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Education Graphics Programming Games

Teaching Game Development To Fine Arts Students? 172

jkavalier writes "I've been asked to prepare a short course (50 hours) of video game development to Fine Arts students. That means people with little-to-no technical skills, and hopefully, highly creative individuals. By the end of it, I would like to have finished 1-3 very basic minigames. I'm considering Unity 3D, Processing, and even Scratch. How would you approach teaching such a course? What do you think is the best tool/engine/environment for such a task?"
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Teaching Game Development To Fine Arts Students?

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  • How about "Alice"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:32PM (#33604138)
    Alice [] is a pretty simple way to introduce newbies to game/3D-environment development. I used to use it in an introductory programming class and the kids loved it. Gives you a real sense for how game development and programming work without being heavy-handed about it (or requiring students to jump right into hand-coding, without so much as flowers and dinner first). Here is the text [] I used for the course.
    • by martas ( 1439879 )
      i'll second this - they teach middle school kids with alice these days, so art majors should be able to handle it. BUT, one downside is that while alice is good for "storytelling", AFAIK enabling interactivity in the virtual worlds isn't something its creators concentrated on too much. though i might be completely wrong. am i? anyone?
      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        It has the capability to do basic collision detection with if...then control structures. I do remember that much. I was actually surprised at how much it could do, considering so much of it was drag-and-drop. Some of the kids did some pretty amazing stuff with it, in only a few weeks.
        • I learned on alice YEARS ago, and I remember my first project was a fps (enemies would run at you, and melee you when they got close, gun bound to camera bound to wasd with a little sphere projectile as a bullet that killed what it touched, etc) and the second was a maze type thing with things that tried to kill you. You can make legitimate, fun games with alice (not that mine were) and I recommend it to everyone who wants to learn how to code.
      • My impression of Alice was that it was pretty much only useful for storyboarding. I've gotten a lot of negative feedback when I've suggested it, but my 9-year old actually seemed to like working with it. But what art students really need to learn is how to create a segmented 3D model and wrap textures around it.
        • What is this obsession with 3D? It's an enormously complicating factor when trying to learn the basics of movement and computer graphics. Use something 2D (pygame?) and make a platformer or a top-down RPG.

          • Because as "fine arts" students, their future efforts in creating games will be crating segmented 3D models and wrapping textures around them. Programming the game will be up to the geeks.

      • Actually Alice has the capability, but implementing it is far beyond their skill level. When my brother took an intro to programming class he used Alice. So I decided to download Alice and see what I could come up with. I am a developer by trade, so it was not too difficult to get some basic AI running, but my brother spent the semester basically creating a story.

      • I'm not familiar with Alice specifically, but even with pretty limited interactivity it's quite possibly good for the job - these students are very unlikely to be going into the real complex nuts and bolts anyway, so giving them a very rudimentary idea of the 'computer' side while letting them focus on the 'art' side is probably enough. If they like what they see enough to consider a career in it, they'll just end up passing on the art and ideas to a separate team of coders anyway.

    • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:47PM (#33604336) Homepage Journal

      I'd also check out GameSalad [], which offers a GUI for attaching artwork to objects, then setting properties/events across objects to build a game out of it. It's really easy to create a basic platformer or simple touch game mechanics, and you can focus on how the artwork contributes to the game.

      You can also generate web, Mac, PC, and iOS output (the latter which can be submitted to the App Store, which might be a fun reward for your students.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by jkavalier ( 1648809 )
        Thanks, GameSalad looks great, but I forgot to mention that the tools must be open source or, at least, have a free version (like Unity)
        • I noticed you mentioned Scratch. I posted elsewhere but thought if I replied to you that you might actually notice my comment :) Stencyl ( utilizes "Scratch"-type code blocks along with actual AS3 code (as well as the popular Flixel and Box2D libraries which it is built on) to ease the learning process of programming games. It's in closed beta, but Jon - the founder - has been really interested in the potential uses for educational environments. It might be worth checking it out, I'm in the
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sir_Sri ( 199544 )

      I would stick to alice and or flash. A lot of art guys already know how to make movies in flash (which is a valuable skill unto itself for them), making a game is different, but a text like Foundation Game Design with Flash by Rex Van der spuy works well. Alice is too simple for programming students but not bad for arts ones.

