Retro Faith was lucky to catch up with Steve Hird, Senior Environment Artist at Sumo Digital. Steve has over 18 years experience in the industry as an artist and has worked for developers THQ Digital and Sony/Evolution Studios. He has worked on many high profile titles including Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and Battlefield Modern Combat. Steve also creates film props and examples range from Star Wars to Iron Man.
For anyone unfamiliar with your work, please tell us about yourself and any projects you wish to mention.
I started out at art college way back in ’88. I was turning 17 after leaving high school. I Always knew I wanted to do something with my love of art and to make a living out of this, little did I know at the time this wasn’t going to be an easy journey.
I spent 3 years in a General Art and Design course and one of those was a foundation year. After I’d familiarised myself with a medium I loved, which was airbrush art back then, I found myself in uni at The Blackpool and Fylde Art College studying Scientific Illustration.
This wasn’t an area of art I was heavily into but I took the course as at the time it was the most intense, realistic and technical way I could push my art and get a degree at the same time. I never thought I’d actually get in there but I got an unconditional offer that ramped up my confidence in my work and myself .
All the while, any time out I spent on my Super Famicom and Mega Drive. Also, Blackpool had one of the biggest arcade scenes in the UK and still is now aside from Arcade Club which I’m fortunate to live close by.
I’ve been into video games for almost as long as I can remember, my first games machine was the Amstrad CPC 464 with a colour monitor but most of my friends had Commodores or the ZX Spectrum.
What are your early memories of gaming?
My early memories of gaming are from my Amstrad at home but when I was 14 in 1985 my most memorable experience was in the arcades at Blackpool where I played the big deluxe cab of Space Harrier!
Space Harrier really grabbed me back then with its superscaler tech that helped to lead the way for further games in the series like Outrun and Afterburner. All of which amazed me but it was the fantasy and the imagination that went into Space Harrier, the fast and frantic game play and the amazing soundtrack. This time in the arcades was memorable as I’ll never forget I had a crowd of onlookers while I played. Those games back then were truly groundbreaking.
What influenced you to get into game design?
When I left art college I spent several years struggling to make a living as an artist in illustration. I did some big jobs for many large companies and had an agent in Manchester. I worked in their studio but the jobs were few and far between, it was quite soul destroying but it was a life lesson. I know I could do the work but back in the mid ’90s traditional ways of working were fast growing old and fading out.
I could see the cry for digital art and how that was creeping in and taking over slowly in the early days of photoshop. I had a friend who had taken a different route and went straight into the games industry after we left college and we had gone our separate ways. He got in touch and said with my ability I’d be able to create art for games. but I said I’ve no idea when it comes to computers and I hated them.
The very idea of creating art digitally scared me to be honest but I took the plunge and did a beginners photoshop course which was only 6 weeks and this led to an advanced course. I quickly realised this new tool was a great way forward and completely changed my ideas on ways of working. I applied at my friends games studio, Runecraft in Dewbury, and after a week of unpaid work they saw my ability and took me on.
That was it, my working life was transformed, since then I’ve worked at EA on Need for Speed, Battlefield 2, Evolution Studios on the Motorstorm series. THQ on several unpublished concepts and ideas. And then I did a short stint as a freelance concept artist before starting at Sumo Digital as a Senior Environment artist.
You worked on the latest Sonic racing games, what was the best thing about these projects and what were Sega like to work with?
Working on All-Stars Transformed was a dream come true. Working with industry veterans like Steve Lycett, who also had a huge passion for the old superscalar Sega titles. We worked well together and was given the House of the Dead track to help sort out. Then the word was put out as to who may know the Panzer Dragoon series and could I help there as I was a huge fan and knew and understood the art.
I also worked on the Sonic Green Hill track and many others, finding myself building texturing models across many of the tracks. I was then tasked with helping to visualise the final level which was a huge homage to all this classic Sega. I spent a year on the Development of that title and I came into it about half way through.
It was a huge influx of nostalgia for me and an honour. Mostly working with Sega was great. The only issues we had were getting in touch with some of the licence holders for separate titles.
The Sonic and wider Sega fanbase are quite fanatical, was there any pressure on the team to live up to the standards expected?
The pressure was there of course but we were amongst, what I consider, some of the biggest fans that were actually working on the title. It don’t really come any bigger than that, it felt right where I was placed, like it had happened for a reason.
We had a couple of guys who manned the internet. Everyone loved what we had done with the game, there will always be the odd one who thought they knew better and had something to say. We were confident we delivered a brilliant experience but we also knew we had been faithful to the original titles.
What would be your dream project to work on or dream person to work for?
I keep getting asked if I’ll help bring Space Harrier to a modern audience and that would be my dream. With our links with Sega and the team we have here I know this is more than possible so we’ll see.
If you could be involved in any game series what would this be and why?
One huge franchise I love is Halo on the Xbox , I’ve always loved that series and would love to be involved with that. I’m a huge first person shooter fan, so games like Far Cry and Destiny are also big contenders to me.
What is your favourite game?
It has to be Space Harrier! Every time I visit arcade club I have to make sure I get on there and clock it! Other classic retro favorites of mine are the side scrollers like Gradius in the arcade and the Thunder Force series on the Mega Drive.
What are your plans for the future?
I see myself staying at Sumo for the future but helping other concept artist to develop their skills and also help bring more classic titles to the forefront. we live in a time where retro is heavily appreciated and keeps getting relaunched. This is great to see and leads the way forward for some solid remakes but done right!
Retro Faith thanks Steve for his time and looks forward to seeing his work in the future.