What are the top game design schools in the west for 2020?
|1||University of Southern California||California|
|2||DigiPen Institute of Technology||Washington|
|3||University of California, Santa Cruz||California|
|4||University of California, Los Angeles||California|
|5||University of California, Irvine||California|
|6||University of Washington||Washington|
|7||Gnomon School of Visual Effects||California|
|8||Academy of Art University||California|
|9||Laguna College of Art and Design||California|
|10||Otis College of Art and Design||California|
Our 2020 rankings of the Top 10 game design schools and colleges in the West. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.
Established in 1880, University of Southern California (USC) serves 47,500 students enrolled in more than 200 undergraduate programs, 300-plus graduate programs, and more than 150 minors. Program options for aspiring game designers are offered through Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences’ Interactive Media & Games Division. Dornsife programs are offered in conjunction with the School of Cinematic Arts.
Viterbi School of Engineering offerings include a BS in Computer Science (Games), an MS in Computer Science (Game Development), and a PhD in Computer Science with a Game Design and Development or Virtual Reality research area. A Minor in Computer Science and a Progressive Degree Program (PDP) are also available.
The PDP allows exceptional undergraduate students to “start graduate-level classes during their senior year and request a reduction in the units required for the Master’s degree.” This “allows students to earn the MS in Computer Science with one or two additional semesters of study.” The PDP is available for the MS in Computer Science (Game Development).
The Interactive Media & Games Division offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment, an intensive three-year MFA in Interactive Media, an MFA in Interactive Media (Games and Health), and an MA in Cinematic Arts (Media Arts, Games and Health). The Division’s extensive list of minors includes Game Design, Game Animation, Game Audio, Game Entrepreneurism, Game User Research, Game Studies, Documentary, Video Game Design and Management, Video Game Programming, 3D Computer Modeling and Graphics, Computer Science, Immersive Media, and Themed Entertainment.
In addition to a wide variety of program options for aspiring game designers, USC is home to the GamePipe Laboratory. Sponsored by Intel, Sony, and other technology companies, the Lab produces a "Demo Day," which allows students to showcase their work. The semiannual event attracts game industry reps, reporters, faculty, students, and hundreds of spectators from across the country.
Founded in 1988, DigiPen Institute of Technology was the first school in the world to offer a bachelor’s degree in Video Game Development. More than 550 companies have hired DigiPen graduates and the school is located near more than 400 interactive media companies, making the region one of the largest video game centers in the world. The school, which serves around 1,100 students from all 50 states and close to 50 countries, has international campuses in Singapore and Spain along with educational partnerships with Keimyung University in South Korea and Thammasat University in Thailand.
DigiPen offers ten graduate and undergraduate program options in the areas of Art, Design, and Computer Science. Programs for aspiring game designers are offered through the Department of Game Software Design and Production. Pathways include a BA in Game Design, a BS in Computer Science and Game Design, a BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (BS in RTIS), a five-year BS in RTIS/MS in Computer Science, and a Minor in Mathematics. An MFA in Digital Arts is also available in the Digital Arts Department.
Although the BS in RTIS offers “extensive training in mathematics and physics,” says DigiPen, students in the program also “work both individually and collaboratively to learn the fundamentals of Game Design, Production, and Programming. Additionally, they write game design documents and technical design documents, learn how to schedule tools and techniques, and participate in the full production of several games.”
The MFA in Digital Arts is a terminal degree that allows students to build on their foundation and “expand beyond traditional arts,” says the school. Students will “hone their craft in digital media and build proficiency in subjects” such as character design, digital sculpting, digital painting, and other specializations within the digital media industries.
The program culminates with an advanced thesis project that allows students to develop and showcase an original body of work that is both personal and reflective of their strongest capabilities as a digital artist. In addition to the thesis project, students will collaborate with peers on team-based projects, including games and films, as part of elective coursework.
