Department of Cognitive Science

Game Mechanics

96700 COGS-4320-01
96713 COGS-4320-02

Section 1:

Section 2:

Sage 2510

Instructor: Marc Destefano
Office: Sage 3118
Email: destem [at] the usual
Office Hours: Mondays 10-12

Book: Game Mechanics, by Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans, and (optionally) Game Feel, by Steve Swink

Course Description: This is a class in ludology - the study of games as rule-based systems with emergent dynamics, as opposed to designing with a fiction in mind. Topics will include luck vs. skill, cooperation vs. competition, and game balancing.

Learning Outcomes: The proper analysis, criticism, design, prototyping and playtesting of games. We will primarily deal with classic and fundamental gaming media such as cards and dice, and then move into software scripting. The programming you did for Game Design last semester will be sufficient.

Course Policies

Preparation and Attendance: This is a hands-on course. Attendance for the first half of the semester is mandatory, and not just a matter of merely showing up. You will be constantly testing and tuning games, which will require your presence, and the ability to work with other people. The number one skill game designers need is communication. You will be allowed one unexcused absence, any others must be excused with a letter from the Dean of Students Office. Missing a class does not excuse you from any assignments given that day. After Spring Break, we will move into 3D video game development. Attendance is optional at that point, but is still a really good idea, as we'll be covering a great deal of material.

Academic Honesty: Student relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Students must be able to trust that their teachers have made responsible decisions about the structure and content of the course and that they are conscientiously making their best effort to help students learn. Teachers must be able to trust that students do their work conscientiously and honestly making their best effort to learn. Acts that violate this mutual respect and trust undermine the educational process. They counteract our very reason for being here at Rensselaer and will not be tolerated. Any student who engages in any form of academic dishonesty will receive an F in this course and will be reported to the Dean of Students for further disciplinary action. The Rensselaer Handbook defines various forms of Academic Dishonesty and procedures for responding to them. All of these forms are violations of trust between students and teachers. Please familiarize yourself with this portion of the handbook. In addition to the violations listed within the handbook, I also do not tolerate multiple submissions of the same assignment to different classes.

Gender-fair language: Because the way we speak and write affects the way we think, everyone in this course is expected to use gender-fair language in all discussions and writing. A guide to gender-fair language is available from the Writing Center and from the Library.

Grading: Many classes will have homework assignments, which will be due at the next class meeting. These will consist of a number of design exercises and challenges. In addition, there will be two major design projects. The first will be a distillation of a games' system dynamics; the second will be an individual 3D video game which will be presented to the class at the end of the semester. Late homeworks are penalized at 10% per 24 hours, starting at the end of the class in which the assignment was due.

Percentage of Grade
Homework Assignments (8)
Machinations Project
Final Project

Exercises will be taken from the following books:

"Challenges for Game Designers" - Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber
"The Complete Wargames Handbook" - Jim Dunnigan
"Balance of Power" - Chris Crawford
"Game Design Workshop" - Tracy Fullerton
"A Gamut of Games" - Sid Sackson
"Dice Games Properly Explained" - Reiner Knizia
"Card Games Properly Explained" - Arnold Marks

Class Schedule

Jan 25 Orientation, The Path
Jan 28 Probability
Feb 1 Dice Games
Feb 4 Luck vs Skill
Feb 8 System Dynamics
Feb 11 Machinations
Feb 18 Machinations II (Project Assigned)
Feb 22


Feb 25 Origins of World War I
Feb 29 Iterative Tuning - Us vs. It
Mar 3 Iterative Tuning - BattleBattle!
Mar 7

Social Dilemmas

Mar 10 Focus
Mar 21 Virtual Sensation
Mar 24 Virtual Sensation II
Mar 28 Unity 3D, Version Control
Mar 31 Vectors
Apr 4 Interpolation
Apr 7 Event Systems and FSMs, Final Project Assigned
Apr 11 Forces
Apr 14 Oscillation
Apr 18 Particle Systems
Apr 21 Studio
Apr 25 Studio
Apr 28 Studio
Apr 30 (Sat) GameFest
May 2 Studio
May 5 Final Presentations
May 9 Final Presentations

Homework Assignments and Course slides will be available here

1/25 - The Path

1/28 - Probability I

2/1 - Probability II

2/4 - Pattern II

2/8 - Machinations | tool

2/11 - Machinations II

2/18 - System Dynamics

2/22 - Origins of World War I

2/25 - Balance I

2/29 - Balance II

3/3 - Us vs. It

3/7 - BattleBattle

3/21 - Virtual Sensation I

Orisinal website

Super Scarfman

3/24 - Virtual Sensation II

50 Camera Mistakes

Follow Cam Script

Department of Cognitive Science
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Carnegie 108
110 8th Street
Troy, NY 12180
Phone: (518) 276-6472
Fax: (518) 276-8268