Game Design Curriculum


Students combine the programs focus on production with two of three specializations below, to develop a professional-quality online portfolio that demonstrates a thorough understanding of game design.

  • Coding
  • Game Art
  • Level Design

Term 1 Course Descriptions

Students are exposed to the fundamentals of game theory; unpacking the principles that make games, such as chess, dice, and cards, popular across centuries and cultures. Building on this base, students analyze contemporary non-digital games and discuss the risk/reward, captured through von Neumann’s minimax theory. The result of this class is the development of an analog game prototype.

Students are taken through the requirements of the preproduction cycle, including team building, scheduling, documentation, fast prototyping and concept creation.

This course provides an introductory overview of the Game Industry and the development process, including the principles of Project Management. It gives students a better understanding of the different roles inside a development team, and the different phases of development of game projects.

Contemporary entertainment franchises are not limited by the storytelling constraints of one medium. This course examines how different media can be used as part of a unified story strategy that leverages the strengths of each, while capitalizing on the potential of the whole.

This course introduces the process of designing a level on paper and quickly iterating on designs. A major element of this course is to explore the connections between game design and level design, especially how players interact in different gametypes. Students learn about planning for technical limitations, as well as unexpected player interactions. The final level designs are brought into a commercial engine to further understand how the level will be seen from the player's perspective.

This course begins with the fundamentals of basic programming using C#, including data types, logic flow control, conditions, loops, file I/O, functions, classes and objects. It explores game-related concerns such as the game loop, rules, and game object design and implementation.

Art skills are required for building great game experiences. From Minecraft to Battlefield, art brings game concepts to life. In Game Art 1, students will explore the fundamentals of 2D and 3D asset creation in Maya and Photoshop, the dominant industry standard software. Students will learn best practices and time-saving techniques they can apply in their own games. They will also learn and apply fundamental principles behind all 2D image and 3D polygon graphics, regardless of platform, game engine, or creative software. By the end of Game Art 1, students will be comfortable with the core Photoshop and Maya toolsets used in game art creation, and will have made several game-ready assets, giving a strong overview of the game art creative process. Game Art 1 will significantly enhance the quality of students’ game art projects and portfolios.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

Building on the work of Game Theory (Analog), this course seeks to apply the essentials of game theory to the success of various popular video games. Students undertake rigorous analysis of historic videogames, from the arcades to modern day game systems.

This course provides game designers with an understanding of how teams come together, and what keeps them performing at the level necessary to build A-quality titles. It also covers the key leadership skills fundamental to facilitating a high performing team.

As a level designer in the game industry you can determine exactly what the player sees, hears and feels in the game. In this course students learn the common procedures for building a level for their games. Students cover creating paper designs of levels, and how to translate those ideas into objects and architecture, placing units and scripting their behaviour.

During this course, students will work with Unreal Engine 4 and learn the necessary tools to script gameplay from a Level Design perspective. By the end of the term, students will have an understanding of how to script interactive environments for video games and, more importantly, how to add fun gameplay to their levels.

Mastery of object-oriented programming allows designers to tune their own game scenarios/levels without the need of engineering support. Over the course of two terms, these courses ground students in the rigors of an object-oriented language (C#) used in common game engines.

With the success of games like Angry Birds, Tiny Towers and Cut the Rope, sprite-based games are as popular as their 3D counterparts and the driving force behind games on the current mobile devices. In Game Art 2, we take a deeper look into the tools and techniques used to create sprites, how to animate them, and how to incorporate them into the growing field of 2.5D games. We also continue our work into creating game-ready 3D models, creating efficient UV mapping coordinates, while using Photoshop to create detailed colour, specular, ambient, and normal texture maps we can apply to these models. We conclude this course with a final project that tests the students’ abilities to work under industry conditions while utilizing the tools and techniques they learned in this course.

Mobile gaming is a fast-rising sector of the game design industry. Porting a game from rich platforms to mobile devices has proven risky, yet the adaptation of simple “time wasters” strikes a chord with mass audiences. This course explores the unique niche occupied by wireless and handheld game devices such as iPad games and tries to define the requirements for a successful title. Working under the mentorship of the course instructor, students design a wireless game concept.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

Students begin to adapt their design sensibility to the requirements of game information systems. In addition to constraints imposed by platform selection, students consider optimal ways to engage players through an adaptation of real estate to the dictates of title/genre. Essential treatments of way-finding, intuition and color palette are applied to concepts ranging from HUDs to game initiation screens.

Game Mechanics are the building blocks that make up game-play. Students look at the various aspects of game mechanics; what they are, how they can be formed, how they interact with each other, and various topics relating to the application of game mechanics.

Building on the fundamental theories of story structure, students are given a structured series of exercises that allows them to develop the essential building blocks of their story. Classes focus on dramatic arc, conflict, character vs. characterization, backstory and dialogue.

Students study more advanced topics in level design, building on the content covered in Level Design 1-2. By the end of the term, students have demonstrated advanced topics on how to create an interactive environment for their video games and, more importantly, how to make their levels fun.

This course continues the students learning in how to use Unity to develop 3D games. Course content will focus on specific aspects of the Unity engine, including common scripting tasks such as character navigation, animation, physics, and importing and modifying art assets such as models, textures, and materials. This course will be of particular benefit to students using Unity for their final project, though is of interest to all students.

