Designing a curriculum

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Hector Rodriguez

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Apr 11, 2007, 3:02:22 AM4/11/07
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Here's an open question:
If you had to design a curriculum for a major in either "interactive
design" or "game design", meant specifically for designers or writers,
which sorts of courses would you like to see included in it as (a)
core, (b) electives?
If you agree that interactive artists/designers should also learn
programming, which language(s) would you choose to teach (taking into
account that students might come in without a strong tech
background)?
If the questions seem vague to you, you are welcome to redefine them,
narrow them down, etc.

Conrad

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Apr 11, 2007, 10:46:07 AM4/11/07
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On Apr 11, 3:02 am, "Hector Rodriguez" <smh...@cityu.edu.hk> wrote:
> Here's an open question:
> If you had to design a curriculum for a major in either "interactive
> design" or "game design", meant specifically for designers or writers,
> which sorts of courses would you like to see included in it as (a)
> core, (b) electives?

I'd have them take a few short-story writing classes: one about
general fiction, and several focused on specific genres. Maybe a
course on narrative theory.

Have them read and evaluate some old CYOAs.

I might loose you on this one: I'd have them take two courses on
Shakespeare and study maybe three or four plays. More generally, have
them study classic examples of any writing: _All In the Family_,
_Medea_, _Soap_, the _Decameron_, old _Star Trek_ or _Twilight Zone_
episodes... mix it up a bit.

I favor the random approach: when you teach with a theory linking the
materials, students might get the theory, or might not: when you
teach through analysis of example, and say, "All right: why is this
joke funny?" -- Then you get them theorizing.

Also put them through acting class (they'll learn to look for the
character, the needs, the conflict).

All this in parallel with whatever programming classes they need on
the CS end.


Finally,

(and this is the important one),

I'd have them play IF works in groups and talk through what's
happening in the game and how they're responding to it. As IF
designers, the primary skill they *must* have is to get inside the
head of the player and understand how the IF work is being
experienced.

If you don't have that, knowing how to program or to put words
together won't do much good.


My opinions.


Conrad.

Andrew Plotkin

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Apr 11, 2007, 12:24:51 PM4/11/07
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Here, Hector Rodriguez <smh...@cityu.edu.hk> wrote:
> If you agree that interactive artists/designers should also learn
> programming

Yes.

> which language(s) would you choose to teach (taking into
> account that students might come in without a strong tech
> background)?

At least one general programming language -- Java or Python.

On the IF side, you want a "survey of design systems" course which
goes through the generations, from Fortran through AGT and ZIL to TADS
and I6. And then I7 as an exemplar of whatever-it-is. (I refrain from
calling I7 "the next generation" -- ask again in five or ten years.)

The hard part is that I'd do that survey class differently depending
on whether the audience has a programming background or not.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
Just because you vote for the Republicans, doesn't mean they let you be one.

Jim Aikin

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Apr 11, 2007, 12:50:48 PM4/11/07
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I'm not too sure about the old CYOAs, but other than that, Conrad is on the
money. An aspiring designer should know dramatic literature from Shakespeare
to Star Trek. And playing games in a group, so that they're evaluated
critically rather than just bathed in, would be essential.

If they're going to be designing graphic games, classes in cinema should be
part of the core curriculum. (Could you possibly design a decent graphic
game without knowing Blade Runner or Alien, for instance?) If they're going
to be designing text games (not that anyone is likely to major in that...),
they darn well need to take a class in writing short stories -- learn about
character, tone, conflict, stuff like that.

Of course, a bad creative writing teacher can cause impressionable young
minds to turn to mush, so we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that
you have access to good faculty.

--JA

"Conrad" <conra...@gmail.com> wrote in message
news:1176302766....@d57g2000hsg.googlegroups.com...

Conrad

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Apr 11, 2007, 6:44:41 PM4/11/07
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On Apr 11, 12:50 pm, "Jim Aikin" <edi...@musicwords.net> wrote:
>
> I'm not too sure about the old CYOAs, but other than that, Conrad is on the
> money.


Yeah, yeah... the arts are the first to go...


Conrad.


