Game Design at Scripps

Hey guys! Although in general we try to blog about the general Mudd experience, you know, classes lots of Mudders take, big open events, things like that, occasionally I like to talk about some more specific to myself, and what I do at Mudd!

Poker chips and colorful rubber pieces on a brown wood board.

Butcherboard, a board game that I submitted with my team last week which I’m very proud of!

I’ve talked about this a few times in my blogs, but making games is something that really interests me. Hopefully it’s what I will do professionally at some point after I graduate, but even if I don’t, games are a fundamental lens through which I process the world.

Students talk in small groups and work on their laptops in the Game Design class.

Game design is a studio course, so we get a lot of time to work on and talk about our personal projects in class.

Although there are a lot of technical opportunities at Mudd (it’s a STEM school, after all), it is often very much rooted in the science and the computational aspects of the things that we do, across all of the fields. Application of the things that we learn means research, more often than not, in terms of what our learning environment prepares us for. However, this is something that, in my experience, can be at least partially supplemented by classes at the other colleges.

Black, white, and gray Hexmound pieces, with notched edges that interlock.

Some pieces laid out for “Hexmound”, a game where play out tiles and try to get hexagons of their assigned color for points.

Game Design is a class offered at Scripps in the fall, which focuses primarily on analog games: games with boards, paper, or nothing, generally. Although a lot of people, hearing “game design”, especially at Mudd, immediately assume video games. It’s a natural assumption, because it is a massive and growing field, which I’m certain a number of my peers will eventually work in, at least tangentially. And although I do love video games, there is something nice about the separation here: I spend time doing very “pure” computer science work, and then go over to game design and do some “pure” media work.

Students work with cut-up post-it notes

Testing paper prototypes for this week’s project.

The class is very fun. We spend a lot of time discussing what makes games good, or fun, talking through the language that can describe these attributes, and figuring out how to make bad ideas better. It’s a project based class, so every two weeks we do a cycle of prototyping, playtesting, and finalizing games, with a rhythm that is very satisfying, and rewards me in a way that a lot of my tech classes can’t. It’s also an environment where, even though we’re trying to be precise, and academic, the goal is a positive and open one. Creating something that people can enjoy, and that belongs to you.

Students walk around the room, some with their arms stretched out on both sides, others with their arms flapping.

The class playtesting a game that required a stage of charades-like mimicry.

I think that this class has really sunk into my conscience this semester, and I think about what we talk about in all different contexts. The types of things that motivate people, why we engage in activities, competitions. One of the things that I loved was seeing how, very consistently, some of the language and patterns that we’ve discussed from the design standpoint have been things repeated in my software development class, where the methods and goals are often very different. Design, intent, these are things that aren’t bound to any single field. However, I think that I’ve learned more about it in my game course than in my software course, because it’s so much easier to iterate, prototype, experiment when everything is just about fun.

A student puts together pieces of paper with parts of letters on them

The second stage of the charades game involved trying to spell out a word with broken parts of letters.

In a sea of tech classes, Game Design has let me cultivate my creative side this semester, and think about how things are linked, and how everything, even the simplest systems, are complex, and have ideas that repeat across the borders of fields, and the goals of the participants. I may not have taken the class at Mudd, but I think this, at least, is very much in the Mudd spirit.

Red and blue strings wrapped around nails hammered in a grid pattern

Another game that I really enjoyed, “String Theory” a string wrapping game.