Programming, Art Design, and Audio Design
Programmers create the software on which the art, animation, script, music, and sound effects run. Without the programmer, a video game would simply be a collection of unanimated characters and backgrounds, a script, and a few tracks of music. The software and the coding behind the software are what bring the game to life. They inform each little pixel on screen what task to perform and how to perform it.
In the field of video game programming, there are many subcategories in which to specialize. In fact, today's game development teams usually have a few different types of programmers under the same roof who all do very specific jobs. For example, graphics programmer, game physics programmer, artificial intelligence (AI) programmer, and network and server programmer are a few of the more well-known programmer specializations.
Hours involved: Typical forty-hour workweek, but can often turn into a sixty- to eighty-hour workweek during game production.
Work environment: Almost always in front of a computer.
Salary: Starting salary around $50,000; more experienced programmers can make $115,000 and up.
Programming is not something you can learn while on the job. It can take years, if not decades, to master. Whether you're self-taught or school-taught, you'll spend many hours in front of a computer screen or with your nose buried behind a book before you'll be able to find work as a programmer with a major game developer.
While not all game production and development teams demand that their applicants have a programming-related college degree, taking classes in programming can be a great way to get your hands on a variety of different computers and make industry connections that can help you down the road. A degree in computer sciences is highly recommended for anyone interested in becoming a programmer. Today, many large colleges and universities (and even some of the smaller ones) offer courses in computer science and computer programming. There are even trade schools nationwide that specialize in video game programming.
Designing software, writing code, and debugging are the three main skills all programmers must master. In order to accomplish these tasks, they need to be proficient in a handful of different computer programs and languages.
A programmer's greatest asset is his or her understanding of the software programs and languages used by the industry today to build and design video games. A computer language is the way in which the programmer communicates with the computer to tell the software what to do. This language is written as code. The industrywide standard computer language is called C++. A programmer who isn't familiar with C++ will not be able to write or communicate with the software used today by the video game industry.
The following are a few of the programs most widely used today by programmers and are worth having a general understanding of for anyone interested in a career in video game programming.
C++: Most commonly and widely used code language for writing video game software.
DirectX or OpenGL: Commonly referred to as API (short for application programming interface), these programs allow the programmer to instruct the software on how to interface with the hardware.
CodeWarrior: Used for safely writing code and quickly tracking down bugs.
Java, Macromedia Flash: Used mostly for Web-based games and graphics, but still important tools for any programmer to know.
Photoshop, Maya, and 3D Studio Max: Allow 2-D and 3-D design and animation. Although most often used by art designers and animators, these programs are still very important for programmers to have an understanding of as well.
If you're the type of person who loves taking computers apart and putting them back together, thinks of yourself as a “math person,” and doesn't mind spending hours staring at lines of code on a computer screen, then programming might be the career path for you.
For the most part, programmers must be logical, methodical, and extremely patient. Sifting though thousands of lines of code in order to find a small bug that is preventing the entire game from running can be a tedious job that requires a careful, organized mind.
How to Get Your Foot in the Door
The best way to get a start as a programmer is to begin writing simple programs on your home computer. Picking up a beginner's guide to C++ is the best way to start honing your code-writing skills. Create a few small programs, become familiar with the code-writing process, and keep challenging yourself.
Becoming involved with your school's computer lab or getting a summer internship at a local game production or development company can be a great way to get some hands-on experience and mentoring.
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