Luminaries from the Game Industry Take Over Classes as Guest Lecturers

April 25, 2018

“Thrilled to have @ThePouncer guest lecture on the trust framework he presented at GDC this year,” recently tweeted Informatics Professor Kurt Squire. “Students loved it.”

In case you’re wondering, “ThePouncer” is Aaron Cammarata, technical project lead at Google Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP). He is a game designer with more than 16 years of industry experience, including as founder of voidALPHA, a full-service game studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet Cammarata wasn’t the only luminary to recently visit UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Science (ICS).

Guest lecturer Aaron Cammarata, technical project lead at Google Advanced Technology and Products

Students in courses such as ICS 60: Computer Games and Society, I&C SCI 168: Multiplayer Game Project, and INF 295: Special Topics in Informatics also got a guest lecture from Gordon Bellamy, who first started in the industry back in 1993 as a tester at Electonic Arts. Bellamy worked his way up to being a lead designer on the Madden franchise and is now an advisor for TheWaveVR and co-founder of Hangry Studios, a studio that focuses on quality assurance and automation for games.

Then, as if visits from Cammarata and Bellamy weren’t enough, Informatics Professor Constance Steinkuehler welcomed another veteran game designer, Raph Koster. “We are so grateful to have him here,” she said, introducing Koster to her ICS 60 class. “He’s one of the 10 most important people in the online game space.” He was lead designer and director of titles such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, and he wrote “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” — a classic in the field of games.

“When I got into the games industry,” says Koster, “there wasn’t anything like a games program.” UCI introduced its Computer Game Science degree in 2011, and the program has been growing ever since. Koster admits that he enjoys speaking to students. “Having to explain things to others makes them clearer in my own mind, so it’s selfish to a degree. And I take the chance to speak to people as an opportunity to go learn a new topic that I can then explain.”

The students in ICS 60 were in for a treat, because Koster took the opportunity to learn about their previous lesson’s reading assignment, Chapter 3 in the course textbook, “Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction.” The material offers a highly theoretical response to the chapter’s title, “What Is a Game?” So, Koster took the various theories presented — ranging from those of German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and French philosopherRoger Caillois through to designer Chris Crawford and UCI’s own game theorist Katie Salen Tekinbaş — and he translated them into application. He made sense of them all with simple, real-world examples that included walking and skipping, throwing around an invisible ball and even drawing a cat.

Yes, catching an invisible ball from Raph Koster was just part of the fun of this week’s learning in game design and development here at UCI!

— Shani Murray