My name's Felix. In 2017, I got the opportunity of a lifetime: After searching long and hard for a PhD position that allowed me to write a dissertation on videogames, I not only found an amazing supervisor but also became part of a team that founded a master's programme revolving entirely around the analysis, creation, and technical understanding of the medium in Klagenfurt, Austria.
Ever since then, I have been involved in a large number of videogame-related activities at the university, including the organisation of lesson plans and conferences, the supervision of student projects and indie studio foundations and publications to hosting videogame art exhibitions.
It's been a pretty wild ride that I want to share with you, so ask me anything!
The AMA is going to open at 3AM EST (9AM CET) to 10AM EST (4PM CET). There is going to be a break of roughly two hours around 5AM EST (11AM CET) during which two of my students and I are hosting a mini crash course on videogame analysis for an online convention via Twitch (to which you are all kindly invited, I'll post a link as soon as possible :-)).
EDIT: Alright everybody, time to call it a day! Thank you so much for making this very first AmA of mine a blast. I'll have to pack shop now but am going to answer anything I might have missed later today. Have a nice day and game on! :-)
Hey Felix, I love your work. I am in a Digital Anthropology course, and videogame is a lively topic in our class.
The reasons why videogames are appealing are numerous and, as you very pertinently point out, can vary greatly depending on the individual/group approaching the game. Enjoying the narration, finding challenge in the mechanics, looking for distractions, dealing with pain, projecting happiness, cooperation, conflict or social necessities, teaching others, teaching oneself, the list goes on. However, their core quality of interactivity sets them apart from almost all other media and speaks to our innate need for configuration and experimentation, tugging all the right emotional and psychological strings. Games have been with us since the very beginning of humanity as we know it, aiding us in survival, learning and socializing, and videogames are a natural extension of these principles as the qualities they can project are numerous, yet each one has its own potential as food for thought or a learning experience. Our individual preferences, personalities and competences make us all perceive videogames differently, leading to the above list (which is by no means exhaustive) of reasons people are intrigued and drawn in by the medium.
As to the game making process, it obviously depends on the size of the team and project, however a number of steps characterize almost all processes of making videogames. To say a game is 'bad' - I really want to be careful with subjective language here - usually means that we gave it a thorough analytical look, trying to find markers that we can at least more or less objectively describe as bad. Of course again understanding that every statement we make about a game is potentially subjective and up to debate.
Did you join our stream on Twitch by any chance? Quite often I talked about the 'elegance' of game design and I think that's definitely an indicator for a good game. How easily does a game allow us to sink into its logic or narration? If a game struggles with that, may it be due to technical errors (bugs) or any other reason, it's usually not well thought-out in regards to its game design.
Can you elaborate on the curriculum? Games are such a broad field. I am curious as to what your students may expect to achieve in a year.
The program differentiates itself from a number of others because of its interdisciplinary nature, as it is run jointly by the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Technical Sciences of the University of Klagenfurt. One of the main reasons for such an approach is the early realization, even before the days of the program's inception, of the importance of studying games from both a critical, as well as a practical perspective. The early theoretical divide between narratologists and ludologists has taught important lessons, one of them being that the medium suffers greatly when its two essential elements (narration and mechanics/gameplay) are split.
To this point, we specifically designed the curriculum to deliver both perspectives relatively equally. One of the main ways this is done is via the compulsory subjects of the program: students beginning the degree with a technical sciences background will have the Cultural and Media Skills supplementary subjects first - students entering the degree from the humanities side will conversely have the Engineering Skills supplementary subjects earliest in order. From here on out, both of these key perspectives are reinforced (bear in mind that students themselves can choose when to take these classes in the duration of their study) with the Game Engineering and Game Studies modules - 5 courses in both of these give our students in-depth knowledge of a variety of related topics. This ranges from classes focusing on practical game criticism, through an introduction to computer graphics and the basic creation thereof, to a comprehensive analysis of currently-influential topics in and around games.
