Fall 2024 - IAT 312 D100

Foundations of Game Design (4)

Class Number: 6050

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 4 – Dec 3, 2024: Thu, 12:30–2:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Completion of 48 units, including IAT 265 with a minimum grade of C-.



Examines the discipline of game design. Games are studied across three analytical frameworks: games as rules (formal system), games as play (experiential system), games as culture (social system). Includes analytical and practical exercises in game design.


Game Design is a creative endeavor requiring practical experience through design, critique, and iteration. In the lecture part of this class, we will read and discuss some of the work that analyzes players, games and the design process to establish common ground for practical work in the course labs. We will also cover some of the more universal game mechanisms, such as randomness, economic systems, player motivation and psychology, and a few specific topics in more detail. In the labs, we will play, critique, improve and design games as well as report on the course's longer game design projects.


The course should help you gain practical experience with and a critical understanding of:

  • The existing attempts to analyze the psychology of players and how it affects game design and consumption
  • The process of game design and its components such as prototyping and play testing
  • Some of the dimensions along which to think about game design and critique existing designs, such as art style, narrative and game balance
  • A subset of the mechanisms available to accomplish game design goals, such as reward systems and economic systems 


  • Assignments & quizzes (individual) 45%
  • Projects (team work) 45%
  • Attendance & Participation 10%


Intended learning outcomes

The course is intended to support you to gain both practical experience with and a critical understanding of the foundations of game design in specific contexts. Specifically, by fulfilling the requirements of the course you will be prepared to accomplish key tasks in 4 main game design areas:

  1. Game Design Basics
    1. Explain and critically reflect on games, and the characteristics and features of different types of games including their components, mechanics & rules, dynamics, and aesthetics/UX/fun, the “Magic Circle”, and what makes for a compelling game 
    2. Analyze and argue what makes for a compelling game (or not) and why people like to play games
  2. Game Design Frameworks & Psychology
    1. Compare and contrast different frameworks and underlying assumptions, and determine how and when to use which frameworks
    2. Explain different player types and psychologies, how they affect their gameplay, assumptions, and preferences, and use this knowledge to improve game designs
  3. Game Design Process
    1. Explain and effectively utilize game design best practices/processes/frameworks/mechanics, and explain how you did this when designing several games in teams. This includes typical game design phases such as ideation, prototyping and play testing as the base for an iterative game design cycle 
    2. Analyze, discuss, and critique games using appropriate terminology, and provide well-structured, constructive, and useful feedback (e.g., after playtesting or game pitches). 
    3. Discuss the difference between game critiques vs. playtesting, and demonstrate why, when, and how to use either of them effectively to improve your game and design process
    4. Effectively demonstrate and reflect on how to effectively communicate your game across different stages (from early prototype to final game), to different audiences (both internal and external), and using different presentation formats (incl. written instructions/rule sheets, pitches, game design documents (GDDs), and game videos)
  4. Game Design Teams
    1. Reflect on and apply suitable processes and team-based, collaborative practices used in game design including ideation, prototyping, iterative revisions, and playtesting as the base for an iterative design cycle to a game design project.
      1. Specific processes covered in this class may include structured team brainstorming (affinity diagramming), moodboards, inspiration analysis, Razor & Slogan, Play Matrix, playtesting scripts, structured game critique/analysis, and Agile project management)
    2. Explain what makes a good game designer, and why and how they often work in teams
    3. Reflect on your own and others’ assumptions, lenses, beliefs, what people really care about, and preferences about games/playing, and how do they affect game design and teamwork 
    4. Explain and utilize a toolbox of how to  foster a collaborative, constructive, and supportive team culture and process, including patterns of thinking and behaviour that support effective teams, as well as specific  tools, tips, processes and frameworks (incl. Agile) that might be useful
    5. Find ways to effectively address challenges that can occur in team-based environments while being respectful and constructive. (This could include collaboratively resolve challenges that commonly occur in team-based projects, such as balancing between leading/following, communication challenges, conflicts that arise, ensuring all team members contribute meaningfully, engaging all team members, ensuring all care for the project and each other, getting people on the same page, and figuring out a shared vision/purpose that all can care about). 

