, if successful, might well be the basis for a commercialization effort (the specifics of which will be determined based on the quality of the work produced in the class). We are looking for a motivated team of students with a range of backgrounds and from a number of departments including visual arts, music, film and media studies, and of course computer game science.

This is also the first game development course to be offered by our new game design faculty member: Tess Tanenbaum.  Professor Tanenbaum has over a decade of game design experience starting in RPG design and moving to board games, digital games, and finally hybrid hardware/software systems.  She worked as a musician, composer, and producer in the games industry before returning to school where she studied games for her Master’s degree (which was about The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion) and her PhD (which was about the Mass Effect trilogy).  She specializes in creating innovative interactive storytelling systems that transform their players into characters using costumes, props, and other “narrative interfaces”.

This class is going to work differently from some of the other classes you’ve taken.  To participate you will have to apply for a position on one of the teams, and you will be required to sign a professional IP agreement, similar to if you were starting a job at a games company.  The course will be graded for credit but the real outcome will be a chance to lay the groundwork for a real game project in the marketplace: students who are especially successful will have an opportunity to take these projects beyond the classroom and into the world. For students in the Computer Game Science major, it will be possible to use this class (a 190, special topics) as a substitute for one of your other major requirements.

Grading and Evaluations

The majority of your grade will be determined by your progress and contributions to the final project that you are involved in.  The project will have four major milestones:

  • A developed concept/pitch document (20% of grade) – Presented in week 3
  • An “alpha” prototype (20% of Grade – Presented in week 5
  • A testing report (20% of Grade) – Presented in week 7
  • A “beta” prototype (30%) – Presented in week 10

An additional 10% of the grade will be awarded for attendance and participation in class activities (including design challenges, pitch sessions, critiques, playtesting, etc.)

Due to the collaborative nature of these projects, and the size of the teams that we are working with, it is important that everyone find a way to account for their own contributions to the project.  At the end of the class, students will submit a Self Evaluation of their own work in the class and a Peer Evaluation of the other members of their teams.  These will be kept confidential, and will be valuable in determining how contributions to the projects were distributed.

Extra Credit

There are three opportunities for extra credit in this course.  They all come early in the quarter, before we all get crazy with needing to push to complete the prototypes.  I’ve assigned three readings in weeks 2, 3, and 4.  Each one has an optional assignment connected to it that you may complete for an extra 3% of your grade in this class.  That’s 9% extra credit – do all three and I’ll bump it up to an even 10%.  That’s a difference of an entire letter grade in the class!  Here’s what each one looks like:

  • Week 2: Hunicke et al.’s MDA Paper:
    • Read the paper.  Take a game that you love (or hate) and write a short analysis of it using MDA.  It should, at the very least, answer the questions: What are the game’s Mechanics?  What are the game’s Dynamics?  What are the game’s Aesthetics?  How do they interact with each other (i.e.: how do the mechanics shape the dynamics, and how do these lead to a specific aesthetic?)  Post your analysis on the discussion board.
  • Week 3: LeBlanc’s Tools for Creating Dramatic Game Dynamics:  
    • Read the paper.  Pick a game you love (or hate) and write a short analysis of how the game employs inevitability and uncertainty to produce drama.  How does the game then resolve that dramatic tension? Post your analysis on the discussion board.
  • Week 4: Swink’s Game Feel:
    • Read the paper and explore the interactive exercises at http://www.game-feel.com.  Pick a game you love (or hate) and write a short analysis of it using the notion of feel as your guide.  How do”real-time control”, “simulated space”, and “polish” interact within this game to produce a good or bad feel?  Are there ways of improving the feel of specific design elements?  What game have you played with the best “feel”? Post your analysis on the discussion board.

As noted above, these should be submitted via the course discussion board in EEE.  These will only count for credit if submitted within a week of the reading assignment!  Thus,the week two extra credit will be accepted up until week 3, the week three will be accepted up until week 4, and so on. The point of this is to get you thinking about important aspects of game designs BEFORE you have to start making these decisions in your own games.