Blank

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Apr 12, 2007, 5:47:04 AM4/12/07
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Jim Aikin wrote:
> I'm not too sure about the old CYOAs,

Well, CYOAs are the closest in structure to ordinary fiction (in
ordinary fiction there's just a single groove through the story world -
cyoas have just a few tramlines) and so the author of a cyoa has a
fighting chance to fulfil the expectations of what makes good fiction:
pacing, character development etc.

The more I poke around with "parsed IF" (i.e. where the player's input
at the prompt is interpreted, rather than having a fixed number of
choices displayed in a menu) the more I'm wondering if compared to
vanilla no-choice print, the amount of control the author has over the
IF reader/player's experience isn't so different that critiques based on
expectations coming from traditional no-choice narrative are actually
unhelpful. You know: "That's the trouble with mime - not enough
dialogue." :o)

jz

Jim Aikin

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Apr 12, 2007, 12:46:30 PM4/12/07
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> The more I poke around with "parsed IF" (i.e. where the player's input at
> the prompt is interpreted, rather than having a fixed number of choices
> displayed in a menu) the more I'm wondering if compared to vanilla
> no-choice print, the amount of control the author has over the IF
> reader/player's experience isn't so different that critiques based on
> expectations coming from traditional no-choice narrative are actually
> unhelpful. You know: "That's the trouble with mime - not enough dialogue."
> :o)

You could make a case for this view. Pacing, in particular, is pretty much
out the window in IF. (I caught some serious flak for the timed puzzles in
Last Resort, which were intended to introduce some form of structured
pacing.) But many elements carry over pretty well.

Setting in IF is arguably even more important than in CF (conventional
fiction). The setting itself becomes a sort of antagonist. That is, it
participates actively in the plot. Writing that helps the player envision
the setting clearly is essential!

Characterization, though often neglected, is certainly very practical in IF,
and uses many of the same tools as in CF.

Tone is just as important in IF as in CF. The tools with which one creates
it are largely the same, and the consequences of a sudden, unexpected shift
in tone (as when you're immersed in a gothic horror game and the parser
suddenly makes a snotty remark about some command that you tried) are just
as severe.

Or we could talk about the protagonist's motivation. In IF, the player
character is the protagonist. A protagonist in plotted CF needs a clear,
emotionally meaningful goal, and the same thing is true in IF. That's why a
dungeon-crawl in which you gain points by collecting trinkets is not very
satisfying on an emotional level.

YMMV, as usual.

--JA


Hector Rodriguez

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Apr 12, 2007, 10:03:05 PM4/12/07
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Thanks for the constructive messages to this thread. Some responses
(and sorry for the long post):

An introductory courses about a general programming language is a good
idea. I would choose C, or even C++ (but without referring to objects/
classes until perhaps the end of the semester. I find that it is
better to begin with the basic principles of structured programming
before going on to Object Oriented Programming. I know many like to
teach classes early on, but I am against this, especially if the
students are from an arts/humanities background. Let them get the
basics. Of course, OOP is important, but should be an advanced course.
My problem with Java is that you are forced to use classes from the
start. I taught a Java workshop to arts students, and it was
successful, but a lot of work. Alternatively, one could ask students
to learn Processing, since it is Java based but hides away the OOP
part and makes it optional. Processing is attractive to arts students,
because it is relatively easy for students to produce visual art,
while learning basic structured programming concepts. But I prefer C,
which makes it easy for students to move on to OpenGL in an advanced
course. In any case, the emphasis should be on the basics of
procedural thinking, rather than the actual language.

I really like Andrew's suggestion for a history of design systems
course. Could be a good year two course. The idea might be extended
beyond IF.

I had not thought enough about the importance of playing games
together, as a stage towards theorizing the relationship between their
responses and the structure of the game. I should do more of this in
the classroom, and get students involved in this. One of my mistakes
in teaching is that I begin by discussing existing theories, instead
of letting students develop their own questions first, and then
bringing existing theories in as needed. I like the following comment
a lot:

"...when you teach with a theory linking the


materials, students might get the theory, or might not: when you
teach through analysis of example, and say, 'All right: why is this
joke funny?' -- Then you get them theorizing. "

Offering acting classes is another very good idea. We should develop a
model of teaching acting especially for game designers (and other
narrative artists who might benefit from this sort of discipline). We
should, though, make students aware of different schools of acting, so
that they are also exposed to acting in non-Aristotelian theater
(Meyerhold, Brecht, etc.) and non-Western theater (Chinese opera?).