Delivery method

This course will include a weekly live lecture (110 minutes) and a workshop-tutorial (110 minutes) component. The course will be delivered via in-person instruction (if all goes well). Students are expected to participate in:

  • synchronous activities during the scheduled course times. This includes a live, interactive lecture with demonstrations, discussions and student group presentation/discussion on assigned topics.  In the workshop-tutorial, students will practice and apply the concepts of the lecture in playing, critiquing or even designing several games
  • asynchronous activities (e.g., independent preparation before the lecture, teamwork, peer work etc. to prepare each week and to pace yourself carefully in order to stay on top of the activities/assignments and to get the most from the class).

The learning environment will be active, supporting, and will afford opportunities for students to strengthen knowledge, skills, and feel a part of a community.
you can find more information and examples/videos of prior course projects at the course website http://ispace.iat.sfu.ca/riecke/teaching/iat312/

Respect copyrighted materials
Several items provided in this course and through Canvas or other means have been copied of the Copyright Act as enumerated in SFU Appendix R30.04A - Application of Fair Dealing under Policy R30.04. You may not distribute, e-mail or otherwise communicate these materials to any other person.

Lab switching
Questions about switching labs, waitlists, enrollment, etc. should be addressed to SIAT advising (siat_advising@sfu.ca). Course instructors have no control over the composition of class and lab rosters other than to authorize change requests that are made through SIAT advising.


Class attendance and participation policy: Students are expected to attend and participate in all lectures and labs. Regular attendance and active, supportive participation in class and team activities are necessary to pass; doing otherwise will result in point reductions and in extreme cases failure to pass the course. 
If you miss an assignment or workshop due to illness or personal concerns, a doctor’s note or other forms of credible evidence must be presented to your instructor/TA. 
Failure to contribute sufficiently to in-class activities, individual and team assignments, failure to responsibly do your part of the teamwork, or failure to reliably attend and contribute in team meetings can result in additional point reductions beyond the team evaluation.

Deliverables: All deliverables must be submitted (typically to Canvas) by the due date/time. No late submissions will be accepted.

Attendance and participation: Active participation will be required in lectures, and participation marks will stem from participation during lecture discussion as well as activities during the labs, especially ones that are not otherwise graded.




Based on prior student feedback and recommendations: you won't need to purchase physical prototyping materials for designing your own games. Instead we will use an online board game simulator, the "Tabletop Simulatorhttps://www.tabletopsimulator.com/about. Course assignments will be taught and demonstrated with this software, and other software will not be supported by the course. You can also use this software for rapid prototyping and designing your games in your teams, and it also works really well for online and distributed playtesting (and of course gaming just for fun), and sharing your final games online. Thus we strongly recommend that you purchase, download, and install your own copy of it before class starts, see link above of directly from Steam https://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/Tabletop_Simulator/. it runs on both Windows and MacOS and currently costs CDN$ 19.99. The software has a lot of excellent online resources and tutorials available at https://www.tabletopsimulator.com/about. Note that to minimize your extra costs for this class, we are removing the need to purchase physical prototyping and game design materials, and I chose a textbook where our library provides free online access.

To see and try out prior games from my IAT 312 course you can enter “IAT312” into the search field on the Tabletop Simulator site on Steam or through this direct link.


Fullerton, T. (2024). Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Fourth Edition (5th Edition.). Boca Raton, FL: A K Peters/CRC Press. 
This is our main textbook, so make sure you have access and get your own copy (digital or print, whatever you prefer) by the first week of the semester, as we'll read through most of the book. You should be able to access the book it online through the SFU library. 

ISBN: 978-1032607009

Additional readings will be provided via Canvas


Schell, J. (2019). The Art of Game Design : A Book of Lenses, Third Edition. A K Peters/CRC Press. doi:10.1201/b22101
You might be able to access this through the SFU library or directly here. We might use this book for complementary readings.
ISBN: 978-1138632059

"Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals" (2003) by Katie Salen Tekinbas, Eric Zimmerman; 1st Edition; MIT Press – is not required for this class, but might offer interesting additional perspectives and is available as a physical book through the SFU Library
ISBN: 9780262240451


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the term are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.