A game programmer is a software engineer, programmer, or computer scientist who primarily develops codebases for video games or related software, such as game development tools. Game programming has many specialized disciplines, all of which fall under the umbrella term of "game programmer". A game programmer should not be confused with a game designer, who works on game design.
In the early days of video games (from the early 1970s to mid-1980s), a game programmer also took on the job of a designer and artist. This was generally because the abilities of early computers were so limited that having specialized personnel for each function was unnecessary. Game concepts were generally light and games were only meant to be played for a few minutes at a time, but more importantly, art content and variations in gameplay were constrained by computers' limited power.
Later, as specialized arcade hardware and home systems became more powerful, game developers could develop deeper storylines and could include such features as high-resolution and full color graphics, physics, advanced artificial intelligence and digital sound. Technology has advanced to such a great degree that contemporary games usually boast 3D graphics and full motion video using assets developed by professional graphic artists. Nowadays, the derogatory term "programmer art" has come to imply the kind of bright colors and blocky design that were typical of early video games.
The desire for adding more depth and assets to games necessitated a division of labor. Initially, art production was relegated to full-time artists. Next game programming became a separate discipline from game design. Now, only some games, such as the puzzle game Bejeweled, are simple enough to require just one full-time programmer. Despite this division, however, most game developers (artists, programmers and even producers) have some say in the final design of contemporary games.
A contemporary video game may include advanced physics, artificial intelligence, 3D graphics, digitised sound, an original musical score, complex strategy and may use several input devices (such as mice, keyboards, gamepads and joysticks) and may be playable against other people via the Internet or over a LAN. Each aspect of the game can consume all of one programmer's time and, in many cases, several programmers. Some programmers may specialize in one area of game programming, but many are familiar with several aspects. The number of programmers needed for each feature depends somewhat on programmers' skills, but mostly are dictated by the type of game being developed.
Game engine programmers create the base engine of the game, including the simulated physics and graphics disciplines. Increasingly, video games use existing game engines, either commercial, open source or free. They are often customized for a particular game, and these programmers handle these modifications.
A game's physics programmer is dedicated to developing the physics a game will employ. Typically, a game will only simulate a few aspects of real-world physics. For example, a space game may need simulated gravity, but would not have any need for simulating water viscosity.
Since processing cycles are always at a premium, physics programmers may employ "shortcuts" that are computationally inexpensive, but look and act "good enough" for the game in question. In other cases, unrealistic physics are employed to allow easier gameplay or for dramatic effect. Sometimes, a specific subset of situations is specified and the physical outcome of such situations are stored in a record of some sort and are never computed at runtime at all.
Some physics programmers may even delve into the difficult tasks of inverse kinematics and other motions attributed to game characters, but increasingly these motions are assigned via motion capture libraries so as not to overload the CPU with complex calculations.
Historically, this title usually belonged to a programmer who developed specialized blitter algorithms and clever optimizations for 2D graphics. Today, however, it is almost exclusively applied to programmers who specialize in developing and modifying complex 3D graphic renderers. Some 2D graphics skills have just recently become useful again, though, for developing games for the new generation of cell phones and handheld game consoles.
An AI programmer develops the logic of time to simulate intelligence in enemies and opponents. It has recently evolved into a specialized discipline, as these tasks used to be implemented by programmers who specialized in other areas. An AI programmer may program pathfinding, strategy and enemy tactic systems. This is one of the most challenging aspects of game programming and its sophistication is developing rapidly. Contemporary games dedicate approximately 10 to 20 percent of their programming staff to AI.
Some games, such as strategy games like Civilization III or role-playing video games such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, use AI heavily, while others, such as puzzle games, use it sparingly or not at all. Many game developers have created entire languages that can be used to program their own AI for games via scripts. These languages are typically less technical than the language used to implement the game, and will often be used by the game or level designers to implement the world of the game. Many studios also make their games' scripting available to players, and it is often used extensively by third party mod developers.
The AI technology used in games programming should not be confused with academic AI programming and research. Although both areas do borrow from each other, they are usually considered distinct disciplines, though there are exceptions. For example, the 2001 game by Lionhead Studios Black & White features a unique AI approach to a user controlled creature who uses learning to model behaviors during game-play. In recent years, more effort has been directed towards intervening promising fields of AI research and game AI programming.
Not always a separate discipline, sound programming has been a mainstay of game programming since the days of Pong. Most games make use of audio, and many have a full musical score. Computer audio games eschew graphics altogether and use sound as their primary feedback mechanism.
