The bond between audio designers and audio programmers appears to be very special. From my experience it’s much tighter than, say, the bond between an artist and a graphics programmer. Perhaps it’s the smaller teams that naturally draw us together, or the mutual love for all things sound related?
Historically audio designers have been very dependent on their audio programmer counterparts. I’d argue more-so than the designers or artists of the current generation, due to the powerful content creation tools now available to them. No audio would get into a game without a little bit of code, and it’s the level of communication required for this to happen that I feel gave birth to a strong symbiotic relationship
Now that tools for game audio are improving it is imperative we don’t lose this relationship. Communication is one of the most important things when working as a team, and no content creation tool can replace that. Here are four dos and don’ts I’ve experienced that both sides can do to keep the bond strong.
• Do have a clear audio vision from the start. Work with your programmers as early as possible to decide what you want to do. This is the stage where things should be ruled out, refined or expanded. The designer and programmer should be on exactly the same page throughout the development cycle.
• Do make mockups. Mockups help in areas where something is too difficult to explain, as well as provide a benchmark for what the final result should be. They can also be useful for you in testing out ideas – don’t be afraid to show these to others.
• Don’t let a programmer confuse you. If they explain something and you don’t understand then ask them to simplify it. Ignorance leads to mistakes and distrust, which can easily tear a team apart. A good programmer won’t mock you for not understanding.
• Don’t be afraid to ask for something that seems excessive. You probably won’t get those 8 different reverbs unless you’re running on PC, but sometimes there are tricks the programmers can do to get you what you want.
• Do learn mathematics. Signal Processing is complicated, and anything that involves working at the sample level will probably involve some tricky calculus. You don’t need to be a math whizz, just don’t curl up into the fetal position when someone mentions Fourier Transforms.
• Do try being creative. Going through the same creative process as a designer will help you to understand what their trying to achieve. Watching them work can also be a massive eye opener.
• Don’t gloss over technical details. Try to explain as much of the process as you can to your designers. The more they know about how the stuff works underneath the better design decisions they make. Sound designers are smart guys, they can take it.
• Don’t instantly dismiss something because it initially seems technically impossible or not viable. Thoroughly investigate a solution to see if it’s fit for purpose. Keeping the designers happy and productive is half the battle for an audio programmer, and if they’ve requested something it’s probably for a good reason.
I think a nice addition to this relationship would be something I’ve rarely seen in this industry; a technical sound designer. Not “technical” in the sense described by Rob Bridgett in this article, but technical in a similar way to a technical artist. Many technical artists can code in C++ and write shader programs, so their creativity isn’t as limited by technology. If an audio team had a technical sound designer who knew signal processing, could code in C++ and still produce quality game assets then I think we’d see more interesting real-time audio techniques in games. They don’t necessarily need to write the most optimized code, because once the algorithm is in place then the real programming genius’ can come in and optimize it.
Unfortunately I get the impression sound designers are put off learning to program, but considering how fundamentally technical audio is I suspect many of them would be able to pick up the basics. Reading something as simple as “C++ in 21 days” combined with the Wwise integration examples could have a sound designer writing their own game audio in no time!audio design