Basic Introduction to Game Design

Introduction and Course Syllabus

Welcome to the class: Basic Introduction to Game Design. My name is Dr. Lennart Nacke. I help peo­ple under­stand how to design and eval­u­ate games. I am teach­ing this class in the Fall 2014 at UOIT (INFR 1330). Today, I am going to show you how this course works and how you are going to ben­e­fit from the infor­ma­tion that I can pro­vide to you.

Anything is only as good as you make it and noth­ing is going to be easy.” (Kate Beaton)

Evoland Screenshot

Evoland (Shiro Games, 2013). In-Game Screenshot.

If you are read­ing this, you prob­a­bly already know that game design is impor­tant for devel­op­ing games, but did you know that there is no for­mal way to teach game design, yet? Other game devel­op­ment dis­ci­plines like art or pro­gram­ming have a more for­malised cur­ricu­lum, because their out­comes are vis­i­ble and, there­fore, eas­i­er to cri­tique. We can eas­i­ly point out errors (or bugs) in a com­put­er pro­gram and cri­tique art­work (at least on a super­fi­cial lev­el). However, design is much hard­er to grasp. We often say that a game is not fun, but do we real­ly know what that means? After all, many games require learn­ing com­plex pro­ce­dur­al sequences and involve many tac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions to be tru­ly fun, for exam­ple: Minecraft (Mojang AB, 2011) and Dota 2 (Valve Corporation, 2013). In this course, we are going to find out what it means to design games.

Dota 2 Tutorial

Dota 2 (Valve Corporation, 2013). Tutorial Screenshot.

To sum up, we are going to dis­cuss five points today that are impor­tant in this class. If you are enrolled at UOIT, this is crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion for you to pro­ceed as an under­grad­u­ate stu­dent in our Game Development and Entrepreneurship pro­gram. If you are a just a vis­i­tor on this blog, I hope you enjoy the read as we go for­ward with course con­tent.

  1. Course dates and times
  2. How a flipped class­room works
  3. What top­ics we are going to cov­er
  4. How you are going to be able to eval­u­ate your work in this class
  5. What the gen­er­al rules and guide­lines for this course are

You are prob­a­bly already aware that there are many prob­lems with tra­di­tion­al lec­tures at Universities. Given that we have access to many new tech­nolo­gies, it some­times feels like we are stuck in a very tra­di­tion­al learn­ing struc­ture in high­er edu­ca­tion. In the past three years, I have taught intro­duc­to­ry cours­es in game design using dif­fer­ent styles rang­ing from pure exer­cise-based active learn­ing to strong gam­i­fi­ca­tion. This year is the first year that I am try­ing it with a flipped (open) class­room mod­el that blends a lit­tle bit of gam­i­fi­ca­tion and lots of active learn­ing into the mix. We will explain more about what this means for you as a stu­dent in this class below. I am not the first to offer online sec­tions of a game design course and I am very thank­ful to Ian Schreiber for his game design con­cepts course and to the open mate­ri­als avail­able from Game Design instruc­tors such as Eric Zimmerman, which have helped me shape my cours­es tremen­dous­ly in the past. I see this open part of my course a lit­tle bit as giv­ing back to the game design com­mu­ni­ty and I hope that it is use­ful.


Quantum. A strat­e­gy board game by Eric Zimmerman (FunForge, 2013).

In this course, we explore the fun­da­men­tals of game design. We will be cre­at­ing sev­er­al non-dig­i­tal (not com­put­er) games. This is impor­tant for under­stand­ing the very basic con­cepts that go into a game and to sharp­en our under­stand­ing of games by cri­tiquing them. While you may not feel that all the infor­ma­tion is rel­e­vant to dig­i­tal game devel­op­ment, rest assured that all games share fun­da­men­tals that allow game design­ers to work in any medi­um to cre­ate games. We will dis­cuss some dig­i­tal games in our learn­ing mate­ri­als as well.

The top­ics of the week and the in-class exer­cis­es are designed to give you a broad the­o­ret­i­cal, ana­lyt­i­cal and con­cep­tu­al under­stand­ing of game design. Our goal is to under­stand what makes a game and then go about cre­at­ing games. As a game design­er, stu­dents need to pro­vide infor­ma­tion to play­ers about the con­tent of their game, about how to play it (the things they need to do to progress in the game and the rules), and about the win­ning con­di­tions. Students need to moti­vate peo­ple to play their games in the first place. Players need to feel empow­ered by the choic­es offered by their game and design­ing a game is essen­tial­ly about design­ing mean­ing­ful and inter­est­ing choic­es for play­ers. You are expect­ed to cre­ate sev­er­al small­er non-dig­i­tal games through­out the course if you are enrolled in it at UOIT.

