Syllabus: CSE 4990 / 6990 Game Design, Spring 2010

Dr. J. Edward Swan II <>
Spring 2010
Course Time and Location
Tuesday, Thursday; 12:30 pm–1:45 pm; 103 Butler Hall
Office Hours and Location
Tuesday, Thursday; 1:45 pm–2:45 pm; 321 Butler Hall
Catalog Description
Three hours lecture.  Study the principals, practice, and techniques of interactive computer game design, including design theory, design process, and design production.  Analyze existing computer games.  Build interactive computer games in a small, interdisciplinary group format.
Course Prerequisites
Students with an engineering background should have taken CSE 3324 (Distributed Client/Server Programming) or equivalent, with a grade of C or better; CSE 4413/6413 (Principles of Computer Graphics) is also recommended.  Students with a design background must have digital media experience.  If you do not meet these requirements, see the instructor immediately.
Required Text
Game Design: Principles, Practice, and Techniques—The Ultimate Guide for the Aspiring Game Designer; Jim Thompson, Barnaby Berbank-Green, Nic Cusworth; John Wiley & Sons, 2007; ISBN: 978-0-471-96894-8.  Amazon: $31.50 (new); $21.00 (used)

Course Content

This course will be evaluated on four major criteria:

  • Games
  • Class Presentations and Assignments
  • Midterm Examination
  • Final Examination

The primary activity of this class will be collaboratively developing three games in an interdisciplinary small team format.  Students will make class presentations and complete a few design assignments.  The class presentations will primarily involve demonstrating and analyzing existing computer games, but they may also involve presenting various game design topics.  The midterm and final exams will put the course material into context and allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the analysis topics.


Grades will be generated by the following activities:

First Game 15%
Second Game 20%
Third Game 20%
Class Presentations and Assignments 15%
Midterm 15%
Final 15%

Minimum grades will be determined by the following scale:

≥ 90% A
80% – 89%      B
60% – 79% C
50% – 59% D
< 50% F

As this is meant to be a collaborative environment, students are not competing against each other, and therefore this course is not graded on a curve.

Game Design Assignments

In this class, students will spend the majority of their time designing and implementing computer games.  This will occur in small teams of students of about 3–4.  Students will be (semi-) randomly assigned to teams.  Students will design three games; after each game, teams will disband and new teams will be formed.

During the design process, teams will present periodic progress reports in class.  For the second and third games, design documents will be required as games are developed.  On the day a game is due, teams will present their game to the class, and will turn in source code and other materials related to the game including screenshots of play.  Teams may be required to turn in game-related documentation as well.

Grading: Games will subjectively graded.  The primary grading criteria will be the degree to which the game meets its assigned objectives.  Additional criteria may include evidence of how much effort the team has invested in the game, creativity, and the quality of submitted materials such as code, design documents, concept drawings, research results, etc.  The result of this grading process will be a team grade.  The baseline grade for each team member will be equal to the team grade, but may be modified up or down based on peer feedback and instructor feedback.

Peer and Instructor Feedback: After each game is completed, team members will be asked to anonymously evaluate each other along dimensions related to contribution level and how easy they are to work with.  A team member's grade may be modified either up or down by this feedback.  Each team member will receive an anonymized version of this feedback.  In addition, the instructor may further adjust a team member's grade up or down, based on observation of the team member's contribution level, both to the development of the game as well as to the class as a whole.  Any such adjustments will be communicated to each affected student.

Game Analysis

An important distinction between playing games and studying games is the ability to reflect upon the game play experience.  A useful tool for being reflective is writing, and hence the game session logging (gamelog) assignments ask students to write about their experience playing a game.

Game analysis will be performed using the Game Log website.  To write a gamelog, log into the site and write a gamelog entry.  When creating an identity on the Gamelog site, select any non-profane username desired; indicate this username when completing the analysis assignment.

Students are strongly encouraged read the gamelog entries of other people in the class, as well as other gameloggers worldwide.  If there are gamelogs that are interesting or controversial, students are free to write comments about them.  The process of reflecting on the gamelogs of other players is also a valuable way to expand one's understanding of the interrelationships of design elements in games, and players' reactions to those elements.  Students get out of gamelogging what they put into it.

Note that Mississippi State's acceptable use policies apply when using this site for assignments.

Gamelogs are subjective: There is no wrong answer when writing them.  However, it is possible to write excessively short, trivial, or non-reflective gamelogs.  Poor grammar, spelling, or rhetoric also hurts the gamelog.  Gamelogs will be evaluated on a 10 point scale as follows:

  • Not Submitted: No credit (0 points).
  • Below Expectations: Trivial write-up or analysis lacking depth, perhaps with poor grammar or spelling (1–5 points).
  • Meets Expectations: Sufficient write-up with good insight; few grammatical or spelling errors (6–10 points)
  • Exceeds Expectations: In-depth write-up with exceptional insights; no errors in the writing (> 10 points possible).

Game analysis assignments are part of the Class Presentations and Assignments portion of the course grade.

