Many young gamers dream of one day becoming video game engineers or programmers. It’s not uncommon for older gamers to change their career trajectory mid-course and aim for the gaming industry.
But what is it about being a video game programmer that’s so appealing? Is it the sheer thought of earning a living by working with video games? Or does the gaming industry seem like the perfect place to flex your creativity?
Whatever your reasons are for wanting a career as a video game engineer, it’s important to have your own game plan in place. This guide will tell you everything you need to know to get your foot in the door and more.
Sometimes called video game engineers, game programmers are software developers who make video games. As such, your responsibilities may involve any stage of the game design process. You are usually part of a large team of designers and other programmers who perform the video game’s functional and visual aspects.
Other responsibilities include making sure that the game’s visual elements are designed correctly. What’s more, it’s also often necessary to ensure that your software can run different hardware.
Depending on where your passions lie, you wish to work alone or with a team. In general, independent video game engineers work on games with lower budgets that run on smart devices and computers. But the games that you typically see on cutting-edge consoles (your Xboxes and PlayStations, for example) require the team effort of many gifted programmers, artists, designers, and composers.
Whatever path you choose in your journey to becoming a video game programmer, it’s an opportunity to express your creative skills and share your visions with the world. Contrary to Roger Ebert’s famous quote about video games not being art, today’s games have indeed advanced to an art form.
So if you have a desire to create in any capacity and you love video games, read on to learn more about this exciting, diverse, and ever-changing industry.
First things first; it’s important to understand the difference between gaming skills and programming skills. Many people believe that if they are good gamers, they will automatically be good at game programming. It’s true that if you are a good gamer, you have some advantages due to the fact that you already have a basic understanding of video games.
But playing games and programming games are two vastly different fields. Any gaming skills you currently possess will actually do very little for you when it comes to programming them. The point is that you shouldn’t get into video game programming just because you like or even love to play games.
You should be passionate about programming and all that it entails. Moreover, it’s important to note that there are different types of programmers. As such, you may find that your skills are more suitable for a specific area of programming.
Let’s explore some of the various video game programmers in greater detail to give you a better understanding of what they do. You may want to use the following information to help you decide which games programmer is the best fit for you.
The lead programmer’s job is to assign and delegate work while setting schedules for the other members of the programming team. While lead programmers are proficient in code, they often spend much of their time supervising and managing.
They also meet with the other game departments to communicate and resolve problems that may occur throughout the development process.
The tools created by graphics programmers can bring game art to life. These talented programmers use mathematical knowledge to implement complex processes and algorithms to generate various kinds of graphics, whether it be 3D or 2D.
What’s more, graphics programmers work directly with the game’s artists to figure out the best way to incorporate artwork into the game.
Physics programmers set rules that the game should follow or ignore. This can be anything from the environment to gravity to weather, and much more. These programmers use coding to establish and create the game’s rules under the guidance of the designer while adhering to their overall vision of the game.
In addition, physics programmers have to figure out how the various objects within the game interact with one another. This means building code for things like splashes and explosions, as well as collisions that conform to the game’s design.
The job of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) programmer is to determine how NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) interact with and respond to your actions and the actions of other NPCs and objects.
Thanks to AI, gamers get to experience responses and actions that are lifelike while providing steeper mechanics systems that require deeper strategy.
This programmer’s job is to match up specific sounds with specific events and actions. Audio programming is an art form in itself, requiring a skilled technician who can relate the right sounds to the right moments in the game.
This requires a unique set of skills that, when employed properly, can change the entire mood of the game.
The code written by network programmers enables gamers to play games online all over the world. What’s more, network programmers try to develop safety measures that serve to prevent gamers from cheating, ensuring that those who play together are able to do so on a fair and balanced field.
These programmers create unique graphical menus for the gamer to navigate within the game. User interfaces can be quite simple or rather complex. And in first-person games, interface programmers will build what is called a HUD (Heads-Up Display) to assist the gamer in maintaining their field of vision.
Furthermore, interface programmers often work directly with the artists and designers to ensure that the system is simple and clear, and that it fits perfectly with the game’s design.
Tool programmers write code to ensure tasks within the game are automated. Such roles serve to make the overall development of the game much easier. As such, these programmers write code to simplify the processes of things like creating new levels or bringing over artwork to put in the game.
The roles of tools programmers often vary from game to game. This is because the work requested of them often depends on the requirements of a particular game.
As you can see, the roles of every single game programmer listed above are essential to bringing each game to life. It’s easy to see why a team is needed to produce the triple-A games of the modern era of gaming. The games of today have blockbuster budgets that rival the biggest movies. And that’s why the highest level of learning is necessary if you want to excel in your field.
The skills of a video game engineer vary wildly. Much is expected of programmers, as their field requires a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving. What’s more, today’s gaming environment is vastly different from the days when 8- and 16-bit reigned supreme.
