Opinion Pieces

Opinion Pieces

Representation is Everything

Gwenifer Raymond, co-owner of Rev Rooms, talks to us about why she chose to work in sound and being Technical Director of the dedicated game-audio co-development studio. After completing a 1st class masters degree and PhD in astrophysics, her first job in the games industry was as an AI programmer at Creative Assembly, working the Total War franchise. She went on to work in programming for Mediatonic, The Chinese Room and Electric Square where she became the studios dedicated audio-coder. She has worked on a broad field of programming disciplines, with a special focus on audio, AI and gameplay.


Raymond has always been really interested in audio. Outside of her career as a programmer, she has pursued music and audio. A multi-instrumentalist, she has been a live-gigging musician for twenty years, played around the world and released two albums to worldwide acclaim as a solo-guitarist. “I’ve been a musician since I was in single digits and have spent a lot of my spare time playing with sound: figuring out how to create sounds and record them via different methods and just generally thinking about all things sonic. Naturally, working as a coder in game studios I found myself chatting with the audio designers a lot and was typically the first to volunteer for audio code work. The more I did this the more I was able to engineer more sophisticated game-audio integration solutions, to create more dynamic soundscapes than old-school ‘trigger SFX now’ style audio programming. Following this path to its inevitable conclusion I eventually found myself a full-time audio programmer.”


As technical director of Rev Rooms and dealing with all aspects of game-audio she oversees a team of creative and technical designers authoring audio assets and implementing them into middleware (such Wwise and FMOD) as well as managing the programming team acting as the bridge to provide full integration into the game codebases. “The idea is that we can either plug a hole in a studio’s audio team, or we can provide an entire audio solution wholesale. As the technical director I still actively work as a coder, but I also have an overview over the technical audio side of all the projects we’re currently working on and I typically advise on best methods to maintain the tight integration between the in-engine systems and middleware, dependent on the specific requirements of each project.”


Her first professional job was an AI programmer working on the Total War franchise. She then moved to smaller studios and found herself becoming more of a generalist.  “In my opinion a good audio-programmer fundamentally must be a good generalist – they must be comfortable interacting with extremely varied areas of the code base in order to implement the audio interfacing systems, and these systems need to be robust and adaptable so that they can deal with an evolving codebase with minimal upkeep. In this way, having developed a varied skill set from working across diverse range of code-disciplines is invaluable.”


Being a programmer as opposed to a designer, whereas some of the other guys in the studio enjoy beautiful, treated rooms with 5.1/7.1 Dynaudio and Genelec setups, she is happy with a fast PC, a decent soundcard and headphones, and a nice and clacky mechanical keyboard.


So what have been some of her favourite projects to work on? “My favourite projects are ones where we have the scope to experiment with new solutions to old problems. There’s a great satisfaction on making something that has been done the same way for a long time just a little bit better. I think other game code disciplines are often perceived as being sexier, so more programmers gravitate to working in areas like graphics, but all this means is that there is still space for the gonzo audio-programmer to find new clever ways of doing things and perhaps opening new creative space to explore. Projects that allow for this are always much more fun to work on, and typically greatly benefit!”


Raymond has regularly found herself the only woman in the room for so long now that most of the time she doesn’t even think about it. “It’s interesting, because since a young age I seem to have found myself working often in heavily male dominated fields, both as a computer programmer as well as a side-gig as an instrumental guitar-soloist. About the only time I really notice is in extreme circumstances – I once took a modern C++ course organized by SEGA with most of its programming force of at the time in attendance, and out of probably a couple hundred coders I was the only woman. Situations like that really make think about how it must feel to be a less pig-headed and stubborn woman myself. It really shouldn’t’ be an entry requirement to have a personality like this to work as a coder in games (or in any other field). I think that programming as a discipline and as a community would really benefit not only from a broader representation of gender, but also of temperament.”


The past few years she has been working as an audio coder, she has certainly seen the world change a lot with regards to gender expectations; even if numerically, women are still somewhat underrepresented. “I think people are less surprised to find woman working in tech and audio fields. A lot of the barrier to entry for these fields really is just a smokescreen of societal expectation, so we’ve seen that lift somewhat. I think the expectations of the sort of person you’d expect to see working in tech and audio fields has really diversified in recent years. This is naturally going to turn younger women and girls’ heads into seeing paths like these as something they could follow themselves.” 


“This is a bit of a weird anecdote but it’s something I often think about; when I was young, I was a very keen footballer. Once a year in the summer I would go to a football day-camp run by Tommy Hutchison (the former Scottish player), and out of a hundred or so kids there’d typically be one or two other girls there with me. Naturally the conclusion could be drawn that those numbers are simply representative of the demographics of who would be interested in attending a football camp. Except that one year they ran an all-girls camp, and of course it was hugely popular and totally sold out. These other girls weren’t uninterested in playing football, they just weren’t comfortable entering a space where they perhaps felt threatened or just otherwise maybe felt they were intruding.”


“Representation really is everything with regards to issues like this, and now we’ve seen things open-up a bit, and woman start to hold some presence where previously they didn’t so much. I think it’ll just snowball, and we’ll see a whole new generation of young women working in code and in audio and hopefully in audio-code!”


Women are already working in the audio sector but how does Raymond think we can attract even more women? “I think it really is largely just a matter of representation, as opposed to some fundamental divide. Perhaps code (and generally STEM) is even more taboo of an arena for women to step into (despite massive historical precent to the contrary), but they are stepping into it - and the more that do, the more other women will feel emboldened. Perhaps someday this will even cease to be a question that needs to be asked. I’m especially happy to say that having hired a new senior and extremely experienced programmer, Rev Rooms now has a majority female code team!”





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