Schedule and Materials

All readings will be available as PDFs via UCI’s hosted webfiles, and will require your computing ID in order to access.  Please arrive at class having completed the readings and be prepared to discuss them.  Lectures in this class are going to be interactive – be prepared!  Much class time will be dedicated to presentation and discussion of each team’s ideas at each major milestone:  these presentations are critical opportunities to develop your “pitching“ skills



Course Plan

Week 1

April 1stIntroductions, Course Overview and Welcomes
  • Team Assignments
  • Project Assignments
  • Discussion of Project Management strategies
  • Open discussion/brainstorming time in teams

Week 2:Readings – Huncke, LeBlanc, & Zubek.  MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research

April 8thGame Design Principles, Documentation, and Concept Development
  • Lecture: MDA
  • SissyFight Design Challenge!
  • Lecture: Design Documentation, Pitching, and Concept Development

Week 3: Readings – LeBlanc. Tools for Creating Dramatic Game Dynamics

April 15thGuest SpeakerConcept Pitches
  • Guest Speaker: Tyler Cushing
  • Concept Pitches due
    • Team Presentations – 15 minutes each
    • Concept Discussion – 15 minutes each

Week 4: Readings –Swink. Game Feel Chapter 1: Defining Game Feel

April 22ndFinding the “fun”Game Feel
  • Lecture: Game Feel and different types of fun
  • Free work time

Week 5

April 29thAlpha presentations, and Intro to play testing
  • Alpha prototypes due:
    • Team Presentations – 15 minutes each
    • Discussion – 15 minutes each
  • Lecture: Play testing techniques and iteration

Week 6

May 6thPlaytesting and iteration
  • In-Class Play testing sessions
    • Teams rotate through each other’s games – 1 hour
    • Group discussion of games, and critique session – 1 hour
  • Free work time – 1 hour

Week 7

May 13thTesting reports and work time
  • Testing reports due
    • Team Presentations – 15 minutes each
    • Discussion – 15 minutes each
  • Free work time

Week 8

May 20thGuest Speaker and free work time
  • Guest Speaker: TBD
  • Free work time / check-ins

Week 9

May 27thGuest Speaker,  Marketing Discussion, and free work time
  • Guest Speaker: TBD
  • Open Class Discussion on Commercialization and Marketing
  • Free work time

Week 10

June 3rdBeta presentations
  • Beta prototypes due:
    • Team Presentations – 30 minutes each
    • Discussion – 30 minutes each

Finals Week

June 10thFinal presentations of prototypes. Peer Evaluations + Self Evaluations due

Important Class Policies

Please read these closely!  Ignorance of these policies – especially those pertaining to academic honesty and plagiarism – is no excuse for failing to observe them.

Intellectual Property

Due to the unique nature of this course, every student must sign an Intellectual Property (IP) agreement.  The details of this agreement will be discussed at a mandatory orientation session prior to the start of instruction on Tuesday March 31st at 4:00PM in the COGS Lab (ICS2-170).


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

Counseling Center

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 Graduate Student Services.


Email is BY FAR the most reliable way to get in touch with me; however, for most course related inquiries (anything that is not of a personal or individual nature) please post your question to our online discussion board FIRST. Likewise, I will use your university email address for all communications. Please check this account on a regular basis. When you communicate with me please put INF 190 in the SUBJECT LINE.

I will respond to emails during reasonable work hours (generally 10am – 6pm on weekdays).

Technology Requirements:

We are going to be pretty platform agnostic in this class, but as a team you will need to agree to a set of shared development tools that you are all comfortable working with.  We are at a pretty great time to be doing game development because two of the most popular engines – UT4 and Unity – are freely available in various forms for student use.  Be aware, however, that platform choice in this instance may well have long-term financial consequences for whatever games we develop.  For the UT4 engine, 5% of all revenue, after the first $3000 must be paid back to Unreal, but the full version of the software is available to use for free. For Unity, only the basic version of the software is free, but everything developed in it is royalty free.  For our purposes, it seems like Unity is a better choice, but this is something we can discuss as a group.  I recommend against rolling your own engine in this class for a variety of reasons.  First, the goal of this class is to produce a quality, polished, well developed design.  Having a developed infrastructure to start with allows us to focus on design, rather than on tool creation. Second, established platforms come with established communities, so solving problems becomes a question of researching who else has had similar problems, rather than inventing new solutions from scratch.  Third, most professional developers are working with in-house toolkits and a range of different middleware solutions – learning how to fit together these kinds of systems is essential professional development.