The students have more freedom in choosing their restricted electives, though both modules (Game Engineering & Game Studies) require a minimum number of courses passed, again emphasizing the program's focus on an equal delivery of theoretical and practical knowledge. The classes offered here range from work with interactive systems and human centered computing, through a much closer approach to graphics engineering, whereas the Game Studies electives introduce students to the terminology of media and IT law or improve their terminology for dealing with games. Finally, our students can choose from a wide variety of courses for the free electives module, allowing them to supplement the knowledge they've picked up with a whole slew of other topics the university offers. One thing to stress: our curriculum recommends a route for when to take which courses, yet the students have full freedom to decide their path.
I've been contributing to an open source project for a few years which enables hobbyists to write artificial intelligence for Rocket League. We host tournaments which are similar in spirit to FIRST robotics which is fun, but our participants are generally not getting any credit or support from their academic programs. I've heard of a few doing it as a senior project, but those are the exception.
Do you have any advice on how to be more appealing to educators? We have tutorials and volunteer tech support, but should I also try to create lesson plans? Who at a university would normally find and evaluate such a thing?
I know I missed the main AMA but I hope you still see this. Thanks!
First of all, kudos for organising RLBot! That sounds awesome.
From my personal working experience, I can tell you that I usually am intrigued by additional offers for our students but also that framing that synergy is an important key to make the experience worthwhile for everybody involved. Do you see your venture as grounds for a joint research project? Do you have a specific task that might offer itself to a master's project? These are things that I would be interested about.
Pay close attention to your target audience too. Every master's programme has its own specifics and thus, the people responsible for it might be interested in exchanging ideas with you for different reasons. Does a specific programme include mandatory internship periods, for instance, or is a self-made project part of a final thesis?
Finally, have you considered going to conferences (for academics, industry folks, or of a mixed audience) where you can present the amazing work you do? Joining a conference allows you to make connections with people from your field and on a more personal level. You meet the most amazing people at conferences and have great opportunities to shape long-lasting connections there in both, professional an personal terms with like-minded poeple. I often saw presentations elaborating on projects like yours on conferences and had the opportunity to get in touch with the creators afterwards. That made for some very pleasant exchanges. (Plus, presenting your topic might provide you with valuable feedback along the way!)
Would you argue that games promote violent behaviour or relieves it from the subject we like to call "the player"?
Also, do you think this medium has a bright future?
Needless to say, I do argue that videogames do have an impact on players - I do see them as worthy of analysis, after all. Just as needless to say though, this impact cannot be generalised.
Videogames as cultural artifacts can rouse joy, provoke thought, and provide grounds for many other kinds of experience. There are videogames that have incredibly fine-tuned approaches to ethical questions and the topic of violence - I've written my master thesis on Spec Ops: The Line and still find myself coming back to that often as an example because it is that good - but of course there are also videogames out there promoting pretty terrible stances on violence, offering it for different reasons - to break taboos or to provoke media attention and press coverage for being 'so wrong'.
As a scholar in that field, showing how diverse the medium is shapes a core part of my agenda. Society has developed quite a fine-tuned approach to evaluating literature and film, for instance, but with videogames, public attention still falls into that "videogames (note the undifferentiated plural) are bad/addicting/etc" too often.
I do see a bright future for games. Over the last ten years especially I noted an incredible surge coming from the indy and AA scene with videogame productions that dare to tell different stories and to break with norms of the gaming industry that are capable of reaching more and more of an audience to show that videogames can be much more than what a general public still seems to think they are.
Even more so, I think that a proliferation of 'easy access' game maker tools allows more people to gain the understanding that they can express themselves artistically by making and designing games, which is great :)
That is a very good question - and fully dependant on what kind of art you want to get into. Would you like to draw with pen and pencil? Pixel art? 3D art maybe?
Best advice I can give you when it comes to the actual creative process is to equally rely on learning and practicing. I'm a hobby painter myself for a couple of years now and training myself in Blender, a 3D modeling software, and it's the constant back and forth between doing something - seeing how things work out, seeing what doesn't work out - looking up on how to improve this, and practicing again.
You might also want to consider taking part in so-called game jams. These are events in which you get to gether with a team of people and make a (very little, prototype-y) game within a timespan, quite often around the 72-hour-mark. Many of those are offered online but there are also local game jams. We have at least two on campus every year. Join one as an aspiring game artist. Chances are pretty high that you'll end up with a team of cool people and a mentor who can show you what they learned so far and where they got their skills and tools from.
