game programmer technical artist Unity XNA

The Programming Languages to Know

The programming languages to know (for Game Programmers and Technical Artists), but can really be applied to almost any programming task:

1. C++: The language to learn, and while I like C, object oriented programming is nearly always a better approach for large game projects. This is the language that job market talks in, is the language you want to be taught in university and the language you should be the most comfortable with. While a number of other languages are gaining interest (see C#) the low level control and history of code written in C++ will keep this language in the running for a long time (or at least until C++0X).

2. Javascript: While this may surprise some, this is the language for Adobe product pipeline scripting. Need something automated for Photoshop, Illustator or After Effects? Of course you do… always automate any tasks can be automated, and with javascript this will be one of the only options that these products have API support for. It was also great for some XSI scripting back in the day. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that it is the language of client side websites either.

3. Python: This is quickly becoming the language for scripting and glue logic. Once, I would have put Perl here which is great for tasks you need a “swiss army chainsaw”, but if your script needs to be maintained or is very long, it is often better to go with Python’s object oriented approach. Maya including Python (along with MEL) also bumps this signficantly up the list.

4. C#: Really? Sure, more indie engines like Unity or XNA are worth picking up and playtesting with. While you can use Javascript with Unity, for a very large project it is worth going with C# and the tools (Visual Studio or MonoDevelop) that go along with it.

5. Cg (shader language): If you learn this NVIDIA shader language you will find both HLSL and GLSL a snap. If you are looking at Unity’s ShaderLab or the very cool cgFX you should definitely pick up this language in your toolkit of skills.

Other languages that are great to know about are web based languages like Ruby or PHP, some other more unusual languages like Prolog or Scheme (so that you can think about solving problems in different ways) and of course knowing and using a little assembly never hurts (if you really need to optimize).

You will likely look at other languages in your career: such as Java, Obj-C, Lua and more. In fact, the more languages you know and practice with the easier that it will be to transition to other languages. Most languages (especially the popular ones) have lots of good books on them, and lots of examples, but don’t worry so much about the syntax anyway, learning the syntax and key words is only the first step. Learning how to program effectively can be done in any language, focus on the language you work in, and learn it inside out. Learn how to architect software, break down problems into solutions, how to optimize and debug what you have written, and what it really comes down to is being able to think in a programming language. When you learn other languages, picking up the syntax differences and a few specialties in the libraries shouldn’t be too hard to pick up after that.

If you really want a challenge, you could always try or try some of the more obscure ones at and

But only if you are up for a challenge…
Michael Hubbard

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