When you have a question, it’s always best to turn to a subject matter expert for answers. In our blog series, Ask An Expert, National University staff and faculty members take turns answering challenging questions in their areas of expertise. This time we speak to computer science professor, Subra Subramanya, about how computer science has impacted games over the years.
Gaming has come a long way since players plopped a coin in a pinball machine.
As computer science has evolved, so have many industries rooted in computing technology, including the video game industry — or simply “gaming” as it’s often called today. But at its center are some of the same concepts computer science students have been learning for decades.
“Programming is an essential foundation for game design,” says National University computer science professor Dr. S.R. Subramanya. “It’s well-grounded in languages like Java and C++.”
Let’s take a look examples of how computer science has impacted games as well as explore how to study computer science, a degree which can prepare you for a career in the gaming industry.
Wait. Are those real-life actors? With all of the advancement in game design, sometimes it’s surprisingly hard to tell the difference between computer-generated characters and an actual human. The evolution of television technology has also impacted the look and feel of games. According to GameDesigning.org, original gaming systems “weren’t designed to support high-definition picture modes.” So, aside from graphics looking more realistic, this upgrade in visuals was also practical. Televisions were becoming more powerful, so the game design had to keep up.
You could say multiplayer games have been around for some time. For instance, friends could take turns on the arcade version of PacMan; when one player “dies” the next person is up, and so on. Later, two or more players could compete in console-based games, such as racing or wrestling, by playing against each other in real time. Around the turn of the century, thanks to the internet, the concept of multiplayer games allowed for people around the world to compete (or collaborate) in the same game, while also communicating with the other players.
In years past, when you wanted to play a game, you essentially had one device on which to run the program. Perhaps your Nintendo console and your living room television, or maybe running a game like The Sims on your home desktop.
Cloud-based gaming allows players to pick up their game from various devices, from mobile to TV to computer. Gartner Research vice president Brian Blau told Yahoo! Finance in 2018 that, “there’s a big push in the game industry to play games in lots and lots of different ways.”
Augmented Reality: Living in the Game
How computer science has impacted games also involves augmented reality (AR). Virtual reality (VR) is the predecessor to augmented reality, but the difference is that VR takes the user somewhere else, while AR works in existing surroundings as if it were overlaying a “skin” onto the real world. The Pokemon Go craze a few years ago is an example of AR technology. In this game, players could find and capture Pokemon characters in actual locations. The technology essentially adds a “skin” to the real world.
Gamification in Education
An early example of gamification — before it was called that — is Girl Scout badges. You learn something or do a task, and then you earn something: in this case a patch to sew on your sash. This concept is found in many applications today from health and wellness programs to getting points for “checking in” to places through apps like Swarm.
Subramanya says this has also been working its way into education at all levels. “There are certainly a lot of opportunities for gaming,” explained Subramanya. “My take is that I’d like to see people use those skills in developing educational software.”
He adds that incorporating gaming into instructional design, especially in online degree programs, can keep students engaged and immersed.
Join the Gaming Industry: How to Study Computer Science
With the growth of and advances in games, there are more opportunities for computer science graduates in the gaming industry. As Subramanya says, programming skills and a mathematical foundation are essential to a career in game development and design. But when considering how computer science has impacted games, Subramanya explains knowledge and skills beyond programming, such as “computer graphics and the user-interface design,” are helpful.
Bachelor and master’s degree programs, such as the Master of Science in Computer Science at National University, can give students that foundation. In fact, online degrees in these areas may be of special interest to those in the gaming community!
There are many other examples of how computer science has impacted gaming over the years, including portable games, social gaming, open-world game design, voice commands, and motion. If being part of this industry’s exciting future interests you, visit our program page to learn more.
Dr. S.R. Subramanya is a professor in the School of Engineering and Computing at National University in San Diego, California. He is also the president and CEO of Exskillence, a company specializing in technical skills enhancement workshops for students, as well as for corporate employees. He has also worked at several multinational corporations – ASEA AB in Vasteros, Sweden; NOKIA in Helsinki, Finland; and LG Electronics in San Diego, California. His current research interests are in algorithm design, novel services for digital content, mobile applications, and computer science education.