It's also a great way to check and see what it exactly means to create art for a game :-)
What game theorists does your course teach, and why is Espen Aarseth more correct than Henry Jenkins?
A lot of this will depend on the specific lecturer you ask. We offer a great variety of courses coming from different academic crossroads (psychology and game studies, philosophy and game studies...) and all of them have their own preferences in core material.
I find myself teaching a lot with Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al just as much as Dovey and Kennedy and Tanya Krzywinska for my introductory lecture. Besides, I find myself often relying on German game studies scholars like Gundolf Freyermuth or Benjamin Beil. To me, they put applicability over blank terminology arguments. Plus, this allows me to bring some perspectives to our (English speaking, international) classes that students would perhaps not get much out of otherwise.
I actually find myself working a lot with Jenkins. May I ask you to clarify what you're specifically referring to in the second part of your question?
Hi I posted this question recently to no avail, and was hoping you could help? Do you have any idea how I’d get started making an animated-style 3D open world game? I know it’s going to be a hard endeavor, and to make it any good, it would require lots of people, but do you have an idea what engine I could use/how to go about approaching it? Thanks for your time
In a position such as yours, I can wholeheartedly recommend to participate in a game jam sometime. That's an event that brings you together with a group of people and a motto under which you then create a mini videogame in usually 72 hours. Could be a digital one taking place online during the pandemic but you should definitely try and see if there are local ones in your area once they happen again/once it is safe enough to visit!
Taking part in those can be truly eye-opening. You can learn about the scale of game production - what it takes to realise certain ideas, how many people are necessary to provide what in what time etc. -, what's necessary to make artistic visions come true, and how a team operates in game development. Perhaps you'll even meet somebody or a group of people to work on your game with!
Would you ever consider building a platform that teachers could use in the classroom? A system where kids can create a character, earn points and prizes, dual each other, ect
I actually did that already as a part of my academic teacher training :-).
It wasn't as intricate as your idea but offered the basic concept of "earn XP to get better grades." Gamified approaches like this, however, suffer from quite some problems rooted in the individuality of the learner. Some students were inspired and more eager, others quite overwhelmed by all the 'extra' steps they have to take in their classwork.
It's also not a guarantee to inspire intrinsic motivation in students. Studies conducted by a colleague of mine for instance show that, under certain conditions, students were motivated by a similar model but then lost all motivation as soon as they were in a different sphere that didn't involve this detailed level of reward or even prizes.
I'd say there's a lot of potential in the idea (based on the experience as described in my first paragraph) but it takes a lot of work to finetune it, all while paying special attention to students who need a different motivation to succeed altogether.
Which games have you worked on?
I have worked a lot on Spec Ops: The Line, the Fromsoftware games (Dark Souls series, Bloodborne - one of my first publications actually!), and on games by The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture).
Right now I think I want to work a lot with walking simulators later!
Hi Felix! I appreciate the work you do as an avid, lifelong lover of games. I am currently studying audio technology and physics, and I was curious to know how us sound guys usually get work in video games? I've played with aesthetically pleasing background music and sound design but never known how I could find work in this area.
Please respond if you have the time and stay safe!
We had the pleasure of hosting a couple of info-evenings with experts from the industry at our department. One lesson all of them had was about the portfolio. Having a proper portfolio online that allows people to browse your creations, whether it's sound or art, is always a huge plus.
Besides that, the best I can recommend to you for the time being would be to browse industry hub pages like gamasutra for job announcements and to visit industry fairs. A personal hello always leaves a proper impression, and getting your name around/networking is as important in the games industry as in all other professions.
Thank you, and stay safe as well!
We are starting our (German-speaking) workshop soon on:
I'll get back to your questions as soon as possible :-)
We're back from our workshop now, and ready to answer all your questions!
Do you think a future game will be designed that could help a person practise and refine a real world skill in a credible way. Say skipping a stone or boxing or wood work? Do you think this can be done with a physical interface say gloves that interface with the said game and augmented reality?
I'd bet on it. Seeing just how much progress VR technology has made in the last couple of years is breathtaking.
