Programming Languages for Game Development


It’s an inescapable fact that game designers, on occasion, may be asked to do a little programming.

This comes down to entry-level designers often switching their positions in teams a lot, and the nature of game design teams being very fluid.

It is not unusual for designers to step in and program, freeing up the game programmers to work on something more complicated, just like it is not unusual for programmers to be consulted during the design process.

That said, getting started in programming can be a little daunting.

What is the best language for game development?

Currently, The best programming languages for games are:

  • C++
  • Java
  • HTML5
  • CSS3
  • JavaScript
  • SQL

Game programming is the lifeblood and skeletal framework for all games you and I play. All of the crazy things you can do in the Grand Theft Auto games? ALl programmed.

How is programming used in games?

Well, It takes a team of talented game programmers to add detailed facets of games, along with the finished base product. Programming utilizes code to make the game a living, breathing thing. Programmers turn lines of code into fully functional and, sometimes, classic games.

Which programming language is used in games?

There is a long list. The main coding languages, however, are C++, C#, and old reliable HTML5.

Do game programmers make good money?

It depends. If you are a small time indie game programmer, unfortunately the answer is no: you will be making somewhere around $10,000-$12,000. Not exactly a king’s ransom. However, if you are working at a bigger studio on a bigger project with more experience, you could make upwards of $100,000.

Where to Start?


There are literally thousands of programming languages out there (although it’s worth saying that only a very small subset is used frequently), so how does a fresh new game designer-come-developer know where to start?

Well, that’s what this article is about!

It’s no lie that there is only a small subset of commonly-used languages, and the languages used for games are an even smaller subset of that.

There are two main types of programming you should focus on as well, something called ‘systems’ programming, and ‘web’ programming.

Both are important, although what you end up doing will mostly be down to the focus of the studio and their in-development titles.

Systems Programming


Systems programming means programming for a stand-alone application, such as a video game run on your machine.

The two most common languages for game designers to learn are C++ and Java, although other languages are popular (such as C# for Unity).

Another type of programming you may hear referred to is scripting, but that essentially comes down to a type of systems programming.

Web Programming


Web Programming for game development


Web programming is used, funnily enough, for applications that are run through a browser over a web interface.

Web languages are not so much one-or-the-other, they work in unison to create the kind of experience players expect (although some programmers will specialize in just one or another).

Web languages now include:

Along with things like content management systems (which are beyond the scope of this article).

Games made with javascript

1. HexGl
2. Sketchout
3. CrossCode
4. Bejeweled
5. Swoop
6. Polycraft
7. Angrybirds
8. The Wizard
9. Little Alchemy
10. New Super Resident Raver

C++


C++ game development


C++ is a language with a relatively high entry barrier (meaning it’s quite difficult to learn), but the reward is greater because it allows more direct control over the hardware and graphical processes (something very important in video game design).

It is an object-oriented language, meaning it uses internal structures to better organize code into reusable blocks (classes and objects).

It is by far the most commonly used language for writing game engines, and some engines (such as Unreal) only accept information written in C++.

If you only choose one language to learn, this would be it, because most other object-oriented languages stem from C++ (so picking them up will be easier).

Games made with C++

1. Counter-Strike
2. Doom III Engine
3. King Quest
4. Starcraft
5. World of Warcraft
6. Warcraft III
7. Football Pro
8. Master of Orion III
9. Maplestory
10. Invictus

Java


Java for game development


Java runs on everything, from printers and microwaves to complex video game systems. It is a very dynamic language with lots of applications, making it seem like a good choice to learn.

Java is closely related to C++, so learning the two alongside each other would not be difficult.

Games made with Java

1. Tom Clancy’s Politika
2. Runescape
3. Powder Game
4. Star Wars Galaxies
5. Roboforge

Tutorials for Programming Languages:

learn game programming

Web Languages


HTML 5 Game Development
HTML5
and CSS3 are the languages used in the web to give a page structure and visual display elements, respectively.

HTML5 is a powerful language and can be used in place of JavaScript in some cases.

JavaScript is used to make things happen on a page, such as to make things move across the page.

SQL is used for back-end database work so that the player can access their account and do other things on the server.

If the studio you want to work for has a web-game focus, it’s worthwhile brushing up on all of these languages, but you probably will not require a very deep knowledge of them.

Games made with HTML 5

1. Kingdom of Loathing
2. Nothing to Hide
3. Gods will be watching
4. Roll It
5. Cookie Clicker

Top Programming Languages [Infographic]

Top Programming Languages for Video Game Dev

Video Games That Teach You to Code

I wish I had learned how to code. I would be able to make my own games, web-based apps, and everything, you name it. Well, it turns out that I still have time to code. Not only that, but I can do it using games instead of complicated software or a boring class where you would rather fall asleep than listen to a professor drone on about stuff.

