Course Syllabus


Introduction to Game Prototyping

Summer II 2020  |  Online  | MTWThF 12:00-1:20pm  (via Zoom)
Carnegie Mellon University, Entertainment Technology Center

Credits: 9

Course Website –

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Ask most students about their dream job and a large proportion of them will tell you that they would love to design games.   As a job title, “Game Designer” has achieved an almost mythical status, and like most mythical things, the details of what makes a game designer remains shrouded in mystery.   Ironically, you most likely already ARE a game designer, or at least you have been.  You may not have recognized that you were doing it at the time, and most likely you were not paid to do it, but at some point you looked at a game that you were participating in, stopped to consider what was happening, and changed the conditions or rules to modify the game, and then played with this new configuration to see what happens. 

This process is the core essence of design thinking – defining the problem, ideating a solution, developing a prototype, testing with users, evaluating the results, repeating the process and evolving your product.  This is the same focus behind the scientific method – hypothesis, experiment, observation, conclusion – a repeating process that is useful to understand how something works.

This course teaches the fundamentals of designing, testing, and refining a game through lectures, workshops, individual assignments and team projects. We will examine the structure of games, strategies for generating game concepts, and methods to rapidly prototype and test designs. Students will individually modify existing games as design challenges, and will work in small teams to create and refine prototypes of new games. Topics covered will include: game mechanics and rule sets, level design, balancing game-play, the role of statistics and probability, player psychology and motivations, and prototyping and play-testing methods.

This is a 9 credit course, and will require some out-of-class time to complete individual assignments and to work with your team to produce positive results.   


  • Understand the core concepts of game design, including rules and mechanics, balance and probability, engagement and flow, emergent story and interactive narratives.
  • Practice development processes of rapid prototyping, iterative design, and playtesting.
  • Move a design through the stages of early concept development to a refined prototype, with user testing.  


The course meets daily throughout the semester.   These sessions will include lectures, workshops, open lab sessions, presentations, and critique sessions.

A typical week in the course will be as follows:

  • Monday:  Presentation / Project Review
  • Tuesday:  Topic Lecture
  • Wednesday:  Workshop or Team Collaboration Time
  • Thursday: Topic Lecture
  • Friday: Workshop or Team Collaboration Time

The order is subject to change to meet schedule demands, but most weeks will follow this pattern.

Students will be graded on their in-class participation, their performance on individual assignments, their performance on their team assignments (process grade), and the quality of the projects delivered for the team assignment (project grade). 


No prior experience or pre-requisite course is required for this class.  Students are expected to draw on their own diverse experiences, talents, and skillsets to contribute to the project.  Everybody will have a role and a responsibility in the development of their games. 


  • Attendance is expected for all class sessions.  (Exception: If you are unable to attend, please send a note to the instructor explaining your absence)
  • If you know you will be unable to attend class, it is also your responsibility to communicate this and coordinate with your teammates
  • Repeated unexcused absences may result in a reduction of your final grade.
  • Be on time.  Repeated late arrival will result in a reduction of your participation grade.
  • Please share your video feed, if possible.  This class is meant to be collaborative, and it works better when we can see each other and participate as a group.
  • Be respectful of each other.
  • Be helpful, honest, and respectful with your teammates.
  • Plan ahead and leave appropriate time to complete your work and meet your deadlines and deliverables.  Especially for team projects, when other people may be depending on you.


Project parameters and deliverables will be distributed at the beginning of each assignment.  If you have questions about the assignment or deadlines, please ask.

Project deliverables and documentation (for both interim and final submissions) must be submitted by the deadline.  Typically, this deadline will be before the start of class on the day of the presentation/critique.  Late projects will assume a penalty.

“LAST KNOWN GOOD” POLICY:   Deliverables are expected to function during our weekly reviews.  Submitting or displaying broken or unplayable builds may result in a penalty or incomplete grade.  It is recommended that your team adopt and adhere to a process to regularly back-up your work during development.  A cornerstone of a solid back-up strategy is having a “last known good” policy in place, where a successful and playable build of your game is saved as a snapshot, independent of your ongoing development.  Using this policy ensures that you still have something to show in class in the event of something going catastrophically wrong with your current build (which happens way more often than you think).

Students are expected to turn in their own work.  Don’t cheat or plagiarize.  Please review CMU’s policy on Academic Integrity.   Materials created by someone else (code, photographs, music, etc) must include proper permission and/or attribution.  Use of code libraries must be approved on a case-by-case basis.

Teams maintain ownership of the intellectual property of their creations for this class.   It is a good practice for teams to agree upon their own IP policy and sign a written version of the agreement, just in case.  CMU retains a nonexclusive royalty-free license to use projects created for this class for academic, demonstration, and research purposes.


Students in this course will be graded individually for participation and individual assignments, and as a group for team assignments.  Team assignments will receive a project grade that reflects the quality of the final product, and a process grade that reflects the quality of effort, organization, and teamwork put forth by the team.   All team members will receive the same project grades.  Process grades will be determined through a combination of instructor observation and peer evaluation.  

Grading Breakdown:

  • 20% Individual Assignments and Participation
  • 30% Team Projects
  • 50% Final Project

Grades for this course are assigned based on the following table:

97%A+ExcellentExceeds expectations
87%B+GoodMeets expectations
77%C+SatisfactoryMeets requirements, but not expectations
67%D+UnsatisfactoryBelow requirements and expectations



If you have questions or need advice about IDeATe minors or courses, please get in touch with Kelly Delaney, the Assistant Director of IDeATe. Her office is in the IDeATe offices in the basement of Hunt Library, and her email is


Take care of yourself.  Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) is here to help: call 412-268-2922 and visit their website at Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help getting connected to the support that can help.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night:

CaPS: 412-268-2922

Re:solve Crisis Network: 888-796-8226

If the situation is life threatening, call the police:

       On campus: CMU Police: 412-268-2323

       Off campus: 911