Game Presentation

Hands-on critiquing of games is an important for mastering game design.  Thus, each student will present a game they have played in class.  Presenting a game means playing the game, demonstrating the game's features, and critiquing the game according to the analysis frameworks we will study in class.  The critique should answer the questions why (or why not) is this game fun?, what is novel about this game?, and how could this game be improved (if at all)?.

Students will present and critique the game, including examples of play, for 20 minutes during class.  Some game systems and games can be provided, and the instructor will discuss how students can borrow them.  Grading will be subjective, and based primarily on the apparent effort involved in demonstrating and critiquing the game.  Game presentations will be evaluated on a 10 point scale as follows:

  • Not Presented: No credit (0 points).
  • Below Expectations: Trivial analysis lacking depth; demonstration does not cover important features of the game (1–5 points).
  • Meets Expectations: Good analysis touching on major components; gameplay demonstrates most features.  Full-credit (6–10 points).
  • Exceeds Expectations: Insightful deconstruction of the game and its impact; clever demonstration of the game's features (> 10 points possible).

Game analysis assignments are part of the Class Presentations and Assignments portion of the course grade.


The format and content of the exams will be announced before each.  Generally, they will be comprehensive exams which cover the concepts and principles discussed in the lectures and the book.

Missed Assignments or Exams

Missed assignments or exams fall into two categories: Excused or unexcused.  Excused absences occur when you know about the potential absence ahead of time and discuss a resolution with me at least a week beforehand; usually, this involves modifying the due date or scheduling a make-up.  If you miss an assignment or exam, they you must meet with me at the earliest opportunity and provide documentation justifying the absence to make the absence an excused one.  Absences that are unexcused for more than a week will generally receive no points on the assignment or exam.


Academic Honesty and the Honor Code

In this course, students are expected to uphold the Mississippi State University Honor Code:

"As a Mississippi State University student I will conduct myself with honor and integrity at all times. I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor will I accept the actions of those who do."

Upon accepting admission to Mississippi State University, a student immediately assumes a commitment to uphold the Honor Code, to accept responsibility for learning, and to follow the philosophy and rules of the Honor Code.  Students will be required to state their commitment on examinations, research papers, and other academic work.  Ignorance of the rules does not exclude any member of the MSU community from the requirements or the processes of the Honor Code.

Students are also expected to maintain the standards of academic honesty that are described in the CSE Department's Undergraduate Studies Academic Honesty Policy (CSE 4833), or the CSE Department's Graduate Studies Academic Honesty Policy (CSE 6833).  These standards apply in their entirety to the midterm and the final exam

However, in the real world people work in teams, and games will be developed collaboratively by teams of students.

These are important policies.  Not only will violators fail to learn the course material, but violators will receive an "XF" in this course, and will otherwise be handled according the CSE Department's Undergraduate or Graduate Studies Academic Honesty Policies, as well as the Academic Operating Policy and Procedure of Mississippi State University.

As a professor at Mississippi State University, I am required to report all incidents of academic misconduct.

Right to Change

I reserve the right to change the course policies or schedule in order to facilitate instruction.  Any such changes will be discussed in class and updated on the course web site.

Additional Policies

Attendance and Audits: Attendance is required in this class.  Although attendance will not affect your grade, I will take roll, and I will list absences on midterm and final grade reports.  Students who miss class are still responsible for the material covered and for any assignments distributed.  Students who are auditing the course must attend at least 75% of the class meetings in order to receive a passing grade.

Personal Electronic Devices: Students must respect their fellow students and not disrupt class. Therefore, cell phones, pagers, other such alarms, or personal conversations which disturb the lecture are not allowed.  Students with personal laptops are encouraged to bring them to class; however, laptops are not required for this course.

Grade of Incomplete (I): Following MSU policy, incomplete grades will only be given in extreme circumstances, such as illness, death in a student's immediate family, or similar circumstances beyond a student's control.

No Food or Drinks in Class: It is the CSE department's policy that you can't eat or dink in Butler hall classrooms.

Email: When I send class-related email, I will use your email address. 

Drop / Add Policy: This class follows Mississippi State University's Official Drop/Add Policy:

A.   Add/Drop without penalty - A student has through the fifth class day into the semester to drop a course and through the sixth class day to add a course without being assessed a fee or academic penalty.

B.   Drop after the fifth class day through the 30th class day into the semester - A student who elects to drop a course during this period must receive the approval of his/her advisor, will be assigned a W on his/her academic record, and be assessed a fee.  The advisor who permits the drop will specify its effective date. 

C.   Drop after the 30th class day into the semester – A student cannot drop courses after this period except in documented cases of serious illness, extreme hardship, or failure of the instructor to provide significant assessment of his/her performance.   A request to drop a course during this period must be approved by the student’s advisor and academic dean.  The dean who permits the drop will specify its effective date.  A student receiving permission to drop will receive a W on his/her academic record and be assessed a fee.

D.  Faculty are expected to provide a student with significant evidence or assessment of his/her class performance within the first 30 class days of the semester.

Last modified: February 08, 2010