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INFO111/MAS111: Computer Games

INFO111 Computer Games / MAS111 Introduction to Video Games


Semester 2, 2011

Faculty: Science; Department: Computing

General Information

Credit points: 3
Convenor: Dr. M. Hitchens
Prerequisites: None (although we assume you've played a few video games - it doesn't matter which ones)

Students should read this unit guide carefully at the start of semester. It contains important information about the unit. If anything in it is unclear, please consult one of the teaching staff in the unit.

About This Unit

This unit is designed to appeal to both the potential games designer as well as media students interested in the social aspects of video games. Computer games and gaming have become part of the contemporary mainstream that rival or surpass Hollywood-style budgets. They represent the collaboration of a vast array of professionals from programmers to animators, sound engineers, story writers through conceptual artists to create a product which is as much a social artifact as any other entertainment medium.

Consider the drastically different image of a gamer in the early 90s, glued to his TV set engaged in a single-player Nintendo or Sega game for hours at a time, with his attention entirely consumed by the feedback loop between himself and the machine. Today, gamers play en masse online, in groups of up to forty at a time working together towards shared goals. Games are found in our phones; we can play anywhere. There are games that aren’t games at all, but social worlds where people ‘hang out’ together.

This unit is a collaborative project between the departments of Computing and of Media, and the subject areas reflect this joint venture. Topics include the history of computer games, their taxonomy and classifications, social and ethical considerations, as well as fundamentals of the design process and creation of a computer game. We hope to demonstrate the connections between the technical aspects and the resulting social phenomena that any given game represents. In this unit we're going to play games, think about games, talk about games and you will make a game.

The course will begin with a history of games, and a theory of what it means to play a game. Genre and classifications will help students to take in the games market as a whole, and break down the products into rough categories, to find similarities and differences as with other forms of genre-described media. Games will then be taken ‘as artifact’ and studied as a product full of social connotations, assumptions and agendas. Given this, the social groups which spawn in and around games will be examined. The fundamentals of game design will be explored, including the basics of gameplay, interface design and game difficulty. The narrative potential of games will be examined: how do games compare to traditional media (novels and films) for story-telling? Do we tell stories in games and, if so, how? And finally, a broad investigation of the games industry itself will present to students the wide scope of games design—it’s not just programming.

While some of these topics would traditionally be thought of outside the scope of a Computer Science course on Games Design, this traditional bias is precisely what we wish to shift. Gamers and gaming are no longer restricted to the traditional pigeon-hole of the late 80s and early 90s. The social phenomenon that is video gaming must be unpacked as more than flashing lights and cool graphics, and must be taken beyond the ‘violent games make violent kids’ arguments. Games have a lot going on inside and around them, and not all of it is virtual.

Teaching Staff

Role Name Email Room Office hours
Convener, Lecturer Dr. M. Hitchens michael.hitchens AT mq.edu.au E6A338 TBA
Lecturer Dr. R. Tulloch rowan.tulloch AT mq.edu.au Y3A191C TBA

All administrative emails related to INFO111/MAS111 should be sent to michael.hitchens AT mq.edu.au and must include your full name and your student id number.

Teaching and Learning

Classes

Each week you should attend one hour of lectures, a one hour tutorial and a two hour practical. For details of days, times and rooms consult the timetables webpage.

Note that practicals commence in week 2 and tutorials commence in week 1.

You should have selected a tutorial and a practical at enrolment. You should attend the tutorial and practical you are enrolled in. If you do not have a class, or if you wish to change one, you should see the enrolment operators in the E7B courtyard during the first two weeks of the semester. Thereafter you should go to the Student Centre.

Please note that you are required to attend and participate in a certain number of tutorials. Failure to do so may result in you failing the unit (see the precise requirements) or being excluded from the exam (see the rule).

Resources to assist your learning

iLecture

Digital recordings of lectures are available. Read instructions here.

Textbook

There is no texbook for INFO111/MAS111 this semester. However, required readings are available from the bookshop.

