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I have very little programming skills outside of very basic levels of Java, but I have excellent math and science knowledge. I was wondering what I could offer any potential team if I were to go into video game development? Do people hire people based on their math knowledge alone?

I like to do other things such as writing or drawing, but math and science are the only skills in which I really excel in.

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If you can't code you're not useful to a programming department. Either suck it up and learn to code or try to focus on things from a design standpoint (i.e. RPG item stat design or some other simple statistics-heavy field). –  Tetrad Mar 27 '12 at 17:21
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Math is HUGE in games. nrich.maths.org/1374 –  Byte56 Mar 27 '12 at 17:21
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+1 if you are really good at math, learning to code should be trivial. –  Rubber Mallet Mar 27 '12 at 17:30
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@Rubber Mallet I hope you just mean basic coding skills. Learning to code well is important, and that's far from trivial. Most professional programmers manage to not learn it their entire life. –  TravisG Mar 27 '12 at 17:35
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@RubberMallet i have a math "genius" in my class, he traveled europe doing math competitions in high school, his math knowledge is far beyond what we do in college, but his coding skills are garbage even though he's very dedicated, it simply doesn't work the way you said it –  dreta Mar 27 '12 at 18:09
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5 Answers

Here is an analogy that may fit your situation:

I'm a very good story teller. But my audience are Spanish speakers and I only have very basic Spanish speaking skills.

That's the situation you're in. You are very good at one of the core concepts required for graphics/physics/AI programming. But you don't know the language (programming). If you don't know the language your audience requires, then you'll never be able to apply your skills to that audience.

So, while you might be able to find a job in the games industry, that company would essentially need some interpreters to work with you. Converting your knowledge into workable code. You'd be far more valuable if you spoke the language too.

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Not to mention that this story teller has no way of checking whether or not his interpreter understood him correctly and properly translated his story. –  Hackworth Mar 28 '12 at 16:51
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Do people hire people based on their math knowledge alone?

Math is very useful to game developers (programmers developing physics algorithms, designers analyzing stats, etc.) but game companies don't hire mathematicians.

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+1 Agreed but if I was managing a complex software system (that involved solving abstract problems), I would hire someone strong in math with 'decent' programming skills. Your answer is correct but I wouldn't deter this guy from pursuing the field of CS. I'm sure that at the low level (gpu drivers/physics engines, etc) there are plenty of math majors but obviously they are fluent in programming as well. –  Rubber Mallet Mar 27 '12 at 19:23
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I personally know several math majors who are working as software engineers/game engine programmers. However that is different from hiring a mathematician; I wouldn't say game companies hire based on biology knowledge just because I was a biology major. He didn't ask if math knowledge is helpful; he didn't ask if math majors can be successful in the game industry; he asked if game developers are hired for math knowledge by itself. –  jhocking Mar 27 '12 at 19:34
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This answer pretty much sums it up, but I would add the one caveat that a very large company with a dedicated R&D department or a very specialized company (e.g. Havok) might have use for might have use for a pure mathematician. –  Jason Morales Mar 28 '12 at 2:34
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Video game is:

  • Physics - Heavy Math
  • Graphics - Heavier Math
  • I/O - abstracted, simplemath
  • Complexity Analysis and Optimization- Moderate Math
  • GUIs - simple geometry
  • Networking? - Moderate math

If you will be making a game you will be doing math.

If you are exceptionally good at math and science, people would need you to implement their physics frameworks, and graphics can become quite complicated mathematically depending on how fancy the desired effect is. So yes you are a desirable asset as a mathematician, but simple high-school math is good enough to solve most problems in games, especially if the team in question is using a 3rd party game engine and doesn't care about the internals.

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That's a good breakdown of where math is used in games, but that's not what he asked. –  jhocking Mar 27 '12 at 17:39
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Actually, before the post was edited, this was a pretty appropriate answer. I'm glad I read it, in any case. –  stephelton Mar 27 '12 at 17:53
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@awiebe Without programming skills a company will not hire someone. Senior engine programmers have excellent mathematical skills and can use them in combination with programming skills to implement or shortcut realistic mathematical models in real time. –  ktodisco Mar 27 '12 at 22:16
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@stephelton: The title of the question may have been that. But that's not what the actual body of the text was asking. That's why the title was changed to match the actual question. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 27 '12 at 23:26
    
Originally the question was something like is math useful for writing games. I do see now that the question was actually something different. –  awiebe Mar 28 '12 at 1:54
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Given the interesting conversations on this thread, I've decided to look a bit further into this topic in order to achieve several things. First off, to answer your original questions and secondly to address what appears to be the underlying subject of your interest to enter into game development.

