Programmers: The Unsung Heroes

This is an aspect of the reception of games that barely gets noticed, but one that is also noticed a lot in a different light: Programming.

 

So this is a discussion close to me, as a programmer anyway, as it is something that I have not only been subject to, but others have around me as well. Not just that, but you will see it regarding reviews of games or other software, or rather, it’s what you don’t see that is interesting.

 

So as I went through university for Game Design, a choice I completely regret (I mean that Economics degree was right there…), I realised we spent very little time learning the bit that makes games…interactive. Programming was barely a footnote amongst the art and writing aspects (And how to make the most money by selling your game piecemeal). I suppose this was the downside of the course focusing strictly on the “Traditional Western AAA methods”. I’ll write another article about the entire issue of the education I had at a later date, because it makes my blood boil.

In terms of programming, outside of the classes on Websites (Which were fine) and “Mobile Apps” (Which were really mobile websites), there wasn’t a lot. In my first year, in 2014, there was a class on “Digital Media and Design”, which from those who took said class, sounded like making games and animations in Flash. Yes, in 2014, I am just as baffled as you are.

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For that first year, all I had to go on was some copy and pasted, not explained, not very well conveyed JavaScript into Unity. The few programmers there were on our own.

Second year had a class on “Games Engine Programming” which was basically C# in Unity. Now on paper this is a good idea. In practice, it was far too fast for anyone there to get anything, and overcomplicated matters without ever explaining the purpose of functions, methods or any other aspects. Just follow along, and we were expected to produce AI, procedural generation and inventory management systems. It was a mess.

Beyond that, programming was….well there is a reason they asked to see who was a programmer at the start of the course. They basically have it set up so the programmers go solo with learning, so they don’t have to, and hope the group work plays out okay.

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It’s baffling there is a course on making games that barely scratches the surface of making a game interactive, there was actually more classes on micro transactions and the types of story you can tell. Don’t even ask about optimisation, or programming in any other engines that we were required to use like CryENGINE and Unreal Engine 4. That wasn’t touched in the slightest.

But this is the facts, a generation of developers is now out in the world….with no knowledge of how to make a game interactive or be coded properly, and the problem is, this means they will be seen.

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So my other issue that I brought up mentioned reviews, and this is true. Look at any review for a game. How often does a review mention how glitch free, or well done the collisions are? What about how stable the game is on a technical level? What about AI praise, or so on so forth? Programming in games, especially good programming, goes in-noticed. It’s never going to draw attention to itself by being good. But art, music, visuals? Yeah, people will praise that, and rightly so, if the work is good, praise them. But programmers don’t get that luxury.

Now read some reviews. Look at some bad games. How many mention the programming issues like glitches, or dodgy AI? Yeah, it drew attention to itself. A programmer is only seen and acknowledged when the work is below average. Back in university after clearing a group project and spending many nights building a gameplay style I was told to put in instead of refining other mechanics, I didn’t get to go to the expo to show the game off. The artists, writers, musicians went. Us programmers? Stay at home, put your feet up, your work doesn’t actually sell a game.

It should, because if a game is technically sound, it’s going to be a good game to play and should be fun, right? But your part in that won’t be praised.

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For a field as demanding and knowledge based as programming, one has to wonder why the unsung heroes of game development don’t get recognition, at least when their work is good, alongside their peers in development. It’s an interesting situation and one I am not sure I would know of a solution to. Sure they are in the credits, but the actual conversations beyond that, you’d be hard pressed to hear someone praise a game’s programming.

That is just the thing. As programming isn’t a spoken and praised field like art, or writing, or hell even monetization if you look at the industry today, why should it be taught to students? The people of the world won’t notice it unless it’s bad, and they figure (And I know this is the case), that people who want to be programmers don’t need the teaching. Well, we do. We all learn somehow, and there is only so much Google and books can give you without the insight.

 

I sincerely hope in the future as games become more demanding, programmers get the praise they deserve. They are more than the people in dark cubicles who complain a lot. They make the game work. They make your tools. They gave you the software to develop your animations and art. They are there when something breaks and they would rather be asleep.

And this isn’t even mentioning the industry where if a programming job can be found by someone cheaper, a developer will likely take it regardless of quality. That’s a thing too, I suppose. Labour turn-over is a real issue.

 

 

If you enjoyed this rather different piece, share and leave feedback on social media, and I will see you for the next one. Until then, Happy Gaming!

 

 

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