Thursday, 3 May 2012

If you are an independent or "garage-based" game designer your input is key to the design of an Independent Video Game Design & Development program at Dawson College. The program is slated to start Jan. 2013, if there appears to be enough interest in the community.

It would help if we knew:
  1. where you are in your career as an indie, how you got there, and where you want to go; 
  2. what you need to know and the what skills you need to acquire to achieve your goal(s); 
  3. what other general support would help you; 
  4. what types of games you are working on; and 
  5. what technologies you use or want to use. 
Below is a rough outline to get the ball rolling, although at this stage even the overall objectives are up for grabs.

An esteemed board of external advisors have commented on this outline (see below), and there's a split between those who would like to make it an incubator-style program, and those that would like to see some preparation at a more basic level. What do you think?

Independent Video Game Design & Development (IVGDD) A.E.C. Program
Certification: Attestation of College Studies
Schedule: 900 hours – Part-time evening over two years

Growing interest in mobile, casual and social gaming, accessibility to game development tools, and new platforms for distribution, has made independent game development a global, economically viable sector of the gaming industry. The IVGDD A.E.C program is being designed to:
  1. accelerate students toward a career in game design; 
  2. support the production and marketing of commercially viable games; 
  3. support new and innovative game creation; 
  4. provide training in entrepreneurship. 
In general, it is expected that graduates of this program will not find employment as game designers in the mainstream industry. It will, however, accelerate them along this career path or toward a career as an entrepreneur / game designer in the independent game design industry. The IVGDD program will achieve this overall goal by providing graduates the prerequisite knowledge, skills, production experience, promotion and marketing experience, and as a portfolio of self-published games.

Although game design for triple-a games could be an objective of the program, design and production experience should be skewed toward ludic/abstract/mobile/social games, as these can be produced in the timeframe provided: the program can be at most, approx. 900 hrs.

IVGDD will be funded by the Ministère de l'Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport and will be open to anyone who meets the Ministerial and Program Requirements, and be tuition free.

Given Montreal’s high standing in the world of interactive entertainment, interest in the local community in this area, and the lack of quality programs, it is believed the IVGDD program will attract a large number of motivated and well-prepared applicants.

Program Description
A key element of video game creation is game design. Game Designers in the mainstream industry establish the broad outlines of the game: the high level concept, unique features, story, setting, characters, goals, types of challenges, number and difficulty of the levels, mission outlines, progression, rules and mechanics, and style. They work with the leads to validate the technical feasibility of the concept and the coherence of the overall vision of the game. They work with the creative director, the art director, the design team and the art team to ensure the coherence of the levels with respect to the overall scenario and vision.

Independent game designers are often also required to be more flexible: including art and creative direction, assisting in the creation of art assets, scripting, sound design, playtesting, debugging, marketing, etc.

The overall aim of the Independent Video Game Design program is to help students move toward a career in game design, with an emphasis on the independent games industry. The program is specifically designed to develop creative, conceptual, technical, collaboration, communication and entrepreneurial skills, focusing in particular on designing and marketing of (preferably innovative) video games.

Candidates should possess characteristics such as excellent communication and teamwork skills, a sense of design and innovation, creativity, an aptitude for teamwork, proficiency in working with computers, and be detail oriented. Prior game design or level design, programming or scripting skills is an important asset.

Exit Profile
Upon successful completion of the Independent Video Game Design, the graduate will have acquired the skills and competencies to perform the tasks of an entry-level position related to the occupation of Game Designer in either the mainstream or independent video gaming industry. Additionally graduates will have acquired the underlying entrepreneurial skills and competencies necessary to start-up their own independent game design studio.

Graduates will be able to:
  1. analyze and compare the design of various games 
  2. design, produce, promote, market games of various genres 
  3. use relevant application software in the exercise of the profession 
  4. work and communicate effectively with team members 
  5. present and communicate effectively with investors, publishers, and distributors 
  6. effectively manage time and stress during individual and group work 
List of (Suggested) Courses: 225 hrs. per term, Total 900 hrs.

Term 1:
Scripting I, 60 hrs.
Intro to 2D Game Art, 45 hrs.
Game Analysis, 60 hrs.
Introduction to Game Design & Development, 60 hrs.

Term 2:
Scripting II, 45 hrs.
Game Production I, 60 hrs.
Game Narrative, 60 hrs.
Entrepreneurship in the Gaming Industry I, 45 hrs.

Term 3:
Game Design, 60 hrs.
Intro to Level Design, 45 hrs.
Scripting III, 60 hrs.
Introduction to 3D Modeling and Animation, 60 hrs.

Term 4:
Game Production II, 90 hrs.
Scripting IV, 45 hrs.
Entrepreneurship in the Gaming Industry II, 45 hrs.
Portfolio Preparation, 45 hrs.

First term courses prepare students for production in the 2nd term, and similarly, 3rd term courses prepare students for production in the 4th term. Scripting plays a supporting role to the game production courses in terms 2 and 4.

Given the limited time of the program, it is thought best to stick to one game engine /editor, namely Unity3D.

Technology / Software
Scripting, Game Production and Level Design
Intro to 2D Game Art
Photoshop, Illustrator, Gimp
Introduction to Game Design & Development Game Design, and Game Narrative
MS Office, Visio (or equivalent), MindManager
Introduction to 3D Modeling and Animation
3DS Max

Here are some comments from the external advisors regarding the program:

I'm just going to blurt out some thoughts without any regard for the realities and constraints of actually building and approving a CEGEP program...

Nice to see that there are scripting and asset classes proposed, but on the whole it would be nice if the program was able to take in (and specifically work to attract) a broader set of students with different core backgrounds (ie, art, code, design, biz, etc).

Everything should be massively focused on building games. Even small games. Even a new game each week. Think of the World of Goo guys and how they built a new experimental game each week for 50 weeks to "discover" the success of Goo. All project output focused, all team based.

The program hour allocation should be split 50/50 between building stuff, and then selling/marketing and all the other biz stuff. As an indie, the reality is that making a game is only half the job.

In that sense, the exit results should be a shipped game(s) and/or on the path to starting an indie studio.

Jason Della Rocca, Senior Consultant at Perimeter Partners

I concur with a lot of what Jason said, but I would actually go a bit further.

My main concern is that I'm not convinced that students with no industry experience whatsoever and/or no related training would be ready after a 900hrs AEC to design a commercially viable game from the ground up and take it through all the necessary business and marketing steps to publish it. I think this program is a great idea but should be targetted at people that have already completed some sort of training (like the Level Design AEC, or a DEC or BAC in a related field like Art, Programming, Creative Writing...) or who have equivalent industry experience.

In my humble opinion, this program should be a form of games incubator, where each term covers the development from start to finish of a different game genre, using the engine better suited for its development, along with market research, competitive analysis, marketing strategies, financing options, etc. For example, first term would be a card or board game. What pool of talent is required to make this and how do we go about getting said talents on our budget? Who is our target audience? What's out there and how do we stand out from the crowd? Do we want this to be multi-platform? How do we go about playtesting? Once we have our product, what will it cost us to print and package it? How do we go about financing this? How do we create a buzz/fan-base around it? How do we publish it? Rince repeat each term with a different game type (platformer, puzzle, point and click, FPS, etc.)

While I agree that having some design and scripting classes would be good, I'm not sure this program should be about teaching them the tools to make games, but rather teaching them how to get a production going and seeing it through to the end. People should come in already knowing the basic tools and design principles so that the program can focus on teaching them the steps to design a brand new game from pre-production to launch. Ideally, the program would be similar to what I recall was done at Ubisoft Campus in collaboration with the University of Sherbooke (I think) where there were about 16 students equally divided between college graduates in computer sciences, game design and art. So they were able to design a game from start to finish with each discipline already profiscient in their respective fields but with the mentoring of people from the industry to keep them on track.

