Denius-Sams Gaming Academy FAQ, part 2: Lab and Coursework

19 Feb

Here’s the second part of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy FAQ. This one about the lab and coursework.

Q: Is the final plan to have 20 people make one game as one group in one year?

A: It might be better to say that the current plan is to have all 20 people in the program work on a single game for nine months. As the website says (and as Warren Spector has reported on his blog), prior to the first year – and even during that year – things could change. However, we’re confident the current plan is the right plan for the program.

Q: The academy seems to be looking for people who are well-versed in all areas of game development, but is focusing on creating a team that would require people with specific talents. Wouldn’t it be better to have several groups?

A: The idea of having several smaller groups working on multiple projects was certainly discussed but we feel the single project affords us the best chance of giving people the experience required to achieve the program’s goals. It’s true that this plan will require people who have specific talents and we will be looking for such people, perhaps moreso than we are for generalists who can wear many hats. The class of 20 will be selected with specific skillsets and the ability to contribute in mind.

Q:  I’ve seen too many student projects fail because of a bloated team size. Some people don’t feel motivated by the project or there’s not enough team communication. 

A: In a sense you’ve identified the key reason for building “one big team.” In a professional setting, lack of motivation, poor team communication and failures driven by team size are cause for termination. In an academic setting, failures are learning situations. Academe is one of the few environments where failure is possible with minimal risk. An experienced teaching staff will be there to provide guidance and input, identifying and leading efforts to address problems as they occur (and they will occur!). However, the success or failure of the program will be measured by the knowledge and skills of the people who complete it, not by the start-to-finish perfection of a development effort.

Q: If everyone is focused on leadership, how will development leads be determined?

A: The current plan is to have teaching staff take the lead in lab, handing off the reins at specific, predetermined moments and/or when challenges arise. In this way, everyone will get multiple chances to apply in lab the lessons learned in class. How and when the predetermined moments come will be determined during the course of each semester of work.

Q: Will each student get a chance to lead the student-team in some capacity?

A: Absolutely. Each student will get hands-on experience of holding the reins. Leadership will be assigned and passed along at specific, key moments in development, and at planned or unexpected challenge points. Teaching staff will also fill leadership roles at various points, to provide role models and to ensure continuity.

Q: Will development be democratic or top-down?

A: There are as many ways to structure a team and coordinate the activities of team members as there are people making games. We will explore several of them in class and apply appropriate methods in lab at each phase of development. The group will experience top-down team structures, flat structures, agile/scrum and waterfall methods at various points. Having said that, democracy doesn’t, typically, work very well in development!

Q: How will the initial ideation-phase work?

A: Experience in handling the early phases of development—ideation and conceptualization—will be handled through a combination of coursework and lab work. In class, each student will conceptualize several potential projects, alone and in small groups. This will involve some documentation, the creation of pitches (in presentations and other forms) as well as scoping and team-building exercises. In lab, all participants in the program will be involved in the conceptualization of the game everyone will work on during the two semesters of the program, working in small teams in a manner that reflects the realities of game conceptualization in the industry.

Q: For which platforms will we be developing?

A: Students will contribute to decisions regarding shipping platforms. Having said that, it is extremely unlikely that we will work on either current gen or next gen console development. With 20 students coming in with no experience of working together, nine months simply isn’t enough time to develop for consoles with any reasonable chance of success.

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