Technology

INFO111/MAS111 involves both the examination of selected games and the creation of a game of your own design. The games for this semester are:

  • First Person Shooters: Bioshock & Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
  • Role PLaying Games: Mass Effect & Titan Quest
  • Real Time Strategy: Homeworld & Supreme Commander

These games all run under Windows XP, which is the operating system in the studio.

Game Design Environment: The Kudo game engine from Microsoft will used to create your game. This is a free download and runs on both PCs and the Xbox.

Website

The web site for this unit is provided through the University's iLearn system. iLearn can be found at http://ilearn.mq.edu.au. If you are enrolled in this unit you should have access to the material on iLearn once you log on.

Discussion Boards

The discussion board for this unit can be accessed its iLearn site.

Staff-Student Liaison Committee

The Department has established a Staff-Student Liaison Committee at each level (100, 200, 300) to provide all students studying a Computing unit the opportunity to discuss related issues or problems with both students and staff.

The committee meets three times during the semester. For each meeting, an agenda is issued and minutes are taken. These are posted on the web at http://www.comp.mq.edu.au/units/100-liaison

If you have exhausted all other avenues, then you should consult the Director of Teaching (Dr. Christophe Doche) or the Head of Department (Prof. Bernard Mans). You are entitled to have your concerns raised, discussed and resolved.

Student Support Services

Macquarie University provides a range of Academic Student Support Services. Details of these services can accessed at http://www.student.mq.edu.au.

Topic List

Week Topic Reading
1 Introduction & History of Games week 1 in reader
2 Genre Fundamentals week 2 in reader
3 Game Design 1 week 3 & 4 in reader
4 Game Design 2 week 3 & 4 in reader
5 Game Design 3 week 5 in reader
6 Critical Theory and Ludology week 6 in reader
7 Narrativity and Storytelling week 7 in reader
8 Game Criticism week 8 in reader
9 Social Gaming & MMOs week 9 in reader
10 Gamers and Subculture week 10 in reader
11 Games and Society to be available through unit website
12 The Games Industry to be available through unit website
13 Guest Lecture none

Teaching and Learning Strategy

INFO111/MAS111 is taught via lectures, tutorials and practical sessions in the laboratory. Lectures are used to introduce new material and discuss concepts and issues in the study of computer games. While lectures are largely one to many presentations, you are encouraged to ask questions of the lecturer to clarify anything you might not be sure of. Tutorials are small group classes which give you the opportunity to interact with your peers and with a tutor who has a sound knowledge of the subject. Each tutorial will include presentations from students on the weekly topic, and discussions around that topic with input from both the students and the tutor. Tutorials are important in developing a deeper understanding of the issues introduced in lectures. Practical classes give you an opportunity to study games in a practical way - by playing them and by creating your own game content. Each week you will be working on material related to the current assignment; it is important that you keep up with this work in order to successfuly complete the assignment.

Each week you should:

  • Attend lectures, take notes, ask questions.
  • Attend your tutorial and participate in the classd discussions.
  • Attend the practical session, and seek feedback from the practical demonstrator on your work.
  • Read the appropriate course notes, add to your notes and prepare questions for your lecturer or tutor.
  • Prepare for next week's tutorial discussion.

Lecture notes will be made available each week but these notes are intended as an outline of the lecture only and are not a substitute for your own notes or course notes available from the bookshop.

Learning outcomes

It is expected that on completion of this unit/topic, students will
    • have an introductory understanding of various areas of game studies, including
      • video game design
      • video game genres
      • the elements of games, theory of game play, and how these concepts relate to video games
      • the history of video games
      • social influences in video games, during or as part of, gameplay and the social phenomena around games
      • video games as a media artifact for scholarly study
    • be able to critically engage with game studies theories
    • be able to relate material from games studies theory to example video games
  1. be able to use a game creation tool to design and produce a basic game.
  2. be able to communicate clearly and effectively, both orally and in writing, about the unit material.
These learning outcomes (L.O. for short) will be assessed against the following criteria:
  • Knowledge development and Application of knowledge for L.O. #1
  • Game design and development proficiency for L.O. #2
  • Ability to communicate and discuss for L.O. #3

See also the different standards corresponding to these criteria.

