In this section, Philip Tan and Richard Eberhardt describe how they approached planning the semester and individual classes.
We prepared for the semester by first designing the final project (Assignment 3: Perspective). Some years, designing the final project involves finding a client (usually an MIT faculty member, but increasingly an external client) who is interested in having games made about his or her research. Having a client helps ground the project requirements and motivates students because they know their games will be played by real people.
In Spring 2014, we did not have a client, so we looked at what worked well during the previous iteration of the course: having students design a themed board or card game. The theme we chose was to design a game in which the intended player experience is from a particular person’s perspective within a real-world political, economic, or social system. Students enrolled in the course during Spring 2013 created games based on a historian’s research into the 18th century Comédie-Française. During Spring 2014, we decided to ask students to make games that focused on any specific perspective or point of view. The goal was for players to feel what it would be like to engage with a system from the focal person’s specific perspective. We decided not to ask students to create full simulations, but rather to develop abstracted models that focused only on systems of import to their chosen person. These did not need to be realistic, but did need to reflect the ideals and beliefs of the person.
Once the final project was designed, we reviewed the readings and made sure they addressed topics that would support students in designing their games. We added more material about simulation and abstraction. We also reviewed the games we planned to play during lab times to ensure students would have an opportunity to see exemplars that would help them create successful final projects. We then re-designed the first two projects in such a way that their contstraints prepared students for the final project. The first project became a single-mechanic game (whereas in past years it often focused on a specific kind of material to use when making a game, such as cards). The second project focused on player experience and the aesthetics of the game, both the fiction described by the game and the emotional experience of the players emerging from the play of the game.
To prepare for individual class sessions, we reviewed the readings before each class to make sure they were fresh in our minds. Lectures would usually supplement the reading and vice-versa – we would lecture on a topic that was mentioned in the reading and then have a discussion afterwards linking the reading to the lecture, and then connect both back to the students’ design practices.