December 10, 2016

Game design degree thrives in second year

 Game design majors work on the Unreal Engine 3. Many video game franchises. like “Gears of War,” were made on the Unreal Engine. PHOTO BY: Dan Carcione

Game design majors work on the Unreal Engine 4. Many video game franchises. like “Gears of War,” were made on the Unreal Engine. PHOTO BY: Dan Carcione

One year and three months after the creation of the game design program at Webster University, 53 students have enrolled in the major, Dean Eric Rothenbuhler said.

Webster’s website describes game design majors as students who will study and learn about video games and traditional games in a variety of contexts, from sociology to platform development. The curriculum examines the business of games, game design ecosystems and principles of gamification, while developing game creation skills.

Kevin Taylor, the program facilitator for the game design major at Webster, said roughly half of the students in the program are freshmen in their first semester.

“We had to take three new classes of the intro [to game design] because we had such big enrollments. It was only meant to be two classes,” Taylor said. “I’ve been teaching an overload [of students in class] since I started, and those classes have all been on overload as well.”

The success of the program and the increased enrollment rates after the first year prompted the university to hire three new adjunct professors for the fall semester, Taylor said.

Students attending the game design program at Webster take a range of classes, from computer programming and animation, to level design and scriptwriting.

Sophomore Clayton Johnson said he is in the program to create a career out of something he loves.

“We’ve learned how to create the actual level design, create enemy movements and how everything reacts within the environment of games,” Johnson said. “So basically all the fundamentals of enemy-based and level-designed games.”

The primary game design software students use in the program is Unreal Engine 4, Taylor said.

“You can build a range of games, from small indie [independent] games, to the large games being produced on the engine like “Gears of War,”’ Taylor said. “I prefer to teach the higher levels courses and the intro courses. I like to start students off with good practices and teach the heavier kind of engines.”

Students will also learn about modifying aspects of existing titles, such as “The Elder Scrolss IV: Skyrim” and “Fallout 4,” Taylor said.

Taylor, a Liverpool, England, native, graduated from the University of Huddersfield with a Masters in Advanced 3D Production in 2012. He worked as a 3D artist and designer for Rebellion games until 2013, when he transitioned to the world of academia. Titles that Taylor worked on include “Call of Duty: World at War,” “Driver: San Francisco” and “Alien Vs. Predator 3.”

Before being hired as program facilitator, Taylor taught as a lecturer at SAE Institute in Perth, Australia, and the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas.

Taylor said he has big plans for the future of the game design program, including more cross-major collaborations with the animation department and potentially the computer science department.

“My initial start into game design was in 3D [animation] and art and I want to see more of that,” Taylor said. “We are hiring a new member of staff right now … This new chap is going to deal more with the high-end computer side, so the physical production and the 3D animation of game design.”

Taylor also plans to begin teaching students to create video games in virtual reality soon.

“We have ordered some of the Oculus [Rift] development kits,” Taylor said. “Back in 2006 I saw the potential for it, and even back then I dreamt of coming into education and really bringing that to the forefront of game design.”

Game design students sit in an intro class. The amount of students signing up for game design courses made Webster hire three new adjunct professor to teach the course load. PHOTO BY: Dan Carcione

Game design students sit in an intro class. The amount of students signing up for game design courses made Webster hire three new adjunct professor to teach the course load. PHOTO BY: Dan Carcione

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