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  • The Disciplines

    [06.03.09]
    - Albert T. Ferrer

  •  Programmers

    Game programmers or software engineers work at the coding level to simply make a game work. They’re responsible for implementing various features requested by the designers, as well as assets provided by the artists. They patch together the individual pieces of the game into what will hopefully become a fully playable piece of software by the end of the production cycle. Without programmers, game ideas would never be made into functional software.

    Programmers are the most in-demand type of game developers and are in the shortest supply; therefore, they tend to be paid very well. Programmers typically choose to study computer science, sometimes at the graduate level, though degrees in the more specific field of game programming are popular as well. Game programmers must be knowledgeable in a range of computer languages, the most important being C++. They should also have a grasp of advanced math and be good problem solvers. Some programmers are self-taught, which is perfectly acceptable in the game industry. Employers place more emphasis on what a prospective programmer can do than on where and how they learned to do it.

    The position of programmer in a game studio can be broken down into areas of specialty: gameplay programmer, AI programmer, tools programmer, graphics programmer, to name a few. Having clearly defined roles helps ensure that each aspect of a game has a programmer specifically devoted to it. Some of the job titles a game programmer could hold are junior programmer, lead programmer, senior programmer, technical director, and tools engineer (someone who builds proprietary tools).

    Programmers are typically the first ones to come on board for a game project (aside from lead designers), and are often the last ones to leave. They tend to work the most overtime, especially in the final weeks before a game is shipped. A test is almost always part of the interviewing and hiring process for game programmers. These tests can range from a take-home test, an in-office computer-based exam, or a live “whiteboard” exam, where the interviewee works out a problem on a whiteboard in front of the interviewers.

    Programmers work closely with designers to figure out even the smallest details about how a game should work, using design documentation as a guide to begin connecting all the complex pieces of game development into a functional piece of software.

    Though code is what makes a game work, it can also create problems which programmers must constantly fix as the game grows with additional functions and assets. Programmers are an integral part of quality assurance. Working with game testers, programmers are notified of bugs or broken aspects of the game, communicating with testers regularly throughout the development cycle.

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