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leskern

Unity Starting Class in Game Design - Need help from experts

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Folks, I am new to this site. I didn't know where else to turn, so decided to come here where the people who know are. I am a Director of Technology for an Illinois School district. (http://www.mchs.net/technology/tech.html) Next fall we are offering a game dev class that is one semester long, and I am looking for solutions. First, I had NO idea this was being done, as the person in charge did NOT contact me regarding this. That's an internal thing I am taking care of! However, what's done is done as the class is already planned and has 100 students registered. I have to find a valid solution pronto. We are primarily a Mac-Based school (no cat-calls please!) so I looked into the app "Unity" (http://otee.dk/index.html). Looks like it has everything we need. HOWEVER, I found out that this will be taught in our PC lab. I have been unable to find a solution that will fit. Some of the facts: 1. It has to be something that the students will be able to actually create something... in one semester. 2. It has to be a full-featured product. 3. 3D is preferred. 4. Free products (like LUA) are fine, but paying for a better solution is key. We like to offer REAL-WORLD solutions, not stripped-down toys. Unity is about 300 a pop. No problem there. 5. I need to know if it needs other apps like Photoshop. I have 150 copies of Adobe Creative Suite, and it came as a binary, so I can load it on the PC's. 6. Any related info, like whether it can work using Active Directory, would be appreciated. To make this more interesting, I'd like to send the person who comes up with a real solution some token gifts from the school. Mugs, Shirts, pens things like that. IF you are close to the school (Minooka Illinois) I will consider PAYING a person to come out to assist with the set-up. I AM NOT KIDDING! My contact info is on the web site. Of course I want SERIOUS inquiries, no wishfull thinking. Credentials will be checked, and full knowledge of the solution MUST be proven. Again, we are talking REAL-WORLD here... Thanks, L. Kern

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What exactly is this course designed to teach? What is its scope and depth? What topics will it cover, and what skills/knowledge is it intended to impart on students taking the course?

You've mentioned that you're looking for a "solution," but (at least personally) I'm entirely unclear as to the problem you're looking to solve [smile]

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See, I DON'T KNOW, really.
If I was there during the planning of the class, I could be more specific. Get this: The curriculum isn't even WRITTEN yet. We have a blank slate.
At the end of the class the students should have a grasp of how games are developed, and have something to show that. Learning C++ or another compiler is beyond the scope, as it's only one semester. Have a look at Unity. It's sort of a one-stop-shop for game dev. And it has features that are present in the "BIG BOY" solutions.
I really can't get any more specific here, as I admit I am a newbie... I am sad to say...

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Original post by leskern
4. Free products (like LUA) are fine, but paying for a better solution is key. We like to offer REAL-WORLD solutions, not stripped-down toys. Unity is about 300 a pop. No problem there.

Uh, if you want 'real world' then Lua is a much better choice than whatever on earth this Unity thing is.

Although your requirements of real world + full featured product + 3d + one semester + unskilled students is (IMHO) a totally impossible goal. You're going to have to comprimise on (at least) one of those. Using a toy app like Unity is probably a good start, you might also want to look into providing some kind of framework/base for the students to build on top of to get straight to the core of the material.

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Although your requirements of real world + full featured product + 3d + one semester + unskilled students is (IMHO) a totally impossible goal. You're going to have to comprimise on (at least) one of those.

My comment EXACTLY to the department chair.

Quote:
.... you might also want to look into providing some kind of framework/base for the students to build on top of to get straight to the core of the material.

Like?
See, I am admitting here that I am without knowledge here. It's humbling, but I can take it! See, I am REALLY good at what I do, but this... THIS is like a nightmare to me.


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Quote:
Original post by leskern
See, I DON'T KNOW, really.
If I was there during the planning of the class, I could be more specific. Get this: The curriculum isn't even WRITTEN yet. We have a blank slate.
At the end of the class the students should have a grasp of how games are developed, and have something to show that. Learning C++ or another compiler is beyond the scope, as it's only one semester. Have a look at Unity. It's sort of a one-stop-shop for game dev. And it has features that are present in the "BIG BOY" solutions.
I really can't get any more specific here, as I admit I am a newbie... I am sad to say...


Yikes. That's going to be a very serious issue.

