Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hi (Syllabus)

A hard copy will be given out too. This is just for online convenience. 

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                Art 381 Critical Play :
                Computer Games and Art
                Instructor : Benjamin C. Poynter
                Class Time : Tuesdays, 1-3:45 PM
                Office Hours : Sundays, 1-4 PM, Appointment
                Office : CFA 207, (405) 410 5988
                Email :
                Webpage :

    Course Description

    In this class we will critically interact with computer games and online communities as interface for creative artistic production. Students will be surrounded with immersive studio practice toward a foundation of experimental game art and development. Activity with the medium will survey contemporary game theory, fundamental illustration, digital animation, software utilization for programming, CG sculpting, and much more.

    The missions of this course include creating a problem-solving atmosphere with the objective of engaging in creative and critical “play”. Results will see a student's artwork develop in exciting, technical ways, become socially active, and most importantly serve personal goals. The intent is to provide the student with the ability to work with a variety of idea and techniques towards the production of innovative game based artworks.

    Course Content

    This course will explore a variety of possibilities for engaging the notion of “Critical Play”. These will include: manipulation and experimentation of existing game code via Processing, storyboarding and game design documents, basic animation and graphic techniques, asset modeling and rendering, game development (2D, 3D), physical installation of media, and more. There are three phases in Critical Play : 1D, 2D, and 3D respectively. Each one, shorter or longer than the other, offers substantial knowledge to succeeding in the highly technical realm of game art and game development.

    Lecture/Lab Component

    The course will meet for 3 lecture hours per week, on Tuesdays 1-3:45 PM. Class time will be devoted to lectures, art demonstrations, reading discussion, workshops, activities and critiques. In addition, the course will feature 3 lab hours per week to accommodate for the highly technical studio practice to be undergone throughout the semester. Hence, this is offered during the instructor's office hours on Sundays 1-4PM. Lab hours are designed strictly for studio and one-on-one conversation with the instructor towards troubleshooting. Appointments may be made as well, if Sunday is not sufficient for out of class assistance/lab. 6 hours out of class will be expected a week for studio work.

    Course Requirements

    1) Attendance is mandatory at all scheduled class meetings. More than 2 unexcused absences will affect your final grade. Every unexcused absence past 2 is a full reduced letter grade. Any absences past 4 is the same. Please arrive on time and prepared to participate.

    2) Participation in all class critiques, reading discussions and brainstorming sessions are expected and mandatory. If there is failure to be active and social during discussion, it will be reflected as such in the final grade.

    3) You will receive a written evaluation and letter grade following each third of the course. This will be tailored to the individual and their existing experience with the craft.

    4) To know and be inspired by, the lab will direct an array of playable indie games (2D and 3D) on machines so you can play anytime! A list will be available near the beginning.

    5.) Three reading assignments will be both online and in the form of various Xeroxed articles. Each relevant to a current theme in the course. In addition, a film screening and off-site trip will undergo during class hours to fortify an understanding of modern game practices. There are no writing requirements in the course (response questions, essays, event write-ups, blog), however participation in class discussion will be critical to success.

    Supplies and Materials

(Many of these materials will be public and provided by the lab. We will discuss.)
+ Downloadable game software and potential online (free) subscriptions.
+ Pencil, drawing pen, and paper. For illustration and planning.
+ Portable external hard drive or at minimum a flash drive for back-ups.

    Recommended Prerequisites

+ Entry level Digital Media course (245, example) or a Computer Science course.
+ Fundamental knowledge of computers. More helpful, but not necessary : drawing skills.
+ Have played at least a few videogames before. e.g. I know what a videogame is.
+ No need for preexisting game history knowledge. Games learn from all histories!

    This course will provide the digital media student with an in-depth knowledge of skills towards working technologies necessary for game development, design, critical theory, and digital media as a whole. Given the experimental nature of the course, students should focus on making personally exciting and adventurous works, in opposition to particularly pristinely functioning and astutely clean products. 381 will be a fun undertaking.


    You will be assigned a digital access code for after-hours access to the Digital Media Studio by the end of the second week of the term. Intermediate and advanced Digital Media students have 24-hour access to the lab in exchange for monitoring the facility and assisting with beginning students working in the lab.