      I would emphasize the distinction between "design' and "development'. They should get an overview of the whole process and the content pipeline, and a light introduction to programmi

      • Have to agree here... Alice is probably the best fit in free or open-source versioned software for beginners from a design perspective. Not sure if the Adobe suite is a requirement for their other course load, if it is then I would suggest Flash as it's widely applicable and can be carried forward fairly easily for web deployments.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Idiomatick ( 976696 )
      Oh god. I got that in my 1st year game programming + engineer specialty overloaded program. It made me want to slit my wrists. Forced to take advanced chem for the program and the course that is to be my focus is geared towards 5th graders? Fucking painful.
  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:36PM (#33604188) Homepage

    and nobody seems to understand it - you shouldn't teach programs, you should teach techniques and principals to be applied in lab sessions. I don't know what arts students are doing in game development. If anything, the only thing they should be developing is artwork.

    You can use anything to teach them how to design something, I would suggest Blender (since it's free and they are ART students) or if they are technically adept enough (which they aren't), you can let them use the Sauerbraten engine and I believe you can get the Unreal engine free as an educational institution. If you have to get really simplistic and only teach them how their art works out in games, use HTML5 or *shudder* Flash, for something bigger you can use the Doom engine (very simple to design for) and let them make some artwork for it.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Hatta ( 162192 )

      I don't think there's much reason to be teaching game development to fine arts students. Teach game development to CS students, and game design to fine arts students. You could even have them work together on projects in the same class. Just don't spend too much time trying to teach English majors how to program.

      • We're trying to let artists know that programming is just another tool, like painting, sculpting or video, to create works of art.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Macgrrl ( 762836 )
          As a slightly different take, I would be giving them a couple of stacks of index cards and focusing on the concepts of story flow, decision trees, character interactions, pacing, types of encounters - the bits that constitute game mechanics rather than just another course on how to program/use an application. The principle isn't that different from how websites used to be mocked up on paper to understand the pathing and wire frames before you started coding it.
        • Unfortunately, it seems to me that students who will excel at programming are already enrolled in a CS, mathematics, engineering, or some various scientific program. Obviously you will have your exceptions, as I have met programmers with decent artistic skills, but it seems very rare.
      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        You don't think a game designer should know something about how interactive systems, procedures, dialog trees, preconditions, etc. work? I mean, you can't design a good interactive experience without at least having a vague idea about interaction and computation, even if it's mainly at a pseudocode level.

    • In fact, if they are really good at arts, they should do only arts, with a tools like 3D Studio Max, Maya, etc. Again, arts only, no programming.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by frosty_tsm ( 933163 )

        In fact, if they are really good at arts, they should do only arts, with a tools like 3D Studio Max, Maya, etc. Again, arts only, no programming.

        This is pretty narrow pigeon-holing. There is no reason why an artist who may one day work with those tools shouldn't also know game-design principles (especially if they will one day be a key member on a game project).

        Should I as a software engineer not touch Apache configuration because I am best at writing code? What about database scripts?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Rhacman ( 1528815 )
          I'd add that it isn't even just that the artist might one day end up programming, they may never write a single line of code professionally and still benefit from having an understanding of the basic principles to software development. Having an appreciation of how the software works may help the artist appreciate the limitations to what they can create. Perhaps the artist would like to use a certain special graphical effect for an object. It may turn out that this effect isn't natively supported by 3d l
      • You are completely off-base in assuming that someone who is good at art would be unqualified to do programming and should be discouraged from trying it. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Illustration and Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science that say otherwise.

        • Hey, the opposite has been done for years. I had a HELL of a time enrolling in music courses because I was a CS major and they were open only to B.Mus students. Turnabout is fair play!

