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Video Game Foliage
December 19, 2013 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Video Game Foliage. "Making spaces for games is a strange and interesting art. Not being bound by physical limitations makes it possible to create impossible structures, but being bound by the technical limitations of modern computer graphics makes it difficult to create accurate simulacra of even simple objects. So video games cheat, using approximations to create the desired aesthetic result. Plant approximations are especially hard, since organic structures tend to be difficult to describe in terms that graphics cards understand. This creates an interesting design constraint. How do you create representations of plants given the limitations of realtime rendering? I plan to use this blog to show a bunch of games that choose different answers to this question. I hope you’ll join me in looking into the weird world of video game foliage."

I hope that SpeedTree gets covered one of these days.
posted by kmz (31 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
On a related note, I for one have always found it frustrating that in real life one cannot rustle, shake, kick, or hack at random trees and bushes with one's sword in order to find money and useful items when you're down on your luck. That would make things so much more interesting! ^_^
posted by trackofalljades at 10:19 AM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I love this! It's just so... specific.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:23 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Leaves? Some game dev should try doing it the way Disney and Miyazaki do it.
posted by jfuller at 10:23 AM on December 19, 2013


On a related note, I for one have always found it frustrating that in real life one cannot rustle, shake, kick, or hack at random trees and bushes with one's sword in order to find money and useful items when you're down on your luck.

In real life, you have to run at them full-speed, do a summersault, and bang your head into the trunk. Sometimes you have to do it 2-3 times before the money falls out.
posted by straight at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the tasks I had to do (and redo, and redo again) was integrate SpeedTree with a game engine. They drastically changed the API several times over the years. The last time was the weirdest due to the fuckery they were doing with variable vertex formats...

Anyway, I suspect the games in several of those screenshots were using SpeedTree.

This GPU Gems 2 chapter about grass was written by my boss at the time, but I was the one who implemented it. The engine got way better since that article, and a lot of the techniques were improved upon.
posted by Foosnark at 10:26 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Leaves? Some game dev should try doing it the way Disney and Miyazaki do it.

How's that?
posted by Evstar at 10:26 AM on December 19, 2013


A game spending a lot of time on foliage is a sign of quality.

The two things that come to mind are Oblivion/Skyrim - I was under the impression the foliage was generated procedurally with some advanced algorithm, apparently it's SpeedTree - and Ultima VIII, which captured my imagination with really weird and wonderful trees and mushrooms (example.)
posted by naju at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What, no Pikmin? That game had the best plants.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love this! It's just so... specific.

Game development... wait, no, software development... is full of a lot of really specific things.
posted by Foosnark at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating and wonderful and I love this blog.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2013


Needs more Far Cry 2.
posted by straight at 10:53 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


In 1998, I worked for a company that was making a 3D game engine. We built a proof of concept which was (IIRC) a 10,000 km2 world with 10 cm resolution with persistent deformable landscape. One of our artists dug out and digitized this footage, which I think was run on a Pentium II (probably at 200MHz) with a 3DfX Voodoo 3 card.

The engine featured a fairly decent (for the time) management of LOD and consequently we could have a fairly substantial polygon budget spent on trees. Keep in mind that the state of the art for computer game trees were either billboards (which are 2 triangles that always face the camera - great for pine trees) or maybe a pair of orthogonal rectangles (4 triangles).

The Voodoo 3 did something like 333 megatexels per second, whereas modern cards are doing close to 1000 times that.
posted by plinth at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's well known that game developers cannot hike through a forest without exclaiming "How are they getting this kind of framerate?!?!"

