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PSU Interview: SpeedTree

22 September 2006

Recently I had a chance to interview Kevin Meredith, Director of Business Development at IDV INC. and SpeedTree. Basically the interview went over some of the things that SpeeTree offers for next gen development and what to expect to see in the future.

If you dont know what SpeedTree is then your in luck because this interview will provide information about the tool and all the games you will find it in.

Interview:

PSU: How long has SpeedTree been in development?

Kevin: The development efforts that served as the foundational technology for SpeedTree were undertaken for a real-time golf course concept in 2001, and we sold our first SpeedTreeRT licenses at the end of 2002.

PSU: How does Speed Tree work, what is it?

Kevin: SpeedTree is a suite of virtual tree and plant software, including creation tools, plug-ins for 3ds max and Maya, and a real-time rendering SDK. The award-winning package features realistic wind effects, outstanding aesthetics, many user-configurable settings, and efficiency technologies throughout the line.

PSU: How many different models of trees can speed tree provide. Will we see repetitive models of trees?

Kevin: Almost 200 species of trees, plants, flowers, underwater flora etc. have been created for the SpeedTree library so far, and each of the species definitions are "seeds" that can be used to instantly create millions of variations. Customers can use SpeedTreeCAD to edit the existing species or create an unlimited number of new plants from scratch. So repetition among the many titles featuring SpeedTree is quite unlikely.

PSU: In what ways does speedtree improve gameplay, directly or indirectly?

Kevin: Play is improved aesthetically because SpeedTree looks and behaves more realistically than any other solution at comparable polygon budgets, while the fullness and wind effects create line of sight barriers and
environmental distractions that can add immeasurably to game play. These features are so realistic, in fact, that the software has been used in numerous "serious" applications, such as military simulations, helicopter training systems etc.

PSU: Does the prossesing power of the next gen consoles (in particular the ps3) help speedtree run massive forests and other speedtree objects?

Kevin: Yes, PS3 and other next generation platforms enable SpeedTree to deliver a new level of realism, beauty and foliage density to real-time gaming. In particular with next generation consoles, each tree model can
have more texture layers, longer shaders, and more dynamic effects.

PSU: One of the latest games that used speed tree was Oblivion, what other games in the future might we expect to have SpeedTree in?

Kevin: SpeedTree is in many PS3 titles that have yet to be announced, but you'll see a long list of customers and projects, many of them still in development, in the "Who's Using SpeedTree?" section at www.speedtree.com (some companies that have signed to use SpeedTree include; 10tacle Studios, Atari, Bethesda Softworks, Bizarre Creations, Insomniac Games, KOEI Canada, Midway, Mythic Entertainment, Real Time Worlds, SEGA, Silicon Knights, Ubisoft, Vivendi Universal, and Volition / THQ)

PSU: What does SpeedTree have over common tree creation tools?

Kevin: Like most tree creation tools, SpeedTree has a procedural modeling
application that allows artists to make trees (we think ours is the best, of course). But what sets us apart is our SDK and real-time rendering
techniques that facilitate tree rendering at run-time. Each tool in our pipeline is geared toward not only modeling trees but also rendering them in the most efficient manner possible. This combination has led to tremendous respect from game developers around the world, the industry's highest recognition in the form of a Front Line Award for middleware (2005), and an unmatched customer list.

PSU: Are SpeedTree tree's destructable? If not, do you plan to make them destructable in a future version? Any upcoming games that would use destructable trees?

Kevin: Because the run-time component of SpeedTree is a numeric engine, developers are free to do with the tree data what they wish. This includes any number of custom effects like knocking them down and blowing them up. Rather than embed our version of destruction in SpeedTree, we leave that choice to the developers so that the tree's behavior meshes with the game experience.

PSU: With next gen consoles are you able to run an entire environment in one, continuous, streaming world? If not, how is the world set up?

Kevin: How the levels of a game are set up is up to the developers, but
SpeedTree is compatible with any approach.

PSU: Are game developers able to add their own textures to the tree creation to create more realistic trees or for example "alien" trees?

Kevin: Absolutely. The Windows-based SpeedTreeCAD application enables users
to import textures and vary countless other parameters to get exactly the look they want, whether an earthly species or something more exotic. To demonstrate this versatility, IDV has included some very bizarre "species" in the library. Many of them are visible here.

PSU: I see you are currently licensing to the Unreal Engine 3.0, are there any other game engines or companies you license too?

Kevin: We have established both formal and informal partnerships with many engine developers, including Epic Games, Emergent, BigWorld, Trinigy and Multiverse. Look for more partnership announcements soon, but in the meantime, many SpeedTree users have completed their own integrations of SpeedTree into dozens of in-house and commercial game development tools.

PSU: Can your trees react to the environment, example: wind, shadowing, impacts, ect.?

Kevin: SpeedTree's ability to respond to such local events as helicopter rotor wash, for example, have made the software a key feature of an Army helicopter training system. There are also impressive lighting options. But because SpeedTree includes an SDK, the behavior of the foliage is ultimately under the control of the developer.

PSU: Are you looking forward to the launch of the PS3?

Kevin: Indeed! We can't say too much at this point, but there are going to be some great-looking forests on that console.

PSU: What are some of the best features that everyone should know about SpeedTree?

Kevin: Outstanding realism and efficiency, amazing wind effects, a real-time SDK and a versatile and the simple to use tree modeling application.

PSU: Anything else you would like to add about SpeedTree or PS3 developments?

Kevin: We hope the industry-wide adoption of SpeedTreeRT speaks for itself. Thanks very much for the great questions!

We here at PSU would like to thank Kevin Meredith once again for sharing his expertise and providing insight into SpeedTree.


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