Game Design 101

By Robert MacMillan Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005; 10:21 AM

In Tuesday's edition of Random Access I examined Scotland's plan to offer $175 to every resident to get up to speed on their information technology skills. Today, let's look a little closer to home.

Students across the nation will start returning to colleges and universities later this month, and some at Michigan State University will have the opportunity to take a most unusual course.

"Beginning in September, MSU will give students a chance to study video games and design through its Specialization in Game Design and Development program," the Detroit News reported "'Game development is a very hot industry right now,' said Brian Winn, co-founder of the program and an assistant professor of telecommunications, information studies and media at Michigan State. 'It's an important program for students who want to go into this as a career,' Winn said."

The paper reported that the program comprises 15 credit hours gained over a sequence of four classes on the history and social aspects of video games as well as a primer on game design. It also profiled one of the students:

"Scott Brodie, a MSU junior from Livonia, is hoping to be among the program's first students. His interest in video games began when he was a 6-year-old playing Nintendo games. This summer, 21-year-old Brodie is working at Stardock, a Livonia-based video game design company where he is doing an internship. .... 'It's a definite career field you can go into,' Brodie said. '[Students] have been hoping for a program that deals with our passion.'"

Some of you, like reader Linda C. Perry of Laurel, Md., might expect a little snarkiness on my part about such a course. As Perry wrote in response to my column yesterday, "How about writing about positive things?"

Fear not, Ms. Perry, I can't think of anything negative to say about this. When I was earning tiny paychecks that usually bounced during my first reporting job, it was my punk friends working on video game design who ended up pulling in real money doing something they enjoyed. Kudos to MSU for developing a serious courseload that teaches students the basics of one of the strongest cultural influences in America today.

The New York Times mined Michigan for higher education stories as well, coming up with this dispatch out of Ann Arbor about how parents' biggest concerns about sending their children to school deal with technology:

"At a June orientation briefing for parents at the University of Michigan ... talk turned quickly to technology. Five students had given up their Sunday afternoon to address issues that the fretful parents might have had about sending their children to college -- finding a balance between study and fun, Greek life, campus safety, binge drinking. But many parents had other questions: which operating system is best; is a laptop or desktop preferable; how good is the wireless access; and is it necessary to bring a printer?" the Times reported. "The session's leader, a little desperate, finally asked, 'Does anyone have questions that aren't about technology?'"

Times tech reporter John Schwartz wrote that different schools have rules about PCs that might leave some prehistoric parental units panting to catch up. For example: The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., doesn't offer support for Macs. Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., urges students to bring computers with enough processing power to run on the school's network. Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., will not allow students to use computers running Windows 95 or NT 3.51 systems -- or older ones -- and "strongly discourages" Windows 98 and ME because of concerns about their lack of protection against viruses and evil software.

The article covers various other technologies, but I enjoyed this excerpt, which reminded me of a spirited debate I had with my father in the summer of 1991:

"Ashton Applewhite, a freelance writer in Manhattan, described this conversation with her Indiana-bound son, Luke: 'Mom, what about a TV?' 'Are you kidding me? No way am I paying for a TV.' 'Mom, everybody has TVs!' 'Great! You can discuss that with your future roommates.'"

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