Video game programming is leaps and bounds more advanced than the video games from yesteryear. As such, it’s a constantly evolving ecosystem that requires a studious mentality. As you learn new systems and languages, you will progress your programming skills far beyond what you learned in school.
The gaming industry is a very demanding one. And it requires dedicated minds who are willing to engage in the latest software and hardware in order to be the very best in their respective field.
Modern software needs to be optimized and collaborated on to ensure that it can handle updates. Patches are common in today’s games, so game programmers need to make sure that their games can accommodate such fixes in the future without disrupting the core game and its functions.
And this is only one area where such skills would prove useful. Take a moment to examine some other areas of skills that are often expected of game programmers.
Video game programmers should also have excellent communication skills and be highly proficient in math and analytics. What’s more, these programmers need to learn specific skills that allow them to use various types of software, known as programming languages.
Let’s shift our focus to some of the industry’s top programming languages to give you an idea of what you can expect from each.
Which programming language used depends on several factors, including the type of game console, computer, or mobile device, and the degree of interaction within the game. Below are the most common programming languages used in the gaming industry.
Despite the high barriers to entry, C++ is easily one of the single most popular programming languages. It provides a high level of abstraction for fine object-oriented programming and general programming, and provides direct control of hardware and graphics processing.
In addition, C++ allows special parts to be optimized to a very high level-a feature that is almost impossible to achieve in other languages. Furthermore, C++ is used to build most of the games you see on major consoles and computers.
Unreal Engine developed the programming language UnrealScript (UScript). UnrealScript works with object orientation and has no multiple inheritances. The major platforms for gaming — PlayStation, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Android all make use of UnrealScript. Since 2014, however, Epic Games stated that its Unreal Engine 4 wouldn’t support UnrealScript.
In view of the versatility of Java and robust open-source materials. As such, it is widely used in the development of mobile and independent games.
What’s more, Java is very easy to use, friendly to beginners and can write a series of system-independent codes. Compared to C++, Java provides simple writing, learning, compiling, and debugging.
Frameworks include the likes of ImpactJS, Construct 2, Turbulenz, Booty5, and Phaser. Each has assumed responsibility for the HTML5 game development process.
This lightweight and high-level programming language work as a multi-platform system. Lua is easy to run, making it both efficient and interesting to use in the world of video game development.
Furthermore, Lua can be designed to be embedded in many applications. This makes it easy for developers and players to make adjustments to the game itself. Lua’s game engines including Corona SDK, Gideros mobile, and CryEngine. All use Lua as their main programming language.
While not quite as popular as C++ or Java, the Python programming language is used to develop games. Python’s PyGame library works well as a developer-friendly system, as it is easy to use to build games, and it enables game developers to quickly build game prototypes.
In addition, just like C++ and Java, Python also utilizes OOP principles. This means Python has a simplistic learning curve, making it the first choice of many new game developers.
Although considered easier than C++, C# is a very powerful programming language. Thanks to its XNA framework, C# is ideal for building games on the Xbox and Windows platforms.
Moreover, C# has the engines Xamarin and Unity3D, which allow developers to create games on virtually every platform, including Windows, iOS, Android, and PlayStation. Because of its scalability and efficiency, C# is very popular in the gaming industry.
Video game programming languages are being updated all the time. By the time you read this, there will likely be a new language released or at least updated to accommodate the ever-changing world of video games.
As such, you should be prepared to continue your education even after you make it into the video game programming industry. It’s an ongoing effort and one that you need to be willing to take part in if you want to ensure your place among the most successful game developers.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what goes into being a video game programmer let’s discuss how to learn the craft.
Aspiring video game programmers can find training programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. What’s more, both private and public universities and colleges across the nation provide training in video game programming.
As discussed, there are various areas you should be proficient in before seeking video game programming. As you search for the best school to teach you programming, there are a few factors you should consider. Always ensure that the school encompasses the following:
Moreover, it’s important to consider the degrees you wish to pursue. Some programming jobs might only require an Associate’s Degree, while others may require you to have a Master’s Degree.
A Game Development and Design Associate’s Degree lets students learn the basics of information technology, as well as its applications related to the entertainment industry.
In the two-year courses, you will need to meet general education requirements. Moreover, the courses are very program-focused and cover a variety of topics like 3D programming, user interface design, and object orientation programming.
In the Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) courses in game design and development, students start with basic courses in computer science and design processes and then learn more specialized electives, such as graphics programming and web development.
Students may also need to participate in one or more cooperative education experiences in the field. The BS course usually takes four years, but in some schools, you can register for an accelerated double-degree BS/MS course, which can be completed in five years.
Experienced game programmers can hone their artistic and technical skills by pursuing a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in game science, game design, or related fields. These courses take two years to complete.
They combine advanced classroom courses in game history and critical theory with hands-on studio training. Students can create digital games independently and in groups. Before graduation, you may need to submit your final thesis.
