Information for Prospective Students

What is GDIAC?

The Game Design Initiative at Cornell (GDIAC) allows interested students at Cornell to be involved with game design through course work and hands on experience. What drives GDIAC members is their passion for making and understanding games.

How do I study games at Cornell?

Cornell currently offers a Minor in Game Design, which may be taken by all Cornell students.

Can I take game courses without the Minor?

Yes, though students needing to complete certain courses for the minor might get preference.

Do I need to (or can I) apply to GDIAC?

No. Completing any of the GDIAC courses constitutes "admission." As demand for the game courses increases, we may shift to model where you need to seek permission to enter the classes, which means contacting the GDIAC director.

Students, of course, must first apply to Cornell. Our educational philosophy is encouraging students to excel in a core major (called a field) while specializing in game design. Before diving too much into too much detail, we recommend that you first investigate Cornell and its outstanding reputation:

Which field or major should I choose?

As the gaming generation is moving into positions of management, elements of game design are likely to prove useful in other types of product development. GDIAC helps to teach students the creativity and playfulness that can be applied to games as well as to other types of product development.

Any major will work with the game courses at Cornell, though we do recommend certain fields:

Do you like developing software and solving technical problems? If so, look at Computer Science and Information Science. The Minor fits extremely well with these fields, especially if you choose the College of Engineering.

Do you like drawing, electronic imaging, and animation? If so, review the offerings of the Department of Art in the College of Art, Architecture, and Planning (AAP). Note that Art majors may take a Concentration in Electronic Imaging through AAP.

Do you like music, soundtracks, and sound effects? If so, consider Cornell's Department of Music in the College of Arts & Sciences. Music has digital music composition courses and works closely with GDIAC. Arts and Sciences students can also concentrate in Computing and the Arts, which has music as one of its three tracks.

Do you like focusing on story and dialogue in games? If so, review the Department of English in the College of Arts & Sciences. The English Department at Cornell is considered one of the best in the nation, and the role and nature of narrative in games is a research venue in the newly emerging field of game studies.

We also suggest investigating the Department of Communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In this program, students can take courses in the social and psychological dimensions of the design, use, and evaluation of communication and information technologies, how people form and manage impressions and relate to each other in cyberspace, human-computer interaction, and the uses of language in online interaction.

Cornell students do not declare a major until their sophomore year, so you should first focus on the admissions process.

What game courses do GDIAC students take?

Interested students should skim our course information page. Typically students start with CS/INFO 3152 during their sophomore year. CS/INFO 3152 does have prerequisites, so students with less backgrounds must sometimes wait until junior year.

Students completing CS/INFO 3152 then proceed to CS/INFO 4152, which is an advanced projects course that targets commercial platforms.

After those courses, dedicated students take a number of independent studies. These independent studies allow students to receive academic credit for continuing with a variety of self-directed game design projects. Students who have completed CS/INFO 4152 typically use independent studies to build a portfolio of game related projects and experience.

What types of assignments and projects do students complete?

Cornell's game design program is built on the understanding that the dynamic and collaborative process of game design and development provides human and technical experience applicable across all industries.

Refer to course information page for more details on the current offerings. Some (but not all) recent games from these courses are often available in the Games Gallery. Note that the gallery merges games and research projects from CS/INFO 3152, CS/INFO 4152, and Independent Projects. The rough breakdown of game projects is below:

CS/INFO 3152

The introductory course is a project-driven course where students work in 5-6 person teams to develop a 2-D game on a computer. Refer to the current CS/INFO 3152 course website for more information.

CS/INFO 4152

Like the introductory course, the advanced course is project-driven, with students working in teams of 4-5 people. The course is topical, and the design restrictions change from semester to semester. In some cases, platform issues (e.g. iPhone development) prevent us from hosting these games in the Games Gallery. For more information, refer to the current CS/INFO 4152 course website for more information.

Independent Projects

Officially designated as CS/INFO 4999, independent projects in game design are very open ended. There are no restrictions on the design, and the project may span multiple semesters. In order to qualify for independent study, students must submit a proposal to an affiliated faculty member at the beginning of the semester for approval.

Are there other opportunities to study games?

Several Cornell faculty have begun to incorporate games in their courses and research. Please refer to the Affiliate Courses page for links to a variety of courses.

How does this program compare to other academic programs in game design and development?

Cornell's program offers tremendous flexibility. Students can take game courses that benefit their education regardless of whether or not they intend to enter the game industry. Cornell's game design program is built on the understanding that the dynamic and collaborative process of game development provides human and technical experience applicable across industries.

By requiring the rigour of an Ivy-League education as the primary focus of a student's degree, the student must develop deep, fundamental knowledge and skills. Such learning benefits the students, as all industry will continue to change.

By offering a challenging path of game design courses, students must balance workloads and team dynamics to build excellent portfolios. Studying games can be tremendous fun and extremely rewarding, but it is a difficult path and is therefore selective.

What are some companies where GDIAC students work?

GDIAC holds ties with industry leaders such as Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Irrational Games, Valve, Riot Games, Pokemon, Zynga, and Bethesda Softworks. In addition, several alumni have gone on to game development opportunities in education and the military. GDIAC often facilitate connections between current students and alumni who are working in industry. This helps students to network within the field and to develop relationships.

Can I take game courses without wishing to enter the industry?

Yes. Given the competitiveness of the game industry, we recommend testing your interest in games (and pretty much any field) by taking a course. In fact, many students choose not to pursue the Minor or the game industry, but still take our courses! Why? The interdisciplinary team-based approach of GDIAC is appealing to a variety of industries.

Not all students participating in GDIAC intend to work in the game industry. Some students participate out of personal interest and enjoyment. It is an opportunity to have fun while learning. The interdisciplinary team based nature of the initiative teaches valuable skills to students interested in a variety of areas. This type of experience is useful in all areas of industry, and companies place this type of team work as a top work skill.

As the gaming generation is moving into positions of management, elements of game design are likely to prove useful in other types of product development. GDIAC will help to teach students the creativity and playfulness that can be applied to games as well as to other types of product development. In addition, students will have the opportunity to learn about things such as human-computer interaction, human perception, psychology of art, and digital culture. These areas are relevant to game design and development in addition to a variety of other areas.

What other ways can GDIAC help me?

The game industry is very interested in hands on experience. Some companies offer summer internships, and GDIAC can be instrumental in connecting students with these opportunities.

Also, undergraduate students who do well in CIS 400 have the opportunity to applying to be an teaching assistant (TA) for any of the game courses. The TA role is a paid position, and the TA assignment may continue for several semesters. TAs act as mentors to students, participate in grading, and become even more immersed in the world of games. This position carries prestige and offers a great experience for students, which may help them break into the industry.

GDIAC courses are indeed a lot of work, but there is a tremendous comraderie associated with all levels of participation.