Every great mobile game starts with an idea, but where do you go from there? Many games on the Apple and Google Play stores made their transition from an idea to a popular game with the help of one of five programming languages.
Mobile game development is a tough task, but when you have the correct tools at your disposal it’s much easier. Start by identifying the programming language that best suits your needs and experience.
1. The C# Programming Language
C# (pronounced “see sharp”) is an object-oriented programming language, released by Microsoft in 2002. It runs on .NET (a Microsoft virtual execution system) and has a position among the top programming languages in the world. C# owes its popularity to its proven track record of creating robust and durable applications.
Unity is a testimony to this, as it is one of the most popular game engines in the world, built completely with C#. 71% of all mobile games in distribution today use the Unity game engine, according to Unity Technologies. Unity allows you to create customized 3D games using C# scripts, so you can stand out from the crowd.
Some popular mobile games created with unity include Pokémon GO, Cuphead, Call of Duty, and Monument Valley.
- C# is a popular language that has a large community of game developers, which means there are a lot of resources available for beginners.
- It has extensive documentation.
- It belongs to the C family, so it is closely related to C, C++, and Java. This reduces the learning curve for a developer coming from one of these other popular languages.
- C# is a high-level object-oriented programming language.
- C# has a built-in garbage collector that frees memory automatically.
- It is a type-safe programming language.
- C# is fast.
- C# has a large dependency on the .NET platform. Without .NET it is Windows-oriented and there is not much support for other operating systems.
2. The C++ Programming Language
In 1985 Bjarne Stroustrup released the first official version of C++. In 1998 the C++ standards committee released the first international standard of the language. Today C++ has come a far way and is one of the top programming languages in the world, not only for game development but as a multipurpose language.
Unreal Engine is one of the top mobile game engines in the world. Built with C++, Unreal Engine identifies itself as a “real-time 3D creation tool”. This engine allows you to develop 3D games and is one of the main competitors of Unity. Unreal Engine created popular games such as Fortnite, Batman: Arkham City, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
- It is a multi-paradigm programming language.
- C++ gives you complete control of a program’s behavior, such as its memory management.
- C++ is fast.
- C++ has a large ecosystem.
- It is a mid-level language with a mixture of high- and low-level features. It is, in a sense, a high-level assembler because it provides direct access to a computer’s hardware (through the operating system).
- C++ lacks features that other programming languages have, such as a built-in garbage collector.
- It has security issues such as pointers that can cause your program to crash or even be a gateway for hackers.
3. The Kotlin Programming Language
Kotlin is a modern programming language developed by JetBrains, a company that creates developer tools. In 2016, JetBrains released the first version of Kotlin, a programming language for mobile application development. From the start, Google pledged its support to Kotlin for Android development. This move created a general association between Kotlin and Android app development.
However, like any good mobile app development language, Kotlin is a cross-platform language. Kotlin has a software development toolkit (SDK) for Android and iOS app development called Kotlin Multiplatform Mobile. This SDK provides cross-platform and native benefits. It lets you share consistent logic (such as networking and storage) between Android and IOS while implementing device-specific features separately.
- Kotlin is a multi-paradigm language (object-oriented and functional).
- Compared to Java Kotlin reduces your code by roughly 40%, according to Kotlin.
- Kotlin is fast.
- Kotlin has features such as smart casting, higher-order functions, extension functions, inbuilt null safety, and lambdas.
- Kotlin is popular among mobile app developers (specifically android app developers).
- Kotlin is a fairly new programming language, so it has a small community.
4. The Swift Programming Language
Swift is another modern programming language. Its development is a joint effort by Apple Inc. and several open-source contributors. Apple released the first version of swift in 2014 for IOS, IPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS app development. Today Swift supports all Apple platforms and Linux operating systems.
- Swift has an automatic memory manager.
- Swift has features such as custom string interpolations, JSON encoding and decoding, first-class functions, and custom transformation using streamlined closure.
- It is fast, thanks to its use of high-performance LLVM compiler technology.
- Swift is a high-level programming language.
- It is a multi-paradigm language.
- Swift only supports mobile game app development for IOS.
- It is a new language with a small community compared to other more established languages used to develop mobile game apps.
5. The Lua Programming Language
Lua is one of the most popular choices for mobile game development. According to Lua, it is “currently the leading scripting language in games”. The other languages on this list use a compiler, which translates to faster speed. Lua is the only interpreted programming language here, so it fits the bill as a scripting language.
World of Warcraft and Angry Birds are two of the most popular games in the world today, and they were both developed with Lua. Solar2D (formerly known as Corona) and Defold are two popular game engines developed using Lua.
- Lua is a strong language, but it doesn’t have a large community in comparison to the other two giants (C# and C++) on this list.
How to Choose the Best Game Development Language
Proven performance is a quality that these five languages and their respective game engines have in common. Though all these languages are great for mobile game development, they might not all be great for you.
For example, if you want to develop a mobile game for only IOS users then Swift might be your best choice. If your game will be for Android and IOS users, but it will be in 2D then Lua and Kotlin are your top contenders. However, if your game will be in 3D, C# and C++ are your best options.