As OrangyTang mentioned, you're looking at goals that are more-or-less mutually exclusive. The skills required to develop 3D games take years to acquire, full-time, by people dedicated to learning them. Even then, these skills are virtually always split among many members of a team, because it just isn't practical for any one person to "do it all." Even highly intensive fast-track schools like FullSail and Digipen take a couple of years of intensive study, and they really only deliver a short of shotgun-approach overview of the Big Issues in game design and development.

Is there any way you can get those in charge of the course involved in the discussion? I'm not really familiar with the structure of most schools, so I don't know who would be the person to snag here; but in general whoever has the responsibility for setting out the course syllabus and goals. Is there a teacher heading up this project?


Off the top of my head, one thing you might be able to do is an entry-level game programming type course. There are tools like Python that are used in the "real industry," are reasonably easy to learn, and can be used to do real games. For instance, the PyGame library for Python gives you the tools to build simple 2D arcade-style games fairly easily. A cool demonstration of Python's effectiveness can be seen in the article How To Build a Game In A Week From Scratch With No Budget.

Even that though will probably be beyond the scope of what a complete uninitiate can accomplish in a single semester; the author of the article already had enough programming experience to be able to attack the problem effectively. Do you know if there are any prereqs for this class, like taking a CS course or introductory programming? Even a cursory knowledge of programming skills in your students will open up a lot of doors for what you can experiment with in the space of such a course.


Another area you might find useful is removing asset-production from the problem. For instance, don't require students to produce their own artwork, or at the very least let them do it for extra credit if they like. That way the course can focus on a specific area like programming and give it a more in-depth and proper treatment. That, of course, will require some collaboration with the person/people who are actually in charge of specifying the course, though.

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Quote:
Original post by ApochPiQ
Quote:
Original post by leskern
See, I DON'T KNOW, really.
If I was there during the planning of the class, I could be more specific. Get this: The curriculum isn't even WRITTEN yet. We have a blank slate.
At the end of the class the students should have a grasp of how games are developed, and have something to show that. Learning C++ or another compiler is beyond the scope, as it's only one semester. Have a look at Unity. It's sort of a one-stop-shop for game dev. And it has features that are present in the "BIG BOY" solutions.
I really can't get any more specific here, as I admit I am a newbie... I am sad to say...


Yikes. That's going to be a very serious issue.

As OrangyTang mentioned, you're looking at goals that are more-or-less mutually exclusive. The skills required to develop 3D games take years to acquire, full-time, by people dedicated to learning them. Even then, these skills are virtually always split among many members of a team, because it just isn't practical for any one person to "do it all." Even highly intensive fast-track schools like FullSail and Digipen take a couple of years of intensive study, and they really only deliver a short of shotgun-approach overview of the Big Issues in game design and development.

Is there any way you can get those in charge of the course involved in the discussion? I'm not really familiar with the structure of most schools, so I don't know who would be the person to snag here; but in general whoever has the responsibility for setting out the course syllabus and goals. Is there a teacher heading up this project?


Off the top of my head, one thing you might be able to do is an entry-level game programming type course. There are tools like Python that are used in the "real industry," are reasonably easy to learn, and can be used to do real games. For instance, the PyGame library for Python gives you the tools to build simple 2D arcade-style games fairly easily. A cool demonstration of Python's effectiveness can be seen in the article How To Build a Game In A Week From Scratch With No Budget.

Even that though will probably be beyond the scope of what a complete uninitiate can accomplish in a single semester; the author of the article already had enough programming experience to be able to attack the problem effectively. Do you know if there are any prereqs for this class, like taking a CS course or introductory programming? Even a cursory knowledge of programming skills in your students will open up a lot of doors for what you can experiment with in the space of such a course.


Another area you might find useful is removing asset-production from the problem. For instance, don't require students to produce their own artwork, or at the very least let them do it for extra credit if they like. That way the course can focus on a specific area like programming and give it a more in-depth and proper treatment. That, of course, will require some collaboration with the person/people who are actually in charge of specifying the course, though.


EXCELLENT reply.
This is from scratch. There are no pre-reqs. There is no teacher hired (The one who planned this will not be with us next year) There is no rubric. The department chair, I admit, needs to be a part of this. I have seen Python, and will investigate it more with your handy links. The "LUA" solution was given to us by a new teacher that WORKED as a game developer, BUT she teaches fine arts, and does not have the major or minor to teach the class. I've been using her as a reference.
I think our FIRST step is to hire someone!

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Do the students know how to program already? Chances are, not really (like, on a professional level).