Graduate Capabilities

All academic programs at Macquarie University seek to develop a range of graduate capabilities. One of the aims of this unit is that students develop their skills in the following:

  • Discipline Specific Knowledge and skills
  • Effective Communication
  • Problem Solving and Research Capability
  • Creativity and Innovativity
  • Commitment to Continuous Learning

Assessment

The assessment policy of Macquarie University requires the use of standards based assessment. In this context, the learning outcomes are aligned with the assessment tasks and the performance of each student is evaluated against a set of predefined criteria and standards.

Assessment tasks

The following tables summarizes the different aspects of the assessment in this unit. In particular, it links each task to the learning outcomes of the unit.

Task Due Date Workload Feedback Learning outcomes assessed Weight
Tutorial Presentation As arranged with tutor 5 hours week after presentation #1 & #3 10%
5+5
Tutorial Response As arranged with tutor 2 hour week after response #1 & #3 10%
5+5
Essay week 10 30 hours week after submission #1 & #3 30%
20+10
Practical Exercises week 2,3 4 hours week after submission #2 5%
Game Proposal week 5 5 hours week after submission #2 & #3 5%
3+2
Draft Game Design Document week 9 10 hours week after submission #2 & #3 10%
7+3
Game and Final design documentation week 12 30 hours week after submission #1, #2 & #3 30%
5+20+5

Note that a certain number of requirements must be fulfilled in order to pass this unit.
If you cannot complete a piece of work please contact the convenor before the due date. Check also the special consideration policy.
A more detailed description of each task is given below.

Tutorial Presentation and Response

There are two parts to the tutorial-based assessment. The first is a short presentation, whereby the student assumes leadership of class discussion based on the weeks' reading material. The presentation should explore the subject, asking questions, and providing suggestions for answers.

The second part is a response week, where the student will be the designated 'question-asker.' Each presenter will rely partially on the class as audience to ask questions to help generate discussion. To ensure each presenter has the opportunity to answer raised questions, the respondent will be required to bring several questions, notes, issues or reflections that he or she can raise during the tutorial.

Essay

You will write a 1500 word critical (not commercial) review of a videogame. Your piece should demonstrate a deep understanding of some section of the game, with reference to other games for comparison. We will suggest some possible games for you to review (see the list under technology above) but you may be able to negtotiate another choice with your tutor.

Practical Exercises

Some simple exercises to ensure you are comfortable with the Kodu game engine. YOu will do these, and submit them, in your practical classes.

Designing and Documenting a Game

In the practical sessions of the unit you will design and implement a game. You will first have to submit a short proposal outlining the game you intend to create. This will both focus your thoughts and allow your tutor to review the practicality of your proposal. The draft design document will describe the game play, characters, world, etc of your game. The final submission will be the game itself and final verison of the design document. In week 12 you will be required to describe your game in one-on-one communication with your practical tutor.

General notes on assessment

For all work you are encouraged to:

  • set your personal deadline earlier than the actual one;
  • keep backups of all your important files;
  • make sure that no-one else picks up your printouts.

Late submission of the essay and game proposal/design/final submission will be accepted, but penalised at the rate of 10% per working day late. If you cannot submit material on time because of illness or other adverse circumstances, please contact the convenor at the earliest possible time.

If you are unable to attend your tutorials on the dates assigned for your presentation and/or response please contact your tutor at the earliest possible time.