Many games use advanced techniques such as 3D positional sound, making audio programming a non-trivial matter. With these games, one or two programmers may dedicate all their time to building and refining the game's sound engine, and sound programmers may be trained or have a formal background in digital signal processing.
Scripting tools are often created or maintained by sound programmers for use by sound designers. These tools allow designers to associate sounds with characters, actions, objects and events while also assigning music or atmospheric sounds for game environments (levels or areas) and setting environmental variables such as reverberation.
Though all programmers add to the content and experience that a game provides, a gameplay programmer focuses more on a game's strategy, implementation of the game's mechanics and logic, and the "feel" of a game. This is usually not a separate discipline, as what this programmer does usually differs from game to game, and they will inevitably be involved with more specialized areas of the game's development such as graphics or sound.
This programmer may implement strategy tables, tweak input code, or adjust other factors that alter the game. Many of these aspects may be altered by programmers who specialize in these areas, however (for example, strategy tables may be implemented by AI programmers).
In early video games, gameplay programmers would write code to create all the content in the game—if the player was supposed to shoot a particular enemy, and a red key was supposed to appear along with some text on the screen, then this functionality was all written as part of the core program in C or assembly language by a gameplay programmer.
More often today the core game engine is usually separated from gameplay programming. This has several development advantages. The game engine deals with graphics rendering, sound, physics and so on while a scripting language deals with things like cinematic events, enemy behavior and game objectives. Large game projects can have a team of scripters to implement these sorts of game content.
Scripters usually are also game designers. It is often easier to find a qualified game designer who can be taught a script language as opposed to finding a qualified game designer who has mastered C++.
This programmer specializes in programming user interfaces (UIs) for games. Though some games have custom user interfaces, this programmer is more likely to develop a library that can be used across multiple projects. Most UIs look 2D, though contemporary UIs usually use the same 3D technology as the rest of the game so some knowledge of 3D math and systems is helpful for this role. Advanced UI systems may allow scripting and special effects, such as transparency, animation or particle effects for the controls.
Input programming, while usually not a job title, or even a full-time position on a particular game project, is still an important task. This programmer writes the code specifying how input devices such as a keyboard, mouse or joystick affect the game. These routines are typically developed early in production and are continually tweaked during development. Normally, one programmer does not need to dedicate his entire time to developing these systems. A real-time motion-controlled game utilizing devices such as the Wii Remote or Kinect may need a very complex and low latency input system, while the HID requirements of a mouse-driven turn-based strategy game such as Heroes of Might and Magic are significantly simpler to implement.
This programmer writes code that allows players to compete or cooperate, connected via a LAN or the Internet (or in rarer cases, directly connected via modem). Programmers implementing these game features can spend all their time in this one role, which is often considered one of the most technically challenging. Network latency, packet compression, and dropped or interrupted connections are just a few of the concerns one must consider. Although multi-player features can consume the entire production timeline and require the other engine systems to be designed with networking in mind, network systems are often put off until the last few months of development, adding additional difficulties to this role. Some titles have had their online features (often considered lower priority than the core gameplay) cut months away from release due to concerns such as lack of management, design forethought, or scalability. Virtua Fighter 5 for the PS3 is a notable example of this trend.
The tools programmer can assist the development of a game by writing custom tools for it. Game development Tools are often contain features such as script compilation, importing or converting art assets, and level editing. While some tools used may be COTS products such as an IDE or a graphics editor, tools programmers create tools with specific functions tailored to a specific game which are not available in commercial products. For example, an adventure game developer might need an editor for branching story dialogs, and a sport game developer could use a proprietary editor to manage players and team stats. These tools are usually not available to the consumers who buy the game.
Porting a game from one platform to another has always been an important activity for game developers. Some programmers specialize in this activity, converting code from one operating system to work on another. Sometimes, the programmer is responsible for making the application work not for just one operating system, but on a variety of devices, such as mobile phones. Often, however, "porting" can involve re-writing the entire game from scratch as proprietary languages, tools or hardware make converting source code a fruitless endeavour.
This programmer must be familiar with both the original and target operating systems and languages (for example, converting a game originally written in C++ to Java), convert assets, such as artwork and sounds or rewrite code for low memory phones. This programmer may also have to side-step buggy language implementations, some with little documentation, refactor code, oversee multiple branches of code, rewrite code to scale for wide variety of screen sizes and implement special operator guidelines. They may also have to fix bugs that were not discovered in the original release of a game.
