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Developer Interview Part II: Hard Surface Modeling

When it's time to start a video game project, it’s important to remember, you can’t do it all alone. Like with every company, you need a team to work alongside you with many different skills in order to make your game a success. Every member of your team has to be knowledgeable or an expert in their field. We will explore the second skill set in game development, Hard Surface Modeling. When it comes to realistic gaming, the minor details are just as important as the plot and animation. In order to put yourself into the game, having a realistic environment is key. Things from dust on a window to scratches on furniture to even insects on food make a huge difference in putting yourself in the situation and making it more believable. So in order to write this article, I called in another expert from our own team. He is our Hard Surface Modeler at Sonder Games. He will give us an insight about the importance of surface modeling for video games. Here is an interview with Saad Houalla.

So, how did you get into surface modeling?

Saad: Well, there were many factors for this hobby I chose. Truthfully, it’s a hobby that I’m hoping to turn into a career. My father used to work as machine operator in a small cinema in my hometown Tripoli so as a kid I remember hopping from theater to theater watching and rewatching movies on a daily basis. I think this had a great impact on my visual senses. So naturally, as a kid, you'd dream about making movies when you grow up. Due to the unstable situation in my country and my family's finances, I turned away from short films and got into editing, photography, CGI, stuff related to visuals. So I guess video games and 3D were the logical next step after realizing that I could never become a filmmaker. These skills in visuals served me well for my architecture degree. So after finishing my Bachelor's degree and right before starting my Master's I was looking for a career path that merges everything I love doing. Currently environment art, level design, and hard surface modeling assets that serve a story and create a certain mood seemed like the right choice.

Wow interesting! So what's the difference between hard surface modeling and soft surface modeling?

Saad: To give a simple answer, hard surface deals with everything that has straight edges or architectural elements or furniture, things like that. Soft would mean anything organic-looking or character related. The difference between them becomes a bit ambiguous when let's say you want to model a curvy sofa for instance.

Ah okay! Which one do you prefer to do?

Saad: I think soft stuff needs a different foundation to get into. I’d certainly like to get into more into it one day. But hard surface seems to fit the career I’m trying to get into. I love it.

How important do you think modeling is for video games?

Saad: Not all video games require the use of highly detailed models. But I tend to think of modeling as a tool to create the atmosphere, mood, and immersion that the game designer is looking for. Other video games, especially older gen games, were based on pure gameplay. Nowadays I think video games are a legit medium that acts like a hub for many different kinds of art forms just like films or renaissance paintings. So you'd naturally need modeling in the equation.

When it comes to a realistic horror game, how important are the tiny details?

Saad: If I could teach anyone with my current knowledge about computer rendering and realism, what I would say is that there is no such thing as too much detail. A simple example would be a glass window with a subtle dust texture and metal screws. It would look much more natural than a plain clean glass window. Realistic rendering is all about recreating mundane everyday stuff that nobody notices in order to trick the human eye. So yeah detail is an absolute must to get required level of realism.

How long did it take for you to reach your skill set?

Saad: A few years. I’ve been with Sonder since January and that alone doubled the amount of things I know about modeling. It's not rocket science. You just need to love what you're doing and lots of patience.

What networks do you share your work?

Saad: I don't have a facebook/instagram account. They're great platforms, but I’m personally not a huge fan of social media. I’m currently using DeviantArt and LinkedIn. But I recommend using all of them, they're free.

What programs do you use, like software?

Saad: 3ds max for modeling, Allegorithmic's Substance package for texturing, I suck at Photoshop so I use After Effects, those are my main tools, and I’ve used a number of things other than those. And of course our game engine, Unreal 4.

What advice would you have for a budding modeler who wants to do gaming?

Saad: Well I’m still that guy, honestly my advice wouldn't really help, but I would recommend working like crazy and sharing your work online, until eventually someone like Joseph notices you.

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