Thursday, September 20, 2018

Fall 2018, teaching game development memo

Sorry I haven't posted lately, we've been pretty busy here at NYU Game Center with the start of the new semester. We're also currently in the middle of some curriculum renovation for our game design programs.

First, we're increasingly adopting JetBrains Rider as our code editor IDE of choice. It is free for students, common in commercial studios, and it's supposedly even used by the Unity CTO himself. While I find Rider to be somewhat annoying in its code style suggestions, its Unity-specific benefits seem to justify it as a teaching tool. We're also teaching source control with Rider's built-in Git support, instead of using a dedicated tool like SourceTree or GitKraken. (If this semester is a disaster though, I might go crawling back to VS Code and GitKraken.)

Second, we're starting to teach new game genres beyond mainstays like platformers. For instance, our MFA studio class now begins with a Fungus-powered visual novel project instead of a traditional platformer. This is partly a reflection of where contemporary game culture is at, where visual novels are perhaps more popular and relevant than platformers today -- but also a visual novel framing helps students focus on different development skills, like narrative design and pacing.

Third, we're gradually moving towards more of a "core studio" design school model, where every 3rd year student will be required to take core studio classes about making self-directed projects. Previously, undergraduate students would optionally enroll in these project studios, but we found that many of these students would opt out in favor of other electives -- and then they would feel unprepared to take on their capstone project in their 4th year. The goal is to normalize "bigger projects" for them. It's also a good opportunity for them to bond with the rest of the students in their class year.

As for my personal teaching load, I'm looking to debut a new class next semester about Let's Plays / game streaming culture. Game streamers are some of the most popular and visible figures in game culture, or even the larger internet as a whole, but I find that most of game academia doesn't really engage with it. It's partly a generation gap thing, where lots of middle-aged and elder millennial faculty (like me) didn't grow up with streaming and still view it as somewhat of an aberration / stain on discourse. However, there's no question that no one reads game critic blogs anymore (RIP, Radiator Blog!) and YouTube and Twitch are driving the big cultural conversations today.

As a discipline that seeks to engage with public game culture, we have an obligation to figure out how to analyze and teach this subject! So far, I'm still figuring out my course design, but I know I want to challenge students to become live game streamers themselves as part of their final project. I'll also be leaning heavily on T. L. Taylor's imminent book "Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming" for most of the readings. Maybe next year I'll be able to report back on how the course goes.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt" @ Victoria and Albert Museum


I got to attend the private premiere of the new "Videogames" exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The show features a special HD remastered version of my game Rinse and Repeat, configured to run once per hour instead of once a day. At about halfway through, I'm also in a video panel of talking heads, giving a pithy quote on video game violence. Oh, and Nina Freeman and I interviewed each other for the exhibition book. I also spoke to several British newspapers for the exhibition, like The Guardian and The I.

In the past, most mega-museums have gone with nostalgic industry-approved perspectives (The Smithsonian) or they curated games as part of a generalized technology exhibition, and in doing so, barely say anything about games (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The V&A, in contrast, is the first huge museum to balance an industry production perspective with a specific political and cultural approach. The curators Marie Foulston and Kristian Volsing rejected the boring historical survey methods of other museums (fuck off, Spacewar and Pac-Man) and even their commercial AAA choices feel slightly eclectic and unusual.

It is, by far, the best major museum exhibition on games that I've ever seen, and every other huge cultural institution in the world should be taking notes.