Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Presenting at Johns Hopkins

I had one of the most wonderful opportunities last week, when Peter Fröhlich of the Johns Hopkins U. Computer Science department invited me down to Baltimore to speak to his Video Game Design Project Class (run jointly with Jason Corace, with students from the Maryland Institute College of Art). A really wonderful program from what I can see -- the mix of computer-science students (from JHU) and art students (at MICA) provides a great sense of the magical mix of complementary skills and perspectives that happens at actual game companies when they're working well. (And provides some interesting challenges when they're not working so well.)

Here are some pictures and a writeup by Peter on which I don't think I can improve:

I gave an hour-long talk on "Simulation and Game Design", on the idea that early up-front computer simulation of your core game mechanic can help get your game balanced early on, and allow you to build on a solid foundation later on (and not spend months or years trying to get that balance right). Numerous examples came from my work on this blog, of course (like here and here and here). Then I spent the next hour meeting with each of the design groups, asking about their current paper-based prototypes (they're about halfway through the semester at this point), and challenging them with some critical questions about where they were head next. (My girlfriend Isabelle referred to this as being the "Tim Gunn of Game Design", which is pretty funny. Side note: Our partnership itself is the product of the art/programming mix at a particular game company, which underscores the intense and possibly life-changing experience you can get from that kind of project.)

Peter and Jason are two of the nicest guys I've ever meet, and they both treated me wonderfully, big thanks to them. Peter's also a genuine D&D aficionado, and I think we could talk for pretty much days swapping opinions and past history with the game. (Which is pretty fascinating having grown up in different countries; a universal language, if you will.) We also got a chance the next day to check out the American Visionary Arts Museum, a really unique exhibit space, which had been recommended by one of my other New York artist friends (thanks Sarah!).

After the talk Wednesday we also went out for dinner, and coincidentally I got to meet one of my game-design idols, Mr. Dave "Zeb" Cook (you know: author of AD&D 2E, the D&D Expert Rulebook, modules X1, X4, X5, co-author of Star Frontiers, etc., etc.) He's currently living in Baltimore, working at ZeniMax on the soon-to-be-released "Elder Scrolls Online". You really couldn't ask to meet a sweeter, funnier, more personable guy -- greeted me warmly and we immediately started swapping stories and questions about games from the old days to right now. Very lucky to make his acquaintance, graciously let me take a photo with him, what a great trip! Thanks a million to Peter and everyone at JHU for making this happen.


  1. Wow! Man, that's awesome! Getting to impart knowledge is one of the greatest rewards of having gained it. :)

  2. You make it sounds like you got the sweet end of this deal when in fact we did. :-)

    1. I think it was at least an even trade. :-)