From Designing Serious Games to Now

My Journey

My journey with game design started back in high school. Back then, going into my senior year, I was CONVINCED I was going to be a bioengineer and all it took was one bio class to make me realize I hated Biology. AP Computer Science Principles was being offered at the same time and I figured “Hey, you know what might as well try it.” Midway through the class we were tasked with making some project in Scratch, whatever it may be, and given I played video games my whole life, I tried making a game. Even though it was incredibly low fidelity, it was able to inspire such joy and laughter in the players. Seeing this, I asked myself “What could I make and inspire in people if I actually knew how to code?” and thus my journey as a computer scientist and game designer took flight.

During freshman spring of college, I decided to try taking CS377G: “Designing Serious Games” with CS106B being the highest level of coding experience I had. It was taught by this high-energy, wise, and thoughtful teacher named Christina Wodtke and this class and instruction would serve as the catalyst that consolidated my love for making games, serious or not. Christina would go on to serve as a mentor for me through college from 377G, to 247I, to 247G.

My Perception of Games Before

With the guidance of 377G, before 247G I viewed game design as a means of creating some sort of feeling, whether it be a feeling of changing something in a serious game or a feeling of joy, fun, or even pure emotion with a more traditional game. Personally, it was a way for me to connect with my friends from hundreds of miles away on a daily basis, a way for me to crank out my insanely competitive spirit, and a way to create a meaningful change in the world in a way that involves so many different disciplines. On a more general note, game design is not just some outlier discipline: at its core, game design is the essence of HCI. Its rapid iteration, its understanding how to interpret and adapt to the feedback from players, its understanding what makes someone understand how to use something as quickly as possible.

What I’ve learned & How I’ve Grown

From the class, the thing that stuck with me the most is how to onboard players effectively. Rather than telling, have players do. Make it so players don’t even recognize the tutorial is there and rather they feel like they’re just playing smaller versions of the game that increasingly adds more components. I will forever remember the aspects of a good puzzle, especially the idea that puzzles need to have hints and can’t ask users to see into the designers mind. One can avoid this by extensively play testing and by making sure there’s enough pre-empting and onboarding to make sure the player knows what tools to use to solve the puzzle at hand.

I implemented this in my work by making it so our P2 puzzle rogue-like included hints when players died to direct them on the right path. We also included a splash at the beginning of the game that would inform players what the essence of the game was. This splash would show every time (similar to the way it shows up in the game For The King).


One of the biggest challenges in this class was in P2. For our game, Flood in the Desert, I was the main technical engineer building the engine for the game. The construction of this engine required me to plan and draw out based on the expressed needs of the other members of my group. This really forced me to constantly interface with the needs of my fellow team members, draw plans, implement those plans, then thoroughly test them against the needs expressed. It required extensive iteration and time coding, and play testing always presented itself with a new feature that could thoroughly improve the player experience. The Dialogue Manager script was easily the most difficult script to put together because it had so many moving parts.


All in all, CS247G was an incredibly transformative and confidence boosting experience. When I came into CS377G I was a wide-eyed game designer who had no idea what he was doing. I was terrified going to Stanford Video Game Association meetings because I felt so inadequate and inexperienced, way too much so to contribute anything meaningful to a group of experienced game designers like the SVGA. Now I walk away from CS247G ready to take on the world, ready to create something that can bring joy or create change, and equipped with the knowledge and skills to ensure that whatever the vision may be, it can come true, and I couldn’t have done it without the amazing mentorship from people like Tommy Tang, Ben Barnett, Jean-Raymond Melingui Betterton, and Christina Wodtke.

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