Since many of my students are Asian, and I teach in Asia, I would not
impose Shakespeare, but offer a range of alternative courses from
which they can pick. Martial Arts novels are very good. One course
should cover tone, chraracterization, and setting. I am not sure
pacing is out. Perhaps we need a different concept of pacing.

I would certainly offer one whole course on non-linear narrative
(whatever that means). That might include digressive narratives like
Tristam Shandy, stories with multiple "worlds" like the movie Last
Year In Marienbad, as well as branching narratives like those of a
CYOA or some experiments of the Oulipo group. We could include
narrative theory concepts in such a course. Experimental narrative is
a must, for me, since students have too much exposure to standard
concepts of narrative. I have often taught Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and
when I met Tracy Fullerton she mentioned that she also teaches it in
her games class.

I teach a course on Game and Play Studies, which covers a broader
concept of play. I find that the techniques used by the Situationist
International, such as drifting in the city, designing situations in
everyday life, etc., are very helpful. Bringing play into everyday
space is important; it gives students a love of contingency,
unpredictability, and especially a feeling for space and randomness,
and an openness of mind. Perhaps this can be combined with a course on
role-playing games.

I agree that courses on film appreciation, perhaps video making and
editing, are important, but one has to be careful about not letting
students transplant models from mainstream cinema. (I think avant-
garde cinema and documentary are more helpful). Perhaps a few weeks on
art direction (especially set design).

A course on graphic design should be there, including text-image
interaction, and a separate course on installation and performance
art, with a strong emphasis on interactive installation. One of my
colleagues uses MAX/MSP, but I am sort of against training students
into a commercial product (so I would use Pure Data, OpenGL, or
Processing).

And finally, at least one-two courses on audio design. One should be
an introduction to sound theory, especially digital sound. And a more
advanced sound design course where students get to make an artwork and
get exposed to sound works from different traditions (acousmatic
sound, soundscape, etc.).

Anything missing?????? Thanks again...

Jim Aikin

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Apr 13, 2007, 8:47:06 PM4/13/07
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> A course on graphic design should be there, including text-image
> interaction, and a separate course on installation and performance
> art, with a strong emphasis on interactive installation. One of my
> colleagues uses MAX/MSP, but I am sort of against training students
> into a commercial product (so I would use Pure Data, OpenGL, or
> Processing).
>
> And finally, at least one-two courses on audio design. One should be
> an introduction to sound theory, especially digital sound. And a more
> advanced sound design course where students get to make an artwork and
> get exposed to sound works from different traditions (acousmatic
> sound, soundscape, etc.).

Among my other alleged accomplishments, I'm an expert in this area. I would
agree with your view that using commercial products is not necessarily a
good idea ... but on the other hand, Pure Data is ugly. Max is quite nice,
and much better developed too. There may be a student edition or site
license -- I wouldn't know.

If you're going to try teaching audio design to non-musicians, one of the
nicest resources you could use (also commercial) is Propellerhead Reason.
Non-musicians can get good-sounding results quickly, and the UI is sweet,
yet the possibilities for teaching the niceties of DSP are quite
far-reaching.