I cannot help but add, however, that many current videogames (and even the generations before them) are very well capable of teaching important real world skills, ranging from cultural competencies to technical understandings.
In fact, videogames are historically rooted in the military complex to a large degree. Some of the very first videogames were flight simulators developed for training purposes!
What is your position on loot boxes and in game/real world currency transactions?
I'm always critical of all monetary interactions happening in-game. In the last couple of years, I've been visiting several regional schools to educate teachers about videogames. It's always a shame when you are able to tell such an important crowd that videogames are a perfectly fine hobby for a young adult while also having to explain that many of them have this weird little backdoor mechanism that might coerce players into spending more, real money for things as harmless in appearance as cosmetic upgrades.
The biggest gripe I have with the topic is that change will never occur truly from within the industry as long as the model is as profitable as it is!
I have a degree in philosophy/economics and mostly Service industry experience(restaurants). I have always wanted to work in the video game industry what is the best way to learn the skills necessary for a job? I have an interest in sound design or writing plot lines but I would be comfortable working in sales, marketing, etc.
It is always helpful to know where you want to go, irrelevant of preferred career track. I'm afraid it's rather difficult to give you sound advice on skills to learn with such a broad orientation in mind.
With a degree in philosophy and economics though, I am drawn to assume that you will have an easier time looking for jobs at bigger development studios.
Do you ever throw the " and you said I was wasting my time" back at your parents?
Not at all actually. I've been raised on the mantra of "do what makes you happy in life but work hard doing so" and so far, I really like where it lead me to.
And while my mom may not fully see what passion I have for the medium, she always had an interest in the topic herself. Hearing that tetris theme coming from her first generation Gameboy whenever I visit home is wholesome :-)
What about the carbon footprint of video games? How does the industry show responsibility for this?
Well, from my humanities perspective I'm more involved with the representation of environmental topics in videogames than questions on how the industry handles these concerns.
What I can tell you is that a trend towards downlading games instead of owning them as hard copies, however motivated, at least reduces the resource consumption for game productions to a degree. However, I do yet have to see a 'green' design in either hardware or software that amazes me.
As a relevant aside, we do approach this topic in our curriculum regularly. Last year we had an entire game jam revolving around games that educate on sustainability and one of our major professors is currently releasing a board game on sustainable landscape control.
Thank you for starting an AMA, professional game development guy. I've been thinking deeply about the experience of video games, and I'd love to know your perspective:
What do you think makes a game fun?
If we are talking about the 'experience' of videogames, I think we should be careful with talking about 'fun' exclusively. Although we often experience fun when playing videogames, and associate the notion of 'game' with the notion of 'fun', this does not necessarily have to be the case for all games. Our personal experience with videogames can be manifold, and games designers might even deliberatly plan for their players to have other emotions and experiences while playing, such as sadness, frustration, excitement, etc..
(Also, if you come to a point were you primarily play games as part of your research, and thus analyse them rather intensly and critically, you might also find yourself having 'less fun' while playing them.)
Thus, I think it would be better if we would talk less about the 'fun' in games, but be more precise in the kind of appeal they can have for players, and the kinds of experiences they offer.
The reasons why a videogame can be appealing for someone are numerous and can vary greatly, but you can find a more elaborated answer on that particular question in one of the earlier replies.
What is your personal favourite game and why?
There are way too many awesome games around to have one favourite :-)
Servus, oida. Is your program specifically rooted in the humanities or do you also delve into development/programming (when you list "technical understanding" of the medium)?
Also, video games of course have developed quite breathtakingly over the last 20 years. Truly cinematic experiences abound now, whereas previously they enjoyed more of a novelty appeal, like a circus or carnival game. All that being said, what role does player agency play in the experience of experiencing a cinematic, high-quality game (thinking along the lines of Last of Us, or RDR2, or even the OG Deus Ex). And do you think that agency provides more positive opportunities for a player to absorb the life experiences vicariously?
In other words, and in much less words, do you think that a great story played will have a longer positive affect than a great story that was just read or watched? Do we feel the pain of the characters more strikingly when we had a hand in their trajectory?
