Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Level 1

“Welcome to the Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master Games Studio!”

This blog documents my experience at the Master Games Studio, the top ranked program for Video Game Production offered by the University of Utah.  I am on the Production track, but plan to learn as much as I can about all four tracks:

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 2.43.30 AM

After watching Video Game High School, I think we all have high expectations…  If you haven’t seen it, look up the first two seasons at

However, the Master Games Studio is no high school.  We are grad students with substantial experience in disciplines from art to software development to movie production.  Some of us already have one or more graduate degrees, from business to law to entertainment business.  Some of us have practiced designing games from as early as the second grade.  We are here to learn the game behind the games:  game design, production, promotion, monetization, publishing, and more.


August 23, 2013.  Our first day.

We are treated to a big welcome and a well organized orientation. The faculty introduces themselves and the program, gives us t-shirts designed by students from the 2012 cohort, takes us on a tour of Master Games Studio North and
2013-08-23-04-05South, provides a get to know you lunch at the University Guest House, lets us try out the campus shuttle system, and takes us bowling at Crimson Commons. I score a respectable 130.


Four days later, we attend our first Rapid Prototyping class. We divide up into teams of two producers, one artist, and two software engineers. I am on Team 8, consisting of John Schwarz (Producer), Mark Breeden (Engineer), Chris Cherrington (Artist), and Sty Zhu (Engineer).

2013-09-05-09-44A lecture takes place largely on an 80″ TV, introducing our first project. We are to create a prototype of a game that appeals to the two women program leaders/instructors, Corrinne and Amy. We ask them dozens of questions about what they like and don’t like in a game, then break up for game-storming. I am first to suggest an idea, 8-Bit Fudge, which everyone immediately likes. Other teams pick out five ideas and go with their best.

An hour after Rapid Prototyping, twenty of us meet as Producers in a back room of Master Games Studio North, where we share our backgrounds and explain what we think a Producer does. A textbook is assigned, and Professor Amy Adkins shares her background.


Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.00.41 PMJose P. Zagal, our Game Design instructor, is out of town for a conference, so Rachel shows us the film “Get Lamp” about the history of interactive fiction and Infocom.  Zork and the Colossal Cave Adventure were among the first games I ever played, but some in class have never heard of them.

Activision and Code Mystics recently released twenty-six Infocom favorites on the iPhone and iPad as “The Lost Treasures of Infocom”, together with a never released installment of Zork, The Undiscovered Underground.


It’s morning.  We prepare pitches on our projects. Ours is 8-Bit Fudge, about a 15 year old who manages 8-Bit Fudge shop for two weeks as it competes against larger 16-Bit Fudge up the street! The focus is on macro executive decision making rather than micro minimum wage clicking. You manage your employee, who may be your little sister or a dog.

The primary feedback we get from instructors and students from the prior cohort is that the project is a little ambitious for a prototyping class, and that we should focus on gameplay over story if we run short on time. What is not implemented can always be added later with additional time and/or funding. Corrinne Lewis gets excited when she sees Chris’s art mockup.  We are on the right track.


certification-with-URL-Level-1I complete my Level 1 Gamification certification with Gabe Zichermann and the Engagement Alliance.  Recommended!

Gamification is the application of game design principles to real world problems.

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