This greatly reduces the pool of potential candidates but would greatly increase (imho) the chance that those who complete the program will have a fighting chance of succeeding.

Regine Abel: Senior Game Designer at Eidos

I personally love the aim of the program. My only fear is that the Indie Bubble might burst before the program is done. Then again, it might even be stronger at that point, who knows. A lot can happen in two years.

Perhaps the Game Design course is taught too late? I would put design before narrative, and parallel to production.

Alongside 3DS Max, I would include Sketch-Up as a 3D tool. Instead of Visio perhaps use yEd (same concept but it's free).

I feel you're missing a class on how to start a business. How to register one, do taxes, small lawyer and notary tasks, how to pay an employee, etc.. I don't know what else this course would entail, but if this program is about going Indie then it needs to cover how to be truly independent.

Osama Dorias, Game Designer at Gameloft

I think the idea of a "game-incubator" is very good, although i think that starting "production" right off the bat would be hasty.

I would split the course in two main sections, theoretical and practical.

The theoretical focused year would be split in 3 main categories, academics, administrative, and technical, to provide every student a solid base from which to go on.

Academics course examples:
  • game design & mechanics
  • level design
  • video game software & hardware history
  • game analysis
  • narrative design
Administrative course examples:
  • company creation
  • subventions & financial support
  • taxes & notary tasks
Technical course examples:
  • Mathematics & game implication
  • Physics & game implication
  • 3DS max
  • Photoshop/gimp
  • Yed
  • grasshopper / JIRA / Confluence
  • Basic coding
The first year would be punctuated with practical tasks, but beginning at a higher level to start up gently and get a keen view of our student pool, then lowering the level and getting more and more focus for the next year.

Game analysis essays, game pitches would be mandatory as individual at the beginning of the year, then the further the year passes, the more we could focus on team creation, with group pitches and paper prototypes, to train them to work fast and as a team, with one exercise per two weeks.

The second year would shuffle teams every month and go on with more concrete game creation, with playable prototypes being a reasonable goal towards the second half of the year. Each prototype will have to touch a different genre, to put the student out of their comfort zone and allow them to discover mechanics form a type of game they would have otherwise omit.

I would also recommend mandatory technical constraints for each prototype, again to open the student perspective, from HTML5/flash to unity/unreal.

Along with the incubator, the students would also work on business models study and creation, because as good as the game is, it cannot be a financial success without the proper marketing/hype/business model.

Matthieu Bonnet, Game Designer at Gameloft

I think students should graduate with at least a basic understanding of the following "hard" skills:

  • Scripting/programming 
  • Game design and theory 
  • UI and interface design 
  • 3d modelling and animation 
  • 2d art / texturing 
Certain "soft" skills I would expect the program to focus on:
  • Autonomy and drive (if you're indie, there's no one to force you to work but yourself!) 
  • Budgeting and estimates (finding out how much time/money/skill you have and making a game that fits that) 
  • Outgoing (being able to find and vet talent, to promote yourself) 
  • Teamwork (for obvous reasons!) 
Simon Préfontaine, Game Designer at Gameloft

I think the base of this program for one-man developers is that they be able to actually develop games, theory and business follow. In that case I think the program distribution should be like this: 60% development / 30% Theory / 10% Business.

The question of platform is pretty important:

  • They can only learn any platform so well in a given amount of time. 
  • Related to this is the concept of learning to make 2D games, versus 3D games, which is are two different ball games when it comes to doing it all yourself. 
With that in mind, my recommendations:

One year, one platform, one dimension: if the program is destined to be only a 1 year program, then people should only learn one platform to be able to really learn it well. Similarly, they should also stick doing either 2D or 3D games, not both though.