I took a coding class once and I was forced to buy my professor’s book that proved to be a bunch of garbage. And no, I didn’t pass the class, so stop wondering!

These games are perfect for teaching you how to code, so pretty soon you can start coding and making your own creations. I found a few great options if you are like me.

1. Code Monkey


 

Code Monkey is geared towards kids and adolescents, but don’t let that stop you! I know, I know, it’s for kids, not for me. Wrong, friend: it’s for everyone.

It turns out its interface is super easy and goes through the rudimentary phases of coding and creating. It is geared towards students, so right off the bat, it is geared towards teaching.

Users of Code Monkey don’t need to have any prior experience in coding to begin—it’s all about clean slates and fresh starts. They include detailed plans and even video tutorials.

If there’s one thing I love more than gaming, it’s a good video tutorial. Through basic text-based coding, you can easily learn the basics and build a foundation for yourself. Plus, it’s free!

2. Code Combat


Code Combat Game Development Tutorial


Code Combat is a great way for people to see their coding actions brought to life immediately. Not only that, but you learn to code by actually playing the game in real-time.

You control your character’s actions by coding, helping them progress towards the goals in the game. For example, you can get your character to move towards a treasure chest by typing ‘hero.moveRight( ) to get the character to, you guessed it, move right.

This method of real-time interaction is revolutionary and is super helpful for first-time programmers.

3. Robocode


Much like Code Combat, Robocode thrusts the player/programmer into a scenario where you need to combat other robots. The only way to do so is by using Java, Scala, C#. It’s a great way to throw the programmer right into the pilot’s seat, keeping them on their toes.

4. Codewars


This is a great little community for prospective programmers. Players of the game will have to pass tests, or Kata, to advance in the game. Katas are usually debugging exercises, serving as little tests for you along your programming journey.

Related: Essential Software for Game Designers

With addicting gameplay, Codewars pulls the gamer in and keeps them up to date and practicing on their coding. The great mix of addicting gameplay and educational activities is a real slam dunk for people looking for games to help you learn how to code.

5. Codingame


Codingame Game Development Tutorials


Codingame is a website and suite of programs that emphasize teaching coding through gameplay. It offers multiple avenues of learning code through different game types.

One I particularly liked was a motorcycle race where you had to type in the code to avoid obstacles on the track. This is a faster-paced style of coding akin to the aforementioned Code Combat.

Another facet of Codingame is that you are solving the most important coding problems while also getting help from experts in the field. The fact that you can get assistance from coding experts is definitely one of the best parts of Codingame’s function.

A big part of Codingame, (and the other games listed), is practice. Although these games are great, you need to stick with it every day to really build up your coding chops.

6. Shenzhen I/O


Shenzen IO


Here’s an interesting one. Available on Steam, Shenzhen I/O is a puzzle game that emphasizes coding while mixing it with addicting gameplay that trains your brain. The story is the player is a coding expert moving to China to work for a tech company.

While there, the player is tasked with making technological products for clients. Through these small stages and products, the player solves puzzles in the form of coding. This is a great method of teaching code. A cool little story mixed with great gameplay makes learning code addictive.

7. Human Resource Machine


Human Resource Machine


This game available for mobile platforms and PC, Linux, and Nintendo Switch is much like other serious games that teach you to code. Developed by Tomorrow Corporation, it includes over 40 puzzles that serve as both gameplay and coding experience.

The player is introduced to the ‘office’ where they need to complete tasks and keep their job for years at the Human Resource Machine. The way in which players do this is by coding and completing tasks in that fashion.

The game got great reviews, with reviewers praising its skilfull integration of coding with gameplay and introducing some more complex coding nuances into a package in which nearly anyone could understand and enjoy.

I love how the Internet is filled with different games like these, many of them free of charge. No matter where you look, you can easily find them. It’s almost impossible NOT to find them. They’re on web browsers, they’re on Steam, apps on mobile devices, etc.

Do you know what that means? You have no excuse not to get out there and start coding. People who made coding their life’s work have, in turn, opened up the floor to amateur coders or even people who have a passing curiosity for it.

No more sitting through a boring class as I did. You can now do this from the comfort of your own computer ‘battle station’. No grades just practice every day to learn to code, and hopefully, making your own game through any of these options.

Best Coding Video Games [Infographic]

Fund Video Games For Aspiring Coders

Wrapping Up


Which language you choose to learn will depend a lot on where your interest in game design lies; web-based or PC-/console-based.

