teaching machines

HNRS 304.503 Lecture 1 – Game on

Welcome to Honors 304.503, Digital Game Development.

Let’s start with a little game. It’s a two-player dice game with really simple rules. Each player gets a 12-sided die. The game has 100 rounds, or more if you have time. In each round, both players roll. Whoever rolls a 12 — let’s call the game Duodeciduel — gets a point. The winner is the one with the most points at the end of the game.

for 100 rounds
  roll dice
  if playerA rolls a 12
    point to playerA
  if playerB rolls a 12
    point to playerB

Please find someone in this room that you don’t know and let’s play a game. I’ll pass out the dice. Sadly, I don’t have enough 12-sided dice, so some of you are going to get two 6-sided die. Take this time to greet the other person, ask them their station in life, and so on. Each of you should track your own score. When the game’s over, stop rolling and I’ll know your done.

[play game]

All right. How’d the game go? Let’s visit each team. Who’s your partner? Who won?

How do you feel about this game?


Let me be up front with you. A lot of universities are offering courses on gaming in order to recruit students. Their faculty do not necessarily have the qualifications to be teaching such classes. I’m not qualified either, but my purpose is nobler.

My reasons for suggesting this class to the Honors program is slightly different. I’m not interested in recruitment—that just means more homework to grade. I got into computing because of digital role-playing games. I was a closet gamer; my parents didn’t really approve and I liked games that nobody else did in my hometown. When it came time for college, I picked computer science not because I wanted a career in game development, but because fiddling around with games and trying to make my own prepared me for such a degree. I fell in love with the computer as a tool to create worlds. When I got to graduate school, I studied scientific visualization, which means I studied computer graphics for projects of which my mother would approve—projects that get funding from the government.

So, while I am not a game developer, there’s some part of me that would like to be. I’ve been very close to the technical side of game development for a long time, so I have some relevant expertise in this area. But my real reason for offering this class is to give you and me a chance to create worlds on our computers. That’s it. If you were hoping for something else or an instructor that liked first-person shooters, I’m sorry.

This class is…

That leads us into a course description. This class is…

  • A baby bird. Ugly but full of potential.
  • A sampler platter. Game development unites storytelling, design, music, and technology. I’m only versed in one of these, though I carried an English major for a while in college, until she got too heavy. I’m expecting to bring in some guest lecturers on these other topics.
  • Multiplayer. You will team up with two or three others in this class to produce a non-trivial game of your own design.
  • Leveled. This fall, we will lecture and lab, learning about programming, asset creation, the Unity game engine, 3-D modeling, and game aIgorithms. In the spring, the course will be a studio course. I will shut my mouth and you will have time to work together.
  • Funded. We’ve got some money to bring in a couple of guest speakers.

Course vision

The syllabus talks about this course’s weird grading.

Each lecture will have this structure:

  • 10-15 minutes of reading discussion
  • 35-40 minutes of game creation beauty

Each lab will have this structure:

  • 110 minutes of action-packed, powered-up game hacking


As soon as I heard that this course was approved by Honors, I clamped my mind on the Unity game engine, a free but well-crafted tool for making games. A month ago, LTS told me that educational institutions with budgets over $100,000 can’t use the free version of Unity. That number seems big to most of us, but unless you’re home schooling your two children, your budget is over $100,000. Good for LTS for reading the license. Sad for us, because we can’t install Unity on lab machines.

Is there a workaround? It is perfectly acceptable for you to install Unity on your personal machines. What do you think?


For Friday, please do the following:

  • Read chapters 1 and 2.¬†Write a quarter sheet with 2 questions and 2 observations.
  • Complete steps 1 and 2 of homework 1. Prepare a 1-minute explanation of who you are, why you’re in this class, and what you can contribute (a Windows or Mac laptop?). Based on these presentations, each of you will select out your “dream team.” Emphasize your strengths; don’t dwell on your weaknesses! Games are rich in many aspects, and you’d be hard-pressed not to have some desirable skill.


Mom said, “Games rot brains”
Then I remade gravity
“Keep at it, my son”


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