Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Living in interesting times

Hello all. It's 2020. The world feels... different. Hopefully you're all doing OK!

A recap of what I've been up to --

In these days of social distancing, remote classes, and quarantines, I taught my class about streaming on Twitch... by streaming the class on Twitch. Some writeups:

I'm also getting into Quake 1 mapping. The modern tools are great, the video tutorials are on point, and the community is lovely. Come join us. I recommend Andrew Yoder's comprehensive guide for getting started.

Until next time...
-- R

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Spring 2019 teaching memo

For the Spring 2019 semester at NYU Game Center, I'll be teaching three courses:


This is a required core class for all first year graduate students in our MFA program. It's basically just about spending more time making games in groups. Hopefully these practice projects prepare them better for the thesis process in their second year!

I usually teach more undergraduate students than graduate students, so it'll be fun to adapt my teaching style to this older demographic. It's also a huge class, with more than 30 students; we usually cap most Game Center classes to 16 students because we have such a hands-on, one-on-one teaching approach, but here it's important for the whole cohort to get to know each other.

It's going to be a big challenge to scale my attention to a class that's basically double the average size, and I think I'm going to have to tweak a lot of my methods. We'll see what happens.


This will be the second time I teach the level design class, and the main lessons will be conducted in Unreal Engine 4 again. (Most of our other classes are usually taught in Unity, but it's important to mix learning contexts and avoid monocultures.)

This year I'm planning three big changes:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The first person shooter is a dad in mid-life crisis

OK I know Heavy Rain isn't an FPS but I like this screenshot so I don't care
Every semester for our introductory Games 101 historical survey class, a different NYU Game Center faculty member presents a survey of a game genre. Matt Parker lectures on sports, Clara Fernandez-Vara talks about adventure games, Mitu Khandaker talks about simulations, and so on.

My personal lecture happens to be on the first person shooter (FPS) genre. In my lecture, I trace five main currents through the FPS genre:

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.

Friday, May 4, 2018

What is the game university for?

I did not go to game design school -- not that I had a choice, since only a handful of game design programs existed when I attended college. Like many in the industry, I'm "self-taught" -- which is to say, I relied on informal learning from a network of creative communities and random online tutorials. Today, I teach in one of the better-rated and better-funded game design programs in the world. With my self-taught background, I'm often suspicious of the idea of formal technical education. So here's my experience with teaching game development for the past 5-6 years:

There's often very loud implications from students, parents, and industry developers that we, as universities, are never doing enough to prepare students for the "real world". This criticism exists alongside the skyrocketing cost of US higher education, the ivory tower elitism of academia, and a societal shift toward privileging "practical" "hard" skills like science and engineering, instead of "useless" "soft" skills like literature or ethics. This anxiety is understandable, but it also plays into a very politically conservative vision of universities: that we exist only to train a productive and compliant workforce.

Danette Beatty recently tweeted something that seems very reasonable and actionable, and her thoughtful thread started a long important conversation on generalism vs specialization and how we ought to teach game development... but a lot of people don't read beyond the first tweet in a Twitter thread so I'd like to get into why "set your students up with the skills to actually get jobs that are in demand in the industry" has been complicated for me as a game dev teacher.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

CFP: Queerness and Games Conference 2018 at Concordia University in Montréal

photo of Tanya DePass speaking at QGCon 2017
The Queerness and Games Conference (or QGCon) is running again in 2018, this time in beautifully affordable Montréal. Here's the call for papers, panels, and talk submissions, copy and pasted from the website, emphasis added by me:
The Queerness and Games Conference is now accepting submissions for presentations at its fifth annual conference, which will be held on September 29-30, 2018 at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada! Proposals for conference talks and other sessions are due March 1st, 2018 (details and instructions below).

