UC Santa Cruz creates new major in computer game design

From the UC Santa Cruz News desk

UCSC creates new major in computer game design

July 10, 2006
Contact: Tim Stephens (831) 459-2495; stephens@ucsc.edu

The University of California, Santa Cruz, has approved a new major in
computer game design, the first of its kind in the UC system. The new major,
leading to a B.S. degree, provides students with a rigorous background in the
technical, artistic, and narrative elements of creating interactive computer

"We are pleased to be able to offer this new degree program, which provides a
unique combination of technical and artistic training," said Ira Pohl, professor
and chair of computer science in UCSC’s Baskin School of Engineering.

The Department of Computer Science will administer the new interdisciplinary
program, which will also involve faculty in the Department of Film and Digital
Media in UCSC’s Arts Division. Students can enroll in the new major beginning
this fall.

"Millions now play massively multiplayer online games, which constitute a new
cultural force–a new medium. Digital media courses will provide students with
the tools they need to understand this cultural transformation in conjunction
with its technological and artistic possibilities," said Warren Sack, assistant
professor of film and digital media.

A highlight of the major is a yearlong game design project in which students
work in teams to develop and polish a substantial video game. The campus is
creating a new instructional laboratory for computer game design to support
these projects.

"Students will be able to turn their dreams of making computer games into
reality," said James Whitehead, associate professor of computer science. "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. We
want our students to break new ground and achieve excellence in game design. The
yearlong project and fully stocked lab make this possible."

To help launch the program, UCSC has recently hired Michael Mateas, a leading
researcher in the area of artificial intelligence for computer games. Mateas, an
assistant professor of computer science, focuses on creating computer-controlled
characters that have rich emotions, dialogue, and interactions with their

Mateas is codeveloper of the game Façade, an interactive drama that
represents a new genre of computer games. In Façade, the player is a friend of a
couple having marital problems. The player "talks" to the couple (by typing),
and they respond to the player and to each other. Whether they stay together or
break up depends on what the player says.

"In making Façade, 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," Mateas said. "I look forward to teaching students how to use
artificial intelligence techniques to create new kinds of game experiences."

The new major has a core of computer science courses and provides a rigorous
education in the technical aspects of creating computer games. Additional
courses in digital media permit students to focus on games from an artistic
perspective. Electives permit students to explore relevant courses in art,
theater, film, music, and economics. Pathways in the major permit students to
transfer into it from community colleges.

Nationwide, there are only a handful of institutions offering technically
focused undergraduate degree programs in computer games, Pohl said. In
California, the University of Southern California is starting a similar degree
this fall. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Georgia Institute of Technology
have also both recently launched programs.

"Campus investment in computer science and engineering combined with a
distinguished arts program, as well as the creative environment of Santa Cruz
and the campus’s connections with Silicon Valley, give us a tremendous
advantage," Pohl said.

The program prepares students to take jobs in the computer games industry or
to pursue graduate study in computer science, he said.


Note to reporters: You may contact Pohl at (831) 459-3648 or