Game Development Guide: What Coding Languages to Learn and How to Get Started

game development guide

For decades, video games have entertained children and adults alike. Today, 64 percent of U.S. households own a device used to play video games, says the Entertainment Software Association [PDF]. Video games have evolved rapidly from the early days, offering increasingly realistic experiences that no longer resemble the pixelated screens and 8-bit games of past generations. 

Today, the field of video game development is a lucrative one offering plenty of career options. According to a report by Juniper Research, the gaming industry generated $155 billion in revenue in 2020 and it is predicted to generate over $260 billion in revenue by 2025. Leading companies are fiercely competing for a share of the market, with tech giants like Apple, Netflix, Facebook, and Google entering the gaming market. 

With gaming becoming such a huge force worldwide, there has never been a better time to pursue game development. Having knowledge of the best game development languages is an essential step towards getting started. This article will look at the top languages for game development, examples of languages used in games, and free resources that can help you get started with video game programming. 

Top Programming Languages for Game Development

Game development today involves several stages, starting with concept development, working through an initial design, and then production. A game’s coding language is chosen following the development of the game’s initial design. Games are developed using a variety of programming languages depending on the platform (console, computer, or mobile) and the scope of the game. Additionally, not all games are programmed with a single language — they may combine several.

Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular languages used for video game development today:

  1. C++: C++ is an object-oriented programming language. Its speed, ease of use, and widespread adoption make it stand out as a highly desirable language. According to Game-Ace, it is widely considered the gold standard in game programming, and many call it the best coding language for games. Some titles made with a C++-based engines include the Assassin’s Creed, Doom, and the Bioshock series. 
  2. Java: Java is a general-purpose programming language that is designed to adapt to an evolving environment. According to MasterClass, Java game programming is nearly universally compatible, making it incredibly versatile and one of the most popular languages used today. Video games made with Java include Minecraft, RuneScape, and Star Wars Galaxies.
  3. HTML5: HTML5 refers to the latest standard for HTML, which is an underlying code that web browsers render. Developers are increasingly turning to HTML5, which GameDeveloper calls the “future of gaming development” because of its web-based nature, offering added flexibility. Popular games made with HTML5 include Bejeweled, Angry Birds, Kingdom Rush, and 3D Tetris. 
  4. JavaScript: JavaScript is widely known as one of the foundational technologies of web development, powering over 95 percent of websites across the globe. With the adoption of HTML5 for gaming, JavaScript has also become the core pillar of HTML5 game development in terms of programming languages, says GameDevAcademy. Popular games running on JavaScript + HTML5 include Browser Quest, Diablo JS, and HexGL. 
  5. C#: Pronounced “C Sharp”, this programming language is a popular choice for developing a wide range of applications as well as video games. In fact, it is one of the main codes seen in popular game engines today such as Unity. Some examples of C#-based games include Pokemon Go, Hearthstone, Temple Run, and Assassin’s Creed Identity. 

How to Get Started in Game Development

Interested in game design? Here are three steps that can help you get started:

Step 1: Learn to Write Code

Almost all the games you’ve played on consoles, smartphones, and computers have been created by skilled developers. These talented professionals possess the skills to write scalable and robust code that drives these games. If you are looking to get started in game development, we recommend gaining an understanding of the languages featured above. A coding boot camp is a great way to learn many of these skills and more. 

Step 2: Design a Small Game

Making your first game is an excellent opportunity to showcase the coding skills you’ve learned. You learn a tremendous amount as you work through the challenges of designing and building a game from scratch since there is no existing framework to utilize. We recommend starting with a small JavaScript game that you can show off in a portfolio once you’ve finished. 

Step 3: Create a Game Design Portfolio

Once you have begun designing your own games, you will want to create an online portfolio that you can show people when they ask for samples; highlighting your best and most relevant game design work. You should ensure your portfolio reflects the field of game design that you’re interested in, whether that be level design, systems design, interface design, or another discipline.

Video Game Development Resources

You may find these resources helpful if you want to learn more about video game design. 

  1. CS50’s Introduction to Game Development: This free HarvardX course can help you learn about the development of 2D and 3D interactive games as you explore the design of games such as Super Mario Bros., Pokémon, Angry Birds, and more.
  2. Unity Learn: Unity is used by leading game development studios worldwide. Using their Unity Learn resources, you can acquire the background, context, and skills to confidently bring your creative vision to life.
  3. Game Design Resources: The University of North Texas has curated a free resource list for people interested in beginning game design. Explore free game engines, sound software, tutorials, and more. 
  4. Code With Google: Learn basic video game coding concepts by making different types of games, including racing, platform, maze, escape, quest, cave surfing, and more. This resource offers hands-on lessons with instructional videos. 
  5. 11 Tools to Get You Started Making Video Games: The Verge has compiled a list of tools you can use to begin making video games. Even if you have no experience programming, you can benefit from these beginner resources.

The inclusion of these resources is for educational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by University of Minnesota.

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