DR MIKE COOPER

Game Pro­gram­ming Lec­turer (Ad­vanced Diploma), AIE Ade­laide

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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.

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