For Philip Donahue and Lawrence Mascia—instructors in Otis College Extension’s new Game Level Design Certificate Program—games and video games were a way to escape when they were younger (they both started on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, which launched in 1985). Eventually, games led them to professional careers.
“My days as a dungeon master as a kid, and later as a graphic designer, both helped in preparing me for this industry, but I still had a lot to learn,” says Donahue, who got his start in computer-aided drafting and graphic design before going back to school to learn game design. He has worked at such gaming companies as Activision and Epic Games and is the founder of the Game Design Network, a searchable network of game designers of all skill sets for hire. He teaches the program’s Introduction to Game Design course, which provides an overview of the game design industry, including the different studios and roles in the field, as well as current and emerging technologies. In the course, students practice developing and pitching their game design ideas in writing and verbally.
Mascia teaches the Game Development: Teams course, where students work in groups to create games in a way that approximates the game design studio environment. Mascia started in graphic design at Martha Stewart before teaching himself how to code, eventually starting Goodnight Games, a development studio based in New York. “I came from a graphic design and fine art background,” he says. “It helped in the art and design of making the games. Coding was the only other thing I really needed to learn. Now I do everything from project management, marketing, coding, and designing.”
The non-credit Game Level Design Certificate Program has been in the works at Otis since May 2020, when Mark Manrose, Dean of Extension, and Terry Nauheim, Director of Curriculum, started talking to industry professionals about what should be covered to ensure the program prepares students for viable careers in the field. “The focus is on essential knowledge about the gaming industry, its workflows, and work environments,” says Nauheim. “It’s also an affordable and fast-tracked program, which is great for someone who wants to get up and running quickly in this field. Since it is virtual, it is accessible to just about anyone.”
The curriculum’s focus centers on game level design, where students build their own games that are driven by a concept across levels, pacing, and overall design. While they’ll be introduced to a variety of software and tools, projects will be made using Unreal Engine, a powerful game development software package that also is used in the automotive, entertainment, architecture, and even medical industries. The program now includes a total of eight courses, covering the topics of scripting, storytelling, 3D modeling, and production.
“The 3D modeling class is intense coverage of the complete pipeline of modeling, detailing and rendering objects for games, movies, or stills,” says Aleksandr Devivye, a student in the certificate program. “Using visual scripting, we’ve learned to create dynamic worlds where you make everything come to life, providing channels of communication between the player and their experience. The program has provided an exhilarating and robust experience in diving into the world of game design.”
“I believe we have designed this curriculum to cater to anyone with a deep interest in game development, regardless of whether they have had any previous experience,” says Donahue. “For those with some experience already, it offers a way to build upon what they already know, set in a framework where they can learn about the other aspects of development and how they all fit together to create the complex productions, with hundreds of team members, like we have today.”
“Skills-wise, students will acquire essential knowledge about the field, hands-on experience with game engine and design tools, visual and verbal communication, and how to work within a team workflow. They will come away with a portfolio-ready product that demonstrates these skills, and will allow them to stand out when applying to jobs,” says Nauheim. “It’s an ideal time to offer a certificate in this area, with an abundance of work opportunities and availability of game design studios in Southern California.”
For more information about the non-credit Game Level Design Certificate Program at Otis Extension and how to apply, please click here. To attend a virtual information session about the program on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. PT, please visit this link.
A version of this story originally appeared on Otis.edu on August 20, 2020.