Standards and Grading

Unlike many units, INFO111/MAS111 covers a wide range of areas. Therefore it is not appropriate to identify core knowledge and assess the students' mastery of that at increaing levels of complexity. Instead, the attainment of learning outcome #1 is based on the amount of knowledge the student gains across the range of the unit, as assessed by performance in the tutorials, essay and final game documentation. Learning outcome #2 is assessed through performance in designing and delivering a completed game, with accompanying documentation. Learning outcome #3 is assessed through tutorial tasks, quality of written work and in the verbal description of your game to the tutor. Performance in assessment is based on a progression of attainment, as indicated below:

Standards
L.O. 1
Fail
Pass
Credit
Distinction
High Distinction
Knowledge development
Inaccurate reproduction of definitions and ideas, show limited understanding
Reproduce definitions and ideas, demonstrate breadth but limited depth of understanding
Show breadth and depth of understanding, demonstrate some evidence of being able to critically evaluate ideas and concepts.
Show breadth and depth of understanding, demonstrate sustained evidence of being able to critically evaluate ideas and concepts.
Show breadth and depth of understanding, demonstrate sustained evidence of being able to critically evaluate ideas and concepts and substantial originality and insight in the evaluation.
L.O. 2
Fail
Pass
Credit
Distinction
High Distinction
Game design proficiency
Limited ability to design a basic game
Able to design a basic game of a standard close to that of the example game
Able to design a basic game of a standard equivalent to that of the example game
Satisfy the standard for credit and in the design demonstrate some outstanding work beyond the standard of the example game
Satisfy the standard for credit and in the design demonstrate sustained outstanding and imaginative design
Game development proficiency
Unable to use most of the the functionality of the chosen game engine as covered in the example game
Able to use most of the the functionality of the chosen game engine as covered in the example game
Able to use the functionality of the chosen game engine as covered in the example game
Satisfy the standard for credit and demonstrate some ability to use functionality of the chosen game engine beyond that covered in the example game
Satisfy the standard for credit and demonstrate considerable ability to use functionality of the chosen game engine beyond that covered in the example game
L.O. 3
Fail
Pass
Credit
Distinction
High Distinction
Ability to communicate and discuss
Unable to engage orally in group discussion. Material nominated unrelated to designated topic.
Satisfactory presentation skills or material identified is relevant, the other is lacking
Satisfactory presentation skills and material identified is relevant
Excellent presentation skills and highly developed material, insightful discussion of notes and/or research outside provided sources.
Excellent presentation skills and highly developed material, insightful discussion of and critical engagement with both notes and research outside provided sources.

Your final grade will depend on your performance in each part of the assessment of the unit. In particular, to pass this unit you must do all of the following:

  • attempt both the tutorial presentation and the tutorial response.
  • Attend at least nine (9) tutorial sessions.
  • obtain a combined mark of at least 22 out of 50 for the tutorial and essay work.
  • obtain a combined mark of at least 20 out of 45 for the three game design tasks.
  • obtain an overall mark of at least 50% (calculated according to the weightings given above).

Obtaining a higher grade than a pass in this unit will require a student to satisfy the above conditions and obtain the required total number of marks (Credit - 65, Distinction - 75, High Distinction - 85).

Changes since last offering

This unit used to have a final examination - now it doesn't. We have increased the weight given to the game design task.

Policies

Macquarie is developing a number of policies in the area of learning and teaching. Approved policies and associated guidelines and procedures can be found at Policy Central. There you will find the University's policy and associated procedures on:

  • Assessment
  • Special Consideration
  • Plagiarism
  • Grade Appeal

Assessment

The procedure implementing the assessment policy can be found here.

Special Consideration

Special Consideration is intended for a student who is prevented by serious and unavoidable disruption from completing any unit requirements in accordance with their ability.
In this case, you should follow the procedure implementing the policy available here.

The actual application form is available here.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism involves using the work of another person and presenting it as one's own. The Department, in line with University policy, treats all cases seriously. In particular, the Department, and the University, keeps a record of all plagiarism cases. This record is referred to so that an appropriate penalty can be applied to each case.
More details are available here.

Grade Appeal

In case of problems arising from the final unit grade with the academic staff members, the first step is to request a review of your grade. The Department recommends that you submit a request in writing to the convenor of the unit in order to arrange a review session. If this review does not resolve the problem, a formal Grade Appeal can be lodged. The policy covering the process can be found here. Applications can be made here.