The gaming industry is the perfect test bed for new technologies, techniques, and tools in software development. Many key advances in the software field such as pathfinding AI, search algorithms, and VR/AR hardware integrations come first from gaming. The Field’s unique ability to try out new languages and tools in such a creative and diverse discipline makes it well suited to trial and experimentation.
In truth, when it comes to gaming, any language, technology, and tool can be used successfully if it creates a high-quality end-user experience. Java game development, for example, hasn’t yet seen widespread uptake in creating mainstream gaming titles, yet is a technology responsible for one of the biggest video game hits of all time—Minecraft. As with many tech topics, the results of the project matter more than the methods used to get there.
With over a decade of unprecedented success, Minecraft has shown that Java can be used to succeed in gaming. Other games such as Runescape have similarly used Java to create high-performing platforms, yet, within the industry, Java has remained a language scarcely used to create games.
Is Java’s isolation a result of technical limitations, perceived disadvantages, or industry inertia creating resistance to change? Can you deploy Java to create successful games in the modern marketplace? What are its advantages and drawbacks compared to other languages? Here, we take a look at Java game development and if, how, and why you should consider leaning on it for the release of an exciting new game.
Game Development with Java
The game development industry is uniquely placed within software development. Part art, part science, and part engineering it’s a field that requires creative storytelling, difficult problem solving, and unique real-time engineering challenges. As a result, the resources required to produce some of today’s leading game titles can extend into years of work and hundreds, if not thousands, of game developers.
Yet, there’s no rule that says games have to be this large or this complicated to be successful. Some highly popular titles have come from small teams of developers and individual creators in recent years.
Top-rated indy game Stardew Valley was created by sole developer Eric Barone over the course of four years of development. Similarly, Minecraft itself is another game initially created and launched to huge success by independent developer Markus Pearson back in 2011.
Recent advances in tooling and technologies have led small teams of developers to be more productive and create ever more ambitious projects with increasingly successful outcomes. Game engines, the framework that underpins many of the assets, technologies, and physics of the game world are now more capable and more crucial to successful development efforts than ever before.
These tools contain all the software libraries, resources, and supporting infrastructure that your game is likely to need to succeed. The engine you choose will, most likely, dictate the language you deploy in developing your game.
This is a factor of game development that is one of the major reasons Java hasn’t been widely deployed in the industry until now. There are currently very few game engines supporting Java development as a mainstream use case. While other languages have a wide choice of tools and resources—Java still only has a handful of engines to support game development.
If not Java then, what are the main languages that developers are using to implement games in today’s development landscape?
The Top Game Development Coding Languages
Different languages suit different platforms, different game engines, and different styles of gameplay. A few of the prominent languages in the game development industry today are:
The dominant choice of game development for many years now. C++ is used by game developers to target console and PC gaming industries because of its performance, available resources, and commercial capabilities. The major downside of the language comes from its complexity in syntax and design making it a difficult language for users to learn well. One of the most popular game engines in common use today, the Unreal Engine, leans on C++ and supports the language natively for game development.
Microsoft’s flagship programming language has seen extensive use in the Unity game development engine. While not necessarily the easiest language to learn, C# is a lot more intuitive and beginner friendly than languages such as C and C++. Stardew Valley is a game developed using C#, as are many games developed to run on Microsoft’s highly popular Xbox and Windows gaming platforms
While not widely used in mainstream game development today, Java offers an excellent entry point for many to get into game development projects with a limited but highly capable range of frameworks and tools to assist. LibGDX and jMonkeyEngine are two examples of game engines that support game development using Java.
One of the best languages for beginners to pick up and learn, Python can offer an excellent entry point to building anything at all. While not widely known as a game development language on its own, it’s ideally suited as starting point for building your own games and learning the ropes of game development.
In today’s development landscape, mobile gaming has to be a major consideration for the large audience it can target, the ease of access to the market, and the unique capabilities devices can provide. Swift is a language used to target both OS X and IOS. With frameworks, tools, and software to aid development—Swift for designing and building modern commercial games.
Advantages of Java for Game Development
Despite not seeing widespread use throughout the games industry, there are some key reasons that you should consider Java as a language for game development today.
Some of the key drawbacks often cited as disadvantages inherent to the language aren’t as valid or as critical as they were several years ago. The performance drawbacks of the Java Virtual Machine, for example, have become less of an issue as devices have gotten more capable, more powerful, and the JVM itself has improved in capability.
Some key reasons why modern development firms should consider Java game development include:
Extensive Ecosystem: Java has an incredible range of reliable, capable, and well-supported libraries to accomplish everything from networking and sound to AI and ML. As a counterpoint, the availability of 3D graphics libraries and game engines is still one of the weakest parts of Java’s ecosystem, making a stumbling block for many.
Server-side Capabilities: Java is routinely used in server-side programming where the drawbacks of the language are less impactful and its advantages can make more of a difference. Gaming is no exception to this rule with massively multiplayer games such as Runescape routinely using Java to run critical service.
Language Support: As a capable and productive language, Java is undersold to developers more often than not. The JVM in particular can offer a lot to developers with support for parallelism, garbage collection capabilities, and just-in-time compiling. These advantages cut down development time and improve code quality within teams. Most notable of all, Java is a workhorse that is continually improving with Kotlin, runtime improvements, and language improvements consistently being brought on board.
Native Mobile Support: Java has long been the default language of native Android development. This makes it a strong choice for creating mobile-based games using the platform and accessing an increasingly growing audience that is becoming more and more receptive to gaming.