          OTOH if they want to teach game development to fine arts students, the answer is simple - make CS 101 or whatever a prerequisite.

          A game *design* course that is pure-arts would also be pretty awesome. Especially if it was limited enrollment and you could partner them up with some game development grad students or something.


    • I think what is more important are limitations with games. As creative people they invasion far more then we can technically handle. Also you need to remember that people need to use your art too so a good ui may trump good art

    • You can use anything to teach them how to design something, I would suggest Blender (since it's free and they are ART students) or if they are technically adept enough (which they aren't), you can let them use the Sauerbraten engine

      Huh? Last I tried both of them (admittedly, several years ago) Sauerbraten was dead simple and Blender was next to a nightmare.

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        Sauerbraten is a gaming engine which is dead simple for game programmers. Giving a non-programmer any type of programming language is very, very difficult even if it's BASIC or Logo. It also wouldn't teach them how to model an animation or how drawing something reflects in a game. Blender is a 3D creation tool which also has some type of rendering engine and which you could create games in but it's geared towards creating content which is what arts student will have to learn and use whether it's Blender, Ma

        • I never used Sauerbraten in the context of development, just level design. The stuff it has for level modelling in game is incredibly straightforward.

    • by gtada ( 191158 )

      That's retarded. Why shouldn't art students take classes in other subjects? Steve Jobs spoke about a typography class and how it shaped aspects of the Mac OS later.

      I see a huge problem when there is such a disconnect between programmers and artists in a game development team. Even if they get just a taste of "development", classes like this can be VERY beneficial to artists, if for nothing else than gaining an appreciation for developers and the development process. I would say the same about programmers le

  • Unreal or Steam (Score:3, Informative)

    by zombieChan51 ( 1862028 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:40PM (#33604230) Homepage
    A good way to start them out is making 3d models and creating maps for games using Unreal or Source.
  • For such an illiterate students, Flash Animations is the best tool.
  • WTF (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:41PM (#33604246)

    ...ugh, I think maybe you shouldn't be teaching them?

  • Blender (Score:5, Informative)

    by LetterRip ( 30937 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:45PM (#33604306)

    The Blender Game Engine is actually quite suitable for an introductory game design course, and it has two completely free books written for learning it, plus a huge number of example games and scripts. Almost all of the logic can be scripted with 'logic bricks' (a minor amount of simple python scripts are needed for some typical behaviours). [] []

    Also see Yo Frankie - which shows what a team can accomplish in a short time [] []

    Blender itself is now quite easy to create game assets in, and works well as a level editor.

    The Game Engine is not exactly cutting edge, but then cutting edge isn't of much benefit for learning game design.

  • by chemicaldave ( 1776600 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @04:46PM (#33604318)
    Stick with the broader aspects of game design such as: story development, character development, gameplay, flow. I would be hesitant to throw "fine-arts" students into programming. If you must, however, I have no advice.
    • by asdbffg ( 1902686 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @05:31PM (#33604788)
      I took a game design/development course as a student at CalArts. Many of the students were from the film program, but we also had some musicians, sound designers, and theater kids. Many of the students came into the course with a basic knowledge of programming. Out of that class I saw games developed and completed in Processing, Flash, and Torque.

      Another game design class that worked with created two games based on Arduino hardware and Max/MSP. One game incorporated RFID scanners and custom built MP3 players to take players on an audio scavenger hunt. That game received funding from the city arts council and was installed in local mall and again later as part of a city-wide arts festival, the other used video tracking to track players in a physical game arena and has been shown at several Maker Faires and art exhibitions here in LA and Europe.

      Many artists I've met are more than capable programmers, and many of them make their art exclusively in coding environments. I would assume that artists taking a game development class would at least be technically minded. The point is that it's probably a mistake to assume that "fine arts" students can't or shouldn't handle more technical work.
    • Surely by that reasoning you should be hesitant to throw "fine-arts" students into story development, gameplay and the like since those are best suited for design and literature students.

