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Unity Engines vs. API's for game development

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Personally, I use OpenGL and GLSL for game development because I enjoy learning the low-level graphics pipeline and making a game from scratch.

 

In the recent years, I've seen many employers want/require engine experience like Unity over OpenGL or DirectX experience(EA/Bioware). This is shaken my faith in what I am doing.

 

Question 1: Am I wasting time learning low-level development when an engine can do the job faster and with less knowledge?

 

Question 2: I'm currently a 2nd year BSc computer science student and have been building an OpenGL portfolio for the last year, and I would like know, am I on a good path?

 

Question 3: Will my experience in OpenGL be valued by perspective employers?

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Personally, I use OpenGL and GLSL for game development because I enjoy learning the low-level graphics pipeline and making a game from scratch.

 

In the recent years, I've seen many employers want/require engine experience like Unity over OpenGL or DirectX experience(EA/Bioware). This is shaken my faith in what I am doing.

 

Question 1: Am I wasting time learning low-level development when an engine can do the job faster and with less knowledge?

 

Question 2: I'm currently a 2nd year BSc computer science student and have been building an OpenGL portfolio for the last year, and I would like know, am I on a good path?

 

Question 3: Will my experience in OpenGL be valued by perspective employers?

 

If you know how to program really well using a wide variety of tools, languages and paradigms you can pick up things like Unity in an afternoon so don't worry about it too much, knowledge is never wasted and no game engine is flawless off the shelf.

To get the most out of an engine like Unity you need to write your own shaders and sometimes you'll have to extend the engine using low level native plugins (or in extreme cases you have to get a sourcecode license and modify the engine directly) 

 

Few companies will give such tasks to an entry level programmer though and many job ads are for entry level positions, a good employer will consider all your skills and how they can benefit the company, not just the ones they specifically ask for.

Edited by SimonForsman

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In the recent years, I've seen many employers want/require engine experience like Unity over OpenGL or DirectX experience(EA/Bioware). This is shaken my faith in what I am doing.

That depends on the open job position. If it's level designer or gameplay programmer, they'll probably prioritize experience with engines like Unity, UDK, etc.
If the position is "graphics engineer" "engine engineer" "low level programmer" or similar name, then they'll require DirectX, OpenGL, GLSL, HLSL, experience optimizing code, knowing how gpus work, how compilers work, and even assembly.
 
 

Question 1: Am I wasting time learning low-level development when an engine can do the job faster and with less knowledge?

You're not wasting your time. But ask yourself what do you want to do? If you want to make games, the fastest route and probably most efficient is to use an existing engine. If you want to make engines, or need a lot of flexibility (do you need it?) then learn low level programming.
Do you want to race?, or do you want to race with a car created from scratch by you?
 
Note that big companies nowadays have divided the effort: One team is responsible of making the engine (which is full of very-hard-to-find low level engineers) while other teams are responsible for making games with said engine.

So if you get to land on a job for a big company as a low level programmer, it's rather unlikely that you will end up actually touching any game (probably occasionally, when the game team needs assistance or it is a collaborative effort; or you're in luck and the company didn't isolate the game dev team from the engine dev team).
 

Question 3: Will my experience in OpenGL be valued by perspective employers?

Knowing a couple of OpenGL calls, or how to render a triangle with said api won't land you a job. Also note that the industry has a preference of Direct3D over GL (on Desktop, and also XBox, of course).
However if you're proficient with optimizing both glsl & hlsl code, know lighting theory (from multiple bdrfs like Phong, Blinn Phong and Cook Torrance to deducing the normalization factor for physically based brdfs by yourself whether analytically or through monte carlo), know how MSAA resolve works, and how rasterization is implemented in modern GPUs.
Then yeah, that's very valuable, and it trascends both D3D & GL (and there's very people actually interested in all this stuff). If you lock yourself to basic GL & GLSL knowledge you're no better than a regular programmer with Python knowledge whose job may require C (and has no idea of C).
But note that as any job where you want to stand out, you'll have to keep up with GDC, SIGGRAPH, and all other publications for the latest breakthroughs.
That also means following developer company sites very close for their latest publications. Because that's what low level programmers do.

 

If you want to get hands on straight to making the game, then you probably want to use all this stuff, rather than knowing why it works.

I'm pretty sure Notch doesn't know half of this stuff, yet that didn't stop him and had a lot of fun making Minecraft, and made 'a couple bucks' at the same time. Not knowing doesn't mean he's a bad programmer (on the contrary!), he just focused on other areas that can also be very important for making a good game.

Which path you choose is up to you.

