Houdini for game development: worth it? If yes, when?

Hey guys!

I’m a game developer with almost 5 years of experience who uses Unity and C# and had some experience with Unreal and C++. I’ve been studying to focus on technical art for around 6 months now. I started focusing my energy on recapping some math, then shaders (writing them on ShaderLab), then ShaderGraph, then Unity Particle System, and, finally, VFX Graph. With my experience using Unity during these 5 years I had some idea of how everything worked but these last months I really focused on it.

From what I have already researched, Houdini is an amazing VFX tool worth it to learn for artists, but I see a lot of people talking about movies VFX, not so much about gaming. So my question is: as a technical artist, is it worth putting effort into learning Houdini? And, if yes, it’s something worth looking out at this point or it’s better to put this effort after, I don’t know, 1 or 2 years of experience with shaders, for example?

Thanks a lot! Is not easy to get an answer to this question as it seems. There is not A LOT of content focused on gaming on the internet as I imagined that would have been. And, obviously, if you guys have links to discussions about the topic, it’s super welcome!

This might be an unpopular opinion, but from the point of view of games :

  1. FX Artist : There’s some nice tools in the package (mostly VAT), and if you have access to the software either way you might as well use it, but I don’t think it’s worth the cost. There’s also no point studying it either since it’s pretty straightforward anyway.

  2. FX TA : Unless your entire team knows Houdini, it’s pretty useless. You’ll just end up giving your team tools they cannot use without you constantly helping. I would instead focus on learning and building for the software your team is already using.

  3. Generalist TA : Especially if you are planning on working on AAA games it can be very useful. Lot’s of teams rely on procedural tool sets to build their environment assets.

I think there’s this assumption that just because the Houdini is useful for film VFX, that it would be easily transferable to games. Instead in games, Houdini becomes just a semi-powerful data generation tool. Useful in very specific situations, but not required.
Instead I would suggest focusing on getting accustomed to render- and game-engines, and real-time tool sets first.

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That was extremely helpful, Niels! Thank you!
When you say “real-time tool sets first”, do you mean Niagara, Unity Particle System, VFX Graph, or Shader Graph for example? Everything that helps you to create real-time VFX?

Yeah, If you want to go down the VFX road at least.

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I work in a small Indi Studio that offers outsourcing services in paralell with development of internal IP’s and i agree with Niels, Houdini is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to you doing a ton of work alone.
For anything in Unity (I can’t comment on Unreal) Unity unfortunately did not maintain their side of the HoudiniEngine Plugin well (A ton of UI stuff is constantly broken across versions) which makes it almost impossible to work with for anyone who isn’t also aquainted with Houdini themself and leads to you jumping through a ton of hoops (always great when time is tight…)
It also adds overhead and this is smth Niels also said, of either you helping, or spending a ton of time Building Userproof UI for any HoudiniEngine tools.
Our solution was to have Houdini used as a offline tool that doesn’t interact with the Engine directly internally and externally.

Whenever we do Game ports the Assets and Levels already exist and therefore it’s easy to Optimize them outside of the Engine (Mass texture atlassing, Retopo etc.).

I would still recommend using Houdini for Any 3D or VFX stuff since its sort of multiple Departments in one and you will be able to Prototype near to final Art pretty quickly once you got aquianted with it.
It’s also amazingly easy to do Channel packing shenanigans (for instance for 6point lighting in Particles) and things like Niels said Vats, and also Alembics.

Otherwise i think Niels nailed it, i just felt like adding to the pile of experiences :stuck_out_tongue:

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Thanks for sharing you experience too, @Ganishka ! It’s super welcome and appreciated it! Especially with you woking in a place which Houdini is (or used to be?) used alongside with Unity, since that is exactly my scenario haha

It’s actually a relief to see that you both opinions fit together so I can focus on other skills and tools without that “what if” feeling haha one day, maybe, I will give some attention to Houdini but for sure I have more important skills and tools to improve right now.

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Niels nailed this answer… nothing I have to add other than yep what he said.

You most likely only run into Houdini in AAA studios. I think if you check like 10-20 tech artist job positions from companies you would consider applying to and see if they mention being able to work with Houdini there. If not, put your time to other areas, if yes, start looking into it.

Example from Remedy tech art position: