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New York Film Academy Master of Fine Arts

MASTER OF FINE ARTS (MFA) IN GAME DESIGN

A scene from the video game Klaus

Overview of our MFA in Game Design

The New York Film Academy Master of Fine Arts in Game Design is a four-semester, conservatory-based, full-time study graduate program. The curriculum is designed to give gifted and energetic prospective video game designers and storytellers the tools they need to become creative leaders in their chosen sector of the game design industry. The New York Film Academy MFA in Game Design provides a creative setting with which to challenge, inspire, and perfect the talents of its student body.

New York Film Academy MFA in Game Design program is offered at our Los Angeles Campus.

Qualified students have the option of completing course work at the New York Film Academy in New York City in a one-year non-degree program and then applying their course work to be accepted for advanced standing in the MFA Game Design degree program.

Degree Objectives

The educational objectives in the Master of Fine Arts in Game Design are to teach students the art and craft of game design and storytelling at the professional level, through a strict regimen consisting of lectures, seminars, and total-immersion workshops.

Students will:
  • Acquire the skills of game prototyping, playtesting, iteration, presentation, and collaboration.
  • Know how to prototype multiple games regardless of technical skills.
  • Know how to develop software using industry standards, including workflow, multiple platforms, and industry standard coding.
  • Be able to deconstruct any game experience into Formal, Dramatic, and Dynamic systems.

Year One

During the first semester, students are introduced to the concept of game design by understanding the evolution of games. Students start with board and card games, then through paper and dice games to early digital games, to highly-advanced 3D graphics, deep, immersive story-driven games. Students begin designing games from the very beginning, as they are asked to modify a game from its original intent. They are introduced to the world of interactive writing, starting with concepts such as Aristotle’s Poetics, and traveling through postmodern narrative.

Once a foundation in narrative theory is established, students are then introduced to the tools, theory, and craft of storytelling in an interactive medium. They are given a foundational understanding of video games, which will create a baseline language for discussion and interaction throughout the program. Finally, students are introduced to essential game technology, which helps inform what is possible today in video games. Students also have an introduction to animation class, which is intended to give our future designers and writers a taste of what goes into the 3D animation process found in video games.

In the second semester, students continue game deconstructions, as a tool for deepening their understanding of game design. They also create their first original video game concept.

These ideas are shared and workshopped in class, as they increase their skills and confidence in programming, narrative, and design. Students also study the history of film, giving depth to their understanding of narrative culture.

Year One Objectives

Skills learned as a result of successful completion of this year include:
  • Understand Playcentric Design and how to deconstruct any game into Formal, Dramatic, and Dynamic systems.
  • Learn the theories of game design; how to make a game fun; how to make a game entertaining; how to engage and immerse the player in a gameplay experience.
  • Understand, through study, analysis and practical application, the theories of interactive storytelling; how to enhance player engagement; how to craft a character arc for a player; how to maintain a narrative structure in an interactive form.
  • Understand the process of creating 3D art for video games.
  • Deliver working software in collaboration with classmates.

Year Two

In the third semester, learn about Multiplayer Game design and get exposure to Level Design, Marketing, and the History of Video Games.

In semester four students create their fourth working game concept – this time as a collaborative thesis project. At the same time, they learn about Ethics of Video Games, Sound Design, and do an advanced analysis course called The Great Video Games.

Year Two Objectives

Skills learned as a result of successful completion of this year include:
  • Understand the process of programming video games.
  • Master concepts of Agile development and gain knowledge of state of the art collaboration tools.
  • Master the art of writing a multi-page Game Design Wiki, the underlying creative blueprint of every video game.
  • Master, through frequent collaboration with peers, the ability to work collaboratively in a high-pressure creative environment.
  • Understand, through lectures, in-class exercises, and special guests, the composition of the video game industry, the functions of the various companies, the functions of the various employees within those companies, and how games go from “blue sky” idea to finished product.
  • Master, through in-class exercises and special guests, the art of pitching a video game to developers and publishers, and how to effectively communicate and market the uniqueness and commerciality of a new video game concept.

Curriculum

See the full MFA in Game Design course curriculum here.

