Give your game the greenery it needs with this foliage tools that promises efficiency and quality

Tools Spotlight: SpeedTree

[This feature was published in the September 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Its creators may not be widely known, but this tool is one that devs large and small will have come across. SpeedTree is a real-time asset creator intended to solve the problem of filling games with believable-looking trees in their tens or even thousands.

SpeedTree for Games aims to provide seamless LOD transitions and comes with an array of lighting and wind effects, as well as an SDK that can be programmed to support any level of engine integration on a broad array of platforms.

The software also includes SpeedTree Modeler, which offers a distinct hybrid of hand and procedural modelling options, and has been used in countless games and as well as a growing list of films, including a several of this summer’s big-budget releases. The SpeedTree model library currently contains almost 200 species and will continue to grow.

“SpeedTree is focused exclusively on modelling and rendering vegetation, incorporates ten years of feedback from the industry’s best artists and programmers, and seeks to address the full range of games-only vegetation problems,” Kevin Meredith, director of business development at Interactive Data Visualization tells us.

SpeedTree has been used in dozens of games. Several recent and yet-to-be-released titles include Destiny, the Witcher series, the Saint’s Row series, Defiance, Forza Horizon, Grand Theft Auto IV, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, Gears of War: Judgment, Halo 4, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Fable: The Journey, Trials Evolution, Kinect Star Wars, Sports Champions, The Secret World, Starhawk, Risen 2: Dark Waters and Game of Thrones.

The tree modelling tool has also been utilised in a large number of serious games for organisations including Boeing, EADS, the US Army, the US Air Force, other government agencies and universities worldwide.

SpeedTree 6.3 was announced back in March, and it is now confirmed to support PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A new ‘simplify’ feature quickly and easily creates low-polygon models from high definition, cinema-quality models.

There’s a ‘mesh wizard’ that aids the process of importing custom meshes for use as leaves and obstacles, and performance enhancements have been made to help the computation of ambient occlusion upon saving, double-click zooming and so on.

Additionally, the software maker added new price options, including a tools-only licensing option for those who don’t require the SpeedTree SDK, opening up its tools to more users.

As for what’s next, Meredith told Develop that SpeedTree may introduce mobile offerings later this year. In the meantime, it plans to continue adding new features to its products, with improvements suggested by both the SpeedTree team and customers.

Meredith concludes: “SpeedTree isn’t right for every games developer, but those who plan to feature a large number of high-end, precisely-modelled trees often find that SpeedTree requires less modelling time and renders more efficiently than any other solution, in-house or commercial.”

To read our growing collection of Tools Spotlight articles, visit our archive

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