  • who else read the headline and thought the game development community was imposing punitive penalties on art students?

  • So your target audience here isn't graphic designers, nor is it developers. I think you have to cater to them by breaking down the basics: code, graphic design, level design. Kind of give an overall impression.

    I think another comment in this article says how you shouldn't try to teach them development, and I agree with that to a point. I think you should try to stay higher up, but (personally) I find it really hard to relate if I don't see some hard evidence of how to do it. As such, you should definitely m

  • Give them ncurses or pdcurses and have them make roguelikes!
  • Have your fine artists team up with 3rd year CS students. Then you teach them to model 3D using Maya/3DSMax + ZBrush/Sculptris(free alternative to ZBrush) and rig models for use in games.
  • "Technical" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @05:02PM (#33604502)

    To be fair, many of them may have highly developed technical skills. But their tools may be paint brushes, pianos, or their own bodies.

    It's probably more accurate to say they don't have much computer technical skills.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek ( 457094 )

      Don't assume that fine arts students today lack computer skills. Many do, and some just don't have the left-brains for it, but there are a lot of artists out there with an excellent understanding of computer technology. You can't get a BFA at most art schools these days without using a computer... sometimes a lot.

      • Walking through the art building at RIT, I see a lot of what look like pretty shiny labs. Large format printers & scanners, all sorts of fancy graphics
        Well, it *is* RI*T*.
        That's a thing about college in general though - since you do undergrad only once, it's hard to compare your school to others

        • Well, I did undergrad twice at different colleges (once for CS, once for art), and I've worked for three colleges, most recently a stand-alone art school, so I can do some comparison. :) The art school I worked at had computers all over the place and now requires all students – including the paint-or-saw types – to own and use a laptop.

    • It's probably more accurate to say they don't have much computer technical skills.

      Yes, we all know that if you don't have a PhD in computer science, you're both technically AND LEGALLY unable to write a memo in a text editor.

      As for the internet, well, really only a few "Professors of Internets" [i.e. self-appointed 14 year olds on slashdot] should be allowed to access something that is so obscure and difficult for mortals to understand.

      I know there are a few crazy idealists who think that one day eve

      • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )

        How did you get any of that out of the segment that you quoted? He never said that they didn't or shouldn't be allowed to use computers. Its just that the more you know about a subject, the more your perspective on that subject changes. What some people might consider a technical skill is something that other people might just take for granted. A network engineer or game developer probably takes typing skills or web browsing for granted and doesn't consider those "technical" compared to their own field.

  • I think Unity3D would be a good idea. Do their platformer tutorial yourself using all their stand-in content. Modify the end result for your purposes. Break the students up into groups, where each group gets to make their own platformer game. Have them all use your code, and let them make their own story-line, models, animations, textures, levels, music, etc.

  • My first games were mazes I custom made and sold to my friends for a dime each. It's the most basic game you can start with. Start small work your way up. The best games are essentially board games, or have board game rules. Make a variant of checkers or chess. Dissect some of their favorite games so they understand the fundamentals before they run into programming.
  • As the lead developer over at [] I applaud this effort and offer this advice:

    Fine Arts students are going to have a knack for the story telling portion of this project. Those musically inclined will grasp the programming concepts quickest, and there will be an artist or two in the bunch. Authors will be used to organization of time lines, so thing project managers there. Most of all, write up a survey for them early on for hints on what they're interested or already talented in.
    • I was going to mod this interesting but your web site explains nothing about what this is. You have a project you want people to be interested in - it would make sense to spell out WTF the project is about on your main page.....

  • First of all, to really know what and how to teach on this subject I'd need to know what the course requires. For example, are you required that the course cover technical aspects such as code/script writing, or the process of figuring out the logic involved in the mechanics of the game or how the AI is going to work. If there is not technical requirements, then don't try to take them there.