Course Description

Playcentric Design
Narrative Design
2D Game Studio
Game Design Studio I, II, III, IV
Introduction to 3D Art
Introduction to Game Analysis
Systems Literacy
3D Game Design
Publishing Video Games
Art Direction for Game Developers
Usability Testing for Gamers
Multiplayer Game Design
Level Design
Marketing Video Games
The Business of Video Games
History of Video Games
The Great Video Games
Collaborative Thesis
Master’s Thesis Production
Sound Design for Games
Ethics of Video Games
Cinema Studies

Playcentric Design

This course provides a foundation of knowledge for understanding games as playable systems. Students learn the language of Playcentric Design and practice the craft of prototyping, playtesting, and iteration in an environment independent of computers. This is to provide the student with hard skills that can be used throughout a career in games—transcendent of changing technologies.

The student will:

1) Understand Fundamental Theory – See how any game breaks down into Formal, Dramatic, and Dynamic systems. And learn how the three interrelate.

2) Learn Core Development Process – Acquire the skills of prototyping, playtesting, iteration, presentation, and collaboration. These timeless skills can be applied to all game types present and future.

3) Practice, Practice, Practice – All students prototype multiple games on paper regardless of technical skills. All students gain extensive experience critiquing and analyzing games via formal playtests with fellow students.

At the end of the course each student will have a portfolio of paper game prototypes.
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Narrative Design Workshop

This course examines the critical elements that make strong story concepts and how they can be shaped to create the foundations of great games. Students will design, narrative, game play, physical environment (world, gameplay spaces), and other key elements. Guest speakers will include veteran game designers and writers.
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2D Game Design

This course exposes students to the beginning technology of 2D games. Each student gets the experience of running his or her own game studio in collaboration with 1-4 classmates. Students deliver a working digital game at the end of the semester. Industry standards such as Agile, Scrum, Confluence, and JIRA expose students to state-of-the-art production methods and enable teams to deliver software efficiently.

Students are supported by a technical instructor/mentor who assists with programming as an active member of their team.

Students take increasingly advanced variations of this course in the course of their degree so they will acquire more sophisticated skills each successive semester. At the end of the degree they will have a portfolio of working software projects.
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Game Design Studio I, II, III, IV

This is a companion to the Game Design class series (2D, 3D, Multiplayer, and Collaborative Thesis).

Students work in teams to build their working digital game and receive individualized tutelage and direct coding support from their instructor. Students learn that they can produce working software—even with beginner skills in a short time. They sharpen their skills by practicing this process multiple times in the degree.
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Introduction to 3D Art

This course introduces students to Autodesk’s Maya Animation, Visual Effects, and Compositing software, a robust application used throughout the video game industry for the creation of visual assets. Students learn how to optimize the Maya interface for enhanced productivity. They are introduced to polygon tools and taught polygonal modeling in a hands-on environment.

Students gain practical understanding of polygonal modeling for organic characters and hard surface models. Students will also learn the basics of UV mapping, nurbs modeling, texturing, and three-point lighting using D-map and raytrace shadows.
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Introduction to Game Analysis

The focus of this course is the study and deconstruction of video games. Students learn how to break any game down into Formal Elements, Dramatic Elements, and Dynamic Elements and become versed in the language of Playcentric Design. Students are exposed to the video game canon via study of both seminal games as well as contemporary masterpieces. Deliverables are game deconstruction presentations suitable for a student portfolio.
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Systems Literacy

This course builds upon the foundations established in the Playcentric Design course, and focuses on advanced study of system design and play mechanics. The course is workshop-focused, meaning a substantial portion of time is spent actively engaged in the paper prototyping process. Readings and lectures supplement discussions as we explore more sophisticated facets of the playable systems and user experience design. Creating system literacy is the primary goal; and everything else we do supports that aim. Students will leave the course with multiple portfolio-ready game prototypes.
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3D Game Design

This course exposes students to the intermediate technology of 3D games. Each student gets the experience of running her own game studio in collaboration with 1-4 classmates. Students deliver a working digital game at the end of the semester. Industry standards such as Agile, Scrum, Confluence, and JIRA expose students to state-of-the-art production methods and enable teams to deliver software efficiently.

Students are supported by a technical instructor/mentor who assists with programming as an active member of their team.

