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Because game programming is so diverse game software does more kinds of things than any other kind of software, even high-end military simulations there are many ways to specialize Among them are Graphics Probably the most common specialization, and the most in demand The appearance of graphics engines has not lessened the need for great graphics programmers Graphics is so large a field that it has its own subcategories The key ones required for games are 3-D graphics Without a doubt, the most technically prestigious area of graphics programming It requires a great deal of math This is just about the only area in which publishers and developers are willing to
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Skills and Careers in the Game Industry
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fund pure research without tying it to a specific product, because they know it will pay off in the long run As a 3-D graphics programmer you will probably have little to do with the actual game; you may be developing an engine that will be used by several different games Video compression and playback Although pre-rendered movies are not as fashionable as they once were, games still use them, and game developers still try to find ever more efficient ways of compressing and playing them Animation Pre-rendered animation is one thing; animation on-the-fly, with constantly changing conditions, is quite another Considerable research has gone into making creatures and people walk realistically under all circumstances: fast and slow, up hills and down, and so on Audio Console machines contain special-purpose audio processors that must be programmed close to the bare metal; this is the job of the audio programmer Although you may not have access to a console development station before you get a job, if you want to be an audio programmer you should try to get some experience working with digital signal processors (DSPs) in school On the PC, audio device control is normally handled by the operating system, but there are many other audio tasks as well: streaming and mixing sounds on-the-fly in response to game events, for example Interactive music also requires audio programmers Physics To be a physics programmer you must be entirely comfortable with both trigonometry and calculus Without trigonometry, you can t understand the formulas needed for measuring distance, and you can program only the most trivial of movement algorithms without calculus The field is even more mathematical than 3-D graphics programming Physics programming is used most heavily in vehicle simulators and sports games, although it has applications in any game that tries to make the movement of solid bodies look realistic Artificial intelligence Another large and important specialty Game AI is a combination of real artificial intelligence, as studied in university research programs, and a lot of clever smoke and mirrors to make a game seem intelligent But a game can t rely only on smoke and mirrors, especially a game of perfect information like chess AI programming doesn t require that much math, although it helps It s more about finding ways to make appropriate decisions in a given situation Simulation Not the simulation of vehicles, but the simulation of complex processes In many popular games, the player is trying to manage a set of complex interactions among interrelated systems Sim City is the classic
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example Simulation programming is the skill that creates those systems, and it should be a required subject of study for any game programmer User interface programming User interfaces in environments like the Windows or Macintosh desktop are pretty straightforward: menus and dialog boxes, mostly supplied by operating system commands User interfaces in video games are a much greater challenge Unlike ordinary software, games have to map a fantasy situation (flying a starship, exploring a dungeon) onto a limited input device, and they must respond quickly, smoothly, accurately, and predictably at all times, despite highly variable loads on the CPU A bad user interface can destroy an otherwise good game, so this is a valuable skill Utilities (editors, graphic conversion tools, level builders) Games are becoming increasingly data-driven; that is, instead of having the level design hard-coded into the software, it is read in from data files To build those data files, the level designers need tools: utilities that let them create game settings and fill them with challenges Tools programming is an unglamorous but vital part of this process Scripting languages In addition to being data-driven, games are also increasingly programmable, that is, they can execute instructions given to them in a scripting language A scripting language is a miniature programming language that lets the designers program in features themselves To program scripting languages you must be familiar with parsing and compiler design, both subjects you can study as part of a computer science degree Network and server programming This is a new specialty for the game industry, and one of rapidly growing importance With a significant amount of revenue coming from online games, the industry needs network programmers in a way that it never did before With thousands of players all logged on at once, MMORPGs are a severe test of the server programmer s skill Porting Also called converting, porting means taking a game that works on one machine and making it work on another This is a somewhat specialized skill, because it requires an intimate knowledge of both machines not only how they work, but how to make a game that was optimized for play on one machine just as enjoyable on another one Port programmers don t get the chance to work on entirely new games, but it can be a lucrative business for those who are good at it Porting is normally done through work-for-hire contracts rather than advances against royalties Cryptography and security Piracy is a multibillion-dollar problem, and one that the industry has so far been unable to defeat Data security is a growth
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