Game Design Fundamentals
Spring 2024 - Syllabus
Instructor: Stone Librande
Slack: Game Design - 2024

  1) Introduction   4) Video Games   7) Play Balance   10) Review 2   13) Play Styles  
  2) Game History   5) Review 1   8) Probability   11) Atmosphere   14) Final Project  
  3) Writing Rules   6) Documentation   9) Reward Systems   12) Level Design   Grading Policy  

  1) Jan. 20  – Introduction

Basics of game design: goals, obstacles, decisions, rules, and interactions. Player-focused design and subjective types of fun.

    Workshop: Team Game
    Design a team game that can be played by everyone in the class while on Zoom. Use items found in your home.
    Download Tabletop Simulator and work through the tutorial videos.
    Tabletop Simulator download
    Part 1 - Basic Controls (2017)
    Part 2 - Advanced Controls (2017)
    Part 3 - Custom Game Creation (2017)
    Optional: Part 4 - Custom Assetbundles (2018)
    Knowledge Base
    Optimal Game Design
    Classics of Game Design Theory
    I Have No Words & I Must Design
    Download Windows Go program
  2) Jan. 27  – Game History

A brief history of gaming from early folk games to today’s giant game corporations. An overview of popular game genres will also be presented.

    Workshop: Goals

Play a simple game multiple times, changing the goal each time. How does the emotional feel of the game change as the goal changes?

    Begin work on your final project. Come up with a theme for your game and write up a short description of your game idea. You will present this idea to the class next week.
    History of Gambling in the United States
  3) Feb. 3  – Writing Rules

Students will present their final project ideas to the class. After the presentations, we will discuss a basic framework for writing game rules.

    Workshop: Rules

Customize a standard deck of cards with special rules for each suit. Challenge other players to duels and see whose deck wins. After each duel, discuss the balance with your opponent. Strengthen suits that were too weak and weaken suits that were too strong. Find a new opponent and repeat the process until every deck feels comparably balanced.

    Using the techniques discussed in class, write an outline of the rules for your final project.
    Download Rules Template (.doc file)
    Google Doc Rules Template
    Four Square rules
    Little Wars - H.G. Wells (.pdf file)
    The Compleat Gamester
    The Court Gamester
  4) Feb. 10  – History of Computer Games

Overview of computer games, from early ASCII text games to the latest generation of consoles. We will also examine the different genres of computer games.

    Workshop: Obstacles

Make a “par 5” obstacle course using pieces found in Tabletop Simulator. All the students will play each other’s courses. Keep score to find out if the average player can make it to the goal in five attempts.

    Work on your final project and rules. Have it ready to playtest with the group next week.
    The first videogame
    Java Spacewar!
    Williams Arcade Classics
    The Art of Computer Game Design
    Songs about video games
  5) Feb. 17  – Final Project Review 1

Students will present their final projects to the class.

    Workshop: Playtesting

We will playtest the games and provide feedback and critiques to the designer.

    Play your final project with your friends or family members. Take detailed notes about their interest levels and the comments they make. Using your notes, write a paper that describes changes you would like to make to your game. Explain why.
  6) Feb. 24  – Design Documents

While some card and board games can be designed and created by one author, many games (especially digital games) require a large team. This class will discuss writing a design document to keep large projects organized.

    Workshop: Design Jam

You will be given a random design problem involving a budget, staff, deadline, creative vision, and technology platform. Working in a small team quickly design the game's structure and make a paper prototype of one of its systems.

    Write a one-page diagram based on one feature of the ETC project you are currently working on. Use the techniques presented in class: title, date, main illustration, callouts, and white space. Consider your target audience carefully.
    Design Document Outlines (28K Word file)
    One Page Designs (12.9M PowerPoint file)
  7) Mar. 2  – Play Balance

Play balance theory and practical techniques used to balance games.

    Workshop: Opposition

Design a game where players must work together to stop a rampaging robot from destroying a nearby town. Design the AI for the robot and then try to beat your own creation.

    Play a multiplayer game on and write a paper that describes the game balance. Was the opposition balanced? Were the elements within the game balanced? How were new concepts introduced over time? Do players win more through skill or luck?
    Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide
    Why Study RPS?
    Realtime RPS game
  March 9  – No Class

Mid-Semester break.

  8) Mar. 16  – Statistics and Probabilities

Thorough game design requires an understanding and analysis of the odds and probabilities in the game. In this class we will cover simple statistical formulas that can be used to analyze a game.

    Workshop: Odds

Using a simple dice-rolling game as a framework, design and tune the systems of a sci-fi spaceship. Create odds tables based on the different events that might occur. Battle other players’ spaceships and record the results. How does the reality correspond to the calculated odds?


Solve all the problems on the probability worksheet.