If you want any other thoughts on this, email me directly (midiguru23
at-sign sbcglobal dot net)

--Jim Aikin


ifnyou

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Apr 15, 2007, 3:59:17 AM4/15/07
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On Apr 11, 12:02 am, "Hector Rodriguez" <smh...@cityu.edu.hk> wrote:
> Here's an open question:
<snip>

If you're talking about game design in general, and not just computer
games, I would get them to play boardgames, because I think that most
of the best game designs can be found in that realm. I would probably
ask them to play the games themselves outside of class time and then
come to class with notes ready to discuss aspects of the design and
the experience of playing the game. I'd probably want to include Go,
Chess, Shogi, Checkers, Ludo (or Snakes & Ladders or some variant on
that theme), Monopoly, Risk, Acquire!, Tigris & Euphrates, Settlers of
Catan, Ticket to Ride, some example of an American-style monster
wargame, Puerto Rico... that would probably already be more than could
fit in a general purpose curriculum already and would need to be cut
down. But I think it's important to play boring, badly-designed games
like Monopoly in order to get a feel for what makes the difference
between good and bad games. The other thing I would do is get them to
read Huizinga's classic on games, "Homo Ludens".


Andrew Plotkin

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Apr 15, 2007, 10:52:48 AM4/15/07
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Here, ifnyou <ity...@hotmail.com> wrote:
> On Apr 11, 12:02 am, "Hector Rodriguez" <smh...@cityu.edu.hk> wrote:
> > Here's an open question:
> <snip>
>
> If you're talking about game design in general, and not just computer
> games, I would get them to play boardgames, because I think that most
> of the best game designs can be found in that realm.

That's a connection that I've never heard made... usually people are
comparing adventure games with role-playing games. Do you see specific
commonalities between IF and board games?

I've played a lot of board/card games, and I'm not sure what ideas
from that realm you'd apply to IF. Actually, I've tried to design
board games occasionally, and mostly I've failed. I bog down, unable
to see how to develop the game idea into something workable and fun. I
guess I'm starting with the same seed idea as in IF -- I have a notion
of a player experience, and I want to construct rules which make that
experience come out. But my IF background isn't helping me *do* it.
And maybe it's misleading me in the first place; maybe the player
experience is what comes out of the rules after the designer makes
them fun.

Maybe there's an IF analogy in the strategy of a board game, where you
(the player) are faced with a "puzzle" (winning) which should be
neither too opaque nor too transparent? Have an obvious range of
choice with interesting surprises around the edge?

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

When Bush says "Stay the course," what he means is "I don't know what to
do next." He's been saying this for years now.

Adam Thornton

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Apr 15, 2007, 1:35:47 PM4/15/07
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In article <evte80$odi$1...@reader2.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>That's a connection that I've never heard made... usually people are
>comparing adventure games with role-playing games. Do you see specific
>commonalities between IF and board games?

I think there's an obvious person to ask this question of, and that
person is Kevin Wilson.

Raifers may remember him as Whizzard. Founder of Spag, author of "Once
and Future", and now, designer of a whole bunch of generally huge-box
complicated board games. He has a good piece in Second Person, which
talks about his design of the remake of _Arkham Horror_ in very IF-ic
tones, I thought.

Adam

ifnyou

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Apr 20, 2007, 2:22:18 PM4/20/07
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On Apr 15, 7:52 am, Andrew Plotkin <erkyr...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Here, ifnyou <ityl...@hotmail.com> wrote:
> > On Apr 11, 12:02 am, "Hector Rodriguez" <smh...@cityu.edu.hk> wrote:
> > > Here's an open question:
> > <snip>
>
> > If you're talking about game design in general, and not just computer
> > games, I would get them to play boardgames, because I think that most
> > of the best game designs can be found in that realm.
>
> That's a connection that I've never heard made... usually people are
> comparing adventure games with role-playing games. Do you see specific
> commonalities between IF and board games?

Uh... ignoring, in cavalier fashion, the fact that he made the post in
raif, I saw that his proposed courses were called "interactive design"
and "game design" and went with my general thoughts on interactive/
game design, not considering that what was meant might be a course in
"interactive fiction game design". I probably should have thought of
that... ahem.

In relation to IF/board game connections, yes, there's not a lot of
obvious connections... I can only think of the maze in the latter part
of Tolti-Aph which is based on a board game. (Sorcerer's Cave... which
I've never played). I suppose this is because most IF is designed on
the assumption that you play through a more-or-less linear sequence of
events with the expectation on the part of both author and player that
an appropriately skilled player will always eventually win, whereas in
boardgames you play through (usually) more-or-less chaotically
nonlinear events with an expectation that only one player will win and
that therefore (at least in a good design) a non-winning position
should be approximately as rewarding as a winning position. Given my
tastes I would probably very much enjoy an IF which incorporated more
of those boardgame-y design assumptions, but I'd hardly advocate it as
a general design principle since I suspect most IFers don't share my
tastes...

