DR MIKE COOPER
Game Programming Lecturer (Advanced Diploma), AIE Adelaide
FROM VERY EARLY ON, EVERY ASSIGNMENT CAN BE A POTENTIAL PORTFOLIO PIECE
Does a game programming course focus on coding and logistics over ‘design’?
The Games Programming stream of the Advanced Diploma is focused on the technical side of things. We have a separate Game Design stream which covers a balance of technical skills, like Unity scripting, and softer skills like the psychology of game design. In contrast, the Games Programming stream that I teach starts off with an in-depth look at the C++ programming language, and basics like memory management, and ends with students building their own graphics engines and physics engines from scratch. It has a very strong focus on technical knowhow over design.
Having said that, many of my programming students are also game designers, working on projects in their own time and participating in game jams. The final major production project, which lasts 4 months, puts students from all streams (Art, Design, and Programming) together to work on a project, where all students are encouraged to think like designers and add their creative input.
What might a student learn from your classes that they cannot get from an online course?
We try to recreate the environment of a real games studio as much as possible. This comes into play most strongly with the team projects, where the lecturers act as producers and help the students organise into mixed-discipline teams to work on game projects with considerable scope. Some areas of game development always require this kind of close collaboration. Character animation, for example, requires the programmers and artists to work closely together to get the desired results happening in game. This kind of teamwork is much easier to do in a face-toface situation.
Our students also benefit from having a lot of oneon-one face-to-face time with the teachers.
We’ve all worked in the local games industry, and can get old colleagues in as guest lecturers. Some of our students will go on to become potential employers, or start business ventures together, so the network that develops between the students gives them a great springboard for their careers in games.
How do you cater for students with different levels of prior knowledge and expectations?
In the first few weeks of the Programming Diploma, we assume no prior knowledge of C++, which is obviously not the case for many of our students. We encourage students who are ahead of the curve to add extra features to their assignments, or even work on side projects during class time. From very early on, every assignment is a potential portfolio piece, and an opportunity for the student to stand out from their competitors in the job market after they graduate. Later assignments, like the graphics and physics engines, are quite openended and have scope for the stronger students to set themselves more ambitious goals while students who are struggling with the material can still fulfill all the basic requirements. During the coursework modules I’d say I spent at least half of my day working one-on-one with the students, or in small groups.