Some good beginner environments:

DarkBasic.
BlitzBasic.
RealmCrafter (for the MMO angle; written in BlitzBasic I think).
PyGame (freeware).

If the students know how to program C/C++ already, you might try something like Torque.

If you're going 3D, then Photoshop might be useful for textures, but the real kicker is modeling the 3D models. I suggest getting a product that comes with content packs already, because 3D modeling is a serious skill in and of itself, and 3D modeling packages are invariably complex products (just like CAD programs, say). Also, 3D modeling packages cost about $3000 a pop... For completeness:

3D Studio Max (by Autodesk/Discreet)
Maya (by Autodesk/Alias)
TrueSpace (by Truespace) -- have a cheaper "gamespace" version.

Cheaper solutions:

Blender.
Milkshape.


Last, an alternative would be to attempt to "mod" an existing game. Most popular games come with level building and scripting tools, and have the benefit of already having a lot of art available. I would suggest Unreal Tournament (based on Unreal engine, comes with UnrealEd), or Half-Life 2/Counterstrike Source (based on Source engine, comes with Hammer).

Honestly, unless this is a very advanced computer science program where all the students already know how to program, I would suggest modding an existing game, or using one of the Basic variants that are more of a "game design environment".

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Use an existing game engine that allows your students to create a game without needing to code (or one that uses a very simple scripting language) seems like the best solution. That way, your students can concentrate on the actualy game design/gameplay then all of the technical details.

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I recently completed a 2 term game design course at Drexel University. Our program is relatively new as I was part of the second class to go through this cycle. The first term we were broken up into four 5 person teams, all of us Digital Media majors, meaning we had little to no prior programming knowledge. Each of the teams was to develop a game in 10 weeks, at the end of the term presenting the game to the faculty. Two of the games would then be picked to continue development. We were given the choice between the torque engine developed by Garage Games and GameStudio. Torque is C driven engine and provided more problems then GameStudio. I would look into developing using Gamestudio, http://www.3dgamestudio.com/ as the students in the program were able to develop a fully functional 3d game demo in 10 weeks with little prior programming knowledge.

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Another place you might look is at Macromedia's Flash. That covers both the artistic side and (to a certain degree) the logic side of building games, and Flash skills are certainly marketable these days. Our very own John Hattan has some good (and addictive [wink]) Flash games over at The Code Zone, and of course Flash games in general are pretty prolific these days.

There's another product as well, that uses a Flash-style "visual" sequence for building up game logic. Can't remember the name, think it starts with a V. Does that ring a bell with anyone?

[edit] Virtools. Might be worth looking in to.

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Too bad you can't use Unity. It's a great app. BlitzMax is another great option. Not so much an engine, but fairly simple to program in. I would suggest Torque. It's crossplatform (for Mac and PC) and is about $100 for an indie license.

Quote:
Original post by OrangyTang
Quote:
Original post by leskern
4. Free products (like LUA) are fine, but paying for a better solution is key. We like to offer REAL-WORLD solutions, not stripped-down toys. Unity is about 300 a pop. No problem there.

Uh, if you want 'real world' then Lua is a much better choice than whatever on earth this Unity thing is.


Unity is a pretty commercial application. It uses C# for scripting, has direct integration with reading Maya 3d scene files with all the textures, uses PhysX physics engine. Also has a shader engine, web plugin (optional), networking, audio handling, and integrated editor. It is a pretty advanced piece of software and has been used for Gooball, a commercial game from OTEE.

Unity Whitepaper

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Quote:
Original post by ApochPiQ
Another place you might look is at Macromedia's Flash. That covers both the artistic side and (to a certain degree) the logic side of building games, and Flash skills are certainly marketable these days.


We actually have a web class with a Flash component, but wanted something a little different... Thanks though.

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Original post by Kraz
I recently completed a 2 term game design course at Drexel University.


I think we will "eventually" do a 2-term course, as game design is now a VERY serious affair, and a GREAT career. I mean, if I had planned this it would have been a 2-term with a pre-requisite in programming basics, and maybe Photoshop and 3D design. But alas, I have what I have... pretty much nothing at this point.
Thanks for the reply.

