Starting Fall of 2020, DigiPen will implement a revamped version of the Bachelor of Arts in Game Design program, designed to help students identify and specialize in their preferred areas of design expertise. The redesigned program is based around six separate specialty tracks, of which, students must follow two to completion in order to graduate. The specialty tracks are:
- Systems Design
- Level Design
- User Experience (UX) Design
- Narrative Design
- Technical Design
- User Research
“When you go out into the real world and apply for jobs, you’ll find the listings will say things like ‘level designer,’ ‘UX designer,’ or ‘systems designer.’ Rarely do you have a general ‘game designer’ position,” says DigiPen senior game design lecturer Boyan Radakovich, one of the professors who helped with the program redesign effort. “This new specialist approach makes it a lot easier to apply for jobs and makes DigiPen students very hirable.”
Freshman year, starting with the DES 101 introductory course, students learn the foundational elements of the six new design specialty areas. Sophomore year, students then move on to the level one core classes for each of the six design areas. While freshman year is more about identifying and analyzing the six design areas, sophomore year is about applying those lessons directly.
“The homework asks them to create levels, place items, design encounters, etc. That way we can test them to see if they have fundamental aptitude in each area and help them make an informed decision about what they want to specialize in,” Radakovich says. By the end of sophomore year, having tried out all six areas in class and on game projects, students choose their two areas of focus and begin specializing their junior year.
“At level two, the classes become much smaller — only the people who want to be systems designers are in Systems Design 2,” Radakovich says. At level three, students can choose a number of classes on specific subtopics within their specialty tracks, “be it combat games, puzzle design, whatever topic students are interested in,” Radakovich says. Finally, students will complete their fourth-level senior capstone projects in their chosen specialty.
“The new system is exciting because it creates a lot of opportunities for customization, and the types of combinations we might see students choose are really interesting,” Radakovich says. “Maybe you’re a systems user researcher, but someone else in your systems design class goes, ‘You know what? I’m a systems level designer, that’s who I am! I love content, but I also love making cool combat encounters.’ So then they go up their own tree in the program.”
As part of the program redesign, DigiPen’s Department of Game Software Design and Production will split into two different departments, separating game design and game production faculty. Mirroring the new specialty track system, current BA in Game Design faculty will teach as specialists in one of the six main areas as well — a shift that will allow faculty to focus solely on developing curriculum in their own areas of expertise.