Readers of ACR are well acquainted with ArtCenter College of Design and their many offerings for film and entertainment undergrad and graduate students. The school, tucked into the lush landscape of Pasadena, is a leader in art and design education and is well known for its tight industry connections and cutting edge curriculums. This fall, it adds to its tempting assortment of degrees with a new Game Design track that will be offered through the existing Entertainment Design bachelor of science degree.
With a maximum enrollment of just 17 students, this is one program well worth looking into if you’re keen to challenge yourself and prepare for a rewarding career in the game industry. The intimate campus, proximity to Los Angeles-area industry, and working faculty will be hard to find elsewhere.
Christophe Gomez has designed the Game Design track and will serve as the program’s first Director. His credentials in the game industry are enviable, having worked on everything from Commodore’s Amiga to EA’s Need For Speed and The Sims. For our latest Q&A, we picked Gomez’s brain on the new program, his goals and expectations for it, and working alongside faculty with equally enviable and award-winning industry experience. Enjoy!
ACR: ArtCenter’s Game Design Track is a new offering that will begin in the Fall of 2018. What was the genesis of the program?
Christophe Gomez: Three factors were at the origin of our Game Design Track. First, (there is) a growing demand from our Entertainment Design students who were increasingly interested in careers in video games. There was also a growing need for well-rounded game designers within the game industry. And there was a realization that Game Design is the obvious next step after the Concept and Animation tracks in our Entertainment Design Program, which already had excellent connections as graduates were recruited by the game industry.
ACR: How were you pulled into it as the first Director of the program, Christophe?
CG: I have known Guillaume Aretos, the Chair of the Entertainment Design department, for more than 20 years. Through those years, we had many discussions about our respective industries. In the last couple of years since Guillaume joined ArtCenter, the topic of a Game Design Track came up more and more often in our discussions. When ArtCenter’s Provost and Guillaume asked me to build the curriculum for ArtCenter, I was honored and ready to jump in.
ACR: What will set ArtCenter’s Game Design program apart from others?
CG: For me what makes the Game Design track unique is ArtCenter itself. I cannot think of any other school that offers such a diversity of creative programs with so many talented faculty members who are also key contributors in their industries. Where else could a game design student interact with a product design or a transportation design student? Or converse with a faculty member who has worked on some of the best movies of recent years? ArtCenter is a place that breathes creativity and you feel it when talking to any student or faculty member. This is a very unique environment.
ACR: Like your ArtCenter colleagues, your industry background is enviable. How will your experience shape and mold the program?
CG: ArtCenter is unique because of its deep connections with the industry. Most faculty members are professionals sharing their knowledge and experience. I am just like them, bringing my own experience and applying them to the Game Design program. I was a game designer when I created my own games. I hired game designers and creative directors. I led their projects. I worked with great game designers but also some not so great ones. All of this gives me a unique insight on the skills required to be a good game designer.
Being a great designer is not enough. To succeed, the graduate will need to know the industry. My experience working as an independent developer as well as with some of the biggest developers and publishers in the industry helped me address this need in the curriculum.
ACR: What are the advantages of working within ArtCenter’s existing Entertainment Design B.S. for the study of Game Design?
CG: As part of the Entertainment Design Program, the Game Design Track benefits from a template that has already been very successful for many years. Also, there is a lot of synergy between all tracks. Game Design students will have the opportunity to work with some of their peers from the Concept Design and Animation Tracks; these students might also embrace a career in Gaming and this collaboration will be very beneficial to all of them.
A key characteristic of the Entertainment Design department is that it functions very closely to the professional world. This will be true also for the Game Design Track.
ACR: Give us a brief look at some of the requirements and projects that Game Design students will need to fulfill.
CG: Students will create numerous games and prototypes throughout the 8 term degree program- from an action game on a console to a free-to-play game for mobile devices, exploring all their intricacies. They will learn how to produce games across a team of designers, managing all aspects of a game’s design and production while gaining a deep knowledge of 3D art production, programming basics, story development, and more. Students will also learn how to truly understand games from the player’s perspective in both digital and non-digital contexts and through learning the history of gaming. During the last two terms, Game Design students will work in teams with other Entertainment Design students to create a fully playable and polished game.
ACR: How have ArtCenter’s close industry connections impacted the way in which you have designed the curriculum and student outcomes?
CG: Like all programs at ArtCenter, this is a key component of the Game Design curriculum. The main objective of the program is for our students to become equipped to influence the future of gaming as they go on to become leaders in the industry. While creating the curriculum, I consulted with several leaders in the industry and we will continue developing these connections. For us, it is crucial to know what the industry needs as well as to expose our students to the real world. On top of that, most of the faculty members are industry professionals. The relationship with the industry will be omnipresent through our faculty, guest speakers, studio visits, internships and graduation shows, consultations and more.
ACR: Given evolving technologies and market shifts within the industry, how do you determine the most important skills that will enable your students to make necessary pivots in the future?
CG: Luckily, game design is not tied to a specific technology or platform. There were games before computers (board games, card games, etc.) that were created by designers. The objective is to educate our students to design any kind of game for any kind of platform. We will achieve this in three ways.
First, there is the theory: Study what makes games fun, the design process, the player, how to work efficiently with other team members, etc. This part is totally platform-agnostic. Second, there is the practice: design games on a wide variety of platforms (mobile, PC, VR, etc.) and in many different genres. And last, there is the looking forward (aspect): exploring emerging technologies and new interactions.
ACR: What were some of the most exciting changes that you worked through in your industry career, and what nascent technologies are you most excited about looking ahead?
CG: I had the chance to witness a lot of small and big changes in the game industry including the rise of mobile gaming, the explosion of free-to-play games, and more. One of the most exciting evolutions was the switch from 2D to 3D in the early 1990s. This opened a lot of opportunities and design challenges to explore like the complete freedom of movement for the player, and a new dimension to apply to level design.
Of the newest technologies, I believe that Augmented Reality is the one that has the most potential to create new and unique experiences. A game like Pokemon Go is only scratching the surface. The possibility of including the player's real environment into the game is creatively very interesting; it adds a new dimension, not unlike when 3D first appeared.
ACR: Thus far, how has it been creating a new program and working with your ArtCenter colleagues?
CG: It has been amazing. The whole school embraced the program from day one. Everybody helped me understand the unique culture at ArtCenter. Many faculty members invited me to their classes and provided a lot of insight about the school's philosophy. Some of them work in the video game industry and they offered many valuable comments and suggestions which helped me shape the curriculum. Being surrounded by so much talent is obviously very inspiring. The quality of the existing programs at ArtCenter sets the bar very high. This is both impressive and motivating.
ACR: Christophe, what do you hope to achieve as the first Director of the program and where do you want it all to go in the near future?
CG: I consider this program as the most important project of my career. It could potentially have a significant impact on the game industry by producing a new generation of game designers. So my ultimate goal is to see our alumni create groundbreaking games. In the short term, my goal is that the Game Design Track will achieve the same excellence as its sibling tracks (Concept and Animation) within the Entertainment Design department and for it to become one of the "go-to" places for aspiring Game Designers as well as for the industry seeking to hire top talent. Enrollment for our Fall 2018 semester is still open and I encourage anyone who is passionate about making games to apply!
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.