    The Game Design job marketplace used to require a handful of techie nerds spending long hours together making a game

  • I'm pleased to be in the beta for Stencyl ( and it's an excellent program that works well for people of all experience levels. I'd say I'm a moderate novice when it comes to programming (it's not my job, just a hobby) and Stencyl is powerful enough that it doesn't hold me back with simplistic expectations of what I'll want/be able to do.
  • So a BFA might actually be able to get a job out of college? Lies...
  • Game development is all about limits. Texture limits, vertex/poly limits, limits in flexibility of animation systems, limits in complexity of shaders, limits in number of light emitters, limits in number of objects, limits in drawing distances, limits in lighting and shading models, limits to how you can use transparent surfaces, etc. These limits are pushed for every generation, but they're still there.

  • Find another class at the same time that's teaching programming.. pair some of the art students with a programmer to come up with a design for a simple mini-game. Have the art students come up with what they are good at, namely the art assets, "story", and plan with the programmer on the rewards. Have them discuss the logic of the game with the programmer and have the programmer implement the game using what the artist can provide.

    It should help the understand the interactions they will face in the real
  • I'm not an expert by any means, but I'll attempt to make a couple of hopefully useful suggestions.

    I believe there are two important lessons to take home regarding game design:

    • Branching storyline design. Unlike traditional storylines, which are linear, game storylines have the potential to change based on player choices. Think choose-your-own-adventure type of storyline design.
    • Balance. For instance, keeping weapons and power-ups weak enough and the enemies just powerful enough so the gameplay stays challeng
    • Branching storyline design. Unlike traditional storylines, which are linear, game storylines have the potential to change based on player choices. Think choose-your-own-adventure type of storyline design.

      Balance. For instance, keeping weapons and power-ups weak enough and the enemies just powerful enough so the gameplay stays challenging. Similarly, you don't want the units in a strategy game to be too powerful.

      What this would be teaching them is the opposite of art. This is a formula for a certain type of game.

      What you want to teach them is the tools they need to create games. Then they can use their imagination and artistic abilities to come up with new ideas for games and challenge the preconceived notions you've set forth.

  • I'm not familiar with game development tools, so I can't make specific suggestions, but as someone who straddles technology and the visual arts, I'd suggest that the more visually-oriented they are, the better. Point and click and drag and drop. A troll suggested Flash, but that's actually not a bad idea: the similarity to the UI of Photoshop (which most fine-arts students these days have at least experienced) can help them get working with it, and the ability to start doing things with very little code i

  • It's going to be a challenge. I thought a game design course a couple of years ago, taking over the course from a friend. The course was based in the media studies department and pretty much the entire class majored in media except for one student who was studying design.

    Our platform was Flash, using Actionscript 2. I'd say this is the easiest platform available because the basics are so simple and require little coding. Artwork was done in Illustrator and Photoshop and even that required some instruction.

  • Throwing programming at people with "little-to-none technical skills" is a bad idea period. Have them develop games or game concepts and then help them apply those to programming. Or take an existing classic game and describe the challenges of making it digital (such as card shuffling).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I taught a Flash ActionScript class at an art school once.

    Tell them to save their creativity for their artwork, and not their variable names.

    They are going to be overwhelmed, both by the left brained and "only one right answer" discipline required to get code to run properly.

    I would keep it VERY simple. More than you think is necessary.

    You might just lose some students entirely. It's been said that programmers do for love what others wouldn't do for money. You will soon find out just how true this is.

    At the

  • 3D artist (Score:2, Insightful)

    Being a 3D artist with a fine arts background, if you are trying to teach artist basic elements of game design, I think it would be best to pair an artist with a comp sci major. The comp sci major can handle many of the technicalities of getting content into a game. Most artists who lack a technical background are going to be intimidated just by the process of creating assets and learning how to use the software necessary and the various requirements of doing so. The benefit for the comp sci major is ins
  • I'm not sure what the students' other courses are, but I'm wondering if, instead of teaching them general programming in a very basic, very not-usable-in-any-real-job way, it wouldn't be more practical, instead, of teaching them specifically how to create content, artwork, for somebody else's game, using real-world, or close to real-world (since you need free) tools.