This introductory course focuses on the modelling and texturing skills required to build simple environments. Using Maya students begin by modelling simple objects. After practicing these techniques they move on to design and build an environment.

Live operations covers the design and management strategies for the work required on games once they go live to the public—for many titles, especially (but not limited to) mobile games, this is when the work really begins! How do you engage your player-base for weeks, months, or even years?

Students create an original game in a team-based environment. Student use the Unity game engine realize their vision. Students gain valuable game development experience through overcoming team conflicts, meeting milestones and submitting major deliverables. The course concludes with a final presentation of the game to the entire Game Design student body and staff.

Animation Materials and Shaders focuses on giving the students the necessary skills and knowledge required to effectively deliver visually engaging game products that would be at home in today’s evolving industry. The early part of the term will focus on rigging art animation, familiarizing students with the workflows of the Rigger and Animator on a game team, rigging characters with controllers and animating them. The latter part of the term will focus on working with materials and shaders to explore what can be done beyond the “built-in” or “off-the-shelf” materials provided by todays’ game engines.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

The Detailed Design Docs course takes the student’s design document skills started in Game Theory (Digital), and expands on them with a course focused on document creation and editing. This takes student ideas from concept to a document that provides the details needed for a development team to create a game.

This course explores a number of management models and discusses their application to various situations likely to be encountered in the game industry.

In Terms 5 and 6, students design and build an industry-style project using tools and techniques that they have learned in Terms 1-4. Students plan out their projects, what tools they will use to build them, put together a project plan, and build and monitor their progress based on milestone deliverables.

This course explores the technical workflow required to establish the framework upon which games are structured. Students evaluate engines and game technology, determine a technical implementation plan, and create a technical Design Document for their final project. Students learn how to use industry standard version control software and use it throughout their final project development. Students also develop and present working prototypes for three key features of their games.

Non-linear storytelling techniques have become an essential skill for the game designer, the DVD developer, and the digital designer intending to seduce an online audience. This course delves into the vagaries of interactive narrative, highlighting the problems encountered by storytellers wrestling with this form. The course builds to each student developing – and executing — a non-linear story concept based on a linear story strategy.

Students learn the value of modular and procedural level design techniques to enhance gameplay and reduce production costs. Students also learn about the different considerations for specific subsets of level design, such as cover combat layouts, race track designs, and puzzle game levels. During this time students utilize industry best practices to build these levels, and discover their own approach to building game levels. By the end of the term, students have practical experience following best practices and processes for designing and constructing levels for different genres of games. This knowledge will be directly applicable to their industry projects and portfolios.

Building on fundamental programming skills learned in Programming and Unity classes, this course continues to refine the students' abilities as related to game development. Advanced game programming and techniques are explored using the C# Language in Unity, as well as advanced topics pertinent to game development, including optimization techniques and best practices.

This advanced course focuses on the modelling and texturing skills required to build professional-level portfolio pieces. Using MAYA and ZBrush, students will produce one highly polished, portfolio-quality piece. Professional workflows will be introduced to further detail models and textures. Students will be assessed on a continuous basis in class and on completed final assignments. The lessons will consist of demonstrations followed direct production workshop sessions. This course provides the students with the proper workflow for creating highly detailed pieces which will help them build out their professional portfolios.

With game levels using ever larger environments, good quality set dressing and detailed immersive lighting is needed to enhance the game experience. In this course, we will learn how to quickly prototype an environmental model, create vertex lighting, and ambient occlusion texture maps for game levels. Using Photoshop and Maya, students will construct and texture these models and learn to get them game-ready for exporting to game engines.

Term 5 Course Descriptions

Working in small teams, students leverage skills, assets, and software applications to create either a sophisticated level modification or an experimental gameplay prototype. Producers and designers from local game studios are carefully selected to work as student mentors for the life of the project. The Game Design supervisor and other Game Design staff are deployed to ensure each project cycle corresponds to the academic requirements of the school. Continues to Term 6.

Springing from the work undertaken in Game Mechanics, this course exposes students to the fundamental methodologies employed by game developers to identify and correct game mechanic failures. In addition to game tuning considerations, students are also given hands-on practice with an asset management system.

The development of games is not only about creativity, technical, and artistic elements; it also has diverse business aspects. This course provides students with a grounding in the three key areas of business associated with game development. The course consists of three separate sessions: Legal Wrangling; Dollars and Sense; and Marketing Savvy.

This hands-on course introduces game designers to the tools and techniques of film production. In addition to pre-production basics, the course provides a comprehensive overview of camera operation, sound and lighting techniques, as well as the storyboarding process. Each student writes a cinematic treatment and create a storyboard for a film trailer.

Term 6 Course Descriptions

With production cycles in the industry now creaking past the 24-month mark, it is crucial that future producers (and their staff) understand and identify where things went wrong. Examining a number of theories and approaches, this course draws on the students’ own experiences at VFS to explore the best way to ensure that one never makes the same mistake twice.

A crucial facet of a student’s preparation for the reality of a post-VFS existence is the design and development of an online portfolio. Not only does this serve as a useful repository of the student’s work to date, it also allows them to showcase their artistic and technical process. Using webtools such as Dreamweaver, students create a portfolio that showcases their best work and creativity over the course of the one-year program.

As crucial as a portfolio is the student’s preparation for securing their first position. This mentored workshop guides students through the process of corporate research, networking, résumé preparation and interview techniques. At the conclusion of this course, students should have several first interviews arranged with local game development studios.