The AI (artificial intelligence) programmer gives the game a brain, constructing a set of parameters by which the characters not controlled by the player operate and make decisions—a system of action and reaction. This is a deep field in game programming that requires a technically skilled team of highly specialized programmers to create dynamic and intuitive gameplay that is functional, seamless, and exciting.
This person works under the direction of the lead programmer and is responsible for determining an agent’s behavior: the actions taken by the non-player characters. The AI programmer creates code and algorithms for pathfinding, group movement and cooperation, tactical strategy, and camera control. He or she sets patterns and parameters for state mechanics (rules) and establishes how an agent thinks and solves problems, creating a framework for artificial emotions and ideas. The exact scope of an AI programmer’s job varies from one studio to the next—in some cases, object collisions fall to the AI programmer; in others, this task may be assigned to a physics specialist. During development, the programmer will work closely with designers to implement the necessary processes to make combat possible, establish decision trees for opponents, and create neural networks. He or she also cooperates with game testers to identify bugs and insert the appropriate fixes.
Skills & Education
This role requires a person who enjoys challenging problem-solving, is both a creative and critical thinker, and has a strong education in advanced mathematics. A bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering, or game development is required for a job as an AI programmer. Larger game developers may prefer a master’s degree. You will be expected to have a firm foundation in C++; STL; APIs like OpenGL and PhysX; Perl, Perforce, and profiling tools. Coursework in physics and technical writing are also helpful. An AI programmer should be comfortable on multiple game consoles and able to adapt to existing systems. Strong written and verbal communication skills are necessary, as is the ability to draft clear, concise technical documentation. Most importantly, developers look for an individual who is passionate about making and playing games. The field of AI is constantly evolving, and therefore offers great opportunity for creativity and innovation.
What to Expect
This is not an entry-level position. Even with an advanced degree, companies look to hire someone with at least two years of practical AI experience on one or more shipped titles. To work your way up to AI programmer, consider roles as a C++ programmer or junior software engineer. This role is also closely related to that of a physics engineer. Often it is easier to get a programming job at a small development studio, then work your way up the ladder to a larger studio or to a more senior role. Established AI programmers with proven skills and experience are highly sought after in the game industry, and have the option to pursue many areas of development.
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