DigiPen student games have won 57 Independent Games Festival awards (more than any other school) and to date, more than 550 companies around the world have hired DigiPen graduates. DigiPen alumni have been credited on more than 1,000 commercial game titles.
The University of California - Santa Cruz (UCSC) opened in 1965. The school serves 18,805 students enrolled in more than 100 degree programs across 10 colleges. The Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE) started the first undergraduate game major in the University of California System. Offered through BSOE’s Department of Computer Science (CS) and Computational Media (CMPM), options include a BS in Computer Science: Computer Game Design, an MS in Games & Playable Media, and MS and PhD degrees in Computational Media or Computer Science with a Games Focus.
The UCSC Art Department houses the Arts Division, which offers an interdisciplinary BA in Art & Design: Games & Playable Media (AGPM) and an MFA in Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) with a Playable Media Research Option. UCSC is also home to The Center for Games and Playable Media (CGPM). Established in 2010, CGPM houses the schools five games-related research labs including the Expressive Intelligence Studio — one of the largest technical game research groups in the world. CGPM partners include eBay, Google, Sony, EA, Microsoft Studios, the MacArthur Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and many others.
Founded in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) serves nearly 45,000 students from all 50 states and more than 100 foreign countries. The school offers 125+ undergraduate majors across 109 academic departments, and more than 40 graduate programs.
The School of Arts and Architecture houses the Department of Design Media Arts (DMA), which offers both BA and MFA degrees in Design Media Arts (BA DMA and MFA DMA). UCLA Extension offers a Game Design Specialization as well. The DMA program highlights game design study, interactivity and games, video and animation, visual communication, and more, while the Game Design Specialization consists of four courses including User Experience for Games, AR/MR/VR for Immersive Content: Experience, Game & Media, Introduction to Game Design and 3D Game Design and Game Engines: Unity.
With support from the School of Theater, Film, and Television, DMA also houses the UCLA Game Lab. Per the school, the primary function of the Lab is as “a research and production space for collaborative teams to pursue focused work on gaming projects.” It supports exploration of Game Aesthetics, Game Context, and Game Genres, while emphasizing the “conceptual risk-taking and development of new modes of expression and form through gaming.”
In addition to producing games and research, the lab functions as a center that develops public programming around critical issues in gaming. Programming includes public lectures, workshops, exhibitions, a visiting artist program, and an annual public festival at the Hammer Museum.
Established in 1965, the University of California - Irvine (UC Irvine) serves nearly 36,750 students enrolled over 200 programs through more than a dozen schools. The Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences offers a BS in Computer Game Science (CGS). Per the school, the program “is designed around a set of core courses that introduce the fundamentals of computer science (programming, data structures, graphics and artificial intelligence), math (statistics, linear algebra and logic), and games (games and society, game design, game engines and multiplayer games).”
Nearly thirty electives offer students the opportunity to specialize, “focusing anywhere from typical game topics such as modeling, world building and mobile games to more peripheral topics such as software design and social impacts.”
Throughout the major, CGS students will “gain hands-on experience in creating a variety of digital games, for entertainment purposes, but also for education, training and engendering social change.” Working in teams, students “will employ a variety of different programming languages, game platforms and hardware.” Overall, the program “strongly emphasizes the technical aspects of creating games, as well as working in teams to design and implement them.”
Graduates of the program continue on to graduate school or they often “find employment in the industry, whether at a major publisher, smaller studio or as self-employed freelancers. Many squarely focus on entertainment, others succeed in bringing their skills to the design and development of serious games in a variety of domains, including healthcare and education.”
Established in 1861, University of Washington (UW) serves around 56,795 students across three campuses located in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma. The school offers more than 570 degree options across 300+ programs and 16 colleges and schools. The Paul G. Allen School Computer Science & Engineering offers a BS in Computer Science, a BS in Computer Engineering, a Combined BS/MS, and a PhD or Professional Master’s Program (PMP) in Computer Science & Engineering (CSE). All programs offer the opportunity to focus in Graphics, Vision, Games, and Animation.
