I'm not interested in rendering engines or level design, but I'm very interested in programming the AI that drives all of the characteristics of game play. I'm thinking of how the d20 system drives the rules behind D&D games. Is there a person that programs that logic, and is it possible to program almost all of an API without ever touching a graphic's engine? I'm a software engineer by trade (Java with some C# experience), so I'm looking to use those programming skills.
It is possible to program games without touching a graphics or rendering engine. But it will limit you to text based games. Some good examples of these games would be nethack, dwarf fortress, and online MUDS(multi-user-dungeons).
If you want to make a game with graphics, I suggest you join a team where you can program logic and AI without having to know to much about graphics.
a game engine is made of lots subsystems. Graphics Engine, AI Engine, the input system, the sound system, a game editor and many more.
A game is composed by a game engine ( and for small games it's not a need ) and much content: textures, levels, 3d models, sounds, and GAME LOGIC, yes, the game logic is a content.
You can made a game without a engine, or with a engine with only two or three subsystems. A game without graphics, only on text mode. On a great company, small groups are dedicated only a part of the game. ( AI scripting, lighting, network, etc..)
Are you interested in creating a new game, or just trying to implement various AI techniques? In the second case, there are many video games that offer APIs to interact with the game. For example, you could create a bot for StarCraft using BWAPI.
Is there a person that programs that logic, and is it possible to program almost all of an API without ever touching a graphic's engine? I'm a software engineer by trade (Java with some C# experience), so I'm looking to use those programming skills.
Definitely. Gameplay programmers often never touch actual rendering code. We're a few layers separated (dealing with actors and controllers and such). That being said, as a gameplay programmer on triple-A FPS's, I found myself frequently working with animation code.
And, you still have to know your math and, depending on the platform, understand what's happening under the covers with the decisions you make.
Your mileage will vary depending on the technology and company; but, generally, you're talking about gameplay or AI programming.
I think the great thing about this approach, which I have done myself, is that you are free to reuse your "rules engine" after you complete it.
This gave me a chance to apply it to many different engines/renderers. I just layer the UI on top and can easily create (almost) completely different games. I could make one a 2d sidescroller using sprites, another a 3d dungeon, another a isometric rotating map.