Disclaimer: Game Developers Conference (GDC) “rants” are short, intense opinionated talks meant to be provocative, funny, and, most of all, spirited. They often take an extreme position, in order to provoke thought and conversation.
This past week, Dr. Casey O’Donnell delivered a rant over at GDC about teaching the capstone course. What is the capstone course? It’s the final class in the Game Design track here at MSU. Students are placed into teams of 6-8 and then paired with game company clients—such as Stardock, Scientifically Proven Entertainment, Kixeye or others—who work closely with the students. O’Donnell calls it “interning without interning.”
That doesn’t sound so bad, right? What’s the big issue?
This week, Ian Schreiber, game programmer, designer, and co-author of Challenges for Game Designers, visited the Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media department here at MSU to discuss the field of game design. With many years of industry experience, Schreiber has produced open online courses on game development, produced games for two Fortune 500 companies, and taught game design at several universities. He enjoys mentoring game design students and helping them prepare for and connect with industry. Schreiber’s experiences culminate in a wealth of advice for game designers.
Game design is about planning, not building. Designers can be in charge of creating core systems, game writing, content design, level design, game balance, and rapid prototyping, these last two being the central focus of Schreiber’s talk. In such a young field, game balance is something that just happens for most game designers, who are generally self-taught in the subject. These designers often feel insecure about what they know on the topic, perhaps picking up a few things here and there from forums. And since there are no books on game balance, it’s challenging for a game designer to learn and put to work. Schreiber believes collaboration with other members of the team expert in different subjects can help designers grow in this area and find novel solutions, through programming, for example, to implement and create game balance.
Dr. Yu-Hao Lee
While cognitive bias can affect everyone, it is especially dicey among intelligence agents. Dr. Yu-Hao Lee, Michigan State University Media and Information Studies Ph.D. alum, is currently working with a team at the University of Oklahoma on a game to reduce cognitive bias among intelligence agents. For Yu-Hao, this is a match made in heaven, landing in his field of research—motivation and psychology of serious games. The two part game: MACBETH I and MACBETH II, is being developed for the International Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research head of the intelligence community for the CIA.
Lee explains that the reason for the project evolved after 9/11, when intelligence analysts came together to try to figure out what happened, to see if anyone had caught any warning signs. They came to the conclusion that intelligence analysts may have trouble removing implicit cognitive biases from their work. Even though they need to make quick decisions, sometimes unconscious mental short cuts lead to errors. There are many well documented forms of cognitive bias. For example, “confirmation bias” is the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports or confirms your expectations. “Anchoring bias” is the tendency to place too much weight on initial clues. To address the problem, IARPA contracted experts in the field of psychology and games. And so, MACBETH—or Mitigating Analyst Cognitive Bias by Eliminating Task Heuristics—was born.
Catchy name, huh?
This spring saw the induction of Dr. Constantinos Coursaris as the new Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media. We sat down to discuss his future plans as Director, as well as to highlight some of the program’s main features and strengths.
Dr. Coursaris opened with excitement for a new challenge—increasing the visibility of the Master of Arts (MA) program, not just in the Michigan area, but on a national and international level as well. The quality of the program, he believes, is already there and ready to be recognized for its merit and high-caliber faculty, staff, and students that are engaged with the MA program. As one of the best-known universities of this state and around the world, TISM is now primed to raise awareness of its MA program on a similar scale.
Much like his twin brother, Daniel, Derek DeMaiolo’s roots began somewhere other than gaming. DeMaiolo has been working with creative tools from an early age, eventually enrolling at Youngstown State University to study Media and Interface Design. “The transition from web design/graphic design,” he said, “really meshed with software development.” It was his solid background in several related fields that helped him prosper once he enrolled in Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media MA program, as well as the serious game graduate certificate at MSU.
Derek feels that the people in charge of the serious game courses work well together to open the world of game development. While he had acquired multimedia skills before, the program fostered within him higher level thinking and concepts. Many of the courses, specifically Game Design and Development II and Foundations of Serious Games, taught him the core principles of game design and how to embed educational content within game mechanics, while also undergoing quick, sometimes sleepless development cycles, crucial “survival” skills for his job at Circle 1 Network.