Course dates and times

As part of our flipped class­room mod­el, the lec­ture con­tent will be avail­able online before our in-class meet­ings, which will hap­pen every Thursday from 12:40pm to 2:00pm in the Simcoe build­ing in room J102. We will use this in-class time for activ­i­ties and exer­cis­es relat­ed to our top­ic of the week that will be dis­cussed below. Research shows that active learn­ing is ben­e­fi­cial if stu­dents have read the mate­r­i­al for class before and come to the lec­ture pre­pared. To make things a lit­tle eas­i­er for you, we will have an Adobe Connect room ready for ques­tions and feed­back our the learn­ing mate­r­i­al on Tuesdays, 9:40 am — 11:00 am. Should you ever have addi­tion­al ques­tions, please check my email FAQ first. I am avail­able in my office on Thursdays right after class for in per­son con­sul­ta­tion and office hours if you should need to meet. Your TA for this course will be Rina Wehbe and she will be hap­py to answer your ques­tions via email or in per­son as well.

Chroma Squad

Chroma Squad Demo at GDC. Behold Studios (2014).

The flipped classroom

I will make each top­ic of the week avail­able by Friday evening the week before. The top­ic of the week will be made avail­able to you as a blog post via, where I will pre­pare all the con­tent that you need to know for the respec­tive week. This will include book chap­ters from your text­book, which will absolute­ly need to be read before par­tic­i­pat­ing in class on Thursdays. For some top­ics, embed­ded videos will be avail­able on the blog as well (pos­si­bly as links) and will need to be watched. Most of the con­tent is writ­ten and you will need to read the con­tent before class to be well pre­pared. The con­tent is linked from Blackboard as well at The Blackboard web­site pro­vides online access to addi­tion­al course mate­ri­als, videos, and addi­tion­al reading/playing mate­ri­als that are all rel­e­vant to this class in addi­tion to this blog.

During our allo­cat­ed in-class time (every Thursday 12:40 pm — 2:00 pm), we will engage in hands-on exer­cis­es about the top­ic of the week. You will need to have the the­o­ret­i­cal under­stand­ing from the online mate­ri­als for the top­ic of the week before com­ing to class. Participation is an impor­tant aspect of this class, and every­one is expect­ed to engage in dis­cus­sion and work with their class­mates.

The course will allow you to gath­er expe­ri­ence points (XP) to lev­el up (i.e., get a bet­ter grade in the end). XP come from (1) class par­tic­i­pa­tion, (2) quizzes, (3) assign­ments, (4) the writ­ten midterm test and (5) the Game Development Workshop (GDW) design doc­u­ment and pro­to­type.

Topics of the course

Currently our week­ly top­ics are fol­low­ing close­ly from our text­books:

  1. Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games by Tracy Fullerton. ISBN-10: 1482217163. Don’t get the Kindle ver­sion!
  2. Challenges for Game Designers by Brenda Brathwaite (now: Romero) and Ian Schreiber. ISBN-10: 158450580X.
Lecture # Topic of the week (Online) Exercises (In-Class)
Lecture 1 Introduction to the Class, Role of the Game Designer Become a Tester, Game Journal, Your first board game
Lecture 2 Formal ele­ments of games Game Modification of a bro­ken game. Make it mean­ing­ful for play­ers.
Lecture 3 Dramatic ele­ments of games and Narrative Design Narrative Game. Represent sto­ry pro­ce­du­ral­ly in a game.
Lecture 4 System dynam­ics Pitch your games. Students will have to pub­licly pitch their GDW games in a brief pre­sen­ta­tion
Lecture 5 Challenge, Skill and Chance Fog of Strategy
Lecture 6 Conceptualization Write a treat­ment
Lecture 7 Communication Digital Game Concept Document First Draft
Lecture 8 Social play Social and Emotional Game Prototype
Lecture 9 Games as cul­ture Intervention Game: Change the lives of your play­ers
Lecture 10 Game economies Black Friday, the board game
Lecture 11 Level design and prop­er­ties of liv­ing things Design Doc
Lecture 12 Functionality, Completeness and Balance Design Doc
Lecture 13 Simple Playtesting and Quality Assurance Design Doc and Test Reports
GDW Final Grade GDW Prototype and GDW Design Doc

How will I evaluate you?

Each lec­ture top­ic of the week has an assign­ment attached to it. Assignments are due in the fol­low­ing week in the tuto­ri­als. There is a total of 13 assign­ments in this course, each val­ued at 45XP.

Each top­ic of the week has one in-class ses­sion attached to it. Class atten­dance is checked and worth 30XP in each of the 13 class­es.