    Official Online Blog and Reference
    A web repository for assignment information, events, helpful links, and fun materials. Impromptu, but meager, tasks may be added to the agenda for Art 381. In addition, critical lectures on campus will come up. Including a visit from Dr. Ian Bogost (University GA Tech).

    Grading Rubric
    Project 1, Breakout Mod {1D} …                                 100 pts
    Project 2, Comic Panels for Storyboarding {2D} ...     100 pts
    Project 3, Serious Game (Collab) [*] {2D} ...                150 pts
    Project 4, Overworld Model  [*] {3D} ...                        150 pts
    Project 5, Cardboard Cosplay Battle Bot {3D} ...        150 pts
    In-Class Discussion (Reading, Film, Lecture) ...          150 pts
    Attendance  ...                                                             100 pts
    Final Exhibition ...                                                        100 pts
    Total Possible Points:                                                         1000 pts
    [*] = May be updatable and re-critiqued on final meeting of class.   

    1000– 900 = A
    899– 800 = B
    799 – 700 = C
    699 – 600 = D
    599 – 0 = F

    Each assignment is based on the normal percentage grading scale: 90-100%=A, 80-89%=B, etc. If a student chooses to not turn in an assignment, the student will earn a ZERO (0) for the assignment.  BE ON TIME. LATE WORK IS NOT TOLERATED. Excuses will be met with in accordance, but usually intensively and negatively.

+ Critiques are based on quality of work, evidence of time spent, attainment of project goals, articulation of your processes, and your explanation of the work to the class.

+ Grades for projects based upon creativity, innovation, excellence, finished nature of project (is it gallery/web ready), original thought, conceptual properties, and craftsmanship.

+ Reading/film/lecture discussion is gauged on participation, evidence of time spent with the theory, clarity of statements, and willingness to be social with knowledge.

+ For attendance, notes or written pardons required for medical/personal absences. This is an upper division course. No matter the emergency, it needs to be documented physically.

    The instructor will meet with each of you individually at the start to get a solid idea of your goals. Extra credit opportunities will appear sporadically in the semester, including lending your art to auxiliary portions of our collaboratives (cover art, promotion, etc) and even assisting the instructor with installing a solo show taking place at the semester's conclusion. That show will be in direct relationship to academic game art and development.


+ The digital media lab (CFA 207)! With an array of iMac machines complete with PC fusion software to run in Windows mode as well (necessary for our purposes). All necessary software to accomplishing goals should be available (Adobe Suite, Scanners, etc.).
+ Additional digital media lab-workplace adjacent to 207 with Makerbot for 3D printing, laser printer, PCs, and more. Should you need so for 381 or an additional digital art course.
+ Lab technician Dillion McGillvray, available weekdays at posted hours. Consider the instructor a primary resource, but in absence or interest, please consult Dillon for advice.

    Helpful Weblinks (To stay in tune with developments in contemporary game world.) (Get a feel of the 'proceduralism' of games by watching others play!) (An additional useful website/blog over game world developments.) (Invaluable for Project 3.) (Full of interviews with existing game artists and developers.) (Online archive of Processing code sketches; Java.) (A good online technical assistance source, free subscription!)

    Week 1 . Jan 21 . "Game On"
    -Welcome to Critical Play! Go over the syllabus and expectations.
    -Introduce one another and past work. You may come into first meeting with it.
    -So what is a game? Specifically, a digital game. Why are we being critical of it?
    -Play some popular games. And deconstruct the raw terminology of them.
    -I have a secret interview with you, one on one, to gauge your goals in course.
    -Introduce first assignment task : Breakout Mod. The 'code' before the 'software'.
    DUE : ---

    Week 2 . Jan 28 . "Manipulating the Code"
    -Quiz. How much you know about game history and why it may be unnecessary.
    -Processing demo (code). Step by step, participatory instruction, on the basics.
    -Elements such as variables, if statements, booleans, Classes, and more.
    -Exercise : Work in teams to manipulate the code together! Before individually.
    DUE : ---