PC- and console-based languages will include object-oriented languages, as well as simpler scripting languages, whereas web development will focus solely on technologies built for the web (although there is some crossover, again beyond the scope of this article).

We hope this run-down of the top languages to learn has been informative. Check back for more on how to best prepare yourself for a career in game design!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Unity Game Engine use C# as the main scripting language?


Unity engine uses C# due to the versatility of the programming language. Many developers also use C#, allowing for better ‘communication’ through programming, allowing for better communication and project cohesion.

Along with that, most, if not all, the literature and documentation regarding Unity uses C# as its native programming language.

What are the advantages in programming in C# in UNITY over JavaScript/UNITY script?


As stated before, the advantages are myriad. Many developers share C# as a universal programming language, allowing for better programming. Unity’s documentation is in C#, so it is automatically more natural and more beneficial to learn and use C# as it is Unity’s unofficial programming language.

Where should I start with learning C# for coding in Unity, having no programming experience?


You are in luck, as there is no shortage of not only C# tutorials but Unity tutorials as well. Make sure not to put too much on your plate in the beginning. I know it is tempting to create some great and ambitious ideas, as Unity is definitely capable of it, but biting off more than you can chew can lead you into a lot of confusion. Start small!

Programming something in 2D, preferably a side-scrolling adventure, is more straightforward than a full-on 3D story-driven masterpiece. With no experience, you will have to really cut your teeth on some entry-level positions within the industry. You will also have a harder time landing jobs at higher up companies.

However, getting started is definitely possible with Unity, and as long as you really work hard, you can advance. Devour the documentation and search out some YouTube tutorials for extra visual references.

How long did it take you to learn C#/GLSL for Unity?


This is a pretty multilayered, nuanced question. Many variables are involved. Obviously, this varies from person to person. Someone with background experience with programming will most likely pick up these languages pretty quickly compared to someone who has never booted up an engine in their life.

That is not to say they can’t learn, however. The consensus is usually C# taking a shorter amount of time to learn than GLSL. We are talking either days to weeks. GLSL, especially for a total newbie, can present some challenges. Also, keep in mind that the complexity of the languages increases as a project demands more of you and your knowledge of the programming languages.

Don’t bite more off than you can chew! Again, start small to develop your ‘tool kit.’ In essence, it depends on the person.

Which language or platform is best suited for Unity?


Although Unity Script exists, the consensus is that C# is the ideal programming language to use in Unity Engine. This goes double if you already have a background or passing familiarity with C#. Consider it the de facto programming language of Unity, making it your best bet. Platform-wise, the PC is the best platform in which to use and develop things from Unity.

What is the best language to learn for Unity 3d for 2020?


C# is your best bet going forward into 2020 for 3D Unity games. Although it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you by now, C# is really the lifeblood and skeletal structure of Unity Engine’s programming language.

If you want to branch out a bit, the other programming languages, like Java (via Unity Script), C++, and even HTML5, are all viable options in general. However, definitely go with C# for 3D games in the future.

Should I learn Unreal Engine or Unity if I want to do virtual reality development in the future?


I’m not good with C++, JavaScript, or C#, but I do have experience with C and Java.

Unity is probably the better option out of the two for developing virtual reality. While Unreal has the power to do so, C++ could be complicated for many users compared to that of Unity’s C#.

JavaScript is definitely an option, but many users prefer C# to Unity’s version of JavaScript, Unity Script. Along with programming languages, Unity allows for more versatility, as you don’t need a hulking rig of a computer to develop things.

Unreal usually requires higher-grade hardware and software to accomplish all that you can with it.

Is Unity the best software for developing games for Android?


Without a doubt. Other than smaller game engines like Godot, Unity has an excellent interface and framework for creating mobile games, especially for Android. Developing the game will be an adventure all its own, but the sheer ease in which you can transfer your project cross-platform is intuitive and genuinely a breeze of a process.

Is it true that Google Play deletes games made with the free version of Unity?


Most likely not. The rumor mill can often be a terrible and misleading thing. Consider developers who create projects that don’t precisely meet industry standards or that of Google. Along with that possibility, think of games that violate the Google terms of service. Logically, that would really be the only way in which Google deletes games made with the free version of Unity.

I could see maybe a combination of the two scenarios, as mentioned above, could lead game developers to think perhaps that Google is out to get them, but it just doesn’t make sense.

The biggest question is, why would Google do that? What would their motivation be to delete games, exceptionally well-performing, and quality games from their marketplace?

Some game developers have even chimed in, saying they have at least one game developed with the Unity free version, and their games haven’t been marked or deleted from the marketplace.

It seems like a lose-lose situation. Mark this as ‘pay no mind.’

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