Monday, September 29, 2014

Changing The Gaming Major At Penn College


     Scary stuff is on the horizon as far as school goes for me. It looks like I'll be climbing a mountain very soon. The heart of it is: My school is missing aspects of game development that are extremely important. If you remember my drama with the deans that went nowhere last summer, you'll know that I was basically told I picked the wrong school. The Gaming & Simulation degree is IT programming focused, and does that really well.

     What it doesn't do is live up to the name that lured in so many students. We see the word game and the pictures of shooters and students holding Xbox controllers then assume this is the place where you can go to learn how to make video games. We pick Penn College because we can't afford to go to California or Full Sail. It's like saying only the wealthy deserve a chance to make video games. We see this degree as a flicker of hope that we can get that dream job at company X or start our own studios. The school does not currently have a program that achieves that, so some members of the PCT GameDevs have agreed to help me design one.


    We can approach this in so many different ways that it feels like a daunting task to overcome and it may lead to nowhere again. From what I've been told by an executive f the Gamer's Guild school club, if you want the school to do something you have to petition it in a very organized and formal way. When that doesn't work you have to try again, and if that fails you must take it (and the school's response) to the public (internet). Apparently the school is having budget problems because a large amount of students have dropped out (I heard over 800) and now the remaining students are suffering for it, encouraging them to leave too. I myself plan to at least live off-campus and by groceries in the future because dining services here have gone too far downhill.

     Like I said before, the seniors don't believe the projects they are capable of producing are enough to impress employers because they feel like they still aren't comfortable with creating a game from start to finish. The degree only wants us to utilize prototype assets in interesting ways but students are lacking creative direction that leads to figuring out complex things to program. Maybe if there was a game design focused degree that involved cooperation with the simulation students, results would be dramatically improved. 


     Design students would handle all the thinking and planning around creating a game while a programming student handles the implementation relevant to their jobs. Through collaboration both groups of students can gain experience in a simulated work environment. One learns to give instructions and another learns to take them.

     Imagine a design student responsible for a game's scope, design document, presentation, schedule, direction, setbacks, and publication. If the team idea doesn't work, just give the gaming students a basic premise game to start with. Have everyone code a combat system then allow some freedom to expand on it. The design students should be capable of making an entire game by themselves if certain industry standard tools are purchased by the school or by the students in place of textbooks. We all have access to Unity's asset store, but we don't all have creativity. I witnessed this firsthand when I saw seniors struggling to come up with ideas for their capstone projects. A problem I didn't even know could exist because I've had evolving plans for mine since freshman year.

    If a design focused degree existed the creative gaming students drawn to this school would have a curriculum that better suits them. Classes covering marketing, finance, asset creation, and project management. Programming is a major part of it, of course, but it won't be all that matters. Penn College's Gaming & Simulation is 9 courses away from matching the Software Development major so it might as well be a focus specification (like a security degree with a focus in networking). If we wanted to be IT programmers we'd pick Software Development. We chose games because there's an artistic passion there.


    Career opportunities for Game Design students would be roles like Creative Director, Lead Designer, Level Designer, and Independent Developer. Those are jobs that will have students swarming in, but only the ones with passion will make it out. There is no "idea guy" position where you just do the "wouldn't it be cool if?" part and leave. If you're responsible for an idea, you are also responsible for its execution.

     This idea is still in a very early state, so it won't be presented until we address all the flaws in the plan and have something more concrete written. Particularly, a well thought out curriculum, a well-worded constitution, and a petition of an immense number of students who care what happens to future generations.

     This is going way beyond what I anticipated and is consuming way too much of my time and energy. But I can't stop because I know I could change so many lives if I do this. An awesome game made by someone else could exist in the future because of me. I cold save someone from giving up on their dream.

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