Cluster 5: Video Games: The Design of Fun from Concept to Code

The goal of this cluster is to introduce high school students to computer science and the design principles used in creating a computer game. Computer games are no longer just for young children and enthusiasts. Modern games show a wide variety of features, from the rich graphics and detailed rule sets of World of Warcraft, to the simpler, more casual gameplay of Bejeweled, which appeal to a wide variety of audiences. In this cluster we focus on both the technical and design sides of creating computer games, through analysis of popular existing games and a series of projects in which students will build their own games. Students will learn the design principles for creating games that are fun, engaging, and interactive, and how to understand and build these complex software systems.

Prerequisite: One year of Algebra II or equivalent.

Preference: Programming experience welcome, but not required. 

All students in this cluster will be enrolled in the following courses.


Tad Leckman (Department of Computational Media)

Matthew Balousek, Tad Leckman (advisor), (Department of Computational Media)

Structure of Fun: Science of Game Design

This course provides an interdisciplinary overview of the design principles used to create fun and engaging video games. Students will participate in discussions about theories of fun and play, as well as how to apply these theories to their own projects. The course will also explore games that address social and humanitarian issues, and games that are designed to appeal to different audiences. Topics from psychology will be addressed, including the design of games for training and the difficulties in transferring learning from games to real-world situations. Students in the course will explore these issues by analyzing existing games and by working in teams to create one or more paper-based game concept designs.

Technologies of Fun: Game Graphics, and AI

This is an interactive, projects-based course in which students will create their own complete games. Students will learn fundamental design and programming skills to rapidly prototype their ideas using graphical game making tools and popular programming languages. In addition to the main game project, there will be smaller projects introducing students to 3D graphics and artificial intelligence techniques. Lectures will be supplemented with the latest game research, such as procedural content generation and interactive storytelling.

Transferable Skills: Tools for Success

It may or may not surprise you that being a university researcher requires a whole host of skills outside of the specific scientific knowledge required of your chosen discipline or specialty. It requires communication skills such as the ability to present your work in writing and orally. It requires competencies in the realm of information technology including the ability to find and judge (the validity of) information and use a variety of hardware and software tools (e.g. spreadsheets, databases, statistics software, other data manipulation tools). It requires all of those skills to effectively conduct research such as data collection, analysis and interpretation, critical thinking and problem solving as well as the ability to conduct laboratory and/or field work. And, of course, a baseline competency in English, science, mathematics and computers is critical. 

The governing mission of the UCSC COSMOS Transferable Skills course is to promote students’ future academic (and professional) success through the exploration and development of transferable skills: i.e. those competencies that students develop while in school which facilitate academic achievement, the eventual transition into the work-force and which are applicable in many other life situations.