Edited by Matias Goldberg

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Guest Hiwas
Knowing the basics is always a good thing. But, many companies are moving to pre-built engines for most "common" games because it is simply cost effective to ship things. I suspect this trend will accelerate in reality and custom built items will tend more towards the "that will never be successful" MineCraft types of things no one would ever bother pay to be made, except the indies of course. smile.png

As to the movement, EA purchased Renderware about 10 years ago hoping to start this movement internally. Unfortunately I think they were too early to jump the gun on that and didn't put enough resources into it after they bought it. (It was effectively dead within 3 years.) Renderware was effectively the Unity of 2 (3-4?, been a long time) generations ago, unfortunately 2 generations ago you were still single cored fighting CPU bottlenecks and mostly fighting with each GPU having slower and faster bits so you had to recode here and there based on each card. Generic engine just did not "fit all" at that time.

Anymore, for anything less than say: Call Of Duty, Modern Warfare, etc, just doesn't really deserve a custom written renderer and game engine. That's the way things are going, I don't mean to say I completely agree with what I just said but that's the upper management of most game companies thinking. I do agree that "most" general items are generic enough that they don't matter and only the very edges of games such as graphics, sound or special content need custom engines. That will fade eventually also, and it will all be about content, storyline and scripting in a generic engine. We're not there yet though. smile.png

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I have to apologize because my sample size of Game Development jobs and job requirements that I looked at was very small and happened to all contain engine requirements.

 

After looking at a significant portion of Game Development jobs, I saw that ~90% of all jobs don't require any type of engine experience, Unity or otherwise. When I happened to see Unity of Unreal engine, it was almost always in the "Plus/Bonus" category instead.

 

However, a very common sight among Game Development jobs requirements was that one must have "-Shipped at least 1 video game title." This is slightly ambiguous to me. Does an indie game that has made ~$1000 satisfy this requirement, or does this imply a console/PC release title sold in retail stores/online market(ie: PSN)? Also, how does one break into the industry if almost all employers require previous experience at a games company? And how would you recommend "Breaking into the industry"?

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However, a very common sight among Game Development jobs requirements was that one must have "-Shipped at least 1 video game title." This is slightly ambiguous to me. Does an indie game that has made ~$1000 satisfy this requirement, or does this imply a console/PC release title sold in retail stores/online market(ie: PSN)? Also, how does one break into the industry if almost all employers require previous experience at a games company?

 

Except in very special cases, requirements listed in job announcements in any industry are fuzzy. They list the skills they'd like to see in a potential employee, but none of them are set in stone. And it's (usually) not a checklist they go through when looking at resumes where they say, "Oh, this guy has everything we want, but he's never shipped a title. Next!" There are so many factors involved in whether or not you get an interview: how many applicants they have, the relative experience of the applicants, the temperament of the people sifting through the resumes, how urgently they need someone, and so on . If you have experience with the tech they are looking for and can show projects, shipped titles or not, that you've worked on, then that may very well be enough for them to talk to you. Then again, if you're up against resumes submitted from several people who have experience in the industry, you may very well not get the interview. But who knows? If you never submit the resume, then you're guaranteed not to get the interview.

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However, a very common sight among Game Development jobs requirements was that one must have "-Shipped at least 1 video game title." This is slightly ambiguous to me. Does an indie game that has made ~$1000 satisfy this requirement, or does this imply a console/PC release title sold in retail stores/online market(ie: PSN)? Also, how does one break into the industry if almost all employers require previous experience at a games company? And how would you recommend "Breaking into the industry"?

 

There are jobs out there that are meant for entry level developers. Not as many of course - sometimes it seems like game companies would rather keep employing the same rotating batch of programmers instead of training their own - but some entry positions are out there. I started out as a tools engineer. I checked a job board right now and there's at least one tools engineer available that does not mention shipped titles, so it seems like that would still work.

 

You do not necessarily need shipped game titles for a more experienced role. I switched out of the game industry for awhile, and when I went back in, my interviewers were interested in what I had done there and it seemed to have helped.

 

I would personally recommend getting away from trying to learn all the latest graphics techniques and learn how to do other important game-related tasks. Use graphics to get comfortable with vectors and transformations because those are everywhere, but don't expect to get hired to immediately implement some lighting experiment into a real game.

 

Meanwhile, work with files, animation, event systems, scripting, network programming, memory allocators, custom container classes, collision detection, physics, and whatever else you can. There are a bunch of people who seem to think game programming is all about learning some graphics API. I'd try to appear more well-rounded. Maybe even give Unity a try. It's free.

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