The technology programmer is more likely to be found in larger development studios with specific departments dedicated solely to R&D. Unlike other members of the programming team, the technology programmer usually isn't tied to a specific project or type of development for an extended length of time, and they will typically report directly to a CTO or department head rather than a game producer. As the job title implies, this position is extremely demanding from a technical perspective and requires intimate knowledge of the target platform hardware. Tasks cover a broad range of subjects including the practical implementation of algorithms described in research papers, very low-level assembly optimization and the ability to solve challenging issues pertaining to memory requirements and caching issues during the latter stages of a project. There is considerable amount of cross-over between this position and some of the others, particularly the graphics programmer.
In smaller teams, one or more programmers will often be described as 'Generalists' who will take on the various other roles as needed. Generalists are often engaged in the task of tracking down bugs and determining which subsystem expertise is required to fix them.
The lead programmer is ultimately in charge of all programming for the game. It is their job to make sure the various submodules of the game are being implemented properly and to keep track of development from a programming standpoint. A person in this role usually transitions from other aspects of game programming to this role after several years of experience. Despite the title, this person usually has less time for writing code than other programmers on the project as they are required to attend meetings and interface with the client or other leads on the game. However, the lead programmer is still expected to program at least some of the time and is also expected to be knowledgeable in most technical areas of the game. There is often considerable common ground in the role of technical director and lead programmer, such that the jobs are often covered by one person.
Game programmers can specialize on one platform or another, such as the Wii U or Windows. So, in addition to specializing in one game programming discipline, a programmer may also specialize in development on a certain platform. Therefore, one game programmer's title might be "PlayStation 3 3D Graphics Programmer." Some disciplines, such as AI, are transferable to various platforms and needn't be tailored to one system or another. Also, general game development principles such as 3D graphics programming concepts, sound engineering and user interface design are naturally transferable between platforms.
Notably, there are many game programmers with no formal education in the subject, having started out as hobbyists and doing a great deal of programming on their own, for fun, and eventually succeeding because of their aptitude and homegrown experience. However, most job solicitations for game programmers specify a bachelor's degree (in mathematics, physics, computer science, "or equivalent experience").
Salaries for game programmers vary from company to company and country to country. In general, however, pay for game programming is generally about the same for comparable jobs in the business sector. This is despite the fact that game programming is some of the most difficult of any type and usually requires longer hours than mainstream programming.
Results of a 2010 survey in the United States indicate that the average salary for a game programmer is USD$95,300 annually. The least experienced programmers, with less than 3 years of experience, make an average annual salary of over $72,000. The most experienced programmers, with more than 6 years of experience, make an average annual salary of over $124,000.
Generally, lead programmers are the most well compensated, though some 3D graphics programmers may challenge or surpass their salaries. According to the same survey above, lead programmers on average earn $127,900 annually.
Though sales of video games rival other forms of entertainment such as movies, the video game industry is extremely volatile. Game programmers are not insulated from this instability as their employers experience financial difficulty.
Third-party developers, the most common type of video game developers, depend upon a steady influx of funds from the video game publisher. If a milestone or deadline is not met (or for a host of other reasons, like the game is cancelled), funds may become short and the developer may be forced to retrench employees or declare bankruptcy and go out of business. Game programmers who work for large publishers are somewhat insulated from these circumstances, but even the large game publishers can go out of business (as when Hasbro Interactive was sold to Infogrames and several projects were cancelled; or when The 3DO Company went bankrupt in 2003 and ceased all operations). Some game programmers' resumes consist of short stints lasting no more than a year as they are forced to leap from one doomed studio to another. This is why some prefer to consult and are therefore somewhat shielded from the effects of the fates of individual studios.
Most commercial computer and video games are written primarily in C++, C, and some assembly language. Many games, especially those with complex interactive gameplay mechanics, tax hardware to its limit. As such, highly optimized code is required for these games to run at an acceptable frame rate. Because of this, compiled code is typically used for performance-critical components, such as visual rendering and physics calculations. Almost all PC games also use either the DirectX, OpenGL APIs or some wrapper library to interface with hardware devices.
Various script languages, like Ruby, Lua and Python, are also used for the generation of content such as gameplay and especially AI. Scripts are generally parsed at load time (when the game or level is loaded into main memory) and then executed at runtime (via logic branches or other such mechanisms). They are generally not executed by an interpreter, which would result in much slower execution. Scripts tend to be used selectively, often for AI and high-level game logic. Some games are designed with high dependency on scripts and some scripts are compiled to binary format before game execution. In the optimization phase of development, some script functions will often be rewritten in a compiled language.
