The Computer Science: Computer Game Design Major 2013-14

This interdisciplinary program provides students with a deep understanding of the technical aspects of computer game engineering and a broad background in the artistic, narrative, and dramatic elements of game design.

Study and Research Opportunities

  • B.S.
  • Year-long, team-based game design project
  • Students have multiple opportunities to participate in research projects.

Admission to the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE)

Please see current UC Santa Cruz General Catalog for a full description of the BSOE admissions policy.

Freshman Applicants: Admission into a BSOE major is based on high school grade point average, test scores, courses completed in mathematics and sciences, and/or the personal statement. Applicants who are not accepted into the major at the time of admission to UCSC may still reapply for admission to the major after enrolling at UC Santa Cruz.

Transfer Applicants: Admission into the major will be based on the student’s academic college record. Applicants are encouraged to take and excel in as many courses that are equivalent to the department’s foundation courses as possible (see Transfer Preparation section). Only students who have completed most or all of the foundation courses will be approved for the major.

High School Preparation

It is recommended that high school students intending to apply to the BSOE have completed four years of mathematics (through advanced algebra and trigonometry) and three years of science in high school, including one year each of chemistry, physics, and biology. Comparable college mathematics and science courses completed at other institutions may be accepted in place of high school preparation. Students without this preparation may be required to take additional courses to prepare themselves for the program. While a background in computer programming is a plus, students with no programming experience can still successfully complete the degree program, and there are pathways designed specifically for such students.

Transfer Preparation

The BSOE strongly encourages applications from transfer students. Due to the prerequisite structure for upper-division courses, it is necessary for prospective transfer students to have completed as many of the lower-division requirements for the respective majors as possible to complete the degree within a reasonable time. Students must plan carefully because many courses must be taken sequentially. Applicants must take and excel in as many courses as possible that are equivalent to the department’s foundation courses. UC Santa Cruz foundation courses in computer science: computer game design are:

  • Computer Science 12A/L, Introduction to Programming with Laboratory, and 12B/M, Introduction to Data Structures with Laboratory
  • Computer Engineering 16, Applied Discrete Mathematics 
  • Mathematics 19A and 19B, Calculus for Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (two quarters)

Transfer students should not follow the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) because it will not provide transfer students with enough mathematics and engineering courses to allow them to complete these programs at UC Santa Cruz in two years.

In addition to the foundation courses required for admission, some transfer students may choose to take other articulated lower-division courses for the major. Such courses are listed on the web site For a complete list of lower-division courses for the major, visit Students are encouraged to take courses on 2D and 3D computer art and tools prior to transferring to UC Santa Cruz, even if these classes do not articulate to existing UCSC courses.


  • Computer game engineering
  • Computer game design
  • Computer game producer
  • Animation and graphics programming
  • Computer systems design, development, and administration
  • Software engineering
  • Web development
  • Database system design, development, and administration

These are only samples of the field’s many possibilities.

Internships, Fieldwork, and Education Abroad Opportunities

Many students find internships and fieldwork to be a valuable part of their academic experience. They work closely with faculty and career advisers in the UC Santa Cruz Career Center to identify existing opportunities and often to create their own internships with local companies or in nearby Silicon Valley. For more information about internships, visit

BSOE students may wish to develop their cross-cultural competency, typically via the Education Abroad Program (EAP). Interested students must work very closely with the faculty and academic advisers in their major very early during the freshman or sophomore year to create a plan for transferability of course work towards graduation. For more EAP information, visit

Alum Focus

Mark Henne (M.S., computer science, ’90) works at Pixar, and has contributed computer graphics to the films A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. He recently served as “Crowd and Simulation” supervisor on Wall-E. Michael Cornwell (B.A., computer science, ’99) developed the SMART computer program that enables Linux operating system users to foresee and avoid hard-drive failures. Yoav Freund (Ph.D., computer science, ’93) won the Goedel Prize in 2003 for his research developing the AdaBoost machine learning algorithm. Professor Randal Burns (M.S. and Ph.D., computer science, ’00) is an associate professor of computer science at the Johns Hopkins University.

Game Design Studio

Students in the senior year of the program work in the game design studio. This facility boasts high-end game development workstations, team meeting spaces, development kits for several commercial consoles and tablets, as well as consoles for playing and studying games. The studio provides an environment for working in teams to develop games, from early concept and prototyping through to polished game.

Library Collection of Computer Games

The Science and Engineering Library hosts a lending collection of over 700 computer game titles, spanning a range of game eras and genres. The collection has particular depth in computer role playing games, platform games, and 2D space shooters. A game room in the library contains examples of all significant current and historical game consoles. Game consoles are available for checkout, including Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.


Associate Professor Michael Mateas’ game Facade is the genre-defining example of interactive drama. The game has received considerable critical acclaim, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Indie Games Festival in 2006, and favorable press coverage in the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, the Economist, and Newsweek. Mateas directs the UC Santa Cruz Center for Games and Playable Media, the largest games research group in North America.

Associate Professor Noah Wardrip-Fruin's books First Person, Second Person, and Third Person (MIT Press) are influential collections of essays on game studies. His book New Media Reader is widely used as a textbook for introductory digital media classes worldwide. According to prominent game designer Will Wright, Wardrip-Fruin's book, Expressive Processing (2009), provides a “critical language and framework for understanding interactive media.” His collaborative playable media projects, including Screen and Talking Cure, have been presented by the Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Krannert Art Museum, Hammer Museum, and a wide variety of festivals and conferences.

Professor Marilyn Walker is internationally known for her work in natural language processing applied to interactive media. A focus of her work involves dialog generation for game characters. From 1996 to 2003, she was a Principal Member of Research Staff in the Speech and Information Processing Lab at AT&T Bell Labs and AT&T Research. While at AT&T, she worked on the AT&T Communicator project, where she developed a new architecture for spoken dialogue systems and statistical methods for dialogue management and generation.

Associate Professor Warren Sack’s digital media project, Translation Map, was presented at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and positively reviewed in the New York Times.

Professor Jim Whitehead is the founder and board chair of the Society for the Advancement of the Science of Digital Games, which hosts the yearly Foundations of Digital Games conference. As founder of the Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) Working Group, a broad coalition of industry and academia, he helped develop the WebDAV Distributed Authoring Protocol, extensions to the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that support remote collaborative authoring.

Assistant Professor Arnav Jhala performs research on artificial intelligence techniques for automatic camera placement in 3D scenes.

More Information

Undergraduate Advising Office
Jack Baskin School of Engineering
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, California 95064
(831) 459-5840

See Also