In the BS degree programs, students can work with faculty and graduate students on research; collaborate with industry partners; tackle complex design and implementation projects in capstone courses; and tailor their degree to meet their interests and goals. Sample courses include Computer Animation, Computer Graphics, Advanced Digital Design, Digital Sound, Data Visualization, and Artificial Intelligence. In addition, students can earn a Certificate in Game Design.
Students in all programs have access to three main labs at UW CSE. All are engaged in research spanning the areas of animation, computer game science, graphics, vision, and visualization. Labs include the Graphics and Imaging Lab (GRAIL), the Center for Game Science, and the Animation Research Labs. Per UW, the GRAIL group is known for “groundbreaking” research in computational photography, games for science and education, 3-D reconstruction, Internet photo collections, object recognition, human shape and motion analysis, information visualization, and animation, while researchers at the Center for Game Science use gaming to solve grand challenges, crowdsource human problem-solving to aid scientific discovery, and improve student interest and achievement in mathematics.
The Animation Research Labs is a multi-disciplinary effort that brings together faculty and students from UW CSE, the Department of Architecture, and the Schools of Art, DXARTS, Drama, and Music. The ARL is focused on advancing the state-of-the-art in animation through teaching, research, and computer-animated production in collaboration with experts from Disney Animation Studios, Bungie, Industrial Light & Magic, Microsoft Game Studios, Pixar, and many others.
In addition to the Computer Science and Engineering Programs, University of Washington offers a BFA with a Major in Digital Arts and Experimental Arts (BFA DXARTS) and a PhD in DXARTS. Students in both programs have the opportunity to focus their work in a particular area of experimental arts (computer animation, digital video, digital media art, computer music and sound art, design computing, mechatronics, and so on). Whatever the chosen area, “artists and scholars working at DXARTS engage in teaching, learning, and research within the synergistic, multidisciplinary setting of the center's labs, studios, and classrooms.”
Additional programs include a Certificate in Game Design and nine-week courses including Game Studio Roles & Development and Game Mechanics & Systems Design.
Gnomon School of Visual Effects was established in 1997. The campus is located in Hollywood, California, within the Television Center Studio lot. Per the school, “classrooms have been designed to cultivate creativity and learning by mimicking the environments of real production studios.” The schools “30,000 square foot facility has nine state-of-the-art computer labs, a green screen stage, two cycloramas, dedicated sculpture labs, a drawing studio, lecture spaces, student lounges, a student store, and the Gnomon Gallery.”
With more than 600 graduates to date, Gnomon offers a three- or four-year Digital Production BFA and a two-year Digital Production Certificate. The BFA program “covers all aspects of a 3D generalist skillset, providing an in-depth understanding of the 3D production pipeline, visual arts, and general education studies.” The two-year pathway is an “intensive program, built on a 3D generalist foundation, offering emphasized studies in games, modeling and texturing, visual effects, or character and creature animation.”
Gnomon also offers single courses such as Game Creation, Game Design, Anatomy of Games, Animation for Games, Character Creation for Games, Creature Design, Texturing and Shading for Games, Digital Sculpting, Visual Effects for Games, Props and Weapons for Games, Hard Surface Modeling, Photoshop for Digital Production, and Introduction to 3D with Maya. Students can mix and match courses to meet their career goals, and some courses are available 100% online.
Gnomon graduates have gone on to work with Blizzard Entertainment, Digital Domain, Disney Interactive Media Group, Electronic Arts, ILM, PlayStation, ZeniMax Online Studios, and many others.
Academy of Art University was established in 1929. The school serves more than 7,200 students from 112 countries enrolled in dozens of Art, Design, Fashion, and Architecture programs. Degrees are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and many programs are available entirely online.
The School of Game Development offers a variety of degree programs for aspiring game designers. Options include AA, BFA, MA, and MFA degrees in Game Development and a BS in Game Programming. According to the school, these multidisciplinary programs provide a “well-rounded education in the arts with an emphasis on understanding and applying techniques including 3D modeling, animation and lighting in video game production.”
