Illinois State University is seeking to create more professionals in one of the fastest-growing and profitable entertainment industries by launching a video game design sequence in fall 2021.

The new academic sequence falls under the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts’ newly named Creative Technologies Program, formerly known as Arts Technology. Majors will be able to pursue one of two sequences: interdisciplinary technologies or game design.

Dr. Aaron Paolucci, Creative Technologies Program director, said the program’s name and curriculum were changed to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving professional environment.

“In the past, companies were looking for a graphic designer or a video editor or a sound designer—very narrow niches,” Paolucci said. “And now it seems like companies are looking for folks who can do a lot of different stuff in an interdisciplinary fashion.”

Big-budget video games like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Madden NFL involve hundreds of artists, animators, musicians, programmers, and sound designers. However, as tools for creating games become more accessible, small teams or even individuals can make popular games. Undertale, Minecraft, and Stardew Valley are examples of critically acclaimed and commercially successful titles that were developed by a single person.

Dr. Sercan Sengun, assistant professor of creative technologies, worked for both small and big companies in the game industry before pivoting to academia to teach game design. He designed the curriculum with the idea of training students versatile enough to fill the ranks of larger companies or become independent game developers looking to disrupt the industry.

Students playing a board game

Students learn the basics of game design through the development of their own board or card game.

“Gaming is one of the biggest media and entertainment industries now. There is always going to be a need for production talent,” Sengun said. “But we also need people who can bring their own voices into games, people that can create games about issues that haven’t been tackled as much before.”

To that end, Illinois State wants to help students find the games and genres they are passionate about as soon as possible.

“We don’t want to be generalists,” Sengun said. “Games are not a monolith, and different games are good for different reasons. We want students to learn why the games they like are good and then try to match and surpass them with their own creations.”

The program is built on three pillars: design, production, and development. In early design courses, students will learn the core mechanics of board and card games. This will provide them with a strong foundation in game design principals before they start creating games digitally.

“A lot of people say that games need to be fun, which is true, but fun can come from many different angles,” Sengun said. “What all games have in common is flow, which feels like you are doing something well and you know how it works. As you are doing good, the game rewards you.”

The production pillar focuses on teaching the students the interdisciplinary skills needed to produce games: 2D and 3D modeling, animation, art, music, and sound effects. Finally, the development pillar shows students how to manipulate these assets in game engines, the software environments used to create games. Illinois State students will learn Unity, the software underlying popular games like Pokémon Go, Escape from Tarkov, and Hollow Knight.

Students will take their design, artistic, and technological skills to the next level by creating their own video game as a capstone project. Once games are completed, Illinois State will assist students in submitting their work to national and international game conferences. Sengun also wants Illinois State student work to be available on digital marketplaces like the App Store and Steam.

“I don’t want to have students put all of this work into a great game for it to be graded and have it just sit there,” Sengun said. “They should be played. I want to help our students get their work out there and recognized.”

The Creative Technologies Program will partner with Illinois State’s new Redbird Esports program. The recreational program that they expect will draw more students to study game design. Esports Program Director David Kirk said the new academic sequence is a great recruitment tool to bring high-level esports athletes to campus.

“While students interested in esports fall into just about every academic discipline, I’ve personally seen a growth in interest for game design from some of the higher-level competitive recruits. Having that program is the deciding factor on whether or not they choose to attend your school and play for your team,” he said.

Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts Dean Jean Miller said recent investments in fine arts made through alumna Wonsook Kim’s generous $12 million gift and the release of capital funding to renovate the college’s spaces make this a perfect time to launch a new program.

“Everyone has a part in game design, whether it is music, sound, design, art, programming,” Miller said. “Everyone is needed at the table and the students are really excited about that.”

Learn more about majors offered by the Creative Technologies Program and in Illinois State’s other 150+ fields of undergraduate study by connecting with our academic departments through a virtual session