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GamePipe Director's Essay Featured in Communications of the ACM

"Computer Science in the Conceptual Age" argues for the growing importance of "design, storytelling, artistry, empathy, play, and emotion" in the field
Eric Mankin
November 25, 2009 —

In a long and detailed article in the December issue of the Association for Computing Machinery's influential monthly journal, Mike Zyda discusses game design as an example of transition in the field of computer science from "the information age to the conceptual age."

Zyda 2
Scene from the Artemis Chronicle PC game built with microsoft’s xna toolkit and the USC GamePipe Laboratory nitrox game engine. Click on the image to read the entire Zyda article
In the essay, "Computer Science in the Conceptual Age," the GamePipe director discusses what conceptual model it looks like, and how it affects academic computer science departments.

The essay goes into detail about the USC Viterbi School B.S. and other academic degree programs:

"Our approach to creating a crossdisciplinary crossdisciplinary program was to design courses that could be taken by noncomputer scientists, as well as by computer science majors. First-semester undergraduates survey game play, from the start of games to using (among other things) old consoles, old PC games, and emulators. Students come out of the course hooked on our degree program and wanting more.

"They then take a video-game production course to build individual games using GameMaker and hear from industry speakers on game development. Next is CS-281 Pipelines for Games & Interactives in which they learn how to create assets for games, including 3D models and animations. One achievement is a pipeline asset and source-code management system we designed that is shared by all game-development courses in the program. We teach our students how to use it early on, simplifying and enhancing their ability to develop games in subsequent courses.

"We also place all our students in a semester-long character-animation course. In their final one-and-a-half years before graduation, our students become ready for game development. All take a course developing a serious game in a large team for an interested sponsor.

Their last year before graduation is in CS-491A/B Final Game Projects building games in large cross-disciplinary teams from August to May, with game designs selected through a design playoff the previous May. The Final Game Projects course is administered jointly by the School of Cinematic Arts and has students from computer science (bachelor’s and master’s students), interactive media (bachelor’s of fine arts and master’s of fine arts), fine arts (bachelor’s of fine arts), animation (bachelor’s of fine arts), music composition, and film scoring. Teams in this class include from 11 to 25 students building significant games over its two-semester run, aiming for contest submission by the end of the second semester. ...

"At the end of each academic year, we now routinely place large numbers of students (typically around 35) in internships/jobs in the game industry where they are nearly instantly productive. In the Fall semesters in 2007 and 2008, a team on Demo Day was offered a commercial deal to turn their game into a company for further development or prepare to ship commercially. Spring 2009 included five student-built games under commercial consideration."