    Week 3 . Feb 4 . "Enter Software and Narrative"
    -Critique first projects (Breakout Mods). Play through Processing on big screen.
    -Exit 1D. Enter 2D : Serious Games. So what's a serious game? Examples.
    -Survey previous iteration of the Serious Games collaborative. Discuss our own.
    -What social/political issues should our games tackle? What form will they take?
    -Say hello to Gamemaker and templates we may utilize for the collaborative.
    -Introduce second assignment : Comic Panels for Storyboarding.
    -Take a look at 'comic/manga' game manuals, and fundamental comic structure.
    -Exercise : Clean-up some old rusty drawings into flashier graphic art.
    DUE: Project 1 (Breakout Mod)

    Week 4 . Feb 11 . "Enter Gamemaker"
    -Discuss Reading 1 : "Grand Theft Desire"
    -Heavy note taking time. Engage with how to operate GameMaker software.
    -How can I move animations in my game space? Illusion of stopping/walking?
    -What is my game space? (Game Space = Scene; Character/Object = Actor)
    -Scrolling through a game space. Elaboration on proceduralist rhetoric.
    -Backgrounds. Additional art. 'If statements.' 'Timers'. 'Projectiles'. 'Exits'.
    -Basic technical functions : files, saving, exporting, meshing with others, etc.
    -Most importantly : How will this elaborate on my political/social issue?
    DUE: Reading 1 (Grand Theft Desire, chapter out of Dream)

    Week 5 . Feb 18 . "Life of a Developer"
    -Critique second projects. Place all prints on a single wall, drawing critique style.
    -Revisit plan for collaborative. Solidify course for making our games (Proj 3)
    -Screen Indie Game : The Movie and discuss afterwards.
    -Prep up for a big introduction to character animation the following week.
    DUE: Project 2 (Comic Panels for Storyboarding)

    Week 6 . Feb 25 . "Grand Animation Demo"
    -A foundation of how to draw characters, at a basic or advanced experience level.
    -Move into a traditional animation workshop, animating our own walk cycles!
    -Get walk cycles digitized, through scanning and cropping arrays of images.
    -Finish by colorizing them (?) using cel-shading within Photoshop.
    -End day by playing all our animations in front of the class, concluding exercise.
    -With luck, work time in class to get feet more wet with project and GameMaker.
    DUE: ---

    Week 7 . Mar 4 . "$10,000 Question : Are Games Art?"
    -Discuss Reading 2 : Ian Bogost chapter and Roger Ebert article (texts).
    -Explore contemporary examples of how [digital] games pervade into art world.
    -Game jam! Spend time collectively exploring games together, indie or political.
    -Discuss what we found/played. How do these games assist what we're doing?
    -Alleviate remaining time for Project 3 (Serious Game).
    DUE: Reading 2 (Ian Bogost, "Art" Chapter & Roger Ebert "Games are Not Art")

    Week 8 . Mar 11 . "Progression and The Artcade"
    -Review progress with our games. Address issues. See images, play, etc.
    -Finalize nature of our collaborative. Last confirmations before sealing it off.
    -Have ready vehicles and who is driving for brief, 1-2 mile drive. Field trip!
    -We're going to 'The Artcade'. 5030 Las Brisas Blvd, Reno, Nevada 89523.
    -Meditate and play games in the space. There's even food there.
    -Regress a little more into 'retro' scheme of things. It has all to do with phase 3.
    DUE: Progress with Project 3 (Serious Game); materials, graphics, playable yet (?)

    Mar 18 . Spring Break! Enjoy time off and/or time to catch up on work.

    Week 9 . Mar 25 . "The Next Dimension"
    -Critique full collaborative (Project 3s). Play games! On all machines/big screen(?)
    -After a brief relaxing period and congratulating each other.. move into 3D.
    -Demo Maya and/or SketchUp 3D model software (more intuitive than Blender).
    -Show where software is located and how you can even download a free copy.
    -For reference : SketchUp = entry level, Maya = intermediate/advanced
    -Go over how this software can best accomplish success for Project 4.
    -Humor the idea of a Unity 3D meshing of all our 'maps/worlds' as one continent.
    -Exercise : Contributing to the Mapstalgia site. Draw game level from memory.
    DUE: Project 3 (Serious Game)