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There was a guy who posted here a while back who taught a class about game design aimed at 'everyone'. He also wrote a NES basic compiler thingie and his students made nes games. Damn if I can find a link though. I recall his approach was to combine technical and non-technical people on teams so the techies could do the coding and the others could do the art and writing etc... in that way grades were based on the teams result.

edit1;

Quote:
I think we will "eventually" do a 2-term course, as game design is now a VERY serious affair,


Yeah, serious money for the universities. What other course will have 100 students signed up so quickly? IMHO it's pure folly for anyone to complete such a program and expect to actually get a job in games based on that alone when there are tons of digipen grads who're unemployed.

edit2; oops, that edit1 was a bit cynical wasn't it? Oh well gaze in wonder at my google-fu!!!11

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Original post by SageofAges
There was a guy who posted here a while back who taught a class about game design aimed at 'everyone'. He also wrote a NES basic compiler thingie and his students made nes games. Damn if I can find a link though. I recall his approach was to combine technical and non-technical people on teams so the techies could do the coding and the others could do the art and writing etc... in that way grades were based on the teams result.

edit1;

Quote:
I think we will "eventually" do a 2-term course, as game design is now a VERY serious affair,


Yeah, serious money for the universities. What other course will have 100 students signed up so quickly? IMHO it's pure folly for anyone to complete such a program and expect to actually get a job in games based on that alone when there are tons of digipen grads who're unemployed.

edit2; oops, that edit1 was a bit cynical wasn't it? Oh well gaze in wonder at my google-fu!!!11


Cynicism is a VALUABLE tool used in the right hands! It sometimes makes one pause and reflect on a CLUSTER-F**K such as mine, that once a door is opened, sometimes it leads to... more doors than one might care to open!
Thanks...
Oh, this is a HIGH SCHOOL, by the way.
"Yikes" is my favorite way to express what I feel.... :)
And thanks for the link... it will go in the "pot" of possible solutions.

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Looks like the first iteration of this class will use Alice. (www.alice.org) I spoke at length with quite a few folks, and listened to the fine replies here (THANKS!) and decided that Alice offered a way to let the students actually MAKE something in one semester. Later, if made into a true career path class, we will re-visit it. But I have to admit here that the folks involved with proposing the class pretty much dropped the ball. With funds stretched to the limit as it is, in my opinion we needed to offer a complete solution, not a "fun" class. But that's water under the bridge, what's done is done.
Thanks again.

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Alice certianly looks interesting, and there is probably enough there to show the content creation and development path of a game.

Most people here are froma programming background (including me) so you probably get answers skewed towards programming, but game design in itself is a HUGE topic. Perhaps the class should focus on game design, using alice as a tool to realise that design.

The ideas of Resource management, goals, game theory, conflict, balance, economy, tradeoff decisions, etc.. Are at the root of game design, and I think make for a fairly meaty, and thought provoking curriculum. Much of game design is based off of economics.

A player's heath is a resource, the gaining and losing of health is an economy.

Taking things from that angle could take the focus off of the more technical aspect of making games, and focus more on the essentials of what makes a game fun/challenging, etc.. And who knows.. 10 years from now we could get a fresh breath of innovative games from new designers ;)

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I am a Computer Science Department Advisory Board member for a Washington State high school, and have worked with this high school's technology teacher extensively on developing curriculum for her computer science classes, specifically in regard to game development. I'd be happy to give you input on my experiences. Send me an email if you are interested in talking and we can chat off-line.

Cheers,

roger_hq

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Given the timeframe and scope of your class it might be best to use existing technology to give the students a __Feel__ for what it's like to create a game. What I mean is, get the Unreal Map Editor, teach them the ins and outs, let them build levels with it (which is similar to using a 3D package such as Maya, but more intuitive) and then from there maybe move onto some kind of scripting.

The Unreal Engine is very powerful, and you can use the level editor straight out of the game I believe. This won't exactly teach them a whole lot about the subject of designing or programming entire games, but given what you have to work with and what you are aiming to do, I think it might be a good stepping stone. There is a plethora of knowledge about using the Unreal Editor, as well as vast amounts of support and info on basic scripting events (I know they do Kismet now, not sure if that's what they used to do as well) for the UT2004 game.

Buy UT2004, and let them make levels, that's where I'd start.

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It would take one semester to only discuss 3D topics. If the course is about Game making. why don't you use a 2D game engine or Editor (basic one like GameMaker or something). No real programming skills needed, but the students will need to know about how games are made:
Level design, Sprites, animation, ...
and going 2D is the best as you cannot just give them 3D without a 2D feel.
And as mentioned above, if they are going to do a 3D game or anything in 3D they need to get textures and stuff so they will aslo need art. In 2D they can create basic art from Paint.

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