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INFO111/MAS111: Computer Games

Semester 2, 2010

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 - 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 disciplines from programmers to 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 will demonstrate this joint venture. Topics will include a history of computer games, their taxonomy and classifications, social and ethical considerations, as well as fundamentals of the design process and basic ‘modding’ of a computer game. We hope to demonstrate the connections between the technical aspects and the resulting social phenomena that any given game represents.

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. These areas will include women’s interests in games, the Power Leveller vs. casual gamers, and others. The fundamentals of game design will be addressed, to explore ways the social assumptions made can influence the process of design, and how the design can spawn social reactions. A broad look at social formations inside games will be narrowed down into a case-study of the most social of all games, MMORPGs, specifically the hugely popular World of Warcraft. We will include an analysis of the narrative potential of games: how do games compare to traditional media (novels and films) for story-telling? 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 many 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 michaelh AT science.mq.edu.au E6A338 TBA
Lecturer/Tutor Mr. A. Ruch adam.ruch AT mq.edu.au W6B839 TBA

All emails related to INFO111 should be sent to michaelh AT science.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 1 and tutorials commence in week 2.

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 new material. 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.

The Kudo game engine from Microsoft will used in creating new material.

Websites

The web page for this unit can be found at http://www.comp.mq.edu.au/units/info111.

Discussion Boards

The discussion board for this unit can be accessed through the Computer department Moodle 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 (Assoc. 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 History of Games week 1 in reader
2 Genre and Taxonomy week 2 in reader
3 Game Design 1 week 3 & 4 in reader
4 Game Design 2 week 3 & 4 in reader
5 Games as Critical Artifact week 5 in reader
6 Game Design 3 week 6 in reader
7 Narrativity and Storytelling none
8 Gamer Theory week 8 in reader
9 Simulation/Experience week 9 in reader
10 MMOs and Social Gaming week 10 in reader
11 Gamers and Subcultures week 11 in reader
12 The Games Industry none
13 Exam Preparation 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 develpoing 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 assignments.

Each week you should:

  • Attend lectures, take notes, ask questions.
  • Attend your tutorial, seek feedback from your tutor on your work.
  • 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
      • game design
      • game genres
      • the elements of games, theory of game play, and how these concepts relate to computer games
      • the history of computer games
      • social influences in games, during or as part of, gameplay and the social phenomena around games
      • 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 videogames
  1. be able to use a game creation tool to design and produce a basic game module
  2. be able to orally communicate clearly and effectively about the unit material in group discussons
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 new assessment policy of Macquarie University implies 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 2 hours week after presentation #1 & #3 10%
5+5
Tutorial Response As arranged with tutor 1 hour week after response #1 & #3 10%
5+5
Practical work weeks 2,3,4 10 hours week after submission #1 5%
Assignments weeks 7,12 30 hours week after submission #1 & #2 35%
15+20
Final Examination TBA NA NA #1 40%

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 see 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

The tutorial-based assignment is broken into two parts. 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.

Practical Work

In the first three weeks of the practical work you will be examining examples of three genres of computer games: first person shooters (FPS), role-pplaying games (RPG) and real-time strategy (RTS). For each genre you will be required to submit a one and a half to two page report examining and comparing the two games in how the approached design decisions relevant to their genre.

Assignments

In the first assignment you will be required to write a 2000-2500 word essay, extending one of the reports from your practial work. The same issues will be addressed, but at greater breadth and depth.

In the second assignment you will be required to design and an implement a simple module for Neverwinter Nights using the Aurora game engine. As well as the module itself you will be required to submit a 1000 word document describing your module - what it is, what you hoped to achieve, how it works, etc. Work on thge second assignment will begin with the guided construction of an example module to familiarise students with some of the basic functionality of the Aurora engine.

General notes on assessment

For all submitable 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 practical material will not be accepted. Late submission of the assignment will be accepted, but penalised at the rate of 10% per working day late. If you cannot submit practicals or assignments on time because of illness or other circumstances, please contact the convenor at the earliest possible time.

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

Final Examination

An examination allows us to individually and securely assess student's mastery of the coursework material. The examination will material covered in the unit except the use of the Aurora game engine. The examination will be closed book and three (3) hours in length

Regarding the examination process, note that

  • you must attend all required classes and submit all required assessment, otherwise the Executive Dean of the Faculty or delegated authority has the power to refuse permission to attend the final examination
  • the University Examination period in for Second Half Year 2009 is from Wednesday 18th November to Friday 4th December 2009
  • you are expected to present yourself for examination at the time and place designated in the University Examination Timetable
  • the timetable will be available in Draft form approximately eight weeks before the commencement of the examinations and in Final form approximately four weeks before the commencement of examinations
  • no early examinations for individuals or groups of students will be set. All students are expected to ensure that they are available until the end of the teaching semester, that is the final day of the official examination period
  • the only exception to not sitting an examination at the designated time is because of documented illness or unavoidable disruption. In these circumstances you may wish to consider applying for Special Consideration.

Standards and Grading

Unlike many units, ISYS123 covers a wide range of areas, but at limited depth. Therefore it is not appropriate to identify core knowledge and assess the students' mastery of that at increaing levels of complexity. Instead, the assessment of learning outcome #1 is based in large part on the amount of knowledge the student gains across the range of the unit, as assessed by performance in the tutorials, quizzes and final examination.

For the assignments, which are much more narrowly focussed, assessment is based on a progression of attainment, as indicated below

Standards
L.O. 1
Fail/PC
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/PC
Pass
Credit
Distinction
High Distinction
Game design proficiency
Limited ability to design a basic game
Able to design a basic game module of a standard close to that of the example game
Able to design a basic game module 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/PC
Pass
Credit
Distinction
High Distinction
Ability to communicate and discuss (draft only)
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 45% overall for the practical and assignment work.
  • obtain a mark of at least 45% in the final examination.
  • 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 obtain the required total number of marks (Credit - 65, Distinction - 75, High Distinction - 85) and obtain the following minimal results in the final written exmination:

  • Credit 55%
  • Distinction 65%
  • High Distinction 75%

Note that you must obtain these marks in the examination and get the total across the unit given above (Credit - 65, Distinction - 75, High Distinction - 85).

Changes since last offering

We've changed the game engine used in the second assignment. for this semster we are using Kodo. It's simpler and more flexible than the engine previously used (Aurora). We've also added practical classes in week 1 to help students get a better understanding of what the have to do for the practical reports and the first assignment.

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 new 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.

If a Supplementary Examination is granted as a result of the Special Consideration process the examination will be scheduled after the conclusion of the official examination period. For details of the Special Consideration policy specific to the Department of Computing, see the Department's policy page.

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.
A draft version of the policy explaining the process can be found here.