What is the best programming language for games?

C++ is the best programming language for games because of the large body of knowledge and frameworks built around. Here's why it's special.
Oct 1, 2021 • 10 minute read
Ruchi Bhargava @RuchiBhargava1
Technical Co-pilot
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C++ has long been the best programming language for game development, and for good reason. It’s reliable, time-tested and has a large body of knowledge to support it.

Here’s what makes it the best gaming language for you to learn. We'll also offer a few other languages you can use to make your game.

Or if you'd rather outsource game development so you can focus on marketing it, why not hire a freelance game developer to build it for you!

 

Why is C++ the best coding language for games?

Since C++ is a high-level language that will teach you the basics of object-oriented programming, it's a good idea to learn it. It's also the language used to build most big console and Windows games. 

C++ is complemented by C in these games, and assembly languages for creating low-level engine modules.

Scripts like Python, Lua, UnrealScript, or some in-house scripts will thread through the code. Plus, shader code for graphics uses OpenGL, or a similar framework.

But for tackling big games in the larger gaming companies, knowing C++ is critical. It's benefits include:

  • It's fast
  • The compilers and optimizers are solid
  • You get a lot of control over memory management.
  • It has extensive libraries, which come in handy for designing and powering complex graphics. 

There's also a lot of literature around for you to teach yourself, as it's been programmers' language of choice for decades, and you'll find a helpful online community who are ready and willing to answer your queries.

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Games in C++

C++ is the programming language for gems like: 

Fortnite game image

C++ games are easy to distribute across various platforms, but also because you can quickly learn C# and other object-oriented languages if you already know C++.

C++, along with and C#, is also widely used in popular game engines like:

These engines take a lot of the grind out of game development and form the backbone of many popular games.

PlayDead's title Inside is made using the Unity Engine, and it was easier to make than the game company's debut title Limbo, which was a hit on XBox.

Limbo was made mostly with Visual Basic, and PlayDead had to create their game engine from scratch, which involved double the work.

You also need to remember that some game engines like Unreal will only take C++ (unless you want to use the engine's scripting language to script from scratch).

It’s no surprise then that C++ is widely considered the best language for game development.
 

Other gaming programming languages 

C++ isn't the only gaming programming language. Here are a few others that shine in their own way.

C# : Best Programming Language for Windows and Xbox Games

Super Mario Run game image

The benefit of this game development language lies in its XNA framework. This is a set of tools and runtime environment by Microsoft, which makes it particularly suitable for games on the Xbox, or Windows platforms.

But if you were to compare C# with C++, you'd realize that C++ gives you a lot of control over parameters, memory management, etc. This kind of control adds another dimension to the performance and user experience of your game.

C#, on the other hand, is like driving a car on automatic.

In a game engine like Unity, C# is the language that you code in, but the engine has C++ at its core. In a sense, you have to work within the framework, using the components that have been created for you.

So, using a game engine can be limiting in a way, since all games on the engine will look and feel similar.

Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run are two popular games developed with C#.

 

CUDA-C : Best Programming Language for Desktop Games

NASCAR 14 game image

Nowadays, programming platforms such as CUDA are gaining popularity among game developers, owing to the increased need for realistic visuals and effects, as well as high degrees of movement and action.

To meet these expectations, a large amount of rapid video computation is required. CUDA allows for the parallelization of mathematical processes, and the developer plays an important part in this.

In terms of gaming, CUDA cores make your application appear more realistic by offering high-resolution visuals that generate a genuine 3D impression.

You'll also observe that your games are more lifelike, with better lighting and colors.

When you see a progress bar while gaming, know that CUDA cores are working hard behind the scenes.

As you go on a virtual journey, CUDA cores:

  • Construct the environment
  • Design character animations
  • Configure the atmosphere. 

