Game Design Course: First Month Sketched Out

As you can see above I have selected a book for my Game Design course that I am teaching at Rider this Fall. The book as you can see is titled “Half-Life 2 Mods for Dummies” and interestingly enough it is the only book of its type. I chose this book because I liked how it breaks down the level creation process while at the same time using various parts of development to teach you the use of each of the tools within Hammer (Source’s map editing software). I am about 10 chapters into this book and I was surprised how simple it is to create a map and then play your map. I think this simplicity will translate to success in the classroom for this Intro course. This simplicity has also validated my choice, in my mind, to teach Source SDK as opposed to Gamemaker 7, which was previously taught by others.

One of the most important goals of this course for me was to not only teach the technical aspects of level design but also some level design theory. I wanted students to understand what makes a good level. Luckily for me I was introduced to a developer at Valve Corporation who works there as a level designer. Valve as you know is the creator of Source and many of the games developed in Source. This developer and I have been conversing fairly regularly about my upcoming course and he has given me incredible insight into the world of level design. Through him I’ve learned about developing with a team, various online developer resources, and the importance of level design theory. He suggested a book to me entitled “Level Design for Games: Creating Compelling Game Experiences” by Phil Co. Phil as it turns out was one of the lead level designers on Portal 2 and I am told is one of the gaming industry’s most respected designers. I am about 4 chapters into this book and already I am happy that I selected it. The chapters thus far will teach the students the importance of pre-planning. I like how this book roots itself in teaching students to work out their levels on paper before they even begin to start using their tools. It reminds me of my days back in programming classes where we learned to pseudo code on paper. I can’t program for shit anymore but I can read the source code of many languages based on the strength of my pseudo code knowledge. I’ve always been grateful for that skill.

So based on the early successes of these two texts, I have been able to completely flesh out the month of September for this class. My goal is to use September and October as teaching months, where the students will learn the development tools and level design theory. Then use November and December as development time for their final projects where they will demonstrate the knowledge gained in the course. That is my initial roadmap thus far, we’ll see if I want to stick to that as I get further into the course planning.

Another word of advise for professors looking to teach Source, if you decide to enroll your University in Valve’s Academic Licensing Program do it as early as possible. I started the process on June 20, 2011 and we’re still not enrolled yet. I wrote an e-mail to the COO of Valve today hoping to move things along. Hopefully that will kick start that for us as I am only a few weeks away from day 1 of class. I will keep you all posted on that as well going forward. I don’t know if anyone is reading this yet or not but if you have questions, use the comments below.