Start with 2D, follow with 3D:

  • In terms of how much you need to learn to do something yourself, 2D games are lighter. Like Dann said, Flash is a good platform, we even use it on triple A games to handle our interfaces. 
  • 3D games can follow up the year after, learning animation, modeling, cinematography and all that jazz can be jammed up in there 
  • Program: In a term, I think 3/4 of the classes should be dedicated to development, while the last one is dedicated to delivering theory and coordination for the whole thing. 
  • So for example Two classes can be dedicated to learning more something like Flash and action script/Math/System Architecture/Implementation. 
  • One class Art, like said 2D, animation etc.. 
One Mother class, 90hrs long, where students are introduced to game production process, then taught creativity, Game design concepts, Level design, Narrative, etc… In later terms this class can get more serious where we start talking about business aspects of game creation and so on.

The above class can feasibly be split into two but I like the idea of having at least one class that allows students to orient themselves and come up with game ideas. This class can also help coordinate with the other classes so that assignments given are related to theory they’re learning. I think you can draw a parallel with the current term we’re going through now.

Ahmad Saad, Senior Game Design at Eidos Montreal

Overall I think the program orientations are very good, the business aspect of it is a great innovation. Everything in there is extremely useful to independant game devs, but I think it might be short of a few things, however:

I think that using Unity3D as your only game development program might be problematic on some levels.

  • Web-based games are often made with Flash, which is also a good intro to OOP and a pretty good lead-in to using javascript for Unity. 
  • Most free softwares use visual programming (I'm not sure it's the right term for it... it's that interface type where you link boxes together, like in Game Salad). Those are pretty powerful prototyping softwares and often include an exporter to flash and/or iOS at a fairly low price (which means some independent devs might take that route).
This you will probably not agree with, but I believe you should make a 3-years DEC (Technique) with this project instead of an AEC (or offer both??). 

  • DEC opens the way to Baccalaureates if the student wishes to go there. 
  • I believe that focusing a game designers formation on games and creativity alone is a mistake. Knowledge of literature, languages and humanities is a vastly underestimated asset for any designer. 
  • Similarly to my previous point, I believe the curriculum is missing some Math. 
  • Basic understanding of integrals, geometry and algebra (as well as math in general) helps student develop a better grasp of general logic (which is pretty useful in programming and systemic thinking), 3d environments, physics and game balancing. 
  • On top of this, having Math 103, 105 and 203 in your courses list can open the way to most Computer Science bacc's in Montreal. 
  • Finally, I noticed that your game history class (intro to the game industry?) is not in the list. 
  • In my experience, students without any game history formation tend to either become very close-minded (redo Mass Effect or Skyrim at every game design project) or re-invent classic games unknowingly.
Dann Godin, Chargé de formation pratique at Université de Montréal


  1. Hi,

    I am the owner of a small video game development studios located on the south-shore that specialize in mobile game development. We currently have 2 game launched on iOS and Android Store.

    I really think that the most important part for me besides creating the game is the marketing: this is the part I was lacking and I still miss some notion that would help me reach a bigger market.

    I would suggest adding a video-editing course.

    We are building our 2D games with Corona SDK: the development time is fast with Lua and the support from the community is really great.

    This is really a great idea,

    Francois-Sebastien Trudel-Benoit
    Owner of Totemic Studios Inc.

    1. Thanks for the input Francois-Sebastien. If we move toward an incubator-syle program, as Jason suggests above, would a 50/50 split between production and marketing work for you? Would it be make sense for your team to work on your games at Dawson (in a dedicated lab)?

  2. One thing to consider, re Jason DR's model, is that it really privileges a certain type of designer. I get that the obsessive hacker/jammer/churner model is currently idolized in indie games, but also want to point out that a) these guys do pretty well without being in a program, and b) we're almost always talking 20yr old dudes here. It'd be great if we could get some diversity in the indie scene, is all I'm saying.