Students take increasingly advanced variations of this course in the course of their degree so they will acquire more sophisticated skills each successive semester. At the end of the degree students will have a portfolio of working software projects.
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Publishing Video Games

This course provides the student with an understanding of the business of video games with a special focus on game publishing, deal structures, and product lifecycle. Students learn to see the world through the publisher’s eyes and in the process gain insight in how to plan, budget, pitch, launch, and monetize games. Students are exposed to these topics via lectures, exercises, and assignments. Students leave the course with a practical and state-of-the-art of the game business including perspective on mobile games, console games, browser games, free to play games, and other business paradigms.
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Art Direction for Game Developers

This course examines the role of visual design in building games. The course exposes students to the craft of the Art Director via a combination of theory and practice. Students learn basic skillset presentation (art history, color theory, composition, typography, basic digital media skills). Students learn to think about projects in terms of the constraints of technology, client needs, and end-user experience. The course covers basic UX/UI concepts. Students learn formal ideation and problem solving for visual design. Students learn to master the look and feel of an experience.
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Usability Testing for Games

Usability testing enables game developers to systematically identify and resolve issues that detract from the player experience. Students learn and practice formal usability testing using real test subjects. Students learn best practices for how to get valid (non-skewed) data and how to communicate findings to a dev team effectively.
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Multiplayer Game Design

This course exposes students to the advanced technology of networked multiplayer games. Each student gets the experience of running her own game studio in collaboration with 1-4 classmates. Students deliver a working digital game at the end of the semester. Industry standards such as Agile, Scrum, Confluence, and JIRA expose students to state of the art production methods and enable teams to deliver software efficiently.

Students are supported by a technical instructor/mentor who assists with programming as an active member of their team.

Students take increasingly advanced variations of this course in the course of their degree so they will acquire more sophisticated skills each successive semester. At the end of the degree students will have a portfolio of working software projects.
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Level Design

In this class students work on paper and with level editor tools from commercial games to create high quality play experiences within existing games. Students learn and practice scripting to optimize the play experience including pacing, save points, ratio of obstacles versus power ups, and other game play concepts.
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Marketing Video Games

This class builds on the foundation of the course Publishing Video Games with a focus on marketing. Students learn how to market their NYFA game titles—whether 2D, 3D, multiplayer, mobile, or other. Students learn the business side of marketing including how to make a marketing plan, calculate return on investment, develop data-driven reporting, conduct public relations, etc. Students learn about guerilla marketing techniques suitable to independent studios with no money. And they learn about the marketing techniques by top publishers for AAA titles.
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The Business of Video Games

This course provides the students with an education in building a successful career in video games. The course educates the student about professional networking, portfolio presentation, roles in industry, career path from entry level to creative leader or business leader, and other hands-on knowledge pertinent to a professional game developer.
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History of Video Games

This course focuses on the rich history of digital games starting with MIT’s Spacewar from 1962 and showing how and why the medium transformed through the 1970s when Pong and Atari first had mass cultural impact—all the way through each successive era to today’s world of connected consoles, smart phones, and other devices.
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The Great Video Games

Students play, study, and debate the video game canon. They gain understanding of the Formal, Dramatic, and Dynamic nuances of seminal works. The course has a comparative literature quality that enables students to compare and contrast pillars of the field across eras such as MULE, Tetris, Civilization, Super Mario 64, Zelda, The Sims, Bomberman, Braid, Flow, Ultima Online, and Bioshock.
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Collaborative Thesis

This hands-on course exposes students to the advanced responsibility of choosing her own technology (in collaboration with teammates) for her MFA thesis project.

Each student gets the experience of running her own game studio in collaboration with 1-4 classmates. Students deliver a working digital game at the end of the semester. Industry standards such as Agile, Scrum, Confluence, and JIRA expose students to state of the art production methods and enable teams to deliver software efficiently.

Students are supported by a technical instructor/mentor who assists with programming as an active member of their team.

Students take increasingly advanced variations of this course in the course of their degree so they will acquire more sophisticated skills each successive semester. At the end of the degree students will have a portfolio of working software projects.
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Master’s Thesis Production

This course provides the student with thesis mentorship, support, and guidance through their final MFA semester. The course helps each student create a powerful, well-reasoned thesis argument to accompany their collaborative digital thesis project.
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Sound Design for Games

This course exposes students to the fundamentals of sound design in games including industry standard software tools for SFX and music. Students learn about techniques for recording, synthesizing, mixing, and editing digital audio.
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Ethics of Video Games

Ethics refers to standards of right and wrong in society. Students study and debate ethics in play experiences and how play is a way of learning about the real world. Poignant case studies are presented from games such as: September 12 (an anti-terrorism simulator), Grand Theft Auto (an amoral, open world), Populous (a god game), Bioshock (a game with a morality engine) and other games. Students learn about meta-game behavioral issues such as cheating, violence, and the four types of players found in online worlds—Explorers, Achievers, Socializers, and Killers.
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Cinema Studies

Cinema Studies introduces students to the evolution of the motion picture art form as a visual storytelling medium and the motion picture industry from their inceptions. Students will be given a thorough creative, technological and industrial view of the filmmaking art. Students will be prepared for more advanced academic and production related studies and practice of filmmaking. The approach is historically developmental. Students will understand why a film creatively works or doesn’t work and why. The course considers primarily American film development though the impact of international filmmakers is given due analysis.
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More Information

More detail about the MFA in Game Design degree is available here.


