Do You Need To Be Good At Maths To Build A Game?
It seems to be a common notion that maths is something to be dreaded. Maths use to be something that I had very little confidence with, but I don’t think I had particularly good teachers in this area. Some of them were very strict and would ask you really hard questions on the spot; Just the thought of attending class would fill me with apprehension. Others covered material that was too basic so that I wasn’t learning anything new by attending. I got placed in the 2nd to highest maths group, which resulted in me missing out on the opportunity to learn a lot of additional material and capped the grade I could achieve; My parents didn’t agree with this and believed that I was capable of doing better in the subject. Nonetheless, when I realized that my lifelong dream of wanting to build games required maths skills I was a little distraught.
As I mentioned in my previous post ‘The Creative Mind,’ when I attended a course on games programming I came to realize that it was less common to come from a creative background. There was one other person who enjoyed drawing and they switched courses to do design and 3D modelling. All of my friends come from subjects such as maths and science; Despite this, there were some assignments that seemed to require more creativity (even benefited by having drawing skills.) I found that I had to offer my advice and encouragement to others on these assignments because they felt a little disheartened at being marked on abilities that can take many years to nurture. In turn however, they had to pick me up during maths class where I would have a confidence crisis, even though I had already been programming for a couple of years prior.
I stated off as a self-taught programmer, after treating myself to my first book on game development. It took me a little while to build up my logic skills, but it was like problem solving and I enjoyed the challenge. It felt like a creative thing to do; like adding interactivity to my ideas. I loved programming so much that I actually decided to quit my fine art classes because I wanted to focus my time better. At no point did it ever dawn on me that what I was doing involved maths because it was so fun. Even though I wasn’t well practised with maths, I never felt like it held me back from being able to create what I wanted to. Of course, looking back, the games I attempted to build weren’t exactly well put together either.
On my games programming course there was a maths module; That’s when I realized that I couldn’t avoid it for any longer and so I decided to put in extra practice and study time. Surprisingly, I found myself able to enjoy the time I spent doing this. Without all of the pressure and apprehension associated with maths, it can actually be interesting and fun – like solving a puzzle. Some of you will probably be thinking it’s pretty lame that I just admitted to that, but it’s worth trying to find the joy in doing something if it’s of a benefit to us. It might also be that I personally have a preference for the type of maths involved in games programming. We covered a lot of concepts that we were never taught at school and there were others that I suddenly understood how to use – algebra, probability, trigonometry, Pythagoras’ theorem, matrices and vectors… etc… The grades I got in this module were pretty good, so it seems my parents were right when they claimed that I was capable of it. Even so, it can still affect my confidence knowing that it hasn’t come as naturally to me as it does for a lot of other programmers.
I was able to build things to varying degrees of success before I started to study up on maths, but I do feel the additional knowledge has helped a lot; It’s like having an extra tool in your box, it allows me to form better solutions for what I want to achieve. It doesn’t really make sense to restrict ourselves either, when taking the time to learn something can make our lives easier. I don’t believe you have to be an expert however, but it all depends on what you want to create and how. Different types of games can require different types of skills to put together. I recently came to realize that I’m not so good at physics heavy games, but I love anything built upon data structures. There is also a lot of software available these days, some of which allows you to put an entire game together without needing any programming skills at all. Creativity is also important and something that one of my lecturers tried to encourage, as we often have to form solutions for how to get the game to work.
To me, building a game is like solving a large problem, requiring a mix of creativity and logic; I guess that’s why I enjoy doing it because it allows you to delve into multiple skill-sets to bring it together; It’s also why it can be very challenging to do. There are definitely ways to put a game together without needing too many maths skills, but it can’t hurt to brush up on them either. If you’re wanting to build games as a hobby then it doesn’t really matter so long as you’re content with your abilities. If you’re considering a professional career then – depending on the role you want to fill – improving your maths ability may be essential and obviously it will look better on your CV. If you’re like me and had a bit of a shaky start when it comes to maths, don’t panic, this doesn’t have to be the end of your dreams. I found that I gradually improved as I learnt to build games anyway, and it’s also never too late to learn and practice new skills; You may even be surprised to find that it can even be enjoyable. My creative background has also helped me to bring something new to the table at times too.