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Game Audio Programming
Author: James Boer
Publisher: Charles River Media
ISBN: 1-58450-245-2
Purchasing: [Amazon.Com] - RRP US$59.95
Reviewed: 10th January 2003

Front Cover Shot:


Audio in computer games has not been utilized properly yet. I don't believe that I've played, heard or read about a game that has really made something of music and sound effects. We're slowly getting there - many of the newer games are actually focusing on the sound effects, and some are providing convincing musical scores; but I've got a strong feeling that the best is yet to come.

Therefore, it is interesting that we're starting to get books dedicated to game audio programming - it's common to find books regarding design and graphics, but there are very few for audio/music. Enough people must be taking it seriously for the publishers to agree to print the material.

What is there to cover?

Many developers look at audio programming and see very little substance - what more is there than loading a sample and playing it? At first, this seems to be a perfectly good statement - much of the work will be done by the original musician(s). Hence you're far more likely to find a graphics programmer (a field where there is an almost infinite-number of things a programmer can do) than an audio programmer.

So, from a book that is hopefully going to show us the "light", what do we actually want it to cover? Working with digital audio is a deceptively huge field, look beyond games and into proper multimedia/computer science and you're dealing with sampling rates, effects, Head-Relative-Transfer-Functions (HRTF's) and the actual raw physics behind sound.

First there is theory - to implement something you need to understand how it's supposed to work. This book provides an obvious 30 pages at the start dedicated to audio theory. It's well done, such that it doesn't go into much mathematic/scientific notation like many other audio books. Given the amount of theory covered it's only a brief overview - such that it helps to have a rough idea of what a sound-wave is and at least know the names of features that exist: bit rate, samples, hz etc.. The rest of the book makes mentions (as appropriate) to audio theory - but there isn't much. Consider this book more of a 'how-to' than a 'why?' book.

Once you understand the theory it's all about making it work for you - you need to be able to use the knowledge that you've acquired. It's just a question of how low do you go with the implementation. This is one area that the book might disappoint some. The lowest you'll get is the chapters discussing how to load files into DirectSound buffers - where it covers the file formats for Ogg Vorbis, Mp3 and WMA. Even then, much of the programming work is relegated to using pre-built API's.

It's not that it's a huge problem that we get someone else's libraries to do the hard work for us - it's that for a learning aid it's not really that useful. You can learn how to use most SDK's by reading the help files, you don't need to buy a $60 book to tell you the same thing all over again. For a true discussion of audio programming it should go to a lower-level than it does, even if it still retains the bulk of the content focused on out-of-the-box API's. 

Similar to the existing series

This book is part of Charles River's Advances in Computer Graphics and Game Development series, this site has reviews of 5 books in the series (see the review contents page). However, it varies in one significant way to several of the existing books - it's scientific 'level'.

The other books, particularly the random-numbers related ones are pretty heavy on the mathematical/scientific notation and theory, whereas this book is far heavier on ready-to-use API explanations. It's still possible to find some complicated sections in here, it doesn't come across as being so complicated.

Writing style

The writing style is good throughout - James Boer is clear and precise with his text, such that there were no noticeable confusions. However, whilst good it doesn't stand out as amazing writing. He does a good job of extending what is in many places common SDK documentation.

In Conclusion

This has got to rate as one of the best game-audio programming books simply because it is the only game audio programming (bar a few chapters seen in the Game Programming Gems series). As time progresses I expect it to get some serious competition from the more technical authors.

If you are new to audio programming for games/multimedia applications then this book will be a great source for learning. You can and will implement your own audio engine and you will understand why/how it works. If you've got some audio programming experience (say, with previous versions of DirectX) and want a more up-to-date text that's a little more theoretical you probably won't get much from this book. Quite a few chapters do come across as being references for their respective SDK's.

Good Things Bad Things
One of the only books of it's kind currently available Doesn't go as deep as it could given the size and price of the book
Easy for a 'newbie' audio programmer Apart from presentation, much of the information on the SDK's is freely available online.
Covers all aspects relevant to game development  
Doesn't get too technical on audio-theory  
All necessary material included on the CD  


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