As games have grown in size and complexity, middleware is becoming increasingly popular within the industry. Middleware provides greater and higher level functionality and larger feature sets than the standard lower level APIs such as DirectX and OpenGL, such as skeletal animation. In addition to providing more complex technologies, some middleware also makes reasonable attempts to be platform independent, making common conversions from, for example, Microsoft Windows to PS4 much easier. Essentially, middleware is aimed at cutting out as much of the redundancy in the development cycle as possible (for example, writing new animation systems for each game a studio produces), allowing programmers to focus on new content.
Other tools are also essential to game developers: 2D and 3D packages (for example Blender, GIMP, Photoshop, Maya or 3D Studio Max) enable programmers to view and modify assets generated by artists or other production personnel. Source control systems keep source code safe, secure and optimize merging. IDEs with debuggers (such as Visual Studio) make writing code and tracking down bugs a less painful experience.
Andrew "Andy" Bradfield (1966—September 21, 2001) was a video game programmer from New Zealand best known for his work on games for the Atari 8-bit family of home computers. He created Laser Hawk (1986) and its sequel Hawkquest (1989). He teamed with artist Harvey Kong Tin on both titles.
He died on September 21, 2001, aged 35, following a two-year battle with leukemia.Archer Maclean
Archer Maclean (born 28 January 1962) is a British video game programmer. He is the author of Dropzone which he developed for the Atari 8-bit family and was ported to other systems. Archer also created International Karate and the sequel, IK+ which was developed for the Commodore 64 and ported to other systems. He is also known for his series of snooker and pool games, which commenced with Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker in 1991 (that was originally called 147).
He left Awesome Studios—the studio he helped found and establish—in July 2005 and now runs Awesome Play.Arjan Brussee
Arjan Brussee (born 1972) is a Dutch video game programmer and entrepreneur, the main coder behind both Jazz Jackrabbit games, co-founder of Guerrilla Games and recently the co-founder of Boss Key Productions. At Guerrilla he worked on the Killzone series as a development director and part of the management team. He is often credited with being the first successful Dutch game developer, sometimes mentioned as "the godfather of Dutch game development". On 23 February 2012 Brussee announced that he was leaving Guerilla and would be joining the EA Games studio Visceral Games as an executive producer working on Battlefield Hardline.
In July 2014, news leaked of Brussee leaving EA and co-founding Boss Key Productions with Cliff Bleszinski.In December 2017, Brussee left Boss Key Productions and returned to Epic Games after a 20 year hiatus from the company.Brussee used to be a demoscene coder. As a member of the group Ultra Force, he coded one of the first demos ever to use 3D imagery on the PC, called Vectordemo.Christian Whitehead
Christian Whitehead, also known by his alias Taxman, is an Australian video game programmer and designer. He is most recognised for his work creating updated ports of early games in Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog series, as well as being the lead developer of an original game in the series, Sonic Mania.Dan Gorlin
Dan Gorlin is a video game programmer and designer best known for his 1982 Apple II game Choplifter. He also teaches and performs West African dance-drumming with Alokli West African Dance, an organization which Gorlin has directed since 1985.Dave Pottinger
Dave Pottinger is a video game programmer and designer. He formerly worked at Ensemble Studios, where he worked on game engines and AI. He now heads BonusXP, an independent video game studio which has produced two mobile games, and has an RTS game called Servo in Early Access on the Steam platform.
