WITS to offer degree in Game Design, starting 2012

Late last week WITS University sent out its alumni newsletter, and just underneath an announcement about Johnny Clegg remastering the Jock and The Bushveld soundtrack, and next to a report about an ex-WITS student who will be reporting live from the the Rugby World Cup, was the announcement that the University has appointed it’s first Game Design lecturer, Hanli Geyser.

Hanli Geyser

Geyser will be working under the Digital Arts department in the School of Arts, where she has coordinated a fully fledged degree in Game Design. The course will become next year.

We caught up with Geyser to find out more about the program, and exactly what any prospective game design students need to know.

Exactly how will WITS offer its course in game design to students? Will it be available as a post graduate course? Will courses be available to study as part of an undergraduate program?

The Game Design course is offered as part of two separate undergraduate degrees.  One is housed in the Wits School of the Arts, the other in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.  Students will therefore be able to approach Game Design from two directions, catering to their own interests: the creative arts, or the technical software and engineering side. Students in both degrees will attend the same core Game Design course, side by side.

Game Design as creative art falls under the auspices of the BA Performing and Visual Arts degree (BA PVA in Game Design). This degree would cater for students interested in game graphics, narrative, character design, music and sound and in later years, animation.  This is a 4 year professional degree.

The technical Game Design degree is a Bachelor of Engineering Science in Digital Art (B.Eng.Sci. Digital Arts).  In this 3 year degree students attend half of their courses in the EIE faculty. This degree aims to give students an introduction into both the hardware and software environments of the game development industry.  On graduation, should they wish to study further, students may continue into the third year of Electrical and Information Engineering or into the Honours course in Digital Arts.

What will the entry requirements be?

The entry requirements are quite steep. The course will only take 30 students, 15 from Engineering and 15 from the Arts, acceptance will therefore be highly competitive. The requirements are also different for the two degrees.

For students to enter the Engineering degree they would need to have done both Math and Physical Science in matric and have attained very good results.

For the Arts degree students would need to have performed well academically and be required to submit portfolios specific to their interest, so for example either a body of drawings or written work.

Will the course be technically demanding, or more theoretical? (IE. Will students require a background in software development?)

The individual areas of technical specialisation are addressed in detail in the separate degrees. Students in the B.Eng.Sci. would do Software Development as a course with the other Electrical and Information Engineering students, while students from the BA PVA would, for example, attend Design and Drawing classes alongside the Fine Arts students.

In the core Game Design course that students from both attend together we will address the elements of game design as a discipline.  The course will have a strong practical component, but also seeks to emphasise a solid academic grounding in the field.  Areas of academic study will include game history and theory, game studies and analysis, and game creation in many of its incarnations.

Students will learn about game mechanics, rule and system creation, puzzle design, level design, character design, etc. Each theoretical element will be underlined by a practical project. This will require students to develop a familiarity with both sides of the coin: the artistic as well as the technical.  This understanding would facilitate greater co-operation later in the course where students would move into more distinct roles. Students will work in game development applications; at this point we are investigating Game Maker and Unity.

A key focus of the final years of the course is the development of a portfolio of games with which the graduate can approach industry.

As it is an undergraduate course Students wouldn’t require any extensive background in their fields other than their High School exposure to the relevant subjects.

Realistically, do you think there is scope for practical application of a degree in game design in South Africa? Or would candidates ideally want to look for work overseas?

The game design industry in South Africa is very small but growing quickly. The industry has exploded internationally and this should begin to reflect here as well. We believe that a degree like this would contribute to the growth of the industry in South Africa by encouraging young and excited talent to enter into the field. We hope that graduates would emerge as leaders locally but also be highly competitive internationally. No degree ever guarantees the graduate of a job, but there is true potential for game designers, developers, and artists in South Africa. 

Do you think somebody could get a job in game development with an Honours in game design? Or would they be better off just studying an IT degree.

Students interested in game development specifically will be very well placed with the B.Eng.Sci.  Other than the core course in Game Design students would do Physics, Math, Circuits, Software Development, and Electromagnetic systems in the Engineering department. This degree also offers students the option to enter into the third year of a BEng Electrical and Information Engineering after graduation should they want to.  The base in software development that students will have from this degree would then only be strengthened by an in-depth understanding of the sharp end of game design as well.

Will the degree be internationally accredited?

As with all degrees offered by the University of the Witwatersrand both of these should be recognised by most other academic institutions.

How long have you been playing games for, and what are some of your all-time favourites?

The first game I remember playing was Space Invaders. My father had written down very precise instructions, in big, easy to read letters, for me to boot from dos and load the floppy labelled ‘game’.  So it’s fair to say that I have been playing for a while. Naming all-time favourites is a bit harder. Games that I think of immediately are the first The Witcher,  Machinarium, Zork, Diablo II, Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery, and Mass Effect, but the list is likely to change three times before tea.

What 5 currently unreleased games are you most excited about?

The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim, Diablo III, Star Wars the Old Republic, Journey, Guild Wars 2, and of course, Desktop Dungeons. But now I have 6… Too many games, too little time!

You can find out more about the course here.

Discuss WITS’s game design degree in the forums


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  • bluh

    Not worth the paper its written on, wits wont tell u that. But the guys under the bridge will.

  • Wasted Paper

    Don't trolls live under bridges?

  • Duncan

    Learn3D is doing a more practical course than Wits. Had a look into it at the beginning of the year: http://www.learn3d.co.za/About%20Learn%203D%20-%20The%20Courses%20-%20Game%20Development.html

  • tbfg

    Who cares. I wouldn`t have minded doing it anyways, but I`ll take your word on the L3D

  • Theuns Kruger

    8-bit trolls live under bridges…

  • Cure

    On one hand I'm glad they're doing this, breaking into new ground and all that, on the other hand I know that there isn't a lot of job opportunities locally for someone with a Game Design degree.

  • k.u.p…kelo

    m curently duin matric n waz chose 4 ths course @ vits bt t duzn seem 2 b a gud investment 4 th future..cnt find t n mzansi market…!!!

  • Guest

    Any recommendations for an institution that offers a solid, in depth and ‘recognized’ course in game dev in JHB?? Not looking to stay in SA permanently, so I’m really keen on the field, though eventually I’m gonna have to go back to a university before I can reach for the visa app I guess…

WITS to offer degree in Game Design, starting 2012