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91.411 Software Engineering

Fall 2007

Prof. Fred MartinTA: Joel Michel

MWF, 9:30 am - 10:20 am
location TBA


In this course, we will learn about software engineering by creating a significant piece of software—video games that are playable and enjoyable for children with multiple disabilities. We will learn how to design software by reading case studies of large software design projects, considering theory of well-designed software, and reflecting on the design process as our own projects are underway.

To help in framing the challenge of creating software for children with multiple disabilities, we will be visited by Bonnie Paulino, Principal at the Kennedy Day School at the St. Franciscan's Hospital in Brighton, MA. Bonnie has been using computer technology with disabled children for more than 25 years and is a caring expert in the field. Your videogame programs will be used by students at her school.

From a technical perspective, we will:

  • Discuss requirements elicitation, agile design, the role of documentation, design patterns, test-driven development, the second-system effect, and the role of community / peer-pressure in sotware design.
  • Use the Java 1.5 release and create game applets that can be played by anyone with a web browser and internet connection, employing multi-threaded, event-based programming.
  • Work with source code control and JUnit test frameworks.

A Bit More...

To generalize, there are two types of software engineering classes: one in which everyone builds the same thing, and one in which everyone builds something different. The former is good because it lets instructors focus in on specific and particular theoretical material. Instructors know exactly what problems you will be encountering as you write code, because they have created the design challenges expressly to expose certain ideas! A great example of this type of class is MIT's course 6.170, Laboratory in Software Engineering.

On the other hand you have courses that are more representative of life in the unstructured real-world, where every project is indeed different. As described by Diane Pozefsky in her Software Engineering Laboratory at UNC, this course is a “faculty-coached team project.” Student teams in this type of class might each have a different client and be working with wholly different software technologies.

Here, we will take a middle ground. Primarily, we will have project implementation as the heart of the class. But we will all be working on the same sort of project (videogames for children with multiple disabilities), and we will all be using the same technologies (e.g., Java 1.5).

Required Books

We will use two required books. They are ordered and available now at the UML North Bookstore. Please buy them there to make sure you have them right away:

The Mythical Man-Month, 20th Anniversary Edition (1995)
Frederick P. Brooks
Dreaming in Code (2007)
Scott Rosenberg
This is a landmark book on software engineering. It was written in 1975, but it's based on the experiences of lead designer of the IBM System/360 mainframe project in the 1960s. It was updated 20 years later. The book gets more and more relevant as the years pass, because its core thesis remains true, even as technology advances: adding more people to a late software project makes it even later!!This is a recent study of the design process of Mitch Kapor's Chandler Project, an open-source personal information management system. It's a modern take on what makes software development hard.

There will be other readings, including essays published on the web and material photocopied from out-of-print books. The latter will be handed out in class. The current reading assignment is always here.


This is a project-driven course with a reading component. Discussion, writings, and other reflections on the readings will illuminate your design process as you are engaged in your own software development.

Therefore the projects themselves and the readings/reflections are both important.

The specific deliverables you will be responsible for are:

  1. Game tech proof-of-concept Java applet. This must run in a browser window using a Java 1.5 JRE, and demonstrate use of motion, sounds, keyboard input, and threading. The purpose of this assignment is to bring everyone up to speed with writing Java code, using build and source code management tools, and also working through particular implementation issues (e.g., sound, threading) before the main project. 3 weeks.
  2. Accessible game concept video presentation. This is a 3- to 5-minute long movie (e.g., Quicktime, MPG, or DVD video) that demonstrates your game concept. You will probably wish to build a prototype of your game (using Game Maker) and record the game play. The main purpose of this video is to present the concept to the faculty and staff at the Kennedy Day School for feedback before you go off and implement the game. 3 weeks.
  3. Prototype implementation of your game. This is a partial implementation of your game in which you will make sure core functionality is operational. This release will be used by children at the Kennedy Day School while you work on a final version. This deliverable requires that you make choices about what's most important, and provides an opportunity to have user feedback to help focus the final work. 4 weeks.
  4. Final implementation of your game. This implementation will be due during finals week. This is an opportunity to refactor your code using design patterns you have learned in class. We will also do in-class reviews of code and UML block diagrams of your internal designs. You will personally visit the Kennedy Day school and see students using your game. 4 weeks.
  5. Game documentation. This includes having your code on the course source code control server, and turning in specific documentation on the game's design. Each are due 1 week before game releases.
  6. Reading reflections. Short, 1-page essays on the assigned readings will be a regular event. Weekly.
  7. Mid-term. Precise placement in semester TBD.

Build Technology

You are free to use your choice of development tools. I will probably demonstrate most stuff typing at the Unix console. Most people seem to like Eclipse.

There will be a CVS or SVN server set up for course use. Instruction on using this will be made available. By the 3rd week all code should live on the server.


Some work will be done individually and other work will be done in pairs.

For project work, teams will be responsible for conceiving work in such a fashion that each person is responsible for a separable portion of the project. A clear division of work, with an API between each person's portion, will be spec'ed out before substantial implementation is undertaken. Students will be responsible for implementing their portion of work as originally agreed. If the design changes dramatically, so that the original definition is no longer applicable, this should be documented and reported as soon as it become apparent.

We will use a course Wiki for each team to post its game releases.

Discussion Group / E-Mail List

We will use Google Groups for class conversation and announcements. Please join this group. I'd advise setting it to send email to you directly.

⚠ (:html:) <table style="border:1px solid #aa0033; font-size:small" align=center> <tr> <td rowspan=3> <img src="" height=58 width=150 alt="Google Groups"> </td> <td colspan=2 align=center><b>Subscribe to 91411-f07</b></td> </tr> <form action=""> <tr> <td>Email: <input type=text name=email></td> <td> <table style="background-color:#ffcc33;padding:2px;border:2px outset #ffcc33;"> <tr> <td> <input type=submit name="sub" value="Request"> </td> </tr> </table> </td> </tr> </form> <tr><td colspan=2 align=center> <a href="">Browse Archives</a> at <a href=""></a> </td></tr> </table> (:htmlend:)

The group address is You have to be a member to send to the list.


This course does not have an objective external standard (i.e., curriculum) with respect to which student performance will be measured. Instead, I expect that students will enter the course with different backgrounds and abilities, and I am interested in seeing how you challenge yourself and grow rather than where you end up.

The following schedule will be used in determining course grades:

20%Accessible game concept presentation
20%Prototype game implementation + associated documentation
20%Final game implementation + associated documentation
20%Reading reflections + class participation
20%Midterm examination