Audio Programmer

  • Audio Programmer

The audio programmer at a game development studio works under the supervision of the audio lead to develop tools used to integrate sound into the game, and write code to manipulate and trigger audio cues like sound effects and background music.


Duties

This person does not create sound effects or produce the score, but implements the audio assets into the game. Using an audio application programming interface, he or she writes code to control three basic categories of sound functions: low-level, mid-level, and high-level. Low-level functions are sound playback commands like play, pause, and stop, as well as volume and pan. Mid-level functions include programming support for the audio file formats, loading files during game play, and streaming playback. Applying the scripts that initiate sound effects like gunshots or footsteps is considered a high-level function, along with coding that controls stereo or 5.1 sound.

The audio programmer is also tasked with programming parameters that create the sound environment, like the apparent distance of sound from the player, the directionality, and other features. Old-school games like Mario Brothers or Duck Hunt used repetitive sounds, but modern games aim to produce sound effects that are unique and distinct for each instance, thus producing a more realistic environment. During the production process, the audio programmer is responsible for testing and debugging code and providing technical support for the audio tools. He or she will also develop new tools when necessary.

Skills & Education

bachelor’s degree in computer science or game development is recommended, and courses in audio engineering and music production are helpful in developing the necessary skill set. An audio programmer should understand advanced mathematics and audio concepts like mixing, sample rates, data compression filters, reverbs, and 3-D positional sound. You must be proficient in C/C++ scripting, performance optimization for game consoles, and the use of middleware audio APIs like Miles, FMOD, or Wwise.

What to Expect

Audio programmer positions tend to be rare, and qualified specialists have generally been hard to find. Yet, with the increasing sophistication of game and audio technology, studios are investing more and more of the production budget in creating advanced game audio; that means more demand for qualified programmers. At a large studio, this role may be reserved for those with at least three years of professional programming experience and at least one shipped title, but at a small studio, you may have a better chance of landing a gig with far less employment experience. In fact, at a small studio you may be the sole audio programmer and responsible for additional tasks of mixing and/or recording audio tracks. No matter where you choose to apply, your first step is to produce a portfolio of work that demonstrates your technical knowledge of the principles of sound and audio manipulation, and well as your skills as a programmer.

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