As many people here have stated, 'pure' knowledge of Mathematical concepts at an expert level without any proven software development experience will not prohibit you from getting into the Game Development career track. I would argue that it will significantly limit your options in the process of attempting to get in the door of an exclusive top tier game dev studio. My initial arguments were based on the intent to not deter you from the basis of your original question which was your 'interest' in approaching the field of game dev.

So what I would suggest is that you look further into the subject. Here are some examples of what is currently active in the market based on the search criteria "Mathematician games" on Indeed.com:

http://www.indeed.com/jobs?q=Mathematician+games&l=

Given the time sensitive nature of the link, i've compiled some of the examples below:

Multimedia Games

Game Design Mathematician II Engineering | Austin, TX

Responsibilities Include: providing detailed mathematical analysis of semi-complex games; developing mathematical or statistical models of games to test pay table math models for functionality and adherence to specifications; applying programming principles to create game simulations and calculation programs; developing gaming probabilities and payout tables; performing analysis of game performance and simulations of gaming results; developing production math for proprietary bingo, lottery, and traditional math systems for original titles and platform conversions; documenting the probabilities and statistics for developed games, including par sheets; working with software development teams to ensure correct implementation of games math; developing original game play mechanics; and providing feedback and direction on game concepts.

Note that this job is filed under "Engineering" and not "Computers/Software" on their site so their company makes a distinction between Software Development and Engineers. In this case, I would argue that your understanding of Java would only be helpful and desirable. Also notice that the role of the position appears to be based on Statistics for casino based games but it supports your original question.

Scientific Games

Senior Game Mathematician

Department: Video Gaming - Executive Location: Reno, NV

At Scientific Games, we look for people driven by a desire to contribute, be challenged and grow. Our people make Scientific Games a special company and are a key competitive advantage. We are seeking a person to apply their exceptional analytical skills as well as their knowledge of advanced methods and probabilities to ensure a quality math product design for our Video Gaming Machine and Route Gaming System solutions for the growth of our exhilarating Video Gaming business units.

The Senior Game Mathematician provides detailed mathematical description and analysis of gaming products. Designs game specifications and math models and calculates payback percentage, odds and other regulated parameters to ensure accurate payouts and compliance with gaming regulations. Develops mathematical models of games to test the pay table math for functionality and adherence to specifications. Applies programming principles to create game simulations and calculation programs and other duties as assigned. Responsibilities as assigned by the Vice President of Product Development

Here we have another position for casino games. Maybe we are starting to see a trend? So what does that mean to you... Well, firstly it might not be exactly what you are looking for. Is your goal to make good money? If yes then it might mean you can be very successful being involved in the process of creating games played by many people based solely on your background in math. Is your interest in working for a top tier game studio creating the next Gears of War?

If that's your goal then I would argue that once you start down the path of building games for the Casino industry that you could potentially harm your ability to do anything outside of this area. One potential pitfall that you have to think about is getting 'siloed' into a specific career path that makes it difficult to pivot into another area in the same field. It's a potential issue but nothing i'm stating here is applicable for every situation. Some will argue against my points given their specific experience. All I aim to provide you with is 'my' specific experience in corporate software development for the past 12 years.

Konami

Mathematician Location: Las Vegas, NV

Department: Research & Development (Games) Description: The Mathematician researches and studies statistically gaming products and creates mathematical models for one or more games on a project basis.

Duties: • Creates the mathematical models of game production based off of corporate directives. • Consults with game designer to develop and complete game themes. • Contributes innovative and original ideas to game or game design team. • Analyze statistically existing or new games and report to game design team. • Maintain proper mathematical models, utilizing Windows based PCs and MS Office. • Facilitates the distribution of approved mathematical material and files to support product release. • Prepares relevant mathematic information for presentation needs, executive review, testing and compliance requirements. • Answer to relevant mathematic questions for game designer, engineer, sales, testing and compliance requirements. • Provides all mathematical resource materials as needed to produce game. • Reports to group leader any discrepancies or problems requiring resolution. • Complies with the company’s regulatory guidelines and corporate policies at all times. • Maintains confidentiality regarding the company, products and employee information.

Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics or equivalent experience; clear understanding of statistics. Professional working experience in gaming industry or professional programming experience preferred.

Ok, now it's starting to get interesting. Just look at Konami's site. I think everyone here know who they are and what they've published. But wait, the job is for what? "Casino Games"... Here I would argue that last comment regarding the possibility to 'pivot' inside a company. This is a perfect example of "Getting your foot in the door" and would support the idea of developing your skills in software development alongside having a career with a top tier game company during the day. Remember, you can always learn how to become a good software developer on your 'own time'. I basically learned how to write software on my own and you can do so as well.

Some other points to remember, this is a huge company and can be very selective on who they hire so they emphasize have previous experience and 'shipped games' but that is boilerplate copy that's used on every job opening they have and is not to say that the hiring manager is looking for someone right out of school who is eager to learn and work hard. Remember that with experience comes other issues that a hiring manager has to worry about that aren't there with a new hire out of school (potentially: Require pay at higher tier than desirable, potential turnover due to reasons not present in someone right out of school, etc..)

