Distance learning diploma programs in game programming are uncommon, so students will likely have better luck exploring online certificate options in fields like game design and game development. These training options feature coursework in programming and can be found at community colleges, four-year universities and private arts schools. Students can usually earn a certificate or diploma in under a year.
An online program in game programming is designed to provide students with a fundamental skill set capable of getting them started in an entry-level position with a computer game company. These programs expose students to computer languages and programming algorithms, as well as development systems, game platforms and tools for editing or debugging.
Program Information and Technical Requirements
Most distance learning options in this field can be completed fully online, but some programs combine virtual and campus-based classes. In online courses, lectures are presented live or pre-recorded via the Internet, and students are expected to download assignments and upload projects electronically. Schools use course management systems to create an online classroom setting that usually allows distance learners to access course materials at any time of day. Classmates and instructors may interact through discussion boards, chat rooms, e-mail or web conferencing.
Online programs in computer game development may have more stringent computer systems requirements than other less technical online programs. The software used in game development may require a particular operating system, higher minimum memory and more sophisticated graphics cards. Students are advised to verify system requirements with the school's online technical staff before making new hardware purchases.
Applicants should have a high school diploma or equivalent, with coursework in higher mathematics and the sciences. Experience using computers is highly recommended, and a background in playing computer or video games increases a student's understanding of the field. Some programs may require students to have proficiency in a programming language as well.
Courses in an online diploma or certificate program may not be transferable for credit elsewhere. However, an online associate's degree program may cover much of the same game programming material and offer the option to transfer most of the earned credits to a subsequent bachelor's degree program. Distance learning courses in game programming can include the following:
- Introduction to microcomputers
- Program design and development
- Computer operating systems
- Principles of object-oriented programming
- C++ language concepts
- Data structures and algorithms
- Introduction to game development
- Networking fundamentals
- Game physics
- Digital imaging
Game programmers typically work in teams, following a plan devised by a game designer. They work with artists, animators and sound engineers to convert graphics and audio files into usable data while writing, testing and debugging software code. Programmers often specialize in a specific aspect of games, such as manipulating objects in 3-D coordinate systems, converting animation files or writing behaviors for computer-controlled characters. Entry-level game programmers are able to focus on simpler tasks while they continue to learn other aspects of game programming on the job.
Many computer gaming companies prepare games for multiple platforms, and maintain their own proprietary tools and game development systems to facilitate this process. Game programmers create and modify these tools. Other programmers work on the following:
- Gameplay design
- Software version control
- Quality control
- Web-game server support
Overall, online diploma and certificate programs in game design and development give students the opportunity to develop their computer programming skills, focusing specifically on the application of fundamental information technology principles to video games.