As per other classes, you need access to a personal computer (Mac or Windows) for major amounts of time for this course. You need Internet access for this course. You must be able to save word processing files in a .doc or .docx (Microsoft Word) or .pdf format for sharing and submitting files to the instructor. You are expected to have working knowledge and capability with your computer before entering this class.

Class information and announcements will be communicated through EEE and through your UCI email address. To access EEE, you will need your UCI Net ID and password. If you do not know these, please contact OIT.

Plagiarism & Cheating:

Please read and heed the following information regarding academic dishonesty. The instructor cannot and will not tolerate academic dishonesty.

This is infinitely more important in this class than in other classes you may have taken!  Plagiarism in another class might threaten one or two students, but here it threatens the viability of the entire enterprise.  We cannot use any external assets (text, audio, images, video, etc.) without a license from their creator, especially given that we are treating these games as commercial endeavors.  This goes for code assets and software as well:  you might be accustomed to casual software piracy in your daily lives (many people are) but for the purposes of this class we cannot be developing on illegal copies of any software, and we cannot be reproducing code without crediting the originators and adhering to any licensing policies they might have established.  There is plenty of open source and creative commons licensed material available online for us to use without having to resort to theft or piracy: be mindful of your practices when developing for this class!

For more information, refer to the UCI Student Handbook. The UCI campus policy on plagiarism can also be found on the Registrar’s website, under “Academic Honesty Policy”:http://www.senate.uci.edu/senateweb/default2.asp?active_page_id=754.

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).

What is cheating?
Supplying or using work or answers that are not your own.
Providing or accepting assistance with completing assignments or examinations.
Faking data or results.
Interfering in any way with someone else’s work.
Stealing an examination or solution from the teacher.

What is plagiarism?
Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
Buying a paper from a research service or term paper mill.
Turning in another student’s work with or without that student’s knowledge.
Copying a paper from a source text without proper acknowledgment.
Copying materials from a source text, supplying proper documentation, but leaving out quotation marks.
Paraphrasing materials from a source text without appropriate documentation.
Turning in a paper from a term paper website.

You should be on guard against plagiarism at all times.  At any time that you read anything in preparation for a paper or consciously recall anything that you have read or heard, you must be prepared to provide documentation.

Generally, when you use someone else’s ideas and/or words, you will either quote that person directly or you will paraphrase or summarize that person’s words. You must let the reader know which you are doing.

  1. If you quote the source directly, you must
    1. put quotation marks before and after that person’s words;
    2. let the reader know the source by (1) putting a footnote or endnote number at the end of the quotation, or (2) putting at least the source’s name in parentheses after the quotation marks (such as when being taken from fieldwork).
  2. If you paraphrase (a paraphrase is about the same length as the original, but in different words) or if you summarize (a summary is a severely shortened version of the original), you must
    1. introduce the source in some manner at the beginning of the passage being paraphrased (or summarized) so that the reader can tell where your idea stops and the other person’s begins;
    2. state the ideas taken from the source in your own words and your own arrangement. It is possible to plagiarize sentence patterns as well as exact words. A handy rule: if, in a paraphrase or summary, you use a stretch of more than three words in their exact order from a source, you should put those words into quotation marks;
    3. provide an exact source citation for those ideas paraphrased or summarized. This may be done either by footnote/endnote number at the end of the passages or by parenthetical references to the work and page(s). This citation provides credit to the author being used and allows the reader access to the material for further study.
  3. You must also provide a footnote for any chart, graph, figure, table, summary, or other data taken directly from another source or any information derived from such materials. You should also be sure to check copyright as to whether you are allowed to use this figure.

For example, the text here on plagiarism was initially written Gillian Hayes for the Winter 2013 version of the INF 242 class, although some modifications and additions of my own have been integrated into it.  The original can be found here: http://www.gillianhayes.com/Inf242w13/, along with Professor Hayes’ own disclaimer that the material has been “generously borrowed and slightly modified from the UTC Center for Advisement and Student Success.”