DigiPen Institute of Technology was the first university in the world dedicated to computer graphics and video game development education. Originally offering post-secondary coursework in collaboration with Nintendo in 1990, the college quickly sprouted into a fully accredited college by 1996 offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields such as Game Design, Real-Time Interactive Simulation (RTIS), Game Design and Digital Animation.
Consistently ranked among the top ten colleges for Game Design (Princeton Review awarded the college the number 2 position in 2010), a DigiPen education is marked by rigorous and intensive coursework. To gain additional insight into the college, we spoke with External Affairs VP Angela Kugler from the school’s Redmond, Washington, campus.
ACR: What coursework differentiates DigiPen’s degree program in Digital Art and Animation from other programs?
AK: DigiPen’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Arts and Animation program differs from other Digital Arts and Animation programs in several different ways. The first is the breadth of work involved. DigiPen trains students to be artists first, and then adds technology on top of that. The curriculum emphasizes the traditional skills of drawing, composition, figure drawing and color theory to a level which many animation courses do not. Secondly, the program demands a very high level of mastery in all aspects of digital art and animation. Achieving that level of mastery requires more practice than most degrees demand.
Perhaps most importantly, our graduates are expected to be visual problem solvers. Every assignment is fashioned to challenge students to produce drawings, animations, environments, etc., within the context of a particular story, time period, or style. This results in creativity within defined limits - art for a reason. Students become adept at finding visual solutions first, then let the media and techniques they use follow from that.
ACR: DigiPen was the first institute to offer a Bachelor degree in Game Development and can boast many notable alumni and faculty in its ranks. What can students expect from this program and how competitive is admission?
AK: Like all of the degrees DigiPen offers, the B.A. and B.S. in Game Design are a blend of theory and practice that produce graduates who are ready to contribute to real-world projects in the game industry from the day they are hired. The faculty for these programs are likewise a mix of accomplished traditional academics (Ph.D.s in math, physics, computer science, etc.) and experienced industry professionals (designers, programmers, and producers with decades of experience) who work together to ensure that students have cutting-edge skills built on top of a strong traditional foundation.
Admission to the BAGD or BSGD program requires a solid academic background plus strong writing skills. However, the admissions process also takes into account the student’s level of engagement and interest in game design. If an applicant has the basic academic preparation required and can demonstrate a deep passion for making games, they are likely to succeed in these programs. Ambition is just as important as talent – in fact, even a very talented student will struggle at DigiPen if he or she lacks the passion and commitment these programs demand.
The BAGD and BSGD programs share a common core of game design courses that begins with game history, continues with building card, dice, and board games, and finishes with creating maps, characters, combat systems, strategy games, role-playing games, and more. After building a foundation of non-digital games, the core curriculum continues with 2D digital game design (platformers, shooters, puzzle games, RPGs, strategy games, etc.) and finishes with 3D digital game design (FPSes, platformers, physics puzzles, RTSes, etc.). The BAGD program builds on this game design core with classes in writing, traditional art, digital art, and scripting. The BSGD program supplements it with classes in C/C++, data structures, artificial intelligence, databases, linear algebra, calculus, and game theory.
Both degrees also feature game project classes - eight courses (one every semester) where everything students learn is put in practice in a collaborative, deadline-driven environment. These classes are one of the main distinguishing features of a DigiPen education and the source of the many awards that DigiPen students have won.
ACR: In an industry that is constantly evolving thanks to new technology, how does DigiPen stay ahead of the curve by offering unique courses, cutting edge technologies and experienced faculty?
AK: There are many factors that contribute to DigiPen’s continued success. For one, we maintain a Program Advisory Committee (PAC) comprised of industry and academic professionals that guides the curriculum of each degree program. These committees help us ensure that the coursework DigiPen offers stays current and relevant to the needs of the industry. DigiPen’s current PAC members work at companies such as Valve Software, Nintendo Software Technology, Microsoft Studios, PopCap Games, and Sony Online Entertainment, to name a few.
