The game development industry continues to grow, with video game revenue expected to surpass $365 billion in 2023. But what exactly is game development? In simple terms, it’s the process of creating a video game experience, requiring a mix of creative and technical skills.
Next, we need to ask, what programming languages are used in video games?
Whether you’re an aspiring indie developer or a seasoned pro, choosing the correct programming language is crucial for building your dream game.
The good news is there are plenty of great options out there! In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the top languages used for game development today. We’ll discuss the key strengths of each one, from the beginner-friendly C# to the ultra-flexible C++.
By the end, you’ll have a simple yet solid understanding of which languages could be the best fit for your next gaming project. With the variety of options available now, it’s an exciting time to get into game dev! Let’s jump in and explore some of the top programming picks for crafting incredible interactive experiences—a key consideration for game development:
A key consideration when starting to develop a game
- The role of performance in game development
Game development relies much on performance. They are running such complex processes as rendering game graphics, processing inputs, streaming Audio, executing physics simulation, running game logic, and providing high performance all at once. Good gameplay comes along with the smother, plus the faster game runs. The failure of performance causes low credibility, which leads to a decrease in the number of sales and a bad reputation among players. Therefore, game designers improve their source codes through speed and optimization of computer memory usage. Some languages may be more suitable for performance-intensive tasks than others, and it is crucial to choose the correct programming language.
- Low-level languages like C++ for resource-intensive games
For graphically rich, expansive 3D games, low-level languages like C++ are commonly used. C++ is fast, provides direct hardware access, and gives developers fine-grained control over memory management. By tailoring code to use a game’s GPU capabilities and memory budget efficiently, developers can maximize performance. Many popular game engines are written in C++, including Unreal Engine, Unity, CryEngine, etc. C++ is more complex to learn than high-level languages, but it’s ideal for AAA games where performance is critical.
- High-level languages like Python for simpler games.
For less resource-intensive games like 2D indie games or mobile games, higher-level languages like Python offer simplicity and rapid prototyping capabilities. While faster than C++, Python is sufficient for games with basic graphics, gameplay, and AI requirements. Python simplifies development compared to lower-level languages, enabling faster iteration. Many game frameworks like Pygame and Panda3D use Python under the hood. So, while Python won’t produce cutting-edge visuals, it’s excellent for getting proof-of-concept prototypes up and running quickly.
B. Platform Compatibility
- The need for cross-platform support:
It’s fantastic when a game can run on a bunch of different platforms, right? That way, more players can enjoy the game, whether they’re on PC, console, or mobile. Building cross-platform support from the start takes some extra work for developers. But it’s often worth it to allow more gamers to get their hands on a new game across their devices.
- Unity and C# for multi-platform games
One popular way to create games for multiple platforms is using the Unity engine with C#. Unity does a ton of the heavy lifting so devs can more easily target platforms like Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, consoles, and more. Since Unity uses C# scripts, developers only have to write the code once in C# for it to run across platforms. Pretty sweet! While faster than C++, C# handles cross-platform mobile/indie games well.
- Mobile game development with Java and Swift
For mobile-specific games, languages like Java and Swift are good go-to’s. Java is used for a massive number of Android games, as Java code can be compiled to run smoothly on Android. For iOS, Swift is the obvious choice – it’s designed by Apple specifically for iOS and provides access to all the latest frameworks. While learning two languages takes more work, it allows devs to build stellar gaming experiences tailored for each central mobile platform.
C. Game Type and Genre
- Tailoring the language to the specific game type
The type and genre of game you want to build can help determine what programming language makes the most sense. Specific languages are better fits depending on if you’re making an action-packed FPS, a retro pixel art platformer, an MMO with networked gameplay, or something else. Picking a language suited to your specific game vision sets you up for success.
- Real-time 3D games and the suitability of C#
If you’re going for a real-time 3D game with intense graphics and physics, C# is a great choice. It works primarily with game engines like Unity to create immersive, responsive 3D game worlds. The performance may not be as blazing fast as C++, but today’s hardware combined with C# makes it possible to build awe-inspiring real-time 3D games.
Popular Programming Languages for Game Development
- High performance for demanding games
- Allows low-level hardware access
- Used by many AAA game studios
- Powers major game engines like Unreal
- It has a steep learning curve but is very versatile
- Simple yet powerful language
- Extensively used with the Unity game engine
- Great for 2D & 3D indie games
- Rapid prototyping capabilities
- Large community and availability of resources
- Cross-platform capabilities
- Massive usage in Android game dev
- Simpler syntax than C++
- Great library and framework support
- Not as fast as C++ but capable of performance
- Simple and beginner-friendly language
- DOM manipulation makes HTML5 games easy
- Used in many 2D game engines like Phaser
- Top-rated and lots of resources available
- Performance not suitable for 3D games
- Excellent for quick prototyping
- Good for simple 2D games
- Readable code and large community
- Slower execution but can be sufficient
- Game frameworks like Pygame and Panda3D
As we’ve explored in this article, there are many excellent programming language options for game development. However, I like C++ tends to be more common, as we discussed in the popular Top 15 Best Programming Languages To Learn in 2023.
D. Game Engines
- The role of game engines in language selection
Game engines do a ton of heavy lifting for game devs when it comes to graphics, physics, audio, and more. Many machines are tied to specific programming languages, too. So, the engine a developer wants to use can influence which language they go with.
- Unity (C#) and Unreal Engine (C++)
Two of the most popular commercial engines are Unity and Unreal. Unity uses C# as its primary language. Unreal uses C++. Both engines take care of lower-level stuff so devs can focus on gameplay code. With Unity and C#, it’s a bit easier for beginners to get into 3D game dev. Unreal with C++ is extremely powerful but has a steeper learning curve.
- Custom game engines and language flexibility:
Overall, while engines don’t lock you into specific languages, they do influence language choice. Evaluating different engines in terms of programming language support can help narrow options. But comfort with the language and access to docs/resources is just as crucial for long-term dev success.
F. Learning Curve and Community Support
- Ease of learning the language:
- Availability of tutorials and documentation:
Having tons of tutorials and docs for a language allows you to level up your skills faster. Languages with large active communities, like C# or Java, provide plenty of up-to-date learning resources. Obscure languages can be more challenging when looking for gaming-specific help.
- Community support for troubleshooting and collaboration.
Are you stuck on a bug or need advice for a design choice? Community support can be a game dev lifesaver! Active forums, Discord channels, and StackOverflow tags are invaluable. Having lots of fellow devs using the language means more people who can assist when issues come up or offer feedback.
Learning game development and becoming proficient in a programming language does take time and dedication. Still, it’s an exciting career path for those eager to learn, as covered in the How to Become a Programmer guide.
Consider how easy it will be to expand your skills in a language continuously. Learning the basics is one thing, but growing into an expert is vital for game development mastery. An engaged community makes the journey more rewarding.