> I've played a lot of board/card games, and I'm not sure what ideas
> from that realm you'd apply to IF. Actually, I've tried to design
> board games occasionally, and mostly I've failed. I bog down, unable
> to see how to develop the game idea into something workable and fun. I
> guess I'm starting with the same seed idea as in IF -- I have a notion
> of a player experience, and I want to construct rules which make that
> experience come out. But my IF background isn't helping me *do* it.
> And maybe it's misleading me in the first place; maybe the player
> experience is what comes out of the rules after the designer makes
> them fun.

I read an interview with Klaus Teuber in which he said that Settlers
began with an idea about how players would feel, playing the game, and
that all the mechanics just naturally grew out of that... lucky
bastard. :) I've designed several board games which I think are all
about as bad as each other, and one card game which I'm quite proud
of, which started with an idea for a mechanic. I assume most IF games
start with an idea for a story, and a few start with ideas for
puzzles... but I don't know that much about it, I guess. I think to
whatever extent I'm responding to your point it's that I'm guessing
that the design process for the two types of games is ordinarily very
very different, but that there might also be potential for some
fruitful cross-fertilisation...

> Maybe there's an IF analogy in the strategy of a board game, where you
> (the player) are faced with a "puzzle" (winning) which should be
> neither too opaque nor too transparent? Have an obvious range of
> choice with interesting surprises around the edge?

Hmm. Possibly. I think often in IF one tries many different ways to
solve a puzzle, none of which work at all, and then having found the
one that does work, one forgets about the puzzle and moves on. Whereas
in a boardgame, one's very first attempt to "solve" the puzzle may
work or partially work, but there's still an interest (hopefully) in
developing different solutions or different responses to other
player's behaviour... and in the best games the task of developing
these solutions keeps getting more interesting and as one's knowledge
increases. How that could be incorporated into an IF, though, I have
no idea. :)


Hector Rodriguez

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Apr 20, 2007, 10:31:18 PM4/20/07
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When I asked the question, I was sort of interested to figure out
(among other things) whether IF can dialogue with other practices that
are either directly or indirectly related to games, or whether it is
really a very different genre. The other people who teach game design
in my school *never* discuss role-playing games, text adventure, or
IF, which strikes me as interesting.

One promising idea that combines IF with a board game is Adam Cadre's
Tic-Tac-Torment, although I guess it was meant as a simple glulx demo.
But I think there is some potential to the concept, in terms of
thinking through player interface design.


albtraum

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Apr 20, 2007, 11:22:45 PM4/20/07
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On Apr 15, 10:52 pm, Andrew Plotkin <erkyr...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Here, ifnyou <ityl...@hotmail.com> wrote:
> > On Apr 11, 12:02 am, "Hector Rodriguez" <smh...@cityu.edu.hk> wrote:
> > > Here's an open question:
> > <snip>
>
> I've played a lot of board/card games, and I'm not sure what ideas
> from that realm you'd apply to IF. Actually, I've tried to design
> board games occasionally, and mostly I've failed. I bog down, unable
> to see how to develop the game idea into something workable and fun. I
> guess I'm starting with the same seed idea as in IF -- I have a notion
> of a player experience, and I want to construct rules which make that
> experience come out. But my IF background isn't helping me *do* it.
> And maybe it's misleading me in the first place; maybe the player
> experience is what comes out of the rules after the designer makes
> them fun.
>
> Maybe there's an IF analogy in the strategy of a board game, where you
> (the player) are faced with a "puzzle" (winning) which should be
> neither too opaque nor too transparent? Have an obvious range of
> choice with interesting surprises around the edge?
>
> --Z

This is funny (both funny ha-ha and funny strange), because I played
"Delightful Wallpaper" for the first time last night -- and while
playing it struck me that the second part is a slightly modified IF
version of the board game "Clue". Discuss.

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