QGCon is an annual event that brings together developers, academics, educators, and activists to explore the intersection of LGBTQ issues and video games. Proposals for talks, pre-constituted panels, workshops, roundtables, and post mortems are welcome. Speakers from all backgrounds are encouraged to submit. Because QGCon is a community-oriented event that seeks to foster dialogue across areas of expertise, we especially value sessions that engage a broad and diverse audience. Please note that, since QGCon attendees come from across academia, industry, and beyond, different speakers may bring different ideas about what constitutes a “talk” or a “panel.” QGCon values these differences and kindly requests that, as per the submission guidelines below, prospective speakers describe the approach they hope to take to their proposed session.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Postcards from Unreal, pt 2

My Unreal Tournament 4 deathmatch map "Pilsner" isn't really done. But as an exploratory project, I've fulfilled my goals to learn the basics of building 3D spaces in Unreal. I also reached the point where I needed an actual player base to confirm how the map plays, or at least tell me that it's total shit -- but it looks like I can't even get a denunciation when Unreal Tournament 4 seems to have a grand total of like 5 players!

I appreciate all the pre-configured art content and basic gameplay structures implemented in the game already, and it has been really helpful for me to learn how to configure my assets and work in Unreal projects -- but this experience has also convinced me that I shouldn't try to teach level design to my students with this half-finished basically-dead game.

It was also questionable how well this was going to run on our students' laptops, because half of them use Macbooks with small hard drives, and very little room for a Windows partition and an additional 50 GB for UT4 and the UT4 editor. This leads me to one of the original reasons why we stopped running a level design course: there are simply no popular first person multiplayer games with modern level editor suites that were easily deployable on our students' computers. (Given how long it takes to make games, computer labs are impractical.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Teaching, Fall 2017

As mentioned before, I'm going full-time with NYU Game Center starting this September. For this upcoming fall semester, I'm going to be teaching three classes and advising an independent study:
  • Intermediate Game Development (2 sections). This is a required class for the BFA Game Design major where we focus on using Unity in a 3D context, refine C# code fluency, learn about using Maya and Substance Painter, and become less scared of using Git.

    This is my fourth year of teaching it. This year, I've changed the final project to focus on studying and cloning a game. In the past, the final project asked students to collaboratively formulate an original game design concept, but I noticed students would get into endless debates about the game design instead of focusing on project architecture or collaboration workflows. Since we already have dedicated game design classes that offer more support for those debates, I now feel comfortable removing some creative freedom from this class -- so we can focus more on building-up "technical freedom."
  • Intro to VR. This is a new VR-focused class we're running for undergraduates and/or people who aren't so familiar with code and 3D. At Game Center we remain cautious about investing too much in something still fundamentally unproven like VR / AR, but we still want to support students who want to explore it. Unlike our graduate-level VR Studio class which assumes technical proficiency in code and Unity, this class will offer more of a scaffold into working in 3D and VR. We'll also dip our toes into talking about VR culture and critical theory as usual, but probably stop short of discussing Baudrillard and phenomenology.
  • Level Design (independent study). Years ago I used to teach a modding class with a level design focus, but one day I noticed students hated using the Source Engine, and we never identified another decent engine / toolset for level design. We also needed a good base game to design more levels for, which is why we can't switch to Source Engine 2 -- DOTA2 isn't exactly relevant for learning generalized level design practices. At least half of our students also use Macbooks, which basically wither and die under Unreal 4, so that's out of our reach too.

    But then a few months ago, some students approached me to advise an independent study on level design. This format is more like a seminar / reading group instead of a full production-oriented studio class, and we will focus more on theory than construction. Hopefully this will work out better than the Source modding class!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Radiator University, Spring 2017 catalog

Registration for most students at Radiator University has already begun. Make sure you sign-up for these classes soon before they completely fill-up! Here's a selection from our Spring 2017 catalog:

    It is said that no game developer enjoys developing menus for their games. We believe this is a fucking lie, or at best, a misleading myth that reflects a developer's anxiety about framing their work. A game menu is the first thing most players see upon starting a game, it is the first second of the first minute of the first five minutes of a game.

    Does the game's options menu feature a field-of-view slider? How does the game describe "easy mode"? These trivial choices in menu UI design, while seemingly insignificant and boring, constitute a powerful paratext that suggests the intended audience for such games.

    To bypass unproductive fears about a menu's power, we will instead design and prototype main menus for video games that do not actually exist. What new games can we imagine into being, by simply imagining their menus?

