April 28th, 1999
Hello Grandmaster B
Every new generation of games that appears, has more beautiful graphics then ever before. And indeed the graphics have come a long way since Wolfenstein. A lot of things changed: we got "true" 3D, textures, much more complicated structures, dynamic lightning etc. The newest games look absolutely fabulous, except for one thing: nature. While all games feature beautiful racecars, castles, player models etc, there in NOT ONE GAME that has been able to build one decent tree, with grass, flowers, bushes. Why not? Is it so difficult to make an algorithm for believable 3D trees? I would love to see racing games where the trees at the side look like trees and not like bitmaps. Would love to run trough the grass and hide behind a tree that casts real shadows through its leaves in a FPS. Can you shed some light on why this isn't possible? Do the polygon counts become too damn high? If so, will we start seeing believable worlds when computing power increases?
Rendering a tree well is one of the Holy Grails of computer graphics technology. Obviously you can go the brute force method and just render everything as triangles, but that only buys you the geometry. This would be hideously costly, in the area of hundreds of thousands if not millions of triangles. But this still wouldn't give you a very lifelike looking tree since it doesn't address the subtle aspects such as wind movement, shadowing/shade, and all the different properties (visual and physical) of twigs vs. branches vs. leaves vs. moss vs. whatever. It's a tough problem, and the difference between a brute force "better" solution and the hack solution is very small in terms of perceived quality and very high in terms of computing cost. I'm sure one day some genius will invent a way of rendering a tree that looks REALLY good and doesn't cost a CPU-equivalent of an arm and a leg. Until then we're gonna have to be content with two intersecting quads a la Everquest and the host of other games and applications that have done trees this way since the 70s.