CMS.301 | Spring 2016 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Game Design Methods

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course CMS.301 Introduction to Game Design Methods as it was taught by Mikael Jakobsson and Sara Verrilli in Spring 2016.

This course is an introduction to the theory and practice of the process of designing games and playful experiences. Students are familiarized with methods, concepts, techniques, and literature used in the design of games. The strategy is process-oriented, focusing on aspects such as: rapid prototyping, play testing, and design iteration using a player-centered approach.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

After completing the course, the student should:

  • Be familiar with the emergence of the academic study of design methods and game design
  • Be familiar with central concepts within the field
  • Be able to select and apply appropriate methods and techniques during different stages of the development cycle
  • Be able to structure and conduct a game design project from conceptualization to playable prototype
  • Be proficient in contributing to the collaborative learning and development processes
  • Understand how design can be applied to the academic process of generating new knowledge

Instructor Insights

Below, Mikael Jakobsson describes various aspects of how he taught CMS.301 Introduction to Game Design Methods.

Course Design

"We work hard to cultivate an atmosphere in which peer feedback is an important part of the learning experience. To some extent, I believe this goes against the students’ expectations."
— Mikael Jakobsson

Design subjects are often taught through iterations of creation and reflection on a development project. Since this is the first encounter with this type of work for many of our students, we decided to do a series of short assignments focusing on the most central aspects of game design methods. Much of the course development efforts has gone into creating assignments that are perceived as meaningful to the students, while providing the desired learning opportunities.

The second half of the semester is dedicated to one continuous project. This gives the students the opportunity to engage with more complex aspects of design. Since all the methodological building blocks have been introduced to the students, they can learn from earlier mistakes and get a more mature understanding by incorporating the methods in more independent project work.

Our greatest challenge is finding a balance between, and connecting, theory and practice. While we believe that it’s important to engage with design theory to attain a deep and critical understanding of the subject, it is hard to integrate the two.

Peer Feedback

We work hard to cultivate an atmosphere in which peer feedback is an important part of the learning experience. To some extent, I believe this goes against the students’ expectations. They come in thinking that it’s their presentations that matter, not their feedback on other presentations. It is important to work in small enough student groups that everyone feels that they are heard and that their opinions matter. The instructors also play a crucial role in moderating the communication so that it doesn’t become dominated by a few strong voices. There is always room for improvement when it comes to these aspects of teaching.

Curriculum Information



Requirements Satisfied

  • GIR
  • HASS


Every Spring semester


Grade Breakdown

The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 20% Performance in individual assignments
  • 40% Active participation
  • 40% Individual performance in group projects

Instructor Insights on Assessment

Students are evaluated and graded individually and on group projects. The oral presentations are the most important sources for understanding the individual students’ contributions, reflections, and insights. Some students present and represent themselves better in writing, or during actual project work, so we try to incorporate those expressions in the evaluations as well.

Student Information


30 students

Breakdown by Year

CMS.301 is very popular. We get around 70 prospective students for the 32 slots available. We give priority to students who major in Comparative Media Studies (about 2/3) and those who have pre-registered before without getting in (most of the final 1/3). Because of these criteria, freshmen are somewhat underrepresented.

Breakdown by Major

Mostly Comparative Media Studies

Typical Student Background

This is an introductory course. For many of the students, it’s the first time they seriously engage with design methods. Some of the students have taken the sister course CMS.300 Introduction to Videogame Studies. The two courses complement each other well, and together they form a solid foundation for more advanced game related courses. The students tend to have a general interest in video games, which we use as a shared starting point.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class

  • Met two times per week for 1.5 hours per session.
  • Students worked in small project groups to engage in a series of assignments. There was an emphasis on presenting and discussing results with the student group and instructors. The weekly cycles began with an introduction of an aspect of game design methodology and a related assignment. The cycles ended with “crit sessions,” during which students presented their work for feedback from student groups and instructors. 

Out of Class

  • Students worked individually and in groups on assignments outside of class.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2016
Learning Resource Types
Design Assignments with Examples
Written Assignments with Examples