    (Only offered at Lisbon campus.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Spring 2016 semester in game development

Hey, what's up, long time no blog -- I've been busy prepping game development classes for the Spring 2016 semester. This season, I'm teaching four (4!) courses across 2 different universities, which is considered a really heavy teaching load in academia. (Full-time professors usually teach maybe 2-3 courses a semester, on average.) So I'm dying a little. But I'll be ok. I think.

Here's a bit about the courses:

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The limits of a conceptual VR student game; and what would a "better" game about 9/11 look like?

The internet has been abuzz about "8:46", "a narrative driven experience designed for virtual reality, which makes you embody an office worker in the North Tower of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 events."

The game itself suffers from a lot of problems. If I were to ignore the politics, there's plenty of production values to critique -- the characters have blobby sculpts, inconsistent lighting, and stilted voice acting -- the particles are really really awkward -- and the one thing I like is the floorplan, especially the cramped corner office you begin in, which feels like a pretty authentic detail of old NYC office buildings.

But who are we kidding, this game is totally a political work, and it is much more generous to the developers to interpret it that way. Most people are just going to talk about this game instead of actually playing it, which is OK, and that's what compels me to write about it: I think this is a very flawed conceptual work, and I want to talk about why that is.

(1) TECHNOLOGY. Using virtual reality was not a good idea for this project, especially in this early generation of VR where it is mostly positioned as a nascent platform and consumer market that desperately needs to prove itself. Anything using VR in these early years is, inherently, saying, "look at me, I'm using VR!"

That's an OK thing to say, but it centers the technology instead of what you're saying with the technology, which is probably not what you want to do for a 9/11 game that's supposedly about respect for the dead rather than how this cool new peripheral? To be clear, I think you could make a game that powerfully critiques Western attitudes toward the dead and who is allowed to talk about the dead; I don't think this is that game.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Attend the 2015 Queerness And Games Conference at UC Berkeley, October 17-18

QGCon 2015 at UC Berkeley has just put up their list of speakers and sessions. If you'll be around the Bay Area that weekend (in about a month!) then I highly recommend attending, it's a compelling mix of game developers and academic theorists, and there's no other games conference quite like it. Here's some interesting-sounding sessions:
  • “Soft-Skinned, Hard-Coded: Straight/White/Washing in Video Games”
  • “Witches and Wardrobes: Femme Play in Games and the Development of Be Witching”
  • “Games of Death: Playing Bruce Lee”
  • “Sex Appeal, Shirtless Men, and Social Justice: Diversity in Desire and Fanservice in Games”
  • “Queer Avatar Construction Leads to Homonormative Play”
  • “Affection Games in a World That Needs Them”
  • “Masculinity in Late Final Fantasy”
  • “Infinite Play in Games of Love, Sex and Romance”
  • “Degamification”
  • “Writing and Selling Queer Bots: Sext Adventure Design Post Mortem”
  • (... and so many more!)
Registration is free and open to the public, and they also accept donations in the form of "sponsor tickets" -- please support the communities and institutions you want to see in games!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Queerness and Games Conference 2015, call for proposals, due by July 1

The good folks at QGCon at UC Berkeley need YOUR session proposals for their third year running. I participated in the first year it ran, 2013, and I enjoyed the mix of scholarly rigor and casual atmosphere, there a pleasant mix of academics and not-academics that's very refreshing.

You can be a super academic-y academic and present a paper, or you can talk about a game you made, or discuss a specific games community you're part of, or even relate your personal experience with games and/or run a workshop. They're pretty accommodating and welcoming and supportive, even if you've never given a talk before. It's also pretty unique, there's really no other conference on the circuit that even tries to approach these topics.

I highly recommend submitting a proposal by July 1st, especially if you live around the Bay Area or along the west coast, it's just a short trip over.

