250: Plant No Other Tree

Plant No Other Tree

It's possible to play games like Fallout 3 without ever realizing how the developers created realistic-looking trees. To alleviate the costs of handcrafting each piece of foliage, a program called SpeedTree was used by Bethesda. Ronald Meeus explores the growth of this handy piece of middleware.

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Great article! I allways wondered how they made the trees in a oblivion. Walking through the forests Tamriel was eye-opening to say the least but you could allways look straight up at a tree and spin your camera round and the leaves would follow you.

As graphics become more and more advanced, hand-crafting will be increasingly work intensive and costly. Middleware like speedtree will be vital to keep the costs down, and another way to save money would be to pool resources together and use the same models and textures in many games.

I'm glad this came along. I was getting incredibly tired of the 2d sprites for bushes and trees when everything else was 3D. it was incredibly immersion breaking. Oblivion was a revelation for me, seeing actual trees!

As someone who played Tiger Woods '06, I was pretty impressed at how realistic the trees looked. After all, Halo 2 still had stronger-than-battleship's-armor trees, and that game is only 1-2 years older...

I remember this when I first played Oblivion to notice how the trees were lush and beautiful. Morrowind adapted this SpeedTree in a mod that brought so much immersion to the game. Wonderful product and hope to see it more and more in games.

I can't stand trees that don't move or feel out of place anymore.

Great article.

I would have titled it "I think that I shall never see ... a game lovely as a tree"

But, that is just me.

An interesting look into the role that middleware can play in the development of an awesome game. Also, a good reminder of how important the little things are in the creation of big things.

Awesome article, really appreciate the information in it. I actually plan on going to school for game development soon here, and this would be an amazingly powerful tool to keep in mind.

Hey, look.
Golf games did something good for the broader gaming industry.
Suprising.

Great article. SpeedTree trees are actually pretty distinctive looking, and it's easy to spot them in a game. Along with the CryEngine trees, they're really the best looking out there.

Furburt:
I'm glad this came along. I was getting incredibly tired of the 2d sprites for bushes and trees when everything else was 3D. it was incredibly immersion breaking. Oblivion was a revelation for me, seeing actual trees!

And yet they are the ones still keeping sprites alive. It's not the whole tree as it were, but the "blobs" of leaves do still turn with the camera. It was an ok compromise to gain performance with all that vegetation when Oblivion came out. But we still see it, and even with only some sparse trees, as in Drakensang or Dragon Age. If developers would just stop using this for broad-leaved trees, I'd be very happy.

What's impressive is, as already mentioned, Crysis, which allows you to destroy (parts of) trees and branches react to your touch. Still far from perfect but definitely better than just a rustling sound when passing through.

Also looking really great is Arma 2, they are using a software named Linda which simulates the growth of trees.

And to really get lost in a forest, try the Hunter, as mentioned in the third article.

Scruffy:

Furburt:
I'm glad this came along. I was getting incredibly tired of the 2d sprites for bushes and trees when everything else was 3D. it was incredibly immersion breaking. Oblivion was a revelation for me, seeing actual trees!

And yet they are the ones still keeping sprites alive. It's not the whole tree as it were, but the "blobs" of leaves do still turn with the camera. It was an ok compromise to gain performance with all that vegetation when Oblivion came out. But we still see it, and even with only some sparse trees, as in Drakensang or Dragon Age. If developers would just stop using this for broad-leaved trees, I'd be very happy.

What's impressive is, as already mentioned, Crysis, which allows you to destroy (parts of) trees and branches react to your touch. Still far from perfect but definitely better than just a rustling sound when passing through.

Also looking really great is Arma 2, they are using a software named Linda which simulates the growth of trees.

And to really get lost in a forest, try the Hunter, as mentioned in the third article.

Yeah, Oblivion looks pretty pathetic compared to recent developers, but in 2006, compared to previous foliage offerings, some of which were actually totally 2D, it was intriguing.

And ArmA II has great foliage, it's dense enough to have an actual firefight in. Operation Flashpoint's looked good back in the day.

That is amazing! I had no idea they put so much effort into making each tree unique :)

Ahh speedtree, it gives great results but it's so smegging expensive, I never get the budget to afford it given we do [mostly] non-game projects.

i actually have to admit i actually was wondering about this because trees in video games always looked ehh. and i had recently a week or two ago bought oblivion the game of the year edition for 5 bucks and although my friends had all played through it and mastered it i got my own unique look. and i immediately noticed how great the trees looked and how the grass looked....well the grass wasn't as good but as i strolled through the forest it felt actually alive and not some cookie cutter forest that might as well had price tags from all the trees.and i really noticed how i didn't notice anything at all. it just felt real.

I think that algorithms are definitely part of the process of reducing the time and costliness of creating 3D games. However, a warning against relying on them too much should be expressed.