Dates & Tuition

Fees Per Semester

Tuition: $15,000 (USD) +
Lab Fee: $1,000 (USD)


Students will also incur additional expenses on their own productions. This varies depending on how much film they shoot and scale of the projects.


Location & Available Dates

For Los Angeles:
September 2016 - January 2018
January 2017 - May 2018
September 2017 - January 2019

Faculty

  • Chris Swain Chris Swain
    Chair
    A leader in the games industry for more than 20 years, Chris built the Electronic Arts Game Innovation Lab at USC and was an adjunct, assistant, and research professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts from 1999 to 2012. He has led 20+ award-winning games and products for companies that include Disney, Microsoft, Sony, Acclaim, Activision, BBC, Discovery, Children's Television Workshop, and many others. Examples include the world's first massively multiplayer casual game, NetWits (Microsoft), the original Multiplayer Jeopardy! Online (Sony), the original Multiplayer Wheel of Fortune Online (Sony), and webRIOT (MTV). Chris speaks regularly about game innovation in the press and at events around the world. Publications include CNN, NPR, Forbes, NY Times, Wired, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, LA Times, others. Venues include Game Developer's Conference, MIT, Harvard, SIGGRAPH, University of Tokyo, Games for Change, DARPA, Columbia University, Sorbonne, City U of Hong Kong, many others.
  • Jeremy Bernstein Jeremy Bernstein
    Instructor
    Writer / Story Editor on TNT's Leverage, Writer / Producer on games for Talkie, inXile, ITVS. Writer for EA Visceral Games, Designer many companies including USC EA Game Innovation Lab, Snap TV, Alchemic Productions, and others. MFA in Screenwriting, USC; MA Biochemistry, Wesleyen, BA Biochemistry, Wesleyen.
  • Lara Fedoroff Lara Fedoroff
    Instructor
    Lara is the founder of UX-radio, Inc. a podcast about IA, UX, and Design. The guest line-up includes well-known industry experts and the purpose of the show is to inspire, educate and share resources. With seven years of User Experience design and Information Architecture experience, Lara has a knack for balancing her business acumen with user-centered design. She is a holistic and strategic visionary, helping companies and users identify solutions for their pain points.

