53-471 / 53-671  SYLLABUS

Game Design, Prototyping, and Production

Spring 2021  |  Remote  |  M-W-F 10:30am – 12:20pm
Carnegie Mellon University, Entertainment Technology Center

Credits: 15

Course Website –

Professor: Tom Corbett (

TA: Trento von Lindenberg (


Please email ( or ( to reserve a meeting time.


Are you curious about what it would be like to work in the game industry?  This course will give you first hand experience designing and developing video games.  You will work as a member of a development studio in a fast-paced, deadline driven environment, and by the end of the semester you will have made four games for your portfolio.

(That is what is commonly known as an “elevator pitch”, a brief 15 second description designed to convey enough information to communicate an idea, and to entice and persuade further action from the recipient.  Many successful games begin as simple pitches like that one.  See?  You’re learning things already.)

This class will cover principles of game design and mechanics, development processes such as rapid prototyping and iterative design, and common methods of project management for creative software development. It will examine business aspects of the industry that impact our designs, including demographics, economic models, budgets, and marketing.  Students will experience these processes first hand as they work in collaborative, cross-disciplinary teams.  The class will be organized into “game studios” to tackle design challenges and create new games of their very own.  Students on the teams will engage in hands-on development, and serve in the various roles typically found on a development team including artists, programmers, designers, producers and more.

This is a 15 credit course, as it requires a significant amount of outside-of-class work with your team to produce positive results.   Please reserve the appropriate amount of time for your classwork and respect the schedules of your teammates.


  • 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 and iterative design, and production methods such as “agile” development and playtesting.
  • Experience the roles and structure of a game development team as you realize your own games from brainstorming to final delivery.
  • Explore the structure, methods, and economics of the games industry to understand how these affect decision-making and development.
  • Design experiences that allow first-time users to learn and play your games.


The course is scheduled to meet every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the semester.   These sessions will include lectures, workshops, speakers, open lab sessions, and project presentation and critique sessions.  Given the remote nature of this course, there may be adjustments made to the delivery and modality of the class sessions.  

A typical week in the course will be as follows:

  • Monday: Project Presentations / Review
  • Wednesday: Lecture
  • Friday: Workshop, Guest Lecture, or Lab Session 

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 product generated by the team (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. 



Projects for this class will be developed using the Unity game development engine.  (  Unity offers a “Personal” edition which is free to install and use.  Students should coordinate with their team as to which release version they will use.  Use of beta release versions is not recommended.  

This course will not teach you how to use Unity.  If you have not used the engine before it is highly recommended that you go through the beginner tutorials that Unity offers on their website to familiarize yourself with the software.  


There is no required book for this class, but it is highly recommended that you pick up “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” by Jesse Schell.  The book has a companion deck of cards that is not required, but is also highly recommended as they are immensely useful.  (The cards are also available as a free app from the Apple Store and Google Play)


Other development resources such as equipment and software are available through IDeATe, University Libraries, and Computing Resources.  Please refer to their sites for more information.


For development in this course, the instructor will assume the role of the “Publisher” and you will assume the role of a member of a game studio.  You should approach your interactions with the instructor, as well as with your fellow students, as though this were a real-life work environment.  While this course offers opportunities to experiment with design and take greater risks than you would in the real world, you are still expected to conduct yourself as professional adults at all times, and will be held to such a standard. 

  • Attendance via Zoom is expected for all live class sessions.  Asynchronous session expectations will be discussed in class.  
  • Excused absences will be considered on a case-by-case basis.  If you know you will be unable to attend, please let the instructor know ahead of time.  It is also your responsibility to communicate this and coordinate with your teammates.
  • If you are unable to participate in class sessions due to technical issues, please inform the instructor as soon as you can.
  • 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.
  • Be awake, engaged and participatory.
  • Be respectful of our guests, our staff, and your classmates.
  • Be helpful, honest, and respectful with your teammates.
  • Do your work. Meet your deadlines and deliverables.


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 (for both interim and final submissions) must be submitted by the deadline.  Typically, the deadline for team projects will be Sundays at 11:59pm.  Late projects will assume a penalty or may not be accepted at all.

“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.   In general, team members will share a project grade while process grades will be determined through a combination of instructor observation and peer evaluation.  The instructor can make adjustments to an individual student’s project or process grades based upon their specific performance or participation.

Grading Breakdown:

  • 25% Individual Assignments and Participation
  • 35% Team Projects 1-3
  • 40% Final Team Project

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

Exceeds expectations
Meets expectations
Meets requirements, but not expectations
Below requirements and expectations

Recording Policy

Synchronous class sessions will be recorded via Zoom so that students in this course (and only students in this course) can watch or review past class sessions. Please note that breakout rooms will not be recorded. Recordings will be made available on Canvas as soon as possible after each class session.  Recordings will be accessible through the Zoom tab of our Canvas website. Please note that you are not allowed to share these recordings. This is to protect your FERPA rights and those of your fellow students. 


Please read and become familiar with the IDeATe lending and purchasing policies, which can be accessed at The IDeATe facilities are shared student resources and spaces. As such, all members of the IDeATe community are expected to be respectful of the equipment, the spaces, and fellow students and their projects. Always clean up after completing your work, put things back in their correct place, and leave the lab in better condition than you found it.

Students may be required to purchase materials to complete class projects. For convenience, some materials are available for borrowing and for purchase at IDeATe Lending (Hunt A29).

Due to coronavirus restrictions, IDeATe Lending will be limited or potentially unavailable.  If you need specific equipment, please email me so that I can help make arrangements with IDeATe staff.


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