Game and Simulation Development
Nature of the Profession
Programmers: Game programmers work closely with game 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. 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 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.
The position of programmer in a game studio can be broken down into areas of specialty: gameplay programmer, Al 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 software tools).
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.
Graphics: Nothing grabs a player's attention faster than the images on the screen. Artists create those graphics. During the concept stages of development, concept artists draw sketches and storyboards to illustrate and embellish the designers' ideas. Artists later create all the artwork the design document calls for, including creatures, settings, vehicles, and icons. All artists work under the direction of an artistic lead.
Video games are either two or three dimensions or a combination of both. In a 2-D game, artists draw images on paper and scan them into the computer. In a 3-D game, artists build images within the computer. Most new games have 3-D components. There are three main types of 3-D artists: Character artists and animators, background modelers, and texture artists. Character artists design and build creatures, including the one the player "becomes." Animators make those creatures move. Sometimes, the same person does both tasks.
When players find themselves on alien planets or in theme parks, football stadiums, or other settings, they have background artists to thank for the view. Background artists, sometimes called modelers, create video game settings. They work hand in hand with the level designer to create environments that fit the game." Texture artists add detail to the surfaces of 3-D art. By adding texture to a wall, for example, they make it look like brick, plaster, or stone. They might make a creature's eyes shiny and wet and its cheeks matte like skin.
Game and simulation programmers generally work in offices in comfortable surroundings. Many programmers and artists, particularly those that work for video game studios, may occasionally work long hours as deadlines approach, but these hours are often compensated with time off or bonuses. While telecommuting is becoming more possible in the industry, the interactive nature of gaming and simulation programming generally requires telecommuters to work at the office fairly regularly. As the demand for programmers continues to rise, however, employers are being forced to relax work conditions even further to retain competent employees.
Education and Training
Programmers typically study computer science 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. Employers place more emphasis on what a prospective programmer can do than on where and how they learned to do it. 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.
To be successful in today’s market, an animator must be able to tell a story, have an in-depth understanding of creating life-like movement, be proficient in transitional and computer animation techniques, and understand filming techniques, including timing, staging, texture mapping, lighting, squashing and stretching, and easing in and out. (New media has created a serious need for talented graphic designers using a variety of graphics and layout computer software to assist in the designs.
Programmers are the most in-demand type of game developers and are in the shortest supply; therefore, they tend to be paid very well. According to a recent salary survey, game programmers with less than 3 years experience earned an average of $64,500. Many also had additional compensation such as bonuses, profit sharing, royalties and other benefits.
Average salary for game artists with less than 3 years experience was $47,692. Those with 3-6 years of experience earned $59,017-70,333. (Figures come from Game Developer’s Game Career Guide 2009/2010.)