    Her deep knowledge of business process and strategy balanced with her creative simplicity in visual and interaction design enable her to do the work she loves for clients like UCLA, Mitsuwa Japanese Grocery Store, Audio-Digest Foundation and Wilshire Axon.
  • David Fratto David Fratto
    Instructor
    Executive Producer, BBC Worldwide; Sr. Director of Development, Scholastic Inc.; Director of Development, Vivendi Universal Games, Executive Producer, Knowledge Adventure; Education: Harvard University, BA.
  • Scott Gillies Scott Gillies
    Instructor
    Creative Director, Fourth Wall Studios; Game Designer Disney Imagineering; Designer EA Pandemic, EA Maxis; MFA in Interactive Media, USC, BA, USC.
  • Bryan Jaycox Bryan Jaycox
    Instructor
    Graduating from USC in 2010 with a M.F.A. in interactive media Bryan's experience has spanned multiple fields including design for mainstream gaming, serious games, virtual reality, wearable technology, and interactive fine arts. Bryan has been deeply involved in serious games for the past decade creating games and virtual reality simulations for the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans returning from Iraq, games for physical rehabilitation, and games spanning the educational sector teaching fields ranging from foreign language to neurology. In the mainstream gaming sector Bryan has worked on AAA titles for LucasArts and at Hollywood director Gore Verbinski's pioneer game studio Blind Wink games developing original IP for the Xbox console. Bryan also works in the physical design and engineering sector with his business The Build Shop. The Build Shop was founded by Bryan in November of 2011 with a desire to take specialized high tech fabrication tools needed for his own craft and make them available to the public at large at a rate everyday people can afford. This shop follows in the footsteps of the larger Maker Movement that has seen instances of shops, hackerspaces and makerspaces like this one sprouting up across the United States and abroad.
  • Thomas Lee Thomas Lee
    Instructor
    Digital Media Executive and pioneer in F2P online game business and virtual economies, managing projects and people, with ability to coordinate across a diverse set of disciplines. Extensive background in international business cultures, game licensing, and game development. Passionate about technology, content, and “games as service” on connected devices.
  • John Mahoney John Mahoney
    Instructor
    John Mahoney moved to Los Angeles to work for Disney feature Animation as a Visual Development Artist on such films as Atlantis, Treasure Planet and Emperors After working on ten Disney feature films John decided to pursue his passion as an independent film maker. Since then, John has produced over twenty short films and two independent features. He has directed numerous documentaries on such prominent people as Doug Chaing, designer of the new Star Wars films and Tyrus Wong, designer of Bambi. He taught such diverse classes as figure drawing, sculpture, film design, storyboards, stop motion animation, and character design in the United Stated as well as in Singapore and Taiwan. John has had several gallery exhibitions around the Los Angeles area, including a main show at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.
  • David Mershon David Mershon
    Instructor
    David has over ten years of experience working in the video game industry. He has held a variety of positions including artist, designer, and engineer. He was an artist in residence at the UCLA Game Lab. Companies: Artist, Rockstar Games; Artist, Sony Online Entertainment; Artist, Pandemic Studios. Education: Academy of Art University. BFA; University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, MFA.
  • Joe Shochet Joe Shochet
    Instructor
    Joe Shochet has been developing award-winning interactive experiences for 20 years. He has a passion for designing and programming world-class games across many platforms and audiences. Previously he was Vice President of Creative at Rebel Entertainment, a division of IAC, focused on social and mobile games. Their first product was Dungeon Rampage, an award-winning, and highly rated online game played by over 12 million people worldwide. Prior to joining IAC, Joe led game development at Hangout.net, a small startup building one of the first 3D games on Facebook. His career started in 1996 at Walt Disney Imagineering R&D building virtual reality attractions for the theme parks and designing ride concepts and interactive technologies. After transitioning to Creative Director at Disney Internet Group, Joe was a lead designer and developer of several virtual worlds including the popular Toontown Online, one of the first 3D virtual worlds for children. Joe has a Computer Science degree from the University of Virginia, where his research focused on virtual reality, user interface design, and teaching programming to novices using Alice3D.
  • Colin Windmuller Colin Windmuller
    Instructor
    Colin Windmuller is a graduate of USC's Interactive Media & Games Division. He has been an instructor at New York Film Academy for a year, teaching in the Animation and Game Design departments. Before that, he has worked as a User Experience Designer and a freelance Visual Effects artist. Growing up in a digital age, he has a particular fascination with analog technology and maintains an impressive vinyl collection. His idea of art is creating whimsy through math.
  • Richard Wyckoff Richard Wyckoff
    Instructor
    Richard Wyckoff is CEO and co-founder of Reverge Labs, LLC and Reverge Studios, Inc. Since the videogame industry's breakout success in the mid 1990s, Richard has been a videogame designer and manager at industry leaders such as Electronic Arts/Pandemic Studios, Vivendi Universal, and Dreamworks Interactive. He has been a guiding force on critically-acclaimed titles such as THQ's Full Spectrum Warrior and Looking Glass Technologies' Flight Unlimited, and collaborated with creative luminaries such as Steven Spielberg and Warren Spector. Richard led Reverge Labs to ship cult hit 2D fighting game Skullgirls in 2012.
  • Ed Zobrist Ed Zobrist
    Instructor
    Entrepreneur, General Manager, consumer marketing executive, game designer/producer. Successful experience in the video game, social network game and toy industry on both a local and global basis. 20+ years of experience at increasingly senior levels in marketing and general management, founder of two game development companies, advisor to numerous entertainment focused companies. Involved with hit products totaling >$2B in sales such as Fast & Furious Facebook game (producer/designer), The Simpsons Hit ‘n Run video game (marketing), Who Wants to be a Millionaire pc game (marketing), TipTop downloadable web game from PopCap (producer/designer) and He-Man: Masters of the Universe toys (marketing, episode writer). Companies: General Manager, RockYou; President, Sierra Online; SVP Global Marketing, Vivendi Universal Games; Founder, Zono Games; Sr. Marketing Director, Mattel. Education: Columbia University, BA, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, MBA.
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