Disadvantages of Java for Game Development
Some of the reasons that Java hasn’t seen widespread use in development firms are technical, practical, or perception-based objections from developers. Some of these are more valid than others, while some have left firms missing out on the best solution in favor of doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Key objections to Java game development today include:
Latency Spikes: Java has a managed runtime that includes garbage collection to dispose of unused objects in memory. In real-world performance, this can cause performance issues with noticeable pauses as resources are spent cleaning up memory. While this is less and less of an issue with modern improvements to the JVM, it can still cause major issues in drawing and maintaining a consistent number of frames per second.
3D Engine Availability: The most popular and performance game engines are written in C, C++, and C#. The advantage of this, for developers, is taking a lot of the mundane and trivial out of game development as well as delivering a more reliable and performant platform to developers. Partly an issue of inertia within the industry, this is an area that is changing slowly but with a long way still to go.
Industry perception: Java has a reputation for being a language focused on server-side, business, and mobile applications. While this is an area the language has always had a significant stake in, it’s something that works against it when development firms think about how best to build future games and applications.
Poor Console Support: Ironically, for one of the most portable programming languages available, Java is less portable than others when it comes to targetting game consoles. The dominant consoles in the market today simply don’t have a JVM to run Java code. When it comes to launching, marketing, and ultimately selling games—consoles are a huge portion of the market, and leaving out these major platforms by design is a significant disadvantage for the language.
Java Vs C++
One of the key reasons that C++ has become the default language of game development is its ability to allow developers to dig deep into system resources to improve performance and leave less room for unwelcome surprises. Being able to work “close to the metal” is an advantage that Java simply doesn’t have.
Java has little access to low-level functionality such as GPU buffers and memory management—preferring instead to leave the process to automated garbage collection. Java’s advantage is in faster development time, stable, and automated memory allocation. The price, however, is often considered too much to bear in that operation time and low latency can’t be guaranteed.
The trade-off C++ makes for this unlimited access and guaranteed performance is in how easy it is for developers to make mistakes in design, architecture, or construction. Like any powerful tool, C++ is one to be wielded with extreme care and experience. Mistakes in memory allocation can be costly, hard to diagnose, and difficult to fix—making writing for C++ necessarily slower, harder to learn, and more fraught with danger. Writing C++ well is an area that takes a long time to learn and much, much longer to perfect.
Which Language to Choose for Game Development?
The most suitable language for developing your game is entirely dependent on its use case, intended audience, and purpose.
If you’re developing a portfolio of games to impress major development studios, secure a role within the industry, or place your studio on the map then C++ or C# might be an ideal choice. Conversely, if you’re learning to program, exploring game development for the first time, or trying out some new technologies, Java or Python might be the best fit.
Massively multiplayer online games and major hits such as Runescape and Minecraft have been built from the ground up using Java. The unique advantages of the language include it being one with a wide pool of developers to draw on, delivering a lot in technical ability, and some outstanding game engines to deploy as needed.
Crucially, the path to success for games developed using Java wasn’t visible before they were made. The key lesson to take away here is that the games industry is one custom-made for creativity, divergence in design, and finding new ways to use technologies. The language you’re familiar with, the one you have the resources and experience in, and the one you can visualize a path to success using are the most critical factors to consider when choosing a programming language for future success.
Java Game Development FAQ:
Q1. Is Java good for game development?
Java is a robust language capable of creating managed code ideally suited for some types of game development. As a language that supports writing native Android apps in addition to desktop software, it has a wide target audience and exceptional capabilities to support developing large and complex game worlds.
Some of the drawbacks in developing Java games are performance issues caused by running managed code and the limited number of tools and game engines that support the language. Additionally, the major game consoles available today don’t support Java programs meaning that games developed using Java can’t be easily ported or played on games consoles currently.
For Android-based mobile games or desktop PC gaming, however, Java is a great language to develop games in due to being economical on a developer’s time, having an extensive ecosystem of libraries and tools, and language features that support almost any use cases.
Q2. Is Python or Java better for games?
If you’re new to software development, developing a game with Python—a higher-level language than Java—may be an easier introduction and lead you to do more with a limited amount of time. In contrast, Java’s extensive libraries, tools, and even the game engines available for the language will enable you to do far more in game development than would be practical or even possible in Python.
Both Python and Java can be deployed to develop exceptional games. Depending on the type of development you do, the languages you’re currently familiar with, and how you plan to deploy and distribute your game, each will suit different kinds of use cases.
In short. It’s often best to start in game development with the language you’re most familiar with or the one closest to your skill set and area of knowledge. In the future, you can always build from there to create bigger and better game worlds with the experience and knowledge built in any given language.
Q3. Can you design games with Java?
You can design any kind of game you can reasonably imagine with Java. In the past, Java has been used to develop vast games with large 3-dimensional worlds such as Runescape and Minecraft.
Coming into game development as a beginner today, Java is an excellent choice to get started in building games using the libraries and tools it has available. Starting with simple games, Java allows developers to continue expanding their projects into bigger and bigger things from a very simple base.
Now, there are even game engines such as LibGDX and jMonkeyEngine available to support importing physics, assets, and other resources into the game world to aid development and create ever bigger and ever more impressive games. With game development in Java continuously expanding and growing, you can expect some of the biggest hit titles in the future to be developed in Java, perhaps even using these same game engines and tools.
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