Santa Cruz university to offer game-design major

This fall's new undergraduate degree, in conjunction with the California school's computer-science arm, will equip would-be game developers with tech, art, story skills.

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This fall, the University of California at Santa Cruz will begin offering a bachelor's of computer science degree that is tailored toward video-game design, the school announced.

UCSC--one of 10 University of California campuses in the United States--will offer alternate routes through the new game-focused major, but it promises a "rigorous" slate of computer-science classes will make up the foundation. Courses in art and narration will supplement the technical classes.

"The yearlong project makes it possible to take a game concept and turn it into a fully functional game with high-quality gameplay, characters, and storyline," said James Whitehead, an associate professor of computer science at UCSC.

A degree in game design isn't a wholly original idea, but Santa Cruz's is still one of the first. The University of Southern California is known for its focus on game design, and the Los Angeles school is also preparing a similar program for this fall. Santa Cruz said its program, however, is the first such degree to be part of the University of California system of public universities.

Michael Mateas is a professor, game designer, and artificial-intelligence researcher who will work in the school's new major. Mateas was one of the developers of last year's indie darling Facade--a PC adventure game that put players in the role of marriage counselor, offering advice to an disintegrating couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Not only did the player's words make or break the in-game relationship, but Facade's success depended on the strength of its AI--an increasingly important component of game design, Mateas said.

"In making Facade," he said, "I wanted to create a new game-playing experience, where the player is truly immersed in the story and has nuanced interactions with the characters. I look forward to teaching students how to use artificial intelligence techniques to create new kinds of game experiences."

Ira Pohl, the chair of computer science at UCSC's engineering school, said the new program walks the line between technical and creative courses, offering "a unique combination of technical and artistic training."

"[T]he program is what we call computer-science heavy," Pohl told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "We're creating a new degree that has the right amount of artistic creativity with rigorous computer science."

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