Brookdale Community College will add video game design major

Beginning in the 2019 fall semester, students who attend Brookdale Community College will have the opportunity to declare a major in video game design.

The new major will be introduced at that time to the college that is located in Lincroft.

In a March 14 on-campus interview with Claire Smuga, the professor of digital animation and 3D design curriculum said a video game design major was requested by her students.

“We have always wanted to do something with traditional animation and something that could bring more interactivity (with electronic devices),” Smuga said. “We had a game programming course, but we found the program was too intense for some students.”

Smuga said some students dropped out of the game programming course when the material became difficult. To address what she called a routine occurrence, Smuga said the game programming course was eliminated and a new degree option consisting of four courses and officially listed as Game Design has been developed.

Students who enroll in the major will be required to take Programing I, Programming II, Drawing I and Introduction to 3D Modeling. There are no pre-requisites required to declare the major.

In one course, Smuga said, students will use Unity software to plan a game without building an animated experience from scratch. She said students will be able to focus on building characters and environments.

“(A pre-built game engine) opens up the game to countless users who could never have gotten there otherwise because programming can be too intense,” Smuga said. “That means more people will be experimenting and with more people experimenting the technology will grow.”

Students will eventually create their own video game, she said.

Smuga, who does not play video games, said she will not teach every course in the major. She will not be able to teach the course that discusses game concepts because, “I don’t understand why people play (video) games.”

“We are going to have to hire someone who knows about (video games) in order to teach that course,” she said with a laugh.

Smuga, who teaches students to create and animate characters and environments for short films, will teach a course which outlines gaming levels. She said that course will coincide with the skills students learn in the animation courses she teaches.

Smuga said her students are very interested in game design. An educator for 10 years, she said she asks them what types of media are referenced in their animation.

“Ten years ago, people would (reference) films or cartoons or YouTube,” Smuga said. “It’s all games now. They say, ‘I want to make something look like this game.’ There is more interest. This is really interesting for me because (students) are starting to think about games as an animator would instead of how a player would.”

Smuga said the gaming “hook” that intrigues design students is the interactive storytelling component games feature. She said “shiny things and explosions” are what fascinate students, but added that “the thing that gets (students) coming back is the characters because they want to know more about their world.”

“One of the things I love about college is that students start to discover that (aspect), that (game design) is not just about, ‘oh, that thing is really shiny and it can fly.’ It’s more about the strange world where things can fly,” Smuga said.

Asked why she believes gaming culture is expanding as a profession, Smuga said technology is at the forefront of the conversation. She said modern technology and the way consumers use devices are influenced by components of gaming.

“Technology is expanding like crazy,” Smuga said. “Even within the last five years, game technology has expanded like crazy. Game companies can put out hardware that can run real time rendering and make things looks beautiful … (Gaming) visually looks a lot better and the reason is that game devices can hold and process more information.

“This drives other technological innovations. We are going to start seeing different types of controllers. We are going to see more virtual and augmented reality. Phones will get more intense. You will be able to do more with your handheld device … The game industry is part of the drive for that,” she said.

Smuga, who said aspects of animation can be difficult, encourages interested students to take advantage of lab assistance the college offers.

“(The assistants) will sit down with (students) and walk them through the whole process,” Smuga said, noting there are video tutorials students may access.

She said the gaming industry is growing at a rapid pace and added, “People think of (gaming) as entertainment, but gaming is going to bleed into other areas” of innovation.