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Students develop games, build audiences in largest computer game course yet

EECS 494 uses game design to teach its students broader lessons about iteration in software development

Showcase demos Enlarge
Course instructor Austin Yarger, right, plays a group's final project at the EECS 494 Computer Games Showcase

The 2018 Computer Games Showcase flooded Tishman Hall with pirates, hard-hatted miners, and patriotic space war recruiters on December 11. Seniors in EECS 494, Computer Game Design and Development, and visiting students from Eastern Michigan University showed off their final group projects with live demos set up around the hall.

494 uses game design to teach its students broader lessons about iteration in software development. The course includes visiting lectures from game industry experts and two team projects and a solo project. The final group project requires the students to cover all phases of game development, including system conceptualization, specification, design, implementation, and evaluation. The students developed the games over six weeks using the Unity game engine.

Course instructor Austin Yarger wants students to come away with the ability to take feedback in stride and apply it in a slow-but-sure process of continuous improvement. In the end, each group should finish a game that is accessible and fun to a wide audience.

This year’s presentations were animated and frequently costumed, with many groups setting up props, displays, and costumes themed around their finished games. Attendees were able to hear presentations by the students about the games and had plenty of time before and after to try them out.

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The addition of Eastern Michigan students to the event was a new idea this semester, says Yarger. “Teaming up with them propelled many of our games’ aesthetics to new levels of polish and charm,” he says, adding that the experience also gave the class experience with client-freelancer relationships.

Yarger also had the class experiment with a new submission procedure. As the students developed their games, they submitted development blogs to IndieDB.com. The popular site is a platform for small studios to promote their work and report on progress, and gave the class the opportunity to treat their project like a serious design undertaking for an audience.

“Many of our student games have hundreds of views and even some budding fan communities!” Yarger says. With luck, the course could turn out gaming startup companies in the future.

The chances aren’t bad either – the course’s popularity continues to climb, and this semester it even faced capacity issues. Yarger looks to address this in subsequent semesters, potentially by opening additional sections.

“494 had another incredible year,” Yarger says. “The students put tremendous effort into their work, and our community has felt the impact in the form of fantastic games.”

Read more about the students’ games:

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Austin Yarger; Student News; Video games