The Truth about NUS-CMU ETC Concurrent Degree in Entertainment Technology

When Randy Pausch founded ETC, he envisioned it as a “dream fulfillment factory”. When I signed up for this programme 5 years ago when I was a freshman in NUS, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. So I am writing this for those who are considering to take a Bachelor of Computing (Communications and Media) degree in NUS and then a Masters in Entertainment Technology in CMU.
NUS
First about the NUS Computing degree. What it is NOT:
  • It is NOT a fine arts degree. I.e. it will not teach you drawing, 3D modelling and animation in the traditional sense. It will not teach you how to be a great Photoshop or Maya artist.
  • It is NOT a mass communication degree despite the word “communication” in the name. It is not a course about writing and filmmaking, although you can take some classes about those
What it is:
  • It is almost like a computer science degree. So expect lots of Math, programming, and coding algorithms. You cannot escape from Math.
  • Depending on what classes you take, it is a course which trains you how to program for interactive media. The keyword is programming: you will learn coding for video games, 3D, graphics processing, robotics, console controllers etc. Again, the keyword is programming. Occassionally you will have to design stuff like user interface and game mechanics, but the main focus is programming.
Therefore, it is a very right-brain oriented course. However you get to develop some of your left-brain skills in your electives as you can take those from the Faculty of Arts, Communications and New Media (CNM) department. The NM modules are good for visual aesthetics design, writing, PR, game design etc. Similarly, the arts faculty is not a fine arts department. So don’t expect too much.In summary, expect a research-based academic study environment. (After all, that’s what NUS is known for. Otherwise go to School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) in NTU if you want a fine arts based curriculum, something which I regretted I rejected but that’s another story.)
CMU ETC
Now about ETC. Probably a lot has changed since Randy Pausch passed away and now Don has left as well. I didn’t know what was the course going to be. I signed up in faith. But here what it is NOT:
  • It is not a course which will teach you technical/artistic skills through a curriculum (although you can take some electives for them)
  • It is not a course for you to develop your other side of the brain, I.e. if you are an engineer and wish to be an artist, this course will not make you one, and vice versa
However it is:
  • It is a course which expects you to be already very talented in whatever field you are trained in and to use your skills further. E.g. if you are trained in computer science, you are expected to use your programming skills to create new things. If you are trained in fine arts, you are expected to use your graphics/design/etc. skills to create new stuff.
  • It is a course which will train you well with interpersonal, teamwork and communication skills as you will get to work in different project teams which you cannot choose
  • It is a course which will connect you to great people both in the course and in the industry, opening doors to many jobs, as many companies like Disney Imagineering hire many ETC graduates.
  • It is a project-based curriculum, so no research papers are needed to be written
And as for the type of projects in ETC, despite the broad definition of entertainment technology, probably 70% of the projects are video games related, while 20% are location-based entertainment/museum installations and the like, and 10% are film/animation related. Due to the nature of the “technology” in “entertainment technology” and the skepticism of the faculty, there are no pure film film projects.So is it a dream fulfillment factory? Yes, if you absolutely love video games. Yes, if you have some related project ideas that you wish to pitch. Yes, if you are already very talented at what you are currently doing.

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