A few tips for Game Programming Newcomers

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So far I’ve been in the VFS Game Design program for about three months and it´s been a great experience overall!  I’ve been meeting new people, working on lots of school assignments, but most important,  I’m always having a fun time doing it.  I’m currently in Term 2 of the program which is offering a broad overview of all subject matter revolving around game design, but in Term 3 we are tasked with choosing 2 out of the 3 specializations to focus on. Art, Level Design and Coding.

Many people want to know what specialization is the best option for themselves and their current set of needs and skills. Some even can ask themselves “Is programming hard? Am I good enough to learn and become a good coder?”.  The answer is: Yes you can! Good news is that technology is constantly moving so fast that the Game Industry always has a high demand for programmers between Junior and Senior positions. If you are interested in creating your own games, including prototypes that can show off the core gameplay mechanic, then programming is a great path for you.

The coding world is vast with plenty of topics to explore such as Object Oriented Programming, Artificial Intelligence and Algorithm Design. One thing to take in to consideration is learning programming languages like Python, C# and C++. If you are really new into programming you may want to learn Python first.  This language is considered to be a great option to introduce people into the coding world. After getting used to the syntax of Python, C# will come more easily to you.   C# is one of the best options for scripting in game engines such as Unity. Once you’ve gained some experience and understand the basic concepts and logic in computer programming, C++ is next with more advanced topics like pointers and manual memory management.  C++ is considered to be the industry standard language. So if you are serious about game development then you should give it a try.

The following are a few tips I have found useful as both a student and a programmer.

Get some support materials: What’s a better way to start learning the basics than by self-teaching yourself with the many available materials out there: books, online tutorials, and technology articles.  The best part, many of them are free so there is no reason to not check them out.  The Head First Labs from O’Reilly books are a great source of information due to its clear explanations and amazing friendly examples. Once you get more familiarized and want to take a step further, download the free versions of game engines such as Unity and the UDK.  There are numberless websites that offer free training in these programs.

Improve your current math skills: Mathematics is the fundamental base of programming.  The more you understand numbers, the easier coding will be.  Algebra and functions are highly implementable when using loops, conditions and arrays in your code.  Try to refresh your brain on these topics whenever you can.

Search for what recruiters are looking for: Checking what abilities current companies are looking for in prospective  programmers and technical designers is always a good idea.  Know what skills they are looking for, but also look into the company’s vision, ideology and what type of games they make.  If you want to work at your dream company, then KNOW your dream company.

Program at least 15 minutes a day“Practice makes the master” -Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.  It’s that simple.  There is no better way to improve than by sitting down and practicing every day, especially for programming.  By working with code every day, you will become more accustomed it’s logic and be able to better implement it.  Eventually you’ll discover many different approaches and solutions for solving a specific problem. It can be 15 minutes depending on your schedule, but if you can spare more time, then do it!  The Project Euler site is a great source for coding problems that you can flex your brain with daily.

Always believe in what you are doing: In case you can’t come up with a solution for a specific coding problem, don’t panic.  Relax and distract yourself by doing something else. Try playing a game or taking a walk to some place you like.  Then you can return and continue with more energy. Remember to always believe in yourself.  Many people who have left their mark in human history like Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison had to try things and fail over and over again before achieving their amazing contributions to humanity.  Playing a game is learning by failure.  Embrace it!

As a VFS Game Design Student I can say that there will be courses for learning C# and C++ so you’ll definitely have lots of experience if you decide to take the coding stream. I’m excited to keep making games, to continue getting to know my teachers and classmates and of course, improving my programming skills during this amazing year.

A big thanks to Jakobsen Beck, GD34, for helping to edit this article.

Rafael Alfaro is a Student in the VFS Game Design program