A few months back I had a friend demo me a 3D software package called Houdini from Side Effects software. Houdini is used extensively in film and movie circles and not so much in game industry, (which is dominated by 3D Max, Maya and to some extent XSI;) but mostly all big blockbuster films that have those great special effects that make you go “whoo”, “wow”, “cool” are pretty much made using this software. I am not exactly sure what my friend was working on, but it seems he was working an extension for the package and wanted some opinions on a custom file format. The thing that got me interested with Houdini was the way you work with the whole thing. It’s a little bit different from your conventional modelers (Max, Maya and XSI); in Houdini you basically do everything by combining operators. To tell you the truth I am not a great 3D artist. I have done most of the art-work in the game, yet my skills leave a lot to be desired. The only modeler I have ever worked with is Blender and you probably know Blender has a notorious and sometimes flawed reputation of being very difficult to use.
Houdini take a very different approach to 3D modeling. The reason I liked it is because it’s entire flow seems to be highly logic driven or as they say it “procedural”. This is an amazing concept and you have to actually see it to understand it fully. It has an interface that looks like a hierarchy of node graphs using which you pretty much model everything. The node-graphs create a kind of construction history which allows you go back and modify previous steps in a snap. This kind of flexibility means the overall productivity given by the software is unbelievable. It allows the artist to be as creative as he wants and at the same time also allows the entire design process to be non monotonous or in other words non-linear.
I would love to have a Houdini like software for designing a game, and I mean the entire game, with composition and everything. Having seen the software at work (, and being a 3D game engine developer,) made my mind race in 1000 different directions and I could see so many possibilities with the type of “procedural” flow. The creative potential could be enormous when applied to game creation. Now that I have looked at it, my guts tell me a procedural work-flow for any game design/creation/composition software will be a step in the right direction. Another very interesting aspect of this package is reuse. Besides the obvious benefits of a procedural type of work-flow the software encourages the use, or rather, the reuse of existing solutions and designs. This might sound like something out of a computer programming book, but it’s rather more subtle. Create a work-flow once, and then reuse it for several different solutions with minimum effort. That would be a game designer’s and an artist’s dream come true.
For those interested, there is a free learning edition called Houdini Apprentice provided by Side Effects.