 

Java : Best Programming Language for Mobile Games

Angry Birds Chrome game image

Game programmers also commonly use Java, because Java supports multithreading and sockets:

  • Multithreading uses less memory and makes the most of available CPU, without blocking the user out when heavy processes are running in the background.
  • Sockets help in building multiplayer games.

Plus, Java runs on a virtual machine, so your game will be easier to distribute.

Java is the best mobile game programming language and was used to make games like Angry Birds Chrome for mobile devices.

It also powers the RPG Maker engine that indie companies have used to make RPG games like:

  • the Aveyond series
  • Barkley
  • Eternal Eden

The Unity 3D Engine accepts Javascript. A WebGL-enabled Java engine like PlayCanvas, developed at MIT, lets users work simultaneously on the game via an online browser and publish to multiple platforms.

There are plenty of directions to take if you learn Java. 

Python : Best Programming Language for Interactive Desktop Games

EVE Online game image

Python is an unfathomably engaging and important computer programming language on which a large number of well-known games rely for their development.

Python was chosen by programmers for game development activities because it is an easy language to start with and is enjoyable and straightforward to master.

Python's clear and clean syntactic structure is what makes it stand out above other programming languages for game design.

Almost every developer will agree that Python code is easier to understand than Java or C code.

However, it is not as popular as Java or C++. Its PyGame package is developer-friendly, simple to use for creating games, and allows developers to swiftly prototype games. Python, like Java and C++, is based on OOP concepts.

Python's low learning curve makes it a popular choice among game creators. Popular Python-based games include:

  • Battlefield 2
  • Disney's Toontown Online
  • Eve Online
  • Frets on Fire

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Javascript : Best Programming Language for High Quality Android Games

Javascript is a well-known mobile game development language used by numerous developers to build high-quality Android games.

Many prominent emulators employ Javascript including:

  • Impact.js
  • Babylon.js
  • Cocos2d
  • Phaser
  • Unity

It is implemented as a scripting language in Unity for programmers to write code to define the behaviour of graphical interfaces.

When there is a 3D character prototype in the game display, for example, developers build the code in Javascript to make the character travel or leap in response to prompts such as player communication, interplay with another element and so on. The scripts establish the gaming experience, state system, and so on.

When integrating Javascript in Unity, developers must be familiar with the Unity-specific Javascript API as well as JavaScript language and structures.

Once developers have graphically laid out the gameplay, they link all of the Javascript codes to virtual objects, and their program is complete. Some popular Android games created with Javascript, including:

  • HexGL
  • Angry Birds
  • Bejeweled
  • 2048

 

Objective-C : Best Programming Language for iOS Games

When developing applications for OS X and iOS, the primary programming language is Objective-C. It is an object-oriented programming language with a flexible runtime that is a superset of the C programming.

The syntax, primitive types, and flow control instructions of C are carried over to Objective-C, along with sentence construction for declaring classes and functions.

It also provides additional functionality for object structure control and object literals.

Objective-C and Swift can coexist fairly well; Apple intended it to make the transition from Objective-C to Swift as easy as possible for engineering teams.

iOS provides more options for developers, such as:

  • Cocos2d
  • SpriteKit
  • Sparrow

 

Web Languages : Best for Browser Games

If you see yourself making games for browsers, you'll need to know a couple of different programming languages to be able to offer a complete user experience. You could always specialize in one single language, but you'll probably need to know:

  • HTML5

  • CSS3

  • SQL

  • JavaScript 

  • Java

  • C++

  • C#

Making games for browsers is very different from making games for consoles. You'll also need to SVG or WebGL if you need 3D graphics, or complex graphics, and a content management system.

Flash animation using the programming language ActionScript has been common in the past for browser games, but the rumor is that Flash is dying, or dead. Google Chrome is already, in the words of many, beating it to death with a shovel.

 

What About Smaller Games and Mobile Game Development?

For many people, C++ can seem too daunting as an introduction to programming. Some people give up and settle for an easier language.

It's quite possible to make small games in simpler languages like Visual Basic. Small console games can be easily created using Java, VB or C#.