    Re: using Unity as the core development environment: as you of course know, Unity can be used to make Flash games, Android games, iOS games, PC/Mac games, console games, etc. etc. Having used it to create 2D games exclusively, I can say while it certainly isn't optimized for this, the benefits of learning the ins and outs of the tool without having to also worry about 3D assets are pretty high. It is fairly easy to ramp up enough Javascript knowledge to do some pretty sophisticated things in Unity, and the support and available resources for it are exceptional. To be honest (and having used Flash extensively), Flash is in no way "easier" than Unity (Flash I think I can scientifically call a monstrous frankentool and curse on all multimedia, and I'm pretty sure all Flash devs would agree ;-)

    I would also like to suggest it is in fact very useful to develop experience in all aspects of game production, rather than strictly specializing. Obviously, people will find their "roles," but knowing exactly what is involved in all aspects of production (and possibly being able to fill in in a pinch) is probably more valuable in an indie environment than with a larger company. Plus, we shouldn't necessarily conflate 'commercially viable' with 'graphically and technically sophisticated' (take an incredibly successful game like Canabalt for example).

    Perhaps something else to consider (and something I tell my students) is that the first game anyone completes is probably going to be pretty terrible. What is important is that it is complete, and that you get that first terrible game out of the way so that you can make a second game that is actually decent. In this regard, it's pretty useful to have students complete at least one game in the first year.

    Cindy Poremba

  3. I know next to nothing about Video games but a few thing came to mind as I read the comments ;

    -As an AEC program, presumably students would have a DEC already - ideally in what, if there was an ideal applicant ...Dawson offers 2 other AEC programs in the same field ( Video games) . How do they overlap one another in regards to skills and subject matter? perhaps define why would one take this program rather than one of the others offered... How they compare /complement each other?

    - In regards to business oriented courses maybe something in regard to international business laws and practices and intellectual property might be important to address. How would graduates function as entrepreneurs internationally?

    - and on a different tact , addressing what kind/type of games are produced in different regions might be interesting... and is this program also being offered in French at another local CEGEP? Is so , perhaps some exchange , or a competition of sorts might be an interesting project.

    - As Cindy mentioned , diversity should be promoted - I've read of programs/contests(?) ( I can't remember where /what ) in which young women competed / teamed up to produce games specifically for the girls market ( for instance) ...

    1. Hi Bubba,

      -- A DEC is not needed to take an AEC. Program Requirements are:
      ● Quebec Secondary School Diploma (DES) or equivalent
      ● Quebec Diploma of Professional Studies (DEP) or equivalent
      ● A combination of experience and/or training deemed appropriate for the program.
      ● English language skills equivalent to placement at Preparation for College English or
      higher. Applicants may be required to take an English placement exam.

      Currently, the only other video game program being offered at Dawson is Level Design and it is being offered through Emploi-Quebec. This means to get in you have to meet one of the following conditions:
      • You are receiving Employment Insurance benefits
      • You have received Employment Insurance benefits within the last three years or within the last five years in the case of maternity or parental leave benefits
      • You are receiving Social Assistance benefits
      • You are not receiving any public financial support
      As you can imagine, the majority of people who want to study Level Design can't get in.

      Level Designers are primarily responsible for the game-play and almost always the layout of the space in which the game-plays happens. Each Level Designer is usually responsible for one level of a game, which are outlined by the game designer(s). In the mainstream industry, these roles are clearly separated, in the independent industry, these lines can, and often must be be crossed.

      - How would graduates function as entrepreneurs internationally will be worked out at the level of the course competencies. It's an important question, but we're not there yet.

      - As far as I am aware, this would be the first independent game design program in Quebec. The Level Design program started out at Ubisoft Campus in collaboration with Ubisoft, CEGEP du Vieux Montreal, CEGEP du Matane, and the universities of Montreal and Sherbrooke. The AECs (Level Design, 3D Animation and 3D Modeling) were designed so that the three groups collaborated on a video game production during the final term. This was an innovative program, and did a very good job preparing students for the mainstream industry. Ubisoft Campus was closed a few years ago, unfortunately. However, GEPEP du Vieux Montreal and Matane are still offering these programs:

      I agree with Cindy as well, since part of the idea of independent game development is to explore new forms of game experience, we hope to attract a diversity of designers / developers.

    2. Sorry to be dense here, but as per the acceptance criteria, what does "You are not receiving any public financial support" mean?

