Podcast Episode 52: Teams and Game Design With Walker White

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Walker White has one of the coolest jobs in higher ed. He directs Cornell’s Game Design Initiative, and teaches beginning and advanced game design classes in the computer science department. In this episode we go deep inside Walker’s introductory games course for programmers, writers, and artists. He tells us how he organizes his students in heterogeneous teams, gives them copious feedback, and helps each team build a brand new playable game by the end of the semester.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:39 Welcome Walker White. Game hobbyists at Dartmouth in days of yore. A club of gamers who were also game-makers. Games with explicit rules vs. software-based games. MUD’s, MMORPG’s, and Minecraft. Changing game rules to make things more interesting–Doug does this with his kids.

6:56 The OG game console: The Odyssey. An exalted pong machine. Avoiding 3D game engines for educational purposes.

11:10 An academic teaching game design and industry changes. Game design as a minor that can be attached to many majors. Students learn to work with experts in other domains–where professors often work largely with other experts in their own fields.

18:32 The teacher as project manager rather than a content deliverer. The mechanics of signing up for the course and being put in teams. A large number of students are already sharing the code publicly. Education that’s grounded in a design process. Doug’s favorite dungeon crawler / word game: Dungeon Scroll.

25:34 It’s not pre-professional training. It’s more from scratch. But it’s also about learning to work with experts.

31:20 Lecturing on an as-needed basis based on the students’ projects. One third of the class is lecture, the rest is student group work and student presentations. The course also counts towards a technical writing requirement.

37:15 Only the final project is graded. The other work is required and gets regular feedback. The course is structured around two-week design sprints. More like a writing seminar: students write documentation. The documentation propels the work forward: it’s not just a reflection of what was done.

43:21 Why wiki’s don’t work for student collaboration. Students write minimalist design documents in natural language. Using CATME every two weeks for peer assessment. When collaboration goes wrong: a restraining order. Intervening in groups but also respecting their wisehs.

51:45 How the course changes every year. Helping the students avoid working too hard. (A problem most faculty don’t have.) Student ownership of student projects at Cornell.

59:58 Walker’s teaching mistakes: “moments for potential improvement.” Sometimes you go to far fixing a mistake.

1:03:21 Signing off.