Here's an excerpt of the call:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Radiator University, Fall 2015 catalog (excerpts)

In this class, we will analyze a variety of escape narratives, from stage magicians to US slave narratives to feminist memoirs to prison break films to the modern war refugee story, to articulate a robust "aesthetic of escape." When is escape possible and honorable, and when is escape futile or cowardly? From this cultural survey, we will conceptualize and construct a real-life "escape room" puzzle installation that attempts to invoke and honor this long and complex tradition of escapism in its materials, environmental storytelling, construction process, and puzzle design. (2 credits, Sao Paulo campus.)
Prerequisites: ARCH 211 History of Prisons, CENG 200 Intro to Plumbing Electrical and HVAC.

Using a combination of 3D scanning, motion capture, and virtual reality technologies, we will literally attempt to recreate a scene from Hamlet on a "holodeck." In doing so, we will also critique the rhetoric of immersion that permeates popular fantasies about virtual reality and narrative, and align it with contemporary interpretations of Hamlet. For instance, in Shakespeare's time, the ghost-revenge plot was already a well-established trope -- thus, one could argue that Hamlet is essentially a self-aware character who knows he is in a cliched video game, and wonders whether he can transcend the military-entertainment complex's demand for graphic violence. (3 credits, Spring semester only.)
Prerequisites: ENGL 314 Elizabethan Literature, HTECH 100 Intro to Holographic Interfaces, at least 1 semester in any Melee Combatives lab.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a notorious battery of mandated sadism that masqueraded as a scientific exploration of human nature. Using similar terms, we will attempt to build and perform a model "Stanford University" within our existing university, replete with its own facilities, students, faculty, and administrators. In the best case scenario, basic legal and ethical concerns for humane treatment of human test subjects will prevent us from running the experiment at all, thus implying that Stanford University itself is an oppressive institution barely distinguishable from a supposedly artificial and isolated prison. (no-credit pass-nopass only, Fall semester only.)
Prerequisites: CENG 395 Escaping a Room of One's Own

Previous semesters are available here: Fall 2014, Spring 2013

Esteemed alumni: have you recently thought about making a large donation to Radiator University? All donations to...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Teaching game development... in public!

I remember one time in design school when a guest critic called out my classmate's project, a website to facilitate bartering. The critic balked at the idea of imposing specific procedures on how people should conduct a trade, and he talked about how the parents of Park Slope, Brooklyn shift several million tons of used toys using a very active Yahoo Groups (the class gasped in horror)... sometimes all a user wants is a message board.

So I'm one of those \Blackboard / "enterprise-class courseware learning platform" skeptics. If you've had the good fortune of never having to use one, they look like the image above, usually some really bloated outdated web portal thing with 50 different "learning modules" that 90% of university classes never use unless they're forced by the department.

As an instructor, I don't want to "setup an assignment" by digging through three different layers of menu screens! Sometimes all a user wants is a message board.

This semester, I'm running my game development courses on GitHub, Steam Community, and Tumblr. All three provide some semblance of message board functionality, so they're all suitable for teaching. Here's how I'm doing it:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Game Educators Rant" at GDC 2014

At this year's GDC in San Francisco, I'm going to be delivering a rant as part of the "Game Educators Rant" session.

I'm still working out the script and details, but it's generally going to expand on what I've said before -- that game development has a sociopolitical dimension, and developers should actively recognize it and work in this dimension.

It should be an interesting session overall, considering that my esteemed colleague Sarah Schoemann will be delivering a rant opposite mine, arguing against the essentialism of learning code and technical development. Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Teaching struggle.

The other day, I sat down with a student in my Unity class to review some course material and answer some questions. They were wondering why their code wasn't compiling. Their code looked something like this:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Post-partum: teaching Unity.

Here's a bit of reflection on my first semester teaching Unity at an art and design school, mixed undergrad / grad level. They're in the form of rough guidelines that I'm giving myself for next semester:

» Don't assume mastery of coding fundamentals. Some students will be able to formulate and solve abstract problems with little help, while other students will need to be taught the difference in syntax between variables and functions, repeatedly. Course prerequisites, even if enforced by your school's registar (at Parsons, they usually aren't), are no guarantee of mastery. In my class, I put a code comprehension section on the midterm exam, only to realize that some students didn't understand nested for() loops, which implies they don't fully grasp how unnested for() loops work either; but it was the midterm, and it was already too late. Some students didn't know how to use AND or OR, and some didn't understand scoping. I should've caught these problems earlier instead of unintentionally punishing them for it.
Recommendation: On the first or second week, conduct a diagnostic quiz that asks code comprehension questions, and assess which students need which kinds of help.