    3. Hi Fordham,

      It means someone who is unemployed but not receiving EQ or any other from of social assistance. A person in this situation is often supported by their family, spouse, or partner.

    4. Thanks for the clarification. That’s what I thought, but the other criteria seemed so restrictive — I just wanted to make sure.

      This is definitely something that would interest me, particularly given that the Unity engine is used in the program.

  4. hey Shane ...

    The competition I read about is : Games4Girls sponsored by U of Illionois @ urbana-champaign
    here's the link:

    a team of students from U of Waterloo won last year with their game, Alessa in Wonderland. Here's their story :

    Hope you find these inspiring /thought provoking...

  5. Id love to this actually come into life, i'm a Costa Rican student with a great interest in game design... But id love to be a part of this program. I unfortunately agree with almost all critiques, since they all make great points, but i think 60% 20% 20% in production, theory and business would be the greatest option for this program... Id love to continue hearing about this :)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I have been working as a Game Designer for an independent studio for about a year. I graduated from the AEC program as a Level Designer, but I acquired the Game Designer position through my portfolio of personal projects done over the years on my spare time.

    Game design is heavily intuitive, just like any other skill, and training is an invaluable asset that serves to offer tools for game designers to help hone their abilities. For this reason I would be more interested in seeing this program go incubator-style in order to ensure that everyone participating has some sort of prior personal experience with creating games.

    If this program were more incubator-style, as far as I understand, it would focus on getting people with prior experience together in order to expand their current knowledge of game development and produce working titles (or at least prototypes).

    The program should focus on smaller teams, as the main goal of a Game Designer is to ‘design games’ (especially if they are in this incubator with the goal of starting their own company). Having 10 Game Designers fighting for creative direction sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen.

    History of game design is a must, but I don’t think that it’s main focus should be in knowing that Pac-Man was originally Puck Man or that Pinball machines were originally without flippers and considered gambling. Instead it should focus more on reviewing elements of past game design, the great and, even more importantly, the greatly flawed. This would include general game analysis of level design, narrative direction, game balance... AND PACING.

    On the technical side of things, Unity 3D serves as an amazing game development tool, but if the goal of the program is to allow a single person to start up their own independent company I would definitely dive into Flash development using ‘Flash Develop’ and focus more on teaching the basics of Object Oriented Programming. Having this knowledge opens the door for an indie developer to easily access social media portals such as Kongregate and Facebook. Also learning OOP will help if ever they wish to move on to developing mobile titles and almost everything else.

    Another reason I stress the importance of learning OOP instead of scripting is because it is “harder”. It is easy to learn javascript and/or C# scripting in Unity after learning OOP in Flash, but it’s not so easy the other way around.

    Lastly, the program should not downplay the importance of the business-side of independent game development. Most Game Designers have very little knowledge of what it takes to simply register a company name, let alone get their game out onto the market. What does owning an independent business really mean anyway? What are your responsibilities? How/where do you get noticed? Should you try to get government funding? If you’re a solo-guy trying to make games, you can’t rely on anybody but yourself to answer all of these questions and more. It is undeniably vital that this be dissected to its furthest extent before designers exit the program.

    There is a lot of great advice in general for the possible direction of this program and I’m excited to hear where it goes from here. I hope this turns out well and I would definitely be interested in being a part of it!

  8. Hi,

    I have a great interest in this program and would like to know what's the progress in making this program coming to life.

    I have a DEC in computer science and did 2 years of university before becoming a full time game tester.

    I am looking to take some evening courses and eventually have a AEC related to game development.


    1. Hi Rosalind,

      Sorry for the late reply. You mention you have an AEC relate to game development. I would be interested to know the name of that AEC.

      The independent game design AEC at Dawson should be announced by the end of Sept., and begin Jan 2013, pending approvals. I will also post to this blog soon regarding the direction of the program.


    2. Hi. We're approaching the end of September. Any update as per when the announcement will be made? Thanks in advance for any information that you are able to share.

  9. Hi,

    We're pushing to get the program up and running for next Sept. An official announcement should be made in Nov /Dec.