While our students and graduates have continued to produce cutting edge technologies, our curriculum is rooted in teaching fundamental knowledge and not just the latest software or tools. Students are exposed to the latest techniques and processes used in contemporary development studios, but before that, they become great artists, designers, and engineers by learning the basics. That means starting with traditional 2D animation in our BFA program, teaching students to build their own game and physics engines in our Real-Time Interactive Simulation program, requiring students to build their own game consoles in our Computer Engineering program, and having our game design students start with board games and card games.
We know that the game platforms on which our students will be working in four to six years will be completely different from what they are now, so it’s essential that they gain the foundational knowledge and skills that will allow them to innovate and adapt to whatever technology is available in the future.
Though our students must manage an intense workload, they are surrounded by extremely passionate and knowledgeable classmates and faculty. The majority of our faculty work full-time, and many of them have worked at DigiPen for the last decade or more. Furthermore, all of our professors who teach our project-based courses come from either the game or animation industries. Our faculty go the extra mile for our students by challenging them and helping them tackle problems while simulating a real-work environment. This helps prepare students to make meaningful contributions to their team from the moment they begin their career after graduation.
ACR: DigiPen also offers Masters degree programs for both full and part-time graduate students. Is there an ideal candidate for this program?
AK: DigiPen's MSCS program offers extended education in the areas of 3D computer graphics, animation and modeling techniques, artificial intelligence algorithms, image processing, and real-time rendering, combined with related training in computer science, mathematics, and physics. There are two groups of students who benefit greatly from this program. The first is applicants who are graduates of general computer science degrees who are looking to gain specific knowledge and experience in game development. The second is current engineering or game industry professionals who are looking to advance their career by gaining expertise in a concentrated area of study. Within DigiPen’s MSCS program, students can choose to focus their studies on artificial intelligence, graphics, physics, or networking.
ACR: DigiPen also offers continuing education studies for industry professionals as well as non-matriculated course offerings for prospective students. Who are the ideal candidates for these courses?
AK: Our Continuing Education courses are designed for individuals looking to explore the world of digital interactive entertainment and enhance their overall knowledge of game development topics such as programming, production art, and game design. The ideal candidates for these courses are high school or college graduates who are interested in introductory level courses in the areas listed above. Additionally, DigiPen can tailor specific courses for companies who want to provide professional development opportunities for their team members.
ACR: DigiPen is located just outside of Seattle in the tech-hub suburb of Redmond, Washington. What can students expect from the school’s close ties with regional studios and industry professionals?
AK: Seattle is the second largest game development hub in the U.S., which means DigiPen is surrounded by over 150 game- and software-related companies, including industry leaders like Microsoft, Nintendo, ArenaNet, Valve, and Bungie, to name a few. Our students have had a lot of success in finding jobs upon graduation, and that's partly due to our location. Both internship and full-time employment opportunities are plentiful in the Seattle area, and most of the companies offering these positions are familiar with our graduates and their work.
Our faculty also takes advantage of the close proximity to top-tier game companies by regularly inviting industry professionals to give guest lectures and attend on-campus events. These on-campus visits give students an insight into the tools and processes of real-world game developers, as well as the opportunity to meet with recruiters, learn more about the hiring process, and even participate in on-campus interviews. Past visitors include representatives from Microsoft Games Studio, DisneyToon Studios, Blizzard, ArenaNet, and many others.
ACR: Uniquely, DigiPen has two international campuses in Spain and Singapore. Can students at your Redmond campus utilize these locations for semester-abroad studies?
AK: We encourage students at DigiPen’s U.S. campus to take advantage of the international campus experience. Students can perform an exchange over the summer semester, during which they can take elective courses while also experiencing the local culture. Currently, we have several students from the Redmond and Singapore campuses who are taking advantage of this program. Our Spain campus just opened this year, but we anticipate the same level of interest in studying abroad at that campus.
ACR: Angela, it’s been fascinating to learn more about DigiPen’s innovative and thorough approach to Game Development education. Thanks for sharing your insight!
AK: Anytime. Thank you!
For a complete list of degrees and courses offered at DigiPen, tuition rates, campus tours and admissions, please visit their website.