Also known as: Games programmer, Generalist
What does a generalist programmer do?
Programmers work at the heart of the game development process. They write the code that controls the game, incorporating and adapting any ready-made code libraries and writing custom code as needed. They test the code and fix bugs.
As game development is increasingly complex, there’s an ever-growing body of specialist programmers. Just as important are generalist programmers who are chiefly concerned with identifying the most stable and efficient means of coding and seeing the scripts are clean and reliable. They also need to be able to turn their hand to whatever is needed, such as writing code that makes better use of the available storage within the graphics engine, for example.
Generalist programmers work with the QA technicians to identify weaknesses in the system to write more reliable code.
What’s a generalist programmer good at?
- Maths and physics: use advanced mathematics, understand physics concepts like collision and particle dispersion
- Programming: pick up script languages easily, write clean portable code
- Knowledge of games engines and platforms: understand graphic integration, collision detection, data transformation, database management
- Communication: work with the specialist programmers, keep detailed technology documentation to record changes made to the engine
- Timekeeping: take instruction and work to deadlines
Tools of the trade
These are some of the tools used by professionals, but you can develop your skills using free software. Go to build your games portfolio for a list.
- Programming language (C/C++, Python, UE3)
- 3D animation software (Kismet for Unreal, Quake, and Half-Life)
Who does a generalist programmer work with?
The generalist programmer reports to the lead programmer but will be expected to work with any of the specialist programmers, artists and designers. They also work closely with the QA technicians.
How do you become a generalist programmer?
Some employers look for a generalist who has previous employment as a specialist or generalist programmer but there are some entry-level roles available too.
At school or college:
If you want to go to university:
Take A-levels, Highers or Level 3 BTECs from this list. Complement your science subjects with art ones, if you enjoy them:
- Computer science
- Graphic design
- Graphic communication
- Art and design
- BTEC Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
- BTEC Diploma in Computing
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship:
The following Level 3 vocational qualifications would be relevant:
- BTEC Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
- AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
- OCR Technical Level IT: Programming
Build a portfolio:
Create work that you can show off to employers. Go to Build your games portfolio to learn how.
Create levels of a game using software provided by the publishers.
Get a degree:
Most people in the games industry have got degrees. Get a degree in, physics, computer programming, game development or advanced mathematics. Or have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in games. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the games industry.
Get to know people in the games industry by attending events, including games conferences and expos. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the industry. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to Network well to learn how to do this.
Search for jobs:
Use the UK Games Map to find out if there are games companies near you. Then go to their websites directly and check out their open roles. Even if they are not advertising the right role, if you like a specific company it’s worth emailing them to let them know you are looking in case something suitable comes up in future. Some employers might take you on if you have a strong portfolio and software skills.
You might also be interested in…
Being an audio programmer, a graphics programmer, gameplay programmer, physics programmer, an artificial intelligence (AI) programmer, a virtual reality (VR) programmer, tools engineer, an engine programmer or a network programmer in the games industry. You might also be interested in being a software developer in visual effects (VFX). Alternatively, you could consider a technical director (TD) role in VFX or in the animation industry.
Film and TV drama
Covers genres ranging from period dramas to epic fantasies screened at the cinema, on TV or on streaming sites
Visual effects (VFX)
Involves making sequences on a computer that can't be created on set, like enormous crowds and fire-breathing dragons
Creates the illusion of movement, includes computer-generated, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation
Can be defined as 'TV without actors' - non-fiction telly on any subject from natural history and music to dating or learning a skill
Is the final stage in film and programme-making where footage is cut, music, sound and commentary are mixed and visual effects are added