VTerrain.org has some nifty links for going down the rabbit hole of how-do-they-do-it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:04 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


No discussion of videogame foliage is complete without screenshots from one of the most amazing Skyrim modders out there:
Absolutely jaw-dropping work.
posted by Ryvar at 11:05 AM on December 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


In Minecraft, everything is a block. Problem solved.
posted by monospace at 11:35 AM on December 19, 2013


I was playing State of Decay with my stepdaughter and while we were scavenging through a kitchen looking for supplies a particularly lovely tree caught my eye from the house's window. The leaves had sun light poking through and the branches swayed in the breeze. That tree was so peaceful and just right. And then a over weight zombie crawled in through a bay window and the moment was completely ruined. Anyway, State of Decay (play breakdown!) has really lovely foliage.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:56 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Its not realistic trees that are the problem, it's rendering them at a frame rate above 0 fps.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:19 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The consistently interesting devblog for The Witness (Jonathan Blow's spiritual sequel to Braid) has a lengthy piece about the game's tree design process.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:22 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


this is exactly the type of thing I enjoy!

I hate the assassin's creed 3 and 4 series particularly because they make such a big deal of teh trees, and the trees all end up looking almost identical.
posted by rebent at 12:51 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apparently missing from the roundup are the horrible early 3d trees which were two identical flat tree representations aligned at right angles. Horrible.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:58 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The next-gen Assassin's Creed 4 for the PS4 has pretty impressive foliage. Apparently that was one of the main differences that the extra processing power allowed for.
posted by naju at 2:10 PM on December 19, 2013


In Minecraft, everything is a block.

Define block.

(Also: nominating the abundant foliage in Shelter for comment.)
posted by progosk at 2:30 PM on December 19, 2013


This is excellent. Thanks for posting it.
posted by safetyfork at 2:32 PM on December 19, 2013


naju: "he next-gen Assassin's Creed 4 for the PS4 has pretty impressive foliage. Apparently that was one of the main differences that the extra processing power allowed for."

Except I got stuck inside a tree for half an hour during a tough mission where I would have had to start over otherwise. Still, it looks great.

I actually just (well, back in 2011/12 anyways) wrote a new branch/foliage library for the animation company I work for. It's fun stuff but it's also tough. We can be a lot more realistic of course since we're not aiming for real time (mostly, anyways, some real time simulation of branches moved by wind etc was part of it) but we still have to solve performance issues when scaling up from a few trees to a big forest.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:28 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I quite like sprite trees and grass too. The vegetation of Secret of Mana 2, these trees from Zelda: ALTTP or the backgrounds of Tales of Phantasia.
posted by ersatz at 5:35 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


No discussion of videogame foliage is complete without screenshots from one of the most amazing Skyrim modders out there:
Absolutely jaw-dropping work.


The transition in the third YouTube clip from idyllic forest and mountains to thong-assed smokey-eye Mila Kunis lookalike is just great
posted by taromsn at 7:08 PM on December 19, 2013


Design wants you to do this and be fairly conservative, Art wants to be very liberal and get in as much art as they can, and then programming has to say “Neither of you can actually get what you want.”

Pretty much.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:28 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


As much love as Oblivion and Skyrim get for their flora, I must confess to being even more impressed with Morrowind's offerings, because they predated Bethesda's licensing of Speedtree. Everything was placed by hand.

There's a reason why this project that students from the MIT Media Lab worked on during the Morrowind era observes "Editors to create 3D environments represent some of the most complex software applications ever created", and when you look at the swamps of the Bitter Coast, or the Gardens of Mournhold, and realize that every tree, every flower, every mushroom was placed there by a hard working level designer, it becomes all the more jaw-dropping.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:31 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The transition in the third YouTube clip from idyllic forest and mountains to thong-assed smokey-eye Mila Kunis lookalike is just great
posted by taromsn


Yeah, I'm not really sure how to reconcile the fact that the absolute best realtime foliage asset work I've seen, ever, is being done by a seemingly archetypal teenage male somewhere in Spain.
posted by Ryvar at 10:03 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember when fractals were going to provide all the sensationally realistic foliage your heart could desire.
posted by Segundus at 6:18 AM on December 20, 2013


Fractals do provide that, but it's all foliage from exotic alien planets.
posted by straight at 11:51 AM on December 20, 2013


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