Video gaming’s march into the mainstream grows every year, with major developments in digital entertainment and practical applications. For anyone who loves to bounce through Mario’s fanciful worlds, raid tombs or tackle alien hordes in Halo and Destiny, this represents an immense opportunity.
Video game development is now a multibillion-dollar industry and growing, providing solid career paths for game developers and designers.
It’s not just big-budget AAA games like Call of Duty and Mass Effect, either. Smaller studios and those focused on mobile apps are some of the fastest-growing sectors of the industry. According to data from market research firm NPD Group, even something as simple as Candy Crush generates over $1 million every single day. The category has also expanded broadly: gaming technology is being utilized for training and teaching purposes in healthcare, the military, education and many other fields.
At Southern New Hampshire University, gamers can gain the technology skills they need to break into or advance within the game development industry with the Game Programming and Development program.
“SNHU’s online game development program teaches students to design and develop games for entertainment value as well as simulations for solving problems,” said Dr. Gwen Britton, executive director of online STEM programs at SNHU. “If they want to be game developers and play with the big kids out in the game world, it will position them to do video game development or simulation development because they are learning so many different things.”
The video game development program provides the fundamentals of computer science in the field of video games. Students learn essential computer programming languages and scripting, including C++, C# and Java, and master game engine development and deployment using the Unreal game engine. They also gain exposure to 3D modeling and techniques for building robust artificial intelligence. Online coursework focuses on the disciplines of information technology, mathematics, game design and graphic design.
Many STEM disciplines intersect when creating a virtual world. The most obvious is computer engineering — the knowledge of hardware and software that allows developers to create engines that can display everything from a cave troll to an entire galaxy.
Artificial intelligence (AI) brings a sense of realism to the virtual world you experience behind the screen. It isn’t only the characters you see, either — it’s the other cars on the road avoiding you during a driving game or virtual fish scattering when you dive into a digital sea.
There’s also the visual aspect. Every single object in a digital world needs to be created from scratch with the aid of 2D- and 3D-design tools. In some ways, it’s like a theater production: some people are behind the scenes creating props and scenery, others program the lights and sound for the theater, and some bring the characters to life, with a director leading the whole show.
At the heart of video game development firms are its developers — the people who work with programming languages and game engines to construct the digital nuts and bolts of
a virtual world.
Designers and artists bring video games to life. Some work in purely 2D media, drawing what a game world will look like or sketching out the curves of a starship. Others go into the real world to film and digitize actual objects like cars in a racing game or even the streets of real cities. 3D designers build models and then stretch textures over them, so that wireframe models look like real people, animals and buildings.
Araxie Yeretsian is a full-time video game designer, a freelance web designer and illustrator, and a student at SNHU. She’s learned that the beauty of design in any game is the ability to allow players to discover and survey spaces that elaborate on the story and message of the game.
“Our job as designers is to make the experience smooth and transition as much information about our game as we can, in the most visually enjoyable way possible,” Yeretsian said.
One of the incredible things about video game development is how its principles can be applied in other fields. A simulated world might be used to entertain, but it can also be used to solve problems in business, finance, health, law enforcement and the military.
SNHU graduate and Army veteran Derald Wise was fortunate to get in on the ground level when the military began using a first-person shooter video game for combat training. While it was still a relatively new concept, he began creating scenarios for the military as a game developer.
“The application of gaming technology has grown within the Department of Defense, military personnel and other government agencies and first responders,” Wise said. “The utilization of simulations has grown exponentially as the cost of traditional methods of training has increased.
“Jobs in this field are diverse and varied, so whatever your talents are, there’s probably an opportunity out there waiting for you,” Wise added. “But remember, the game design industry is competitive, and you’ll be facing some stiff competition to land that job. Anything and everything you can do to enhance your skills and resume will certainly help you land that job in game design.”