    Week 10 . Apr 1 . "Finding Our Space"
    -Introduce Final Project : Six-Figure Poly Human Character Build (April Fools)
    -Discuss Reading 3 : "The Collective Intelligence of Internet Fans"
    -Next portion of Maya/SketchUp demo : texturing, coloring, and auxiliaries.
    -Game jam! Get in tune with some 3D indie games (immersive ones), playing all.
    -Discuss the games afterwards. Overwhelmed by 3D graphic making? Don't be.
    -Exercise : Texture in groups the ever infamous Mario World 1-1.
    DUE: Reading 3 (Jenkins, Intelligence of Internet Fans)

    Week 11 . Apr 8 . "Glitch Day"
    -As the name suggests: use this valuable time to get help and work on projects.
    DUE: ---

    Week 12 . Apr 15 . "Assemble Your Crew"
    -Introduce Project 5 : Cardboard Cosplay. Precise parameters/expectations.
    -Say hello to a LOT of cardboard and fundamentals on how to construct material.
    -Brainstorm for who we might be! Even some 'game/performance' exercises.
    -Screen portion of "Darkon", a LARP documentary.
    -Give more in-class time for work.
    DUE: ---

    Week 13 . Apr 22 . "Full Immersion"
    -Critique Project 4 (Overworld Model). View in 3D big screen, and stills.
    -Review all the characters we have picked. Even come in 'groups'? No duplicates!
    -Build! Use little remaining time, with assistance, to build armor, outfits, etc.
    DUE: Project 4 (Overworld Model) and selected character for Project 5

    Week 14 . Apr 29 . "Endgame"
    -Day will primarily be spent working on the cardboard cosplay project (Project 5.)
    -Mandatory work day, everyone arrives ready to build. Similar to glitch day.
    -Begin discussing plans of the final exhibition and what duties go where.
    -Prayers for instructor, as his Thesis exhibition is that Thursday of the week.
    DUE: ---

    Week 15 . May 6 . "Victory Fanfare"
    -Show off any updated projects!
    -Convene and discuss final planning for our Critical Play class exhibition.
    -Can we logically mesh 1.5 dozen huge maps together a single immersive space?
    -Discuss all technical ramifications of exhibition, and all around responsibilities.
    -…Party! Bring consoles, TVs, board games, any game, and food for pot luck.
    DUE: Any Updatable Projects (Project 3 and/or Project 4)

    Final . TBD Time . "The Critical Play Exhibition"

    -Up until this point in the semester (mainly the second half), we will plan an exhibition to take place at a to-be-confirmed locale in town or on campus. This exhibition will coincide with the instructor's thesis solo exhibition and possibly other video game acts in the city for a kind of epic "days of games" collaborative. Details TBD.

    -Consider this the final of Critical Play. We will meet and have a reception for our work to be shown, played through, projected, and more. Full of all projects (Breakout Mods, Comics, Serious Games, 3D Dioramas, or other work you wish to be in!)

    -And of course, this will be where the 'battle' commences for Project 5...

    -Stay especially tuned on the blog and in-class for information about this.

    DUE: Project 5 (Cardboard Cosplay Battle Bot)

    Game Over

    The “+” and “-“ system will be used for grading.

    Statement on Academic Dishonesty: For example, "Cheating, plagiarism or otherwise obtaining grades under false pretenses" constitute academic dishonesty according to the code of this university. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated and penalties can include canceling a student's enrollment without a grade, giving an F for the course or for the assignment. For more details see

     Statement of Disability Services: For example, "Any student with a disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak with me or the Disability Resource Center (Thompson Building, Suite 101) as soon as possible to arrange for appropriate accommodations."

     Statement for Academic Success Services: For example, "Your student fees cover usage of the Math Center (784-443 or ), Tutoring Center (784-6801 or ), and University Writing Center (784-6030 or These centers support your classroom learning; it is your responsibility to take advantage of their services. Keep in mind that seeking help outside of class is the sign a a responsible and successful student."

     Statement on Audio and Video Recording: Surreptitious or covert video-taping of class or unauthorized audio recording of class is prohibited by law and by Board of Regents policy.  This class may be videotaped or audio recorded only with the written permission of the instructor.   In order to accommodate students with disabilities, some students may have been given permission to record class lectures and discussions.  Therefore, students should understand that their comments during class may be recorded.

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