    Thunderstorm and Pig
    Dice Explorer
    Tomb Raider Player Modeling
    A Visual Introduction to Probability and Statistics
    Quake Champions heat maps
    Squoddron Odds Chart (Excel file)
    How to Calculate Expected Value
  9) Mar. 23  – Reward Systems

Why are we compelled to keep playing certain games when our bodies are telling us to eat or sleep? We will look at some basic behavioral psychology studies and apply the results to game design. We will also examine many different types of games and try to understand why some can be played repeatedly, while others are played once then shelved.

    Workshop: Rewards

Design a Vegas casino game. Try to entice players to your table and keep them there. Be careful about giving away too much money or your casino will go broke. But if you give away too little then your players will leave to visit another table.


Update the rules for your final project and make sure your game is ready for others to play. Bring the rules and the game in next week.

    Slot Machines
    Horseshoes, Hand Grenades - and Slot Machines?
    Going for Broke
  10) March 30  – Final Project Review 2

Presentations of the students’ final projects.

    Workshop: Playtesting

Play and critique the final project games. The game designer will not be allowed to settle rules disputes and questions. Instead, the players must rely completely on the rulebook.

    Using feedback from today’s session, write a second draft version of the rulebook for your final project. Include illustrations.
  11) Apr. 6  – Atmosphere

While a game can be abstract, adding a theme can help draw players into your game world. This week’s lecture will examine how the “flavor” of a game can enhance the game player’s experience.

    Workshop: Thematic Decisions

Design a character that could appear in a low-budget zombie movie. Create a set of options that describe how that character would move and attack if trapped in a room filled with zombies. Make sure that all the options are thematically appropriate. For instance, a Sheriff would be expected to carry a gun, but a Priest would not.


Work on your final project. Focus on elements that will add atmosphere to your game such as colors, fonts, characters and story.

    MIT Mystery Hunt
  Apr. 13  – No Class

Spring Carnival

  12) Apr. 20  – Level Design

We will talk about general design principles for designing a level. Many of these techniques can be applied to both board games and digital games.

    Workshop: Paper Simulations

Pick a favorite video game and create a simulation of it using only blank index cards, tokens and dice. You will lose the graphics, the sound effects and input controllers. What are the core elements of the game that survive the conversion from electronics to paper?


Pick a recent movie or television show that you have watched. On paper, design a video game level that represents some aspect of the story. Exact measurements and details are not required; instead, focus on the high-level relationships between the areas. How will the player’s journey through your level create a story? How much of that story is told by your level, and how much is created by the player’s actions?

    Super Mario 3D World's 4 Step Level Design
  13) Apr. 27  – Personality and Play Styles

Why do gamers play the games they do? How can a particular game be loved by a certain group of players, but hated by another? Over the past two decades researchers have proposed several models of player behavior that analyze the motivations of individuals within a game world. We will take a look at several of these taxonomies in order to help us design games best suited for our intended audience.

    Workshop: Playtesting

This is the last chance to playtest your final project game. Work on formalizing the rules, enhancing the player interface, and tuning the system mechanics.


Polish your game and rulebook. Write an analysis of your game that includes the history of the changes you made and why you made them. Include playtest data and other statistical information. How does your game rate in the categories of set up, goals, obstacles, decisions, rules and interaction? How is the balance both from a player-to-player perspective and gameplay-to-gameplay perspective?

    Take the Bartle Test
    Take the OCEAN Test
    Quantic Foundry
  14) May 4  – Final Projects

Presentations of the students’ final projects.

    Workshop: Playing games

We will play the final projects. Projects will be graded offsite over the weekend and final grades will be emailed to the students.

    No homework.
  Grading Policy

Grading is based on a percentage scale from 0 – 100%. Attendance is worth 65%, homework counts as 10%, and the final project is worth 25%.
90 – 100%:      A
80 – 89%:        B
70 – 79%:        C
60 – 69%:        D
0 – 59%:          Failure


Since this is a workshop class, grading will primarily be based on attendance and class participation. 65% of a student’s grade will be determined by attendance; the first 13 classes are each worth 5% of your grade.

Attendance is the most important factor of a student’s final grade. Because the majority of class time is spent doing interactive group activities, there is no way to make up a missed class.

There will be one homework assignment each week. Use Google Docs for all written reports. A link to the document must be emailed (or sent through Slack) to me before the start of the next week’s class. Make sure the document permissions are set to allow comments in order for me to give feedback.

10 of the homework assignments are worth 1% each. Late submissions will still be reviewed, but will not add points to a student’s final grade.
    Final Project

The final project is a complete game that can be played from beginning to end in approximately 20 minutes. Each student must work on their own individual project. The final project is worth 25% of your grade and is broken down as follows:
5%:      Rulebook (ease of use, organization, clearly written)
5%:      Graphic Design (clarity, layout, colors, interface, etc.)
5%:      Analysis (lessons learned, playtest notes, statistics, etc.)
10%:    “Fun” factor (replay value, theme, originality, etc.)

    CMU 2024 Calendar