Another language you can start with is Objective C. It is an object-oriented language like C++, but it's easier to get your teeth into.

You can see Objective C as a hybrid of Java and C, both of which are usually in the first-year curriculum of programming courses.

Objective C is typically used for creating iOS games for the iPad and iPhone, though you may not like the syntax or punctuation.

Java is the best language for Android games. Some people code in C++, but then there’s the hassle of dealing with cross-device compatibility.

As mentioned before, since Java runs on virtual machines, you don't have to jump through hoops to make your Java game compatible across different devices.

 

What about games on servers?

Some games need a server component. MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2 use Java, PHP, or C# to develop the backend. They make running games on servers faster, though there is a cost to performance, as opposed to using C or C++.

You can always experiment with other languages like Python, Ruby, or JavaScript on the server side.

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Bottom Line

Even though there are several languages you can use to build your game, C++ remains the best language for game development. It’s powerful, has tons of history behind it and can be used in conjunction with other languages like C# and Java.

However, there is no single language you will need for game programming, and every language has its unique shortcomings and advantages.

Knowledge of C++ and Java are valuable assets, but you can also get by with languages like C# and Visual Basic in developing some games. 

You could choose a language you're familiar or comfortable with and stick with that. You must also think about the platform you want to make the game for. For instance, if online gaming is what interests you, C++ won't help.

Do check out the hundreds of gaming engines that make game development easier. You're bound to find something that fits in with your interests.

 

FAQs

What language are mobile games written in?

Platform-wise, the mobile market is dominated by three major mobile game development language:

  • Android (Java)
  • iOS (Objective-C)
  • Windows Phone (with C#).

Because Android is built on Java, there are game engines created specifically for the ecosystem, such as the multi-platform Cocos2d for Android, but Unity also serves the Android operating system for mobile game programming language.

There are around 5–6 languages that are often used for building mobile games or by the mobile application development business.

These are the languages:

  1. HTML 5. It is used to create web-based apps for mobile devices.

  2. Objective C. It is a main programming language for iOS apps and was chosen by Apple to develop strong and adaptable apps.

  3.  Swift. It is the most recent programming language to enter the Apple ecosystem, with a focus on developing code for Apple's newest APIs, Cocoa and Cocoa Touch.

  4. C++. This is the most popular and efficient programming language for developing mobile apps for Android and Windows, as well as for low-level development.

  5. C#. It is the most sought-after programming language for developing Windows Phone apps.

  6. Java. When it comes to Android development, one of the most popular programming languages is Java.

 

What language are PS5 games written in?

The majority of current AAA game production is cross-platform and begins with a backend developed in C or C++.

  • Some engines are readily accessible, such as Unreal 4
  • Some are engines created entirely or partially by the game studio
  • Some are shared amongst studios owned by the same publisher

Each console maker has its own set of unique standards that a game must meet in order to be approved on their platform. The game creators will go through this list and strive to guarantee that each item is met.

In simple terms, the PlayStation programming language is not fixed, it is as per the industry and game designers’ requirements.

But what programming language does PlayStation use in general?

For PlayStation, there is a mobile developer line called PlayStation Mobile, which has an SDK that is based on Mono, thus the programming language utilized the majority of the time is C#.

C++ is one of the most commonly utilized programming languages for conventional PlayStation game production.

 

What language are Xbox games written in?

Although Microsoft used Unity for Xbox development, the game engine is accessible on a variety of platforms.

The primary Xbox programming language are C++ and C# and the engine was developed in the same two languages, and it now supports a broad range of platforms, including:

  • PS3
  • PS4
  • PX Vita
  • Xbox
  • AppleTV
  • Android
  • Windows Phone

C++ is now used in the majority of high-end games played on gaming consoles such as the XBox. C++ is also the language used by the most powerful gaming engines, Unreal Engine and CryEngine.

It provides a complete ecosystem for game development.

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