He is a graduate of University of Arizona with a computer engineering degree and has a wife, Kristen.David Jones (video game developer)
David Scott Jones (born October 1965) is a Scottish video game programmer and entrepreneur who co-founded video game developers DMA Design (now Rockstar North) in 1987, Realtime Worlds in 2002, and Cloudgine in 2012. Jones created Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, which both spawned many successful sequels. He also created the Crackdown franchise for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One consoles, and the open-ended massively multiplayer online game, APB: All Points Bulletin.Don Priestley
Don Priestley (born 1940) is a video game programmer who wrote for the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum between 1982 and 1989.Ed Boon
Edward John Boon (born February 22, 1964) is an American video game programmer, philanthropist, and director who was employed for over 15 years at Midway Games and since 2011 has worked for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment in its company NetherRealm Studios. Boon is best known for the widely popular Mortal Kombat series, which he created with John Tobias. Boon and Tobias's last names backwards are the basis for the name of the Mortal Kombat character Noob Saibot. He also has a dislike to development leaks.Ed Fries
Ed Fries ( "freeze") is an American video game programmer and entrepreneur who was the vice president of game publishing at Microsoft during much of the Xbox's life-cycle.Fred Ford
Fred Ford may refer to:
Fred Ford (American football) (born 1938), former American football halfback
Fred Ford (musician) (1930–1999), American blues/jazz artist composer/arranger and educator
Fred Ford (footballer) (born 1916), former footballer and manager
Fred Ford (programmer), video game programmerHeineman
Heineman is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:
Benjamin W. Heineman (1914–2012), American railroad executive
Dannie Heineman (1872–1962), Belgian-American engineer and businessman
Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics
Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics
Dave Heineman (born 1948), American politician and 39th governor of Nebraska
Fred Heineman (1929–2010), American politician from North Carolina
Laurie Heineman (born 1948), American actress and teacher
Rebecca Heineman (born 1963), American video game programmer
Tyler Heineman (born 1991), American professional baseball playerImagic
Imagic was an American video game developer and publisher that created games initially for the Atari 2600. Founded in 1981 by Atari, Inc. and Mattel expatriates, its best-selling titles were Atlantis, Cosmic Ark, and Demon Attack. Imagic also released games for Intellivision, ColecoVision, Atari 8-bit family, TI-99/4A, IBM PCjr, VIC-20, Commodore 64, and Magnavox Odyssey². Their Odyssey² ports of Demon Attack and Atlantis were the only third party releases for that system in America. The company never recovered from the North American video game crash of 1983 and was liquidated in 1986.Lee Wright
Lee Wright may refer to:
Lee Wright (programmer) (born 1970), British computer and video game programmer
Lee Wright (field hockey) (born 1944), Canadian former field hockey playerMike McShaffry
Mike McShaffry is a video game programmer, entrepreneur and author. he graduated from the University of Houston and began his video game industry career working for Origin Systems in 1990. He worked on titles such as Martian Dreams, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Ultima VIII: Pagan, Ultima IX: Ascension and Ultima Online. In 1997 he formed his own company Tornado Alley. He has since worked at Glass Eye Entertainment, producing Microsoft Casino.Minh Le
Minh Le (Vietnamese: Lê Minh, born June 27, 1977), also known by his online nickname Gooseman, is a Vietnamese Canadian video game programmer who co-created the Half-Life mod Counter-Strike with Jess Cliffe in 1999. He was later employed by Valve Corporation, the developers of Half-Life, and worked for 8 years in Korea on the multiplayer first-person shooter Tactical Intervention. He is a contractor on the multiplayer survival first-person shooter Rust. In the small-team games that he has worked on, Le has been a programmer, modeler, and designer.
His nickname comes from Shane Gooseman, one of the main characters of 1980s cartoon series The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.Tobey
Tobey is a surname, and may refer to:
Alton Tobey (1914–2005), American artist
Charles W. Tobey (1880–1953), American politician from New Hampshire; U.S. Senator 1939–53
David Tobey (1898–1988), American professional basketball referee
Edward Silas Tobey (1813–1891), American businessman, Postmaster of Boston, president of the American Missionary Association
Franklin W. Tobey (1844–1878), New York politician
John Williams Tobey, American politician
Kenneth Tobey (1917–2002), American stage, film, and television actor
Mark Tobey (1890–1976), American abstract expressionist painter
Paul Tobey (b. 1962), Canadian jazz pianist and composer
Ray Tobey (b. 1965), American computer and video game programmer
Tobey Kai (b. 1988), Canadian composer, musician, and activist.
William H. Tobey (1799–1878), New York politicianTodd Replogle
Todd Jason Replogle (born 1969) is an American video game programmer, best known as the co-creator of the Duke Nukem series. Replogle graduated from Soquel High School in Soquel, California as a member of the class of 1987.
After the release of Duke Nukem 3D, Replogle started some technical experimentation into what would later become Duke Nukem Forever. A short time thereafter he retired from the gaming industry in 1997.. The last game Todd was known to be working on was in the late 1990's called "Mr. Fist". This was something he showed to 3D Realms, but it was never published. Todd lives with his wife and son Tyler in Chonburi, Thailand.Yuji Naka
Yuji Naka (中 裕司, Naka Yūji, born September 17, 1965) is a Japanese video game programmer, designer, and producer best known as the former head of Sonic Team, where he was the lead programmer of the original Sonic the Hedgehog series of games on the Sega Genesis. In 2006, he founded Prope, an independent game company. In January 2018, he joined Square Enix.