First of all, good audio design and music WILL be critical when reaching those few extra points for full 100 score. Good audio might even turn semi-good game into something worth mentioning for. You better know this already.
First thing that you have to realize when doing audio and music for games is that every game development company and their working methods are different. (yes, captain obvious) There is different managers, teams, budgets, design, techniques, in-house tools, code and different people. Understanding which of these issues are your friends and foes is good thing.
It’s not a surprise that…
Audio integration in the game development cycle is still one of the least understood areas of the game industry. (Hell, it was the coders that did the sounds back at the chiptune-ages). Usually audio development and integration process is totally misunderstood in the management level or it’s lacking support and resources -> results will be unpredicted and extra money and time consuming. I really don’t have to explain more.
So, if game company manager is a douchbag and misses critical issues..
…audio (and other areas too) will end up you having totally different results what is intended in the game design. The project will also drown to excessive labor, production costs, schedule overruns and beercan mountains. Without a clear understanding of the technical, management, and resource risk-areas it is very likely that assets will be integrated at wrong time and wrong way.
It gets tricky sometimes
Many technical issues and pitfalls might prevent that and changes might be very big and very thurough. However, the right decisions at the beginning of the project will help the work to be done on schedule and without budget overruns.
One must understand – when making games, development rarely follows traditional software processes where you have linear planning -> decrees -> implementation -> testing -> deployment path. In a game development project, new technologies and changes in design may sometimes emerge dramatically in the middle of the development process, and ultimately cause significant differences in the look, feel and sound of the final game product. In situations like this, lots of unassigned re-design and re-production in the middle of the process is required.
Audio design should be done (by audio designer!) at the beginning of the project – however – audio and music production is usually in last lines of the development cycle. If the production cycle is not working properly, and development team have long delays and content changes, its particulary the audio department that gets the flying piece of crapfest.
OK, here comes what you have all expected: There is no single right way to integrate audio with the rest of the game development cycle!