Courses for the programs (AA, BFA, MA, and MFA) cover techniques in game design, game programming, concept art, 3D modeling, and animation, among others. Course highlights include History of Comics: International and Alternative Comics, 3D Character Artist, 3D Environment Modeling, Environment Concept, Game/Level Design, UX/UI, and The Power of Signs: Semiotics & The Visual Arts. The programs include internships, collaborative projects, and Games Portfolio Preparation.
The multidisciplinary MFA program provides a “well-rounded education in the arts with an emphasis on understanding and applying techniques including 3D modeling, animation and lighting in video game production.” Students in this program will complete a thesis, as well as Directed Study.
The school says the BS in Game Programming teaches “specialized aspects of design such as monetization, unique control types, rapid development via iteration, and production methods working in teams.” Course highlights include Programming for Games, Data Structures & Algorithms, AAA Game Engine Architecture, Vector, Matrices, & Transformations, Network Programming, Scripting for Mobile Games, Artificial Intelligence, Systems Design, and Indie Game Programming.
Students will graduate with a solid grasp of the fundamental game art principles, including knowledge of game engine technology, and pre-production and production environments.
The Game Development programs at Academy of Art prepare students for positions such as game designer, 3D modeler, concept artist, UI/UX designer, and many others.
Established in 1961 as the Laguna Beach School of Art, Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) serves 670 students enrolled in five BFA and two MFA programs. With 168 students, Game Art is the second largest program at LCAD. Degree options include a Game Art BFA and a Game Design MFA.
The project-based BFA program highlights a collaborative environment, partnerships with USC’s graduate program (GamePipe), among others, and exclusive access to teachers and mentors that come from Blizzard Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Appy Entertainment, Double Helix, Obsidian Entertainment, NCsoft Carbine Studios, Insomniac, and Highmoon.
The school says that students may choose to further develop and perfect their skills through industry internships that apply theory to real world situations. Additionally, the Game Art program hosts workshops that have featured such inspirational giants as Steven Huston and Nathan Fowkes.
The Game Design MFA is an online two-year terminal degree that explores the design and development of games as a creative practice. Per the school, “the program offers a unique, multidisciplinary approach that bridges the gap between theory and practice in game design.” Course highlights include Game Narrative, Specialized Programming, Game Audio, Game Production, Mechanics Based Game Analysis, Management Psychology, and Prototyping. The program also features a Meaningful Games Summer Session worth six credit hours.
Select MFA program candidates “will create a graduate level game development environment, replicating that which reflects the current industry model, nurturing advanced skills in design, research and development, leadership and marketing in the creative art of game design.”
Otis College of Art and Design (OTIS) was established in 1918 by founder and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, General Harrison Gray Otis. The school serves approximately 1,100 full-time students enrolled in 11 BFA degree programs ranging from Digital Media (Animation, Game and Entertainment Design, and Motion Design) to Toy Design. The school also offers MFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Public Practice, and Writing as well as a variety of minors and certificate programs.
Offerings for aspiring game designers include a BA in Digital Media with a Game and Entertainment Design Emphasis and a Minor in Digital Media. Offered through the Digital Media Department, the BA program consists of unique courses such as Connections Through Color, Basic 3D for Storytellers, Game and Entertainment Basics, The Visual Language of Film, Games and Design, CG for Digital Artists, and Creative Action Studio. Students will also take a number of studio electives, practicums, and seminars, and complete a senior project and capstone.
Through the curriculum, the school says Game and Entertainment Design students “will learn to create visual elements for games, apps, films, and other platforms.” Students will also acquire the skills to “design the gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters of interactive games, apps, and websites. Using the most advanced CGI technologies, students acquire the techniques to create stunning visual effects for films, commercials, and videos.” Students will have access to nine state-of-the-art labs and shops to complete their projects.
OTIS alumni have landed positions at major studios such as Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, ILM, and Nickelodeon.