    You're obviously not going to make them into game developers. Would it maybe be better to make them into semi-credible artwork guys ? Maybe dev

  • IMHO one of the best games in terms of artwork is Broken Sword 1 []. The scenes are handpainted and the character animations are very detailed. In the meantime ScummVM [] was developed which is a free software game engine which is able to play the data files of Broken Sword as well []. ScummVM is not recommended for developing new games though. Maybe somebody nows a more modern engine with similar capabilities?

  • Are these people aiming for jobs within the mainstream game industry, aiming to become independent game developers, or interested in game design as an art form? If they're looking for jobs then yes, give them time with Unity and talk a lot about the limits of 3d and how to balance speed and beauty. If they want to sell their own games, step away from Unity and look into simpler game builders that can be highly customised by people with artistic talent. Even RPG Maker would do for that (look at Rainblood f
  • Source? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Try using the source engine maybe? With Garry's Mod, you have a relative freedom of the FPS genre, and there's a huge knowledge base for it, it's still relevant, and really simple. /2cents

  • Body says 5,000, not 50,000...
  • by Plekto ( 1018050 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @07:24PM (#33605796)

    The title pretty much says it all. People in art don't program games at all. They instead get hired to do levels and art for them. I'd just take a basic game that's well understood and have them make their own custom levels for it.

  • by HawaiianToast ( 618430 ) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @08:05PM (#33606132)
    It sounds like you want to teach computer game programming to me. If you really want to just teach game development maybe you should develop a pen & paper game. They can write the rule book. Otherwise you're teaching two things and maybe nobody will learn much of either.
  • It is absolutely shocking to see how many folks do not understand the first thing about a Fine arts program here.

    In answer to the question, while it's useful to get into toolkits, if your students are anything like the people I went to university with, they're going to chafe at being delivered into a constrictive set of tools. Take a sampling of the tools you've mentioned and that have been mentioned by other commenters, maybe add RPG Maker on top of it, but at the end of the day it's just as well to let

    • I think it would also be useful to start them with a non-video-games-based exercise - use GI Joes or index cards to create simple physical games to get everyone used to the idea that interaction is at the heart of the expression you're focusing on.
  • I started back in the dos days... and on macs, c64s, atari computers etc...

    Been doing graphics for a long time from a teen, to mid 30s.

    The one thing that really has become apparent is that in order to be a good artist with modern computer graphics tools, you must be a very well rounded traditional artist as well. I started out years ago as a kid fascinated with comic book art, and as a teen I tried to learn anatomy from books, but never understood what those books were fully teaching until I saw a real live

  • Forget teaching programming entirely. If they are asking for game design and you teach programming, you have done them a disservice. Programming isn't game design. It's what you do after the game designer tells you what the design does.

    Go look at Ian Schreiber's work at [] and []. Especially the second one - its actually a free online course he taught last summer on game design. That should cover all the bases you need, and does
  • Inform 7 [] might be of interest. It's a tool for creating interactive fiction (otherwise known as text adventures). It uses a natural language syntax, and it's dead easy to learn the basics, making it ideal for non-techy types.

    Text games might not be the kind of thing you initially had in mind, but this could be a useful way to teach topics like storytelling, characterisation, dialogue trees and so on. As an added bonus, your students can have a prototype game up and running in no time, with the accompanyi

  • Mobile computing is on the rise, and gaming is a strong component of it. There is a toolkit that will let you program in LUA (fairly common in game engines these days) and it will generate programs for both iPhone / iPad and Android at the same time. Programming is simple and the new game engine employs physics and other gizmos.

    See game release: []

    Video: []

  • She is 10 years old and took a game development course at ID Tech Camp: []

    At the end of a week, she had a couple simple video games designed and running.

    I was pleased and proud because she's a complete computer novice.

    The games she created were base on Clickteam Multimedia Fusion 2 Developer with Photoshop to tweak the art.

    Older and more advanced kids used more advanced tools. The tools used in all the courses are listed here: []

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