For many, the idea of learning how to code is overwhelming. In fact, it has been so overwhelming that some people want to avoid it at all cost. If you fit this category, this is for you. We will dive into why you may want to overcome that hurdle, but also provide some alternatives.
Programming (coding) is a core element of any software development. Coding makes up an estimated 30% of all video games. The remaining 70% is generally invested in design, art assets, marketing, or project management.
If this seems intimidating to you, perhaps even an impossible hurdle, then I want to provide you with some encouragement. There have been some very popular games that were built with methods other than traditional programming, ones you have very likely heard of. As well, many games have been built by developers with little or no prior programming experience.
How much coding do I need to know to develop a game?
There are some great examples out there of people who pick it up and learn as they go. Currently, one of the most modern examples of this is Swords N’ Magic and Stuff by Kindred Games. Kindred spoke about how he had limited programming knowledge when he first began. He learned as he went along.
It was a little while later that Kindred decided he had a need to take on someone with a little bit of experience. By the time he got to this point, I believe the game would have been quite successful on his own. He had a good following, people loved his art style, and the game was looking very nice before this point.
My recommendation is that you should perhaps go through a few tutorials. Unity has a great resource for learning a little bit about the game programming world on its platform. If you go through some of those tutorials, which may take you a few weeks to complete, you should be ready to take on some other small projects.
Alternatives to Knowing How to Code for Games
Unreal Engine really lends itself well to designers who do not want to learn to program. They have a system known as Blueprints Visual Scripting. It takes some of the intimidation. While the logic is still relatively similar to traditional coding, you do not have to worry about the syntax of C++, C#, or any other language.
Unreal Engine really wanted to show off the capability of this system so they decided to build a game purely using Blueprints. This game became what we now know as Fortnite. This a good indicator to me that there is a whole lot you can do with visual scripting.
Unity realized the power of visual scripting as well. I think seeing the success of Fortnite may have made some impacts on Unity. They decided to purchase a popular plugin known as Bolt and make it a part of the default Unity package. I believe that moving forward, coding will only become an easier process.
What does the future look like for game coding?
I believe that the future looks to be getting easier for those that are interested in development. Of course, we will never truly get rid of learning the logic side, but writing will continue to become easier.
If you look at the history of coding, we started out with numbers alone. To get the computer to do anything, you had to know a low-level language that could be compiled to something far more complex, virtually unreadable.
Years later, C was developed. This was a fairly standard language and it is still used today for a lot of Cybersecurity applications. It is closer to assembly language than many modern options that have risen in popularity.
We are now using C# and C++ fairly heavily in game software. They are based on the C programming language but considered to be higher level, thus easier to write. They are closer to the English language.
Now, we are seeing the rise of visual scripting. I believe this will become quite normal moving forward. There will be a lot of programmers who will identify as programmers without ever writing a single line of code manually. They will no longer need to know that a semicolon ends statements. The software will do this part for them.
I am not sure how to feel about this. As students talk to me about Blueprints and Bolt for Unreal and Unity, I still have a tendency to say that you cannot call yourself a coder without knowing how to write a line of code.
What types of jobs are available for those that don’t know how to do text-based code?
Not knowing how to do traditional programming currently limits a lot of opportunities for someone if they want a job in programming. I am aware of quite a few jobs that are based on the Java language or Python. The transition of going from C# or C++ to Java or Python will be far simpler than going from visual scripting to a traditional language.
For this reason, I would still highly recommend that people continue to learn more about traditional programming. I think we are still quite a way out before new platforms are developed to make visual scripting applicable to other industries.
As computer science is tied into game development, I believe it only applies as long as we continue to look at text-based programming as the primary solution. For this reason, I would advise anyone who is teaching game development to not rely on visual scripting. We will be setting up students to be quite limited in where they can go when they leave.
In my research, I was unable to find any jobs that listed visual scripting as a core piece to their job description.
Can I call myself a programmer if I all I use is Blueprints or Bolt?
A programmer is not about syntax or the tools that you use. Instead, a programmer understands the logic. Programmers are able to give a computer a set of instructions to complete a set of tasks based on input.
In a game development world, if you are able to do things such as cause a door to open when a player walks into a trigger, you can call yourself a programmer. You are taking in an input (the player hitting the trigger), and causing an action to occur (the door opening).
For this reason, I would argue that someone who uses visual scripting alone is still a programmer. They may not have the exact same skillset and may not be able to get a job in traditional programming with the skillset that they have, but they do fit the criteria for the label.
Can I build a game with visual scripting only?
You can absolutely build a game with this skill alone. The visual scripting tools that the game engines are currently using are primarily just editors for the built-in functions used by Unreal or Unity.
These built-in functions are what allows players to move, jump, interact with the environment, have physics applied to them, show UI elements, interact with player input, etc. Just with these things listed alone, you are able to create quite a few options.
With visual scripting you can create your own functions, allowing more flexibility to complete some of the more complex tasks. The flexibility is quite broad. There may be some things such as network programming when you want to get into multiplayer that may be lacking some in visual scripting. There are plugins out there that can make this process easier, but likely you would be required to get into text-based programming to interact with them.
Knowing traditional text-based coding is not required to build a game. However, some version of coding is necessary as modern video games all require it. There are options such as visual scripting to make this process easier.
If your goal is just to build a game, not to pursue a career in programming, visual scripting is a great option. You still meet the definition of a programmer. However, you may limit your opportunities in other industries. Even in larger game studios, programming positions require knowledge of text-based scripting.
However, if you want this to be a hobby or you want to build a game on your own, I think visual scripting is a great option for those that are a bit intimidated by traditional text-based programming. I think most people who have limited knowledge of it will be able to pick it up quickly and will be happy with what they can accomplish with it.