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A Project-Based Approach to Teaching Game Design

Over the course of three months, a group of students, faculty, staff, and community members designed, developed, and published the free digital game Word Snack.

At Hampshire College this fall, Professors Chris Perry and Ira Fay led Cognitive Science 327, a cutting-edge class where the liberal arts tradition meets the professional world. Over the course of three months, a group of students, faculty, staff, and community members designed, developed, and published the free digital game Word Snack.

Students learned how to operate in a game design studio and brought the communication and critical thinking skills they have learned at Hampshire to the process of developing a product that will be used in the real world.

Professors Perry and Fay provided leadership and game direction, but the students created and produced all aspects of the game including game design, concept art, 3D art and animation, game programming, project management, audio design, marketing, and publishing. Word Snack was launched to the App Store on December 21.

“Our goal was to bring together a talented, interdisciplinary team and see what kind of game we could make in one semester,” says Professor Chris Perry, one of the executive producers of the app. “With almost three dozen people in the class, many of whom had never worked on a game before, we had to build more than just Word Snack – we had to build a studio.”

Teams were chosen based on an application process that was similar to the process of applying for a job. Prospective students submitted resumes and portfolios showcasing their relevant work and experience. Fay and Perry chose the strongest applicants in each category, with a final group of 32 working on the game.

“We wanted to create a compelling learning environment where students would have the opportunity to develop individual skills in their chosen disciplines and also practice and develop skills in working with other people,” says Professor Fay. “Students learned to talk to people who have different backgrounds and skillsets. And working with a goal requires thinking about timelines and different phases of development.  I can try to teach that in a lecture, but living through it is a much more effective way to learn.”

According to Fay, the process of working as part of a studio was a new experience for many team members, and learning how to work with each other took a significant part of the semester. For student Isaiah Mann, learning to work on a team was as significant as developing his skills at programming. “Working on Word Snack HD provided my first opportunity to work on a fully fledged production team. It proved a challenging and rewarding experience that has only made me more excited for the professional game development world.”

Word Snack is a single-player word game with two modes of gameplay and five character options. It’s free and suitable for all ages.

Downloadable through ITunes here, and for Android here.

For more information, check out Word Snack's website.

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