So if you look at the Indeed job list, many of the Math related jobs are in the Casino Industry but hopefully I've given you some scenarios that help you make a good decision but based on some of my original comments, I said that if you are good at math, in theory you should be able to grasp programming at a competent level. What I would also mention if that with any skill/trade, it takes time to get good but it doesn't mean you can't get into the game industry. You just have to work at it and your background in math will only help you if you decide to.

Here are a few more examples of Mathematicians being cited by companies with a gaming/graphics focus:

DirectX/C++/XML Lead Programmer/Expert Job is for a Lead Game Programmer but in the responsibilities:

Collaborate with artists, mathematicians, and other programmers and engineers to suggest enhancements and refinements, test prototypes, and implement fine-tuned game features.

Another example of Mathematicians being involved in the process of 'implementing game features'.

High5 Games Backend Developer @ leading social & casino games company

EDUCATION / EXPERIENCE:

Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science/Math and/or Electrical Engineering required; Master’s Degree preferred. Minimum of 3+ years in field and related area.

Company Description High 5 Games is the leading content developer of the gaming industry, selling its engaging products and trademarked concepts to many of the biggest distributors in the world. H5G has patented several unique concepts that have revolutionized the gaming community, and has created more than 100 games that appear in hundreds of casinos over five continents, in places such as Las Vegas, Paris, Madrid, Macau and Buenos Aires. Every H5G product starts out as an idea. From our talented mathematicians, software engineers and programmers who construct the necessary platform to the artists whose imaginations allow them to craft intricate new worlds - life at H5G is anything but ordinary – as are the games the company creates. We are an eclectic, talented group of individuals and are always looking for capable people to help grow our business. High 5 Games has produced many of the most popular games in the casino industry – including Cats, Secrets of the Forest, Da Vinci Diamonds, Sirens, Michelangelo, Witches Riches, and White Orchid. In its history, H5G has licensed its products out to several companies, including IGT, Caesars Gaming, Bally Technologies, WMS Gaming, Sigma Gaming, Konami Gaming, Action Gaming, Hasbro, and AC Coin & Slot. As the gaming landscape transforms, High 5 Games has also been an active leader in the internet gaming industry, with its games featured on several legal European websites through WagerWorks / IGT Interactive. We invite you to come visit our website at www.h5g.com and learn more about our company.

Here's another good example of getting your foot into the door. High5 says they employ Mathematicians AND they have licensed games to Konami so say you land a job at High5 and work there for 5 years and then apply at Konami for a job as a Game Developer after you get better with your software skills. It would look good that you have experience with a company that Konami has a business relationship with. You could even interface directly with a team at Konami while working at High5. You could also say that you have 'shipped games' @ High5 even if your role was just as a Mathematician.. you had a role in the game being shipped and you can take credit as such.

So what should you take away from this research? Well, I can only give you my opinion and from the short amount of time I spent on this, the answer to your original question is YES, companies that create games hire Mathematicians. Is it the type of games you want to create? I don't have those answers for you but one thing I would suggest is to be careful when making a decision. I can only guess that the Casino Industry is a crazy place to work for, even as a Mathematician or Software Developer but from above, you can see some options for eventually working on mainstream games on consoles and handhelds. Don't sell yourself short, I think it's highly possible to end up as a game developer with just a degree in math. It will take work on your part but it's definitely doable.

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Big game studios don't hire pure mathematicians. Considering the question, people with very advanced math skills are a must for developing new technologies. The very best are actually skilled academic researchers, capable to code and deliver at least decent demo applications of their algorithm.

I can only pledge for one thing a game developing company (a big one!) is looking for: a talented and research oriented person that aims to improve and devise new algorithms in these fields: plausible/realistic physics at interactive frame-rates, graphics tricks that introduce a plethora of eye candy effects while making use of less memory and time, excellent knowledge about how things should be communicated on certain network topologies and so on..

Even a state of the art method/algorithm, before it makes it into the gaming industry, it is chopped down a lot, modified for speed and when you look at the actual implementation of that method and compare it with the technical documents/papers/articles it was published in, you will be astonished by how many details are not provided or by what other very complicated tricks are also used. This usually happens a lot. If you have an unique talent for APPLIED mathematics, you can study a field (Game Physics, Rendering) and select a few topics that appeal to you, then go through the state of the art reviews and see how much you understand from those. Knowing what has been done, try to understand the drawbacks and think of, perhaps, ground-breaking, never seen ideas that solve the problem at least 2x better. Then your way is paved, they'll just have to hire a guy to code the algorithms for you. Maybe that's what Havok did (I doubt it, the Havok guys started off as Trinity College Dublin PhD students and had very solid advanced Math skills).

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