Each week (of 13) has a quiz attached to it. Each quiz is worth a total of 40 XP. You can only take the quizzes in sequence.

The course has a writ­ten Midterm Exam worth 705 XP.

This course is part of the first year Game Development Workshop. As part of the GDW, you can receive up to 800 XP from the GDW por­tion in this course. Your final GDW grade for this term (a per­cent­age) will be applied to the 800 XP. For exam­ple, if you get a grade of A- or 80% in your GDW, this is equal to 640 XP, which will fac­tor into your total XP amount for this class. A break­down of course­work and total asso­ci­at­ed XP is shown below:

Course Work XP Percent of Grade
Assignments 585 19.5%
Attendance 390 13.0%
Quizzes 520 17.3%
Midterm 705 23.5%
GDW 800 26.7%

Part of receiv­ing XP in this course, is lev­el­ing up. Each lev­el cor­re­sponds to a grade and you can lev­el up to lev­el 10 or an A+ at the very end of this course. This is a very light­weight form (and crit­i­ciz­able) form of gam­i­fi­ca­tion.

Level XP Rank Grade
10 3000 Game Design Hero A+
9 2700 Game Design General A
8 2400 Game Design Vice General A-
7 2100 Design Commodore B+
6 1900 Design Colonel B
5 1700 Design Captain B-
4 1600 Player Lieutenant C+
3 1500 Analyst C
2 1200 Evaluator D
1 0 Newcomer F

Where do I find things on Blackboard?

First, you need to con­nect to the UOIT Blackboard web­site. Login with your 100... stu­dent num­ber and it will show you a cou­ple of class­es avail­able. Select the fol­low­ing from the list:

Basic Intro. to Game Design - 43631.201409-INFR-1330U-001


When you are in the black­board for this course, you see a left menu, where you can select “Content,” this will bring you to a view of dif­fer­ent fold­ers, such as “Topics of the Week” and “Helpful mate­ri­als.” Here you select the top­ics of the week fold­er, where I will cre­ate sev­er­al sub­fold­ers for all the fol­low­ing weeks. Each fold­er con­tains the mate­ri­als need­ed for that week, so you can eas­i­ly keep all the infor­ma­tion orga­nized by week. This blog­post is linked from there and all future blog­posts will be linked in the fold­ers of the week. As a basic con­cept, Blackboard is your start­ing point for all the mate­r­i­al nec­es­sary for this course. However, keep in mind that blog posts may con­tain links to more mate­r­i­al relat­ed to the top­ics of each week.

Rules and general guidelines for class

  • Cell phones must be turned off dur­ing lec­tures. If you for­get to turn off your cell phone and it rings dur­ing class, I reserve the right answer it.
  • Any course-relat­ed ques­tions should be direct­ed to the Blackboard dis­cus­sion boards or Twitter (using the #i1330 hash­tag) so that all stu­dents can ben­e­fit from the answers. Students are encour­aged to dis­cuss with and answer one another’s ques­tions.
  • Lecture notes are not a sub­sti­tute for class atten­dance. Attend class and watch the videos to ensure that you have received and under­stand the mate­r­i­al. If you are not sure about any­thing, please make an appoint­ment with me ear­ly or come to my office hours. If you nev­er ask, I will not be able to help you.
  • Emails regard­ing an assign­ment received with­in 24 hours of the assign­ment due date will not be answered; it is your respon­si­bil­i­ty to start your assign­ments ear­ly. Emails not sent from your account will remain unan­swered!
  • Do not inter­rupt class mates. If you arrive late or need to leave ear­ly, please sit near the back.
  • You should only use your lap­top in a way that makes you more pro­duc­tive in class or allows you to par­tic­i­pate in enhanced learn­ing activ­i­ties. Disruptive lap­top use (gam­ing, cod­ing, oth­er class work, etc.) will not be tol­er­at­ed.
  • Sometimes you will be asked to close your lap­top for class activ­i­ties. You must fol­low this advice with­out excep­tions.

After read­ing this blog post I rec­om­mend read­ing your course syl­labus in Blackboard, which has even more detailed infor­ma­tion and instruc­tions regard­ing what to do in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions in this course. Now, you are all ready to start.

Slide from Presentation

Twitter exer­cise from the in-class pre­sen­ta­tion. I opt­ed for the in-class self­ie below.

Finally some feed­back that came in via Twitter about the XP grade sys­tem from one of the stu­dents.

It remains to be seen how much all stu­dents in the class will like the grad­ing as exer­cis­es are being hand­ed out. Good luck to every­one as we move for­ward.


7 thoughts on “Introduction and Course Syllabus

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