SpeedTree isn't perfect. I was playing Oblivion only the other day, and I know that one big flaw I see is that many of the trees, at least in Cyrodil, are tall and old. Very few are short, or new. You see these great oak forests which have little to no undergrowth.

When I see a fully generated rainforest, which I'll recognise as realistic from my extensive experience of rainforests along Australia's Eastern Coast, with all four strata of emergents, canopy, understory, and forest floor generated in a way that none of the trees clip over each other, interacting properly, then I'll know that SpeedTree has done it. Until then, this system might be good for a start in making a nice forest, but I think that designers should tweak further than the process that SpeedTree provides.

What is especially exciting is that SpeedTree is only the tip of the iceberg. I expect that if the games industry knows what it's doing, there will be fast design systems like these for character morality, buildings, factional alignment, updating, and saving. One day, imagine if these systems could update themselves across all the games that use them, empowering modders and possibly designers to patch new graphical effects and environmental interactions into old games. Now there is a tantalising prospect.

Great article! It's weird to think of how many little things in games can be the result of one genius product most gamers won't even know about. (I, for one, would have believed it if you told me there were no trees in Fallout 3 outside of Oasis, that's how much attention I paid.) I'm always interested in learning about these nooks and crannies of the video game industry.

And after playing the procedurally-generated FUEL, I, for one, welcome our new procedural overlords.

Oblivion is where I first learned about SpeedTree, but as amazing as it is, you can really tell that procedural generation has a long way to go before being able to fully replace hand modeling things. Just take a look at the extensive amount of minor visual glitches fixed in the unofficial Oblivion (or Fallout 3) patches. Bethesda makes a great game, no doubt, but cuts corners using procedural generation to create natural looking hillside, say - except only from a distance. Up close, you'll find floating rocks and misaligned meshes and trees "growing" in unnatural directions.

Just about every game I've played that chooses to rely in any amount on procedural generation, and you'll see similar. I see it as a glimpse into the future rather than a fully feasible technology right now.

This reminds me how satisfying it was to watch a world get rendered in my old copy of VistaPro. Once the trees started appearing, you were almost done with a screen.

To be honest, I'm really surprised that speedtree seems to be the only big player in middleware procedural generation apart from the complete engines like unreal3.
Maybe I'm just ignorant, but I'd expect there to be great demand for generation of pretty much everything. Like landscapes, rock formations, roads, houses and especially people. of course that last one will be hard because of the uncanny valley, but it surely must be possible to parameterize a basic design? Oblivion seemed to have something like that, but they must've created it themselves. That surely took a lot of hours of coding and modeling.

In the end it would be really 'easy' to remake elite and generate the planets while you are in hyperspace out of several parameters. Storing the parameters and not the models themselves. ahh, the future...

Gammaj4:
Hey, look.
Golf games did something good for the broader gaming industry.
Suprising.

I would take that one step further. Golf has done something good for something. Even more surprising!

Anyway I think the complexities of modern games make things like this necessary. The danger is that 3D games will start looking somewhat samey, but the advantage is that developers will (hopefully) stop having to concentrate on making use of the latest graphics technologies and start focussing on creating great characters, storylines and gameplay. Personally I'd go for substance over style every time.

The trees in Oblivion were so good that for months, maybe even for years after playing it, looking at real trees or walking in a real park would make me think of Oblivion, and make me want to play it

However, ever since Oblivion, forests made with SpeedTree look about the same. I cant expect two trees of a single species to look different, that's not what i'm saying, I'm saying that artists try to make imaginative settings with different character and object models, different environments and such, but to save time they put SpeedTree in the middle of all that and it does not fit. It looks like you ripped a forest from a different game and put it into yours, and its natural and realistic look clashes with your otherwise original fantasy or sci-fi design.

I don't blame them for doing it, and it's true that if you put a little effort into SpeedTree you can make it look original, like in the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion, and i haven't even noticed that Dragon Age and Batman Arkham Asylum use SpeedTree. But you can also make great looking trees that sway in the wind without ST, take a look at Guild Wars pre-searing Ascalon, beautiful, natural looking trees that fit the setting perfectly...

That is astounding. They found out how trees grow and how rocks form so that they can accurately model their environments. Absolutely phenomenal. Imagine if they grew over time as well, modifying themselves the more time you put into the game. Wait too long to go back to a little cave, and it's overgrown. I almost can't wait until we're at that point with our graphics hardware.

wildpeaks:
Ahh speedtree, it gives great results but it's so smegging expensive, I never get the budget to afford it given we do [mostly] non-game projects.

Not nearly as expensive as hiring someone to design trees and then place them, but I get your point. Then again, smalltime companies like Star Vault are using it. At least, they were about a year ago when I last checked up on Mortal Online.

 

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