Colleges plan 2013 launch of video game design classes

Allistair Pinsof

Austin, known as one of the primary hubs of the video game industry, may soon find the next generation of game artists, designers and programmers studying within the walls of UT this fall.

Bruce Porter, chair of the computer science department, sent an email to computer science students this week announcing a new game design curriculum at UT. The game development program is a collaborative effort between the College of Natural Sciences, the College of Fine Arts and the College of Communication, each of which will be offering their own courses in game design.

In spring 2013, UT will offer its first Game Development Capstone Project class, which will gather students from each of the three schools in a team effort to create their own video games. Although colleges have offered game development classes in the past, Porter said the goal of the game development program is to offer those classes consistently and introduce new classes, all in an effort to prepare students for the Capstone Project class, which will be taught by guest lecturers from local game developers.

“I expect that more students will go into the industry as we develop this program,” Porter said. “And as more industry moves to Austin, those two will feed into each other.”

The project has been developed during the past 18 months with help from the program’s advisory board, which includes staff members of local industry developers such as Zynga (“Farmville”) and Ricochet Labs (“Qrank”), he said.

The College of Communication’s radio-television-film program has offered 3-D animation and digital media classes in the past, but associate RTF professor Andrew Shea said he hopes to see a broader focus on game design this fall.

“We started over the last couple years to offer a series of classes in digital arts, and this seems the logical step to take, given the interest in the industry and our student body,” Shea said.

The Electronic Game Developers Society, a UT student organization that designs games collectively, was surprised by the announcement of the new program.

“We heard for a long time that UT wasn’t having it,” said EGaDs president Andrew Pish. “Even [UT alumnus and influential game designer] Richard Garriott pitched to Bill Powers, but he never did anything. So it’s kind of surprising and out of the blue, but at the same time it’s great to have academic opportunities.”

Pish said that the hardest thing of being a member of the group is finding the time between classes and homework to design games. The prospect of being able to combine his school work with his passion, game design, has him interested in the new program, he said.

“I think a lot of the spirit of this is about collaboration with natural sciences and fine arts,” Shea said. “It’s about bringing together the different units on campus, which is a big part of the current entertainment world. It’s a big part of social media and people’s lives today. It’s something that our Texas students are interested in.”