Our programme combines tech-focused courses and humanities courses in equal proportions, with the intend of achieving a more holistic understanding of medium and a critical awareness of what different people dealing with the medium actually do, may they be artists, engineers, or coders. We do set a focus on understanding programming frameworks though.
I wouldn't dare to say that one kind of medium will foster an experience to be more striking than the other. Not only are we all individuals and thus, prone to feel things subjectively (which is one of the key topics in my dissertation. Challenging to research but really intriguing!), but it also fully depends on the specific execution of a videogame. There are games like The Last of Us, as you mentioned, that build a superb atmosphere with quite often cinematic means and games like Papers, Please! that also creates powerful moments by going a very different route.
Apples and oranges, I guess.
Hi Felix, pretty cool situation you have yourself in. I've been going to my community college for a couple years getting through my generals while trying to figure out what I want to do afterwards. An idea I've had recently is to incorporate psychology and video games in to my major and minor so that I could become a psychological consultant (or something) for game development. I don't even know if that is a possibility, I'm interested in both psychology and game development and that's just an idea I had to use both interests. I'm not even sure if this is something I should ask you, I'm on a break at work skimming reddit and saw this.
Would I be better off finding a specific University to get a game development degree from or would my community college classes and degree be just as valid to a development studio if I were to apply after graduating?
That is a tough one to answer, mostly because it all leads back to the age-old "do I really need a degree for this?" debate that you encounter in so many places. There's people who made it because of there degree, there's people who made it without, and there's people who ended up in a place they never imagined themselves to be in and are still happy and content :-)
Based purely on this brief exchange with you, I would like to encourage you to make a list of things you could bring to the table when applying for an industry position. I am pretty confident that a psychological background will be intriguing for certain developers, but what else is there that makes you fit for the industry?
Hello Mr. Felix, I am prospective student to GSE. However, I have a couple of questions about the program.
I study in Architecture and I wonder that if I could apply for GSE Master Program, may I tend to show any professional orientation?
If I study in GSE Master Program, in what types of careers may I continue with after graduating from this department of Master degree.
The Game Studies and Engineering Program very much encourages the implementation and usage of knowledge brought from other disciplines and there are certainly a number of different perspectives at any given moment. Furthermore, there are two methods where your architectural background can shine: first, the GameJams which happen at our university twice per year offer the opportunity of creating games within a 72-hour period, meaning that you can freely pitch your ideas and end up making a game wholly driven by the concepts you brought. Second, the conclusion to our program necessitates the writing of a Master’s Thesis accompanied by the creation of a game which can be a playground for you to present any idea you might want to implement.
Regarding careers, you could say that we prepare for the industry, research, and the cultural sphere. That means either
- working for a game developer or making your own - some of our students actually started their own indie company recently.
- doing game research at a university or college and with your personal specialisation.
- working for an instute that deals with (video)games. That could be anything really, from an archive to a museum to youth/social work.
Hi! Do you have a PhD program you would recommend? I have my masters in English lit and would love to continue my education in the field. I wanted to write my thesis on FFX and it’s critiques of religion and race but couldn’t find the research, so I went with Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I’m an adjunct at my university now lol.
Not too many I'm afraid as I'm right in the final phase of the dissertation myself :-). The Gamesnetwork discussion list from DiGra might help you to find interesting PhD positions though!
Hi Felix I'm into programming. I just started and i'm learning C. Which programming language would you advise me to learn?
The feedback we get from our industry connections is that C# is always a plus!
What are your thoughts on machinima (the art form, not the company)?
I'm always amazed by how many opportunities for creative output videogames offer, including machinima!
What are some of the key subjects if the degree?
That's depending a lot on the specific lecturer. Generally speaking, our humanities side of the programme deals a lot with questions of ethics in games, agency, cyber-citizenshp (aiming for an understanding and importance of human beings in digital spheres) and environmental storytelling.
This core is expanded by experts coming from various other fields. Our psychology expert deals a lot with emotional competencies and the flow effect, for instance :-)
What is your favorite video game?
There are way too many awesome games out there to have one favourite. So far I've found something fascinating in every game I played. I'm currently digging deeply into the AA range of games (Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, The Sinking City, Vampyr, Technomancer, to name a few) and am having a blast!