» Cover vector math, every day. Do light drilling. Even students with significant code experience may have trouble conceptualizing how vectors work together / what vector operations do, especially in 3D. I don't think I'd necessarily impose grade school drilling, like worksheets with 50 problems and 1 minute to solve all of them, but a few minutes or short drill, every day or week will help a lot.
Recommendation: At the start and end of each class, do some vector math problems together as a class. Practice thinking about vectors in multiple modes: visually as spatial coordinates, abstractly as sets of numbers, and procedurally as variables in code.

» Teach Maya and Unity, side by side, in parallel. I front-loaded the syllabus with Unity stuff, and only started Maya in the second half of the course. I think this was a mistake because we ended up having a 2 week break where students did very little code and focused on Maya, and it seemed to be like we were moving "backwards." I should've paced the class better to prevent this dead time.
Recommendation: When teaching the basics of 3D transformations in Unity, also teach the basics of 3D transformations in Maya, and emphasize the many similarities in interface and project organization: scene hierarchies, hotkeys, lights, materials handling, etc.

» Don't teach coroutines. I tried to teach this early in the course, and it ended up confusing a lot of people. Personally, I use coroutines constantly because I find them really useful for timing things... but maybe I shouldn't have projected my own practices on them.
Recommendation: Teach the use of timer variables and bookkeeping variables / using Time.time instead. It is worse practice sometimes, but it is a more immediately intuitive way of timing things, and reinforces fundamentals of controlling logic flow.

» End with procedural mesh generation / mutation? I really want this to be an "a-ha" moment of the course -- when students realize that everything is just a different way of storing data, and artists are just people who can figure out how to get the data looking and performing the way they want. Considering the emphasis on 3D, I think this is a much more coherent endpoint than my previous emphasis on AI and behavior.
Recommendation: If students have been working in Maya for a while and they understand for() loops, they might be ready to iterate through arrays of mesh data. Maybe look at implementing some Perlin noise or a simple sculpting tool.

This summer, I'm going to try to put these ideas into practice when teaching 6 week Unity intensives at NYU Game Center. Feel free to check-up on us on the class GitHubs (session 1) / (session 2).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On focalization, and against convenient understandings of immersion / flow.

This post is significantly changed from a talk I gave at Different Games. It was prompted by Jon Stokes approaching me and helpfully telling me that my talk made no sense, so hopefully this post will be more clear. SPOILER WARNING: I spoil Brendon Chung's excellent Thirty Flights of Loving.

As a self-proclaimed developer of "personal games", one thing that puzzles me about these games and empathy is that no one really knows how emotional transfer between players and games works -- like, what's really happening when you control a character in a game? Do you sympathize directly with the narrative situation, or are you role-playing, or do you think more in strategic terms, or what's going on? These words -- flow, immersion, empathy, role-playing -- how much do they really explain or predict how we, as humans, experience video games?

There's very little actual research on this because, I think, the game industry isn't interested in funding it and finding out. About the only researcher I've heard of is Jonas Linderoth and he argues for severe skepticism, or that games don't actually teach you anything outside of games -- and that isn't something the game industry would want people to hear.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Game development as drawing; gesture, iteration, and practice.

(NOTE: There are sketches of nude human figures in this post, with their anatomy intact.)

If you ask any great AAA game artist about the single-most important thing you can do to get better at art, they'll probably start mumbling about "foundation." Photoshop, Maya -- these are just newfangled versions of pencils or paintbrushes or clay. They won't really teach you how to paint, or how to sculpt, or how to look at things and represent them. In this way, a bit of traditional, non-digital fine arts education can be an extremely useful tool sometimes.

In the pretty casual 12 week, 2 hours a week drawing class I took, the teacher presented two ways of thinking about drawing: