Engineers, artists, designers, musicians, writers, testers and others work together to bring a video game to life.
Each of these departments can also branch out into more dedicated roles. The Engineering department for example branches out into gameplay programmers, engine programmers, AI programmers, UI programmers and so on.
Our interest in this article is all about the gameplay programmers, however, I mentioned some other types of game programmers since I believe that knowing what other types of programmers there are will make understanding the role of the gameplay programmer easier (as you’ll be able to compare between them)
What is a gameplay programmer?
Gameplay programmers are the engineers that are responsible for building the game mechanics and the player’s interactions with the game world. Combat systems, climbing systems, driving systems, running, walking, dashing and swimming are all game mechanics that a gameplay programmer works on.
Basically, a gameplay programmer takes the player’s input, and transforms that into an action (or a sequence of actions) that happens inside the game world.
Notice that I’m using the term “game world” here instead of just “the game”. That is intentional since UI for example is part of the game, but not the game world (unless the game is all centered around UI, then that’s another story)
The game world on the other hand is the virtual world that the main character and other NPCs live in.
It is worth noting that the role of a gameplay programmer can expand much more than that though. It all depends on the size of the team and the game. We’ll talk more about this later in this article, however I believe that first, it is good to know what “gameplay actually is”
What is gameplay in video games?
The gameplay of a video game is the part that the buyers of the game are mostly interested in. Everything else in the game revolves around setting the gameplay experience for the players (eg UI, AI, and so on)
To put it in simple words, the gameplay is the interaction of the player with the game world. It is how the game feels when you are playing it, how your main character responds to your input, how the game world reacts to your actions, and so on.
Generally speaking, a videogame has a number of game mechanics, which are things that the character can do. For example, Climbing mountains is a game mechanic, driving cars, fighting other players or NPCs, jumping, and so on. These mechanics all put together form the gameplay of a video game.
The last thing that I want to mention here is that gameplay is what distinguishes a video game from a movie.
Your own influence as a player on the game world is what gameplay is all about, unlike a movie where you just watch passively what is inevitably going to happen with zero control over the outcomes.
What do gameplay programmers do?
Now that you have a better idea about what gameplay actually is, understanding what gameplay programmers do might be a bit easier.
What do they do? Well, they build the gameplay of the video game. That’s it, who would have thought right?
Gameplay programmers work on the systems that sit between the player’s input and the game world reaction to that input.
It is worth noting though that different game development studios have different expectations for what a gameplay programmer is responsible for.
In certain studios for example, a gameplay programmer is not just supposed to work on the gameplay alone, but also on the game UI, the AI of the game, audio, graphics, and so on.
You are basically supposed to work on anything that directly affects the game itself as opposed to building the game engine, and other internal development tools to make the job of other people easier and even possible.
Other studios however do limit gameplay programmers to the actual gameplay of the game from combat systems to quests and so on.
The last thing to mention in this article before we wrap up is that gameplay programmers work extremely closely with game designers.
Game designers generally have a vision of what the player’s experience should be. Since this is exactly what the gameplay programmer works on, there will need to be a huge collaboration between gameplay engineers and game designers to make sure that their work is aligned together so that they end up building the actual intended experience for the player.
Generally speaking, a gameplay programmer is someone who works on the interaction of the player with the game world, however, their role can also expand to working on UI, AI, NPCs and other systems that directly affect the game (in comparison to building tools that do not directly contribute to the game, but make the job of those who do much easier).
If you are interested in reading more, you can check these other articles on the blog: