Undergraduate degree programs prepare students for entry-level programming positions, while graduate degree programs can help individuals advance to engineering, supervisory, research and development positions in gaming and simulation industries. Students of the aforementioned programs will receive hands-on instruction in the areas of interactive simulation, graphics, gaming, game technology, game development and modeling. Vendor certifications may be earned by candidates who have sufficient education and experience.
Associate's Degree in Simulation Programming
These programs are available in a combination of studies including interactive simulation, graphics, gaming, simulation programming, game technology and game development. A high school diploma or equivalent is required, and a background in math and science is recommended. Participants learn programming language, modeling, design and development skills. Graduates are prepared for entry-level employment in game development and programming.
The curriculum introduces students to programming and mathematical applications used in the field. A large portion of the education is hands-on instruction. Some typical courses include:
- Digital art, imaging and sound
- Game development and design
- Game simulation
- Simulation programming
Bachelor's Degree in Simulation Programming
Bachelor's degree programs are typically offered in simulation programming technology, game development and modeling. These programs explore software design, animation, game algorithms and application architecture. Depending on previous college coursework, the program can take from 2-4 years to complete. Some schools offer different tracks allowing customized first and secondary specialties such as information assurance and security.
The coursework focuses on English, science and advanced math applications used in simulation programming. Specific programming languages used in the industry are also studied. Prior to graduation, students typically complete a capstone project in which they will use the knowledge gained throughout the program to create a video game. Some common classes include:
- C, C++ and UNIX
- 3D programming
- Data structures, algorithms and trigonometry
- Operating systems, web systems and networking
- Information assurance
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Master's Degree in Simulation Programming
Master's degree programs focus on advanced theories found in game design, behavior modeling, interactive design and management. The degree is typically offered in game design and simulation or modeling and simulation. These programs prepare students for research, teaching and senior-level positions in the gaming industry, as well as in education or government institutions.
Students must already possess a bachelor's degree for consideration into these programs. Some schools require an undergraduate degree in physical or life science, computer science, mathematics or engineering. Students may also need to pass a preliminary examination and meet a minimum grade point average (GPA) on undergraduate coursework.
These master's degree programs focus on advanced research, analysis and simulation skills in game development. Most programs have a thesis option or requirement in their curriculum. Some common graduate-level courses include:
- Real-time simulations programming
- Artificial intelligence
- Modeling and simulation (M&S) fundamentals and strategies
- Integrated product development in M&S
- Gaming and education
Popular Career Options
Associate's program graduates possess the practical experience to qualify for entry-level positions in a variety of areas in the gaming industry. Career options may include:
- Junior game programmer
- Quality assurance specialist
- Graphics programmer
Bachelor's degree programs prepare students to design, construct or analyze video games and prototypes. Specific job titles available include:
- Gaming software programmer
- Game systems developer or analyst
- Level designer
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment of computer programmers was expected to shrink by 8% over the 2014-2024 decade. These professionals earned a median annual wage of $79,530 in May 2015, while computer software developers in systems software earned a median of $105,570 annually (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that many programming positions required a bachelor's degree, but a certificate or associate's degree was allowed for some entry-level positions.
Continuing Education Information
Ph.D. programs are available for those wishing to pursue a doctoral degree in modeling and simulation programming. These programs focus more on the research component of the concentration, and a dissertation is required for graduation.
Certification is also offered by professional computing organizations and through several product vendors and software companies in the industry. Some companies require certification for simulation programmers to work with their products.
Entry into a career in simulation or computer programming usually requires at least an associate's degree or certificate. Graduate-level programs help students learn skills in areas such as product development, real-time simulation and modelling, which can be applied to more specialized programming jobs.