Video and Computer Game Programming

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The demand for computer and video games is at an all time high, and it seems like the only direction the industry’s heading is straight up. Each year new technologies, improvements in computer animation, and gaming innovations drive adults and children alike to acquire the newest, state-of-the-art gaming systems and video games. While the average growth rate nationwide for all jobs is roughly 6%, the gaming industry is predicated to continue growing at over 20% for the next decade–an astounding feat in any industry.

If you’re set on a career in gaming, there are several sectors within in the industry that you should take a look at: computer/TV gaming (the largest sector), web gaming (a growing sector), mobile phone gaming (an up-and-coming sector), training/education gaming (an up-and-coming sector) and arcade gaming (a stable growth sector). While most people who work in gaming are involved in the game art and design side of the profession, video game programmers and developers are the backbone of the industry. Without programmers, the industry would not exist. Game development companies rely heavily on the advanced skills and expertice of game programmers and software developers to ensure their products are competitive and make it to market quickly. As such, game programmers are in high demand and are well paid. As of 2010, the average salary for a game programmer was just over $95,000 a year. Inexperienced game programmers start out at about $75,000 a year, while experienced developers can make over $130,000 a year (Fleming, Jeffrey ‘April 2010′. “9th Annual Salary Survey”. Game Developer ‘United Business Media’).

Programmers don’t view video games the same way as players or even game artists and designers. A game programmer’s day involves working with endless arrays and lines of code that communicate to the computer or hardward device how to display graphics and present audio. Programmers take what is developed by the graphic team and then put the actual video game together line by line using code.

There are several different coding languages programmers use to develop video games. The language used to develop a game will depend on the needs of the game, the hardward platform (e.g. computer, mobile device, or console) and the capabilities of the language. Many full-features video games will require several different coding languages, as well as several programmers. Each programmer has his/her own programming specialty. One programmer will focus on creating the foundation upon which the game runs, while another creates the game engine. And yet others focus on the game’s “difficulty” level.

The following are the different types of programmers involved in video game development:

  • Lead programmer. Lead programmers are responsible for overseeing the entire development processes. They decide what needs to be accomplished and assign each programmer and/or programming team their assignments. They also keep track of progress and make sure tasks are completed according to schedule. Lead programmers must be exceptional coders, but they usually spend most of their time supervising. They’re also the liaison between the art production team and the programming team.
  • Artificial intelligence programmer. Artificial intelligence programmers have a very focused task. They are responsible for developing the code and rules that determine how game figures, characters and objects react to the player’s actions. In some more advanced games, the artificial intelligence programming requirements can be quite complex.
  • Graphics programmer. Artists need tools that enable them to display their designs and artwork on the screen of the player’s interface. Graphic programmers design these tools. They employ mathematical algorithms to produce 2D (and now more frequently 3D) graphics and animations using artwork and designs provided by artists.
  • Network programmer. The advent of new internet technologies and hardware systems has spurred the growth of online gaming. In fact, more and more serious games are taking their obsession with videos games online to compete against and play with other players. Network programmers develop the code that enables video games to work online. They also write code that prohibits cheating and protects a player’s security.
  • Physics programmer. A physics programmer bring a senses of reality and plausibility to a game. They are responsible for writing the code the controlls the “physical” laws and constraints of the game. For example, a physical programmer may determine whether not gravity exists on a game, and to what degree. They also determine how different objects in a game will react when they come in contact with one another (e.g. cars coliding, splashes, explosions, etc).
  • User interface programmer. The user interface programmer develops the graphic menus players use to navigate the different aspects and features of the game. The most simplistic interfaces typically include just “play” and “exit” (or “quit”) buttons, where full-feature games may include very complex menus with a large variety of buttons and selections. User interface programmers also develop heads-up displays, which are necessary in some games to provide players with game information. The overall objective of interface programming is to make sure that menus and interfaces are straightforward, intuitive and easy to navigate.
  • Tools programmer. The tools programmer writes code that is intrumental in making game development easier for the other game programmers on the programming team. Much of what this programmer does is geared toward automating tasks and simplying processes. Tools will differ from one game to the next, but all games benefit from the skills of a good tools programmer.

Education and Training

There are a few self-taught programmers working in the gaming industry, but most programmers at minimum have a bachelor’s degree in software development, computer science, programming or a related field. A large number of schools now even provide degrees specifically designed for those who plan on pursing a career in gaming. Most relevant educational programs will include courses in computer science, math, data anlysis, algorithms, software interfaces, and last but not least several computer languages, such as Java, C+, PHP, C++, etc.

If you’re not certain that you want to become a programmer but you know you want to have a career in gaming you may consider earning a degree in game art design. Below you can search a national database of accredited colleges, universities and technical schools offering degrees and career training programs in video game programming.

Explore Game Art Design Programs

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