The undergraduate certificate program provides a series of short courses on game programming and computer animation for students who want a basic introduction to the field. There are also professional certificates that provide work-focused training for individuals who wish to shift their careers to this field.
Another option is the postgraduate certificate program, which allows experienced programmers to apply their skills to game design without submitting a complete master’s degree program.
Master’s degree, Bachelor’s degree, associate degree, and certificate belong to the different education levels provided by game programming.
When reviewing different courses, students should look for schools that provide first-class computer technology and networking opportunities in the gaming industry.
Schools to Consider for Video Game Engineer
The following are some of the most popular schools chosen by prospective game programmers. If you wish to obtain further information about these schools, contact the admission advisor from your school of choice.
In doing so, you can learn additional details pertaining to:
Please note that many of the schools below offer online courses, ensuring that a greater number of students can take part in video game programming and other courses.
The unique curriculum at Full Sail emphasizes the use of the latest industry equipment and production processes for intensive and authentic education.
Students develop their skills in world-class recording studios, spacious movie studios, motion capture studios, and professional performing arts halls, all of which are located in more than 110 studios and a 190-acre multimedia complex.
The production environments at Full Sail University provide students with the experience and discipline they need to excel in their careers.
Minimum Requirements for Eligibility:
High school graduate or completed GED
Liberty University’s mission is to train champions for Christ. In doing so, the school offers over 600 academic courses. Plus, there’s a 7,000-acre campus located in Lynchburg, Virginia. Yet it’s also available online. In fact, over 400 programs are available online.
Online learning includes Associate, Bachelor, Master, and doctorate programs. The ultimate goal of Liberty University is to provide an education that allows students to study hard and bring additional goals and meaning to their lives, which may have a positive impact on them, their loved ones, and their chosen careers.
Minimum Requirements for Eligibility:
High school graduate or completed GED
School is great for those who can get in, but what if schooling isn’t an option for you? The good news is that you can still become a game programmer without a degree.
If you have a strong portfolio and solid experience with video game creation, you’re headed in the right direction. It certainly helps if you know someone in the video game industry, but it’s not an absolute must.
What’s most important is that you get busy programming as soon as possible. Creating a video game is a big job, and that’s what keeps many aspiring programmers from getting the experience needed to excel in the gaming field.
Therefore, getting a head start on your programming prowess will serve you well down the road. You don’t have to own wealthy software, either. There is a seemingly endless supply of tools and resources you can find online to help you in your quest to become proficient in game programming.
One of the most common mistakes that aspiring video game programmers make is to take on more than they can handle. Many beginners have grand visions for crafting huge open-world games with tons of assets and resources.
Attempting to make a game with these proportions right out of the gate will only serve to overwhelm you and lead to you abandoning the project. So instead, start with something small but memorable; a game that shows what you can do.
The goal here is to build your portfolio. The last thing you want in there is a game that you never finished.
As you are creating your first project, take the time to soak up as much as you can from as many resources as you can find. You’re teaching yourself, after all. So you need to replace school with equally beneficial content.
While you are learning how to program, consider making connections within the video game industry. In doing so, you can improve your chances of landing a position at a game company when an opening becomes available.
By making your presence known and showing that you are passionate about becoming a game programmer, you are far more likely to get hired. Social media is going to be your best friend here, as you should use it to find connections within the industry.
If possible, arrange meetings with game engineers. Take notes and put what they say into practice where applicable. Continue implementing what you learn and work it into your portfolio. With dedication and commitment, you will be one step closer to realizing your dream.
As you try to decide on the right school for video game programming, it’s important that you don’t set your sights too low. There’s no reason why you can’t check out multiple schools to see what they offer. It’s also important to gather as much information as you can from each school in your quest to find the best one for your needs.
Once you have sufficient information on several schools, you can proceed to compare what they offer. In doing so, it will be far easier for you to narrow down the schools until you come to your top two or three.
Moreover, take the time to read what others are saying about the schools you have in mind. You can learn a lot from those that went before you and experienced the school first hand. See what their time was like learning about video game programming and what the school did for them.
What’s more, look to see whether there are opportunities to advance your craft once you get a degree under your belt. Does the school offer resources to help you find a job after you graduate? All of this is vital to ensuring that you choose the right school to fit your needs.
As you can see from the schools listed above, you have a lot of online choices to pick from. It’s important that you determine whether an online setting is the best learning environment for you. Some students learn better online and in the comfort of their homes.
However, others find online learning to be too distracting and disconnected. As such, it’s a good idea to look into the colleges that offer on-site classroom learning. If you find that a hands-on approach suits you better, don’t hesitate to search for a university that offers this kind of setting.
The life of a video game programmer is a rewarding one. Much hard work goes into what these talented individuals do. But the payoff of seeing your game in action is akin to finishing a book or movie for the whole world to see.
The road to becoming a video game engineer isn’t easy. But with hard work and a commitment to bettering yourself, you can excel in your field and becoming the next bright mind in the gaming industry.
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