Digital Games​​​​​​​
Innovative Game Development Education: Preparing Entry-Level Students for Modern Digital Visual Production
Evelyn Schwab
Department of Media & ICT, VET
Damian Scott
Department of Media & ICT, VET

This project will leverage the Adobe Substance 3D Suite to teach students to develop cutting-edge characters and environmental materials for implementation in next-generation digital games in an innovative teaching workflow that prepares students for industry work and allows them to develop their folios and skillsets utilising real technology and pipelines.
Using cutting edge tools from Adobe, Students will develop and present a next-generation game built in Unreal Engine 5 on the show floor of the PAX East 2022 convention.
Resources
Shareable teaching and learning resources for this project coming soon!

Problem
Game Development is an unusually broad field, with many professional roles that have extremely different learning pathways and few shared skills and knowledge requirements. To be able to work at an employable level, game development professionals need to spend much of their learning journey focusing towards a specific area of development in order to maximise their potential employability in mid to large budget game development. 
To provide value to students, game development courses need to achieve two major outcomes: 
Provide students with opportunities to identify what area of game development they will aim towards 
Allow students to focus their learning on the area of their choosing, without compromising the course qualification 
These are reasonably simple goals, but there are several obstacles preventing a course from providing these outcomes. 
Traditional course structures, specifically in Australian vocational training, fight against these goals. As of writing there are no training packages geared specifically towards game development, meaning any course needs to fall under the information technology package. Though not a problem in and of itself, the core units and the available units in that package that tackle specific areas of game development do not provide enough content for a full qualification, meaning students would only be able to attain individual units as opposed to a full certificate or diploma should they only focus no areas of their choosing. 
There is the option of accredited and partial completion courses, but the challenge there becomes finding enough students to fill a course that is geared towards one focused area of development, while ensuring the course is profitable. Though possible, this is a risky approach and provides its own challenges. 
An appropriate solution would need to be able to fit around the current course structure and be modular enough that the same framework can be fit into the varied AQF levels of Swinburne’s games courses. 

Project Overview
To address the above detailed problem within game development and game art education, this project turns the classroom into a studio environment by transforming individual, disconnected work into work that, while still developing individual skills, contributes to a game project that each class member becomes credited on. 
Students spend the first semester of their course working under each major area of game development, completing unit competency requirements, and finding the areas they identify with. Mid way through the program, the course switches gears towards collaborative game production, with each student identifying tasks to complete that provide them with further learning experiences and complete the remaining competency requirements for their units. 
By structuring the course in the way this project plans, students were able to sample all facets of the broad roles within the game development and game art industries and gain focused skills and experience in the areas that they develop their passion for. Additionally, the work they do directly emulates roles within the games industry, building job-ready soft skills in communication, collaboration, and project management.  
This project leveraged the Adobe Substance 3D Suite to teach students to develop cutting-edge characters and environmental materials for implementation in next-generation digital games in an innovative teaching workflow that prepares students for industry work and allows them to develop their folios and skillsets utilizing real technology and pipelines. 

Outcomes & Impact
The project met the expected outcomes, as well as having several unexpected benefits. 
Following the project plan, most students were able to identify the area of the games industry that they wish to work in and were able to focus on those elements in the production of the major game project. 
When compared to previous iterations of the course, we’ve seen several benefits: 
        - Student work is at an overall higher quality 
        - Student retention was extremely high 
        - Students had direct industry contact though PAX east 
The game that students developed was presented on the show floor of the PAX East 2022 convention, to excellent consumer and industry reception. This opportunity was a part of the course in previous years but was focused on smaller individual or small group games rather than the class-developed game project that was developed this year. Player reception was exceedingly positive, with many players impressed by the scope and quality of the project. This same feedback was shared by industry professionals on the show floor, with notable interest in specific student work in level design and programming for potential hiring purposes. 
We addressed student digital literacy though the use of software as well as the study material and associated assignments. Game development is focused on technology literacy, and the primary teaching and competency outcomes revolve around highly complex industry software. We have addressed information and critical literacy with research assignments, both in report form and more creative forms that require students to find and identify appropriate information on niche areas of game development to achieve outcomes. 
Involved staff also improved their digital literacies, expanding their skills within the Adobe software utilized and reinforcing learned skills in other game development tools being used in the production. 
Student feedback towards the project has been positive, with many going out of their way to further engage themselves well beyond what was expected. Their experience presenting the project at PAX has further motivated many to continue working on the game production even beyond their time at Swinburne. 

Learnings
Overall the project can be considered a success, dramatically changing the way that we teach game development posed a lot of interesting challenges. 
When designing the project, we were very careful to ensure that no element was required for completion of the course and attainment of the final qualification so that, should something go wrong, students would not be negatively affected. However, compromising the project in this way had consequences for its success. 
There were upwards of 20 students involved in the project, but only around half were deeply involved with the major game project. This is likely a consequence of not requiring participation for any unit requirements, as well as the project being envisioned after the units (as well as delivery schedule) were already defined. In future iterations of this teaching style, we can address this by including work for the major game project as part of the assignments and by ordering the unit delivery in a way that benefits the game project. 
The software from Adobe we selected for use in the production was perfect for our needs and will remain a core part of the program. The only change we would need to make is how early we begin using it, ideally starting early in semester 1 as opposed to early semester 2, as we did this year. 
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