Man, this news has certainly been a long time coming! Speedtree first announced version 8 of their modeler and engine for the Lumberyard game engine back in early 2017 (I kid you not). It’s finally coming to Unity later this month! For those of you not familiar with Speedtree, check out their 2018 VFX showreel. Most (if not all) of what’s featured in the promo is using the beefier Speedtree Cinema.
Though the company got their start in the game industry, they’ve established themselves in the film industry too. Beginning with a little film called Avatar, things have snowballed. It has reached the point where most blockbuster films rely on their tools for trees and nature. I follow the the film industry, and have been interested in this company since Avatar was released. Let’s take a minute to check out that trailer, and take note of the nature. Remember, no part of that movie was filmed with a live plant.
Okay, that’s enough with the fancy feature film quality stuff. What about game engines? When it comes to content creation, cinema and games are often (virtual) worlds apart. Rendering for film and television is a whole different beast. It’s done offline (meaning, not in real-time), and in many cases uses several computers working together to render just one scene. By comparison, games need to render in real-time and on just one computer (or mobile device). Not only that, but ideally it should be able to look good on a wide range of systems (not just a high end gamer rig).
Does It Work With Unity?
Speedtree 7 for Unity has been available for a few years now. I started working with it in 2016 when I started making content for SineSpace. I am a huge fan of the tool. What I love about it is that using the modeler feels like using artist’s tools. I nudge, poke, stretch, bend, and pull at different parts, tweak a parameter here and there. I am able to play around with a model until I get something I’m really happy with. It handles the packing and packaging of the files into something that Unity can easily work with.
SineSpace has supported Speedtree since before the open beta started. So using the stuff I created in the Speedtree modeler has been a piece of cake.
The first few versions of the BlakOpal shoppe regions were excuses to play with and show off some of my trees.
Actually, I’m still doing that now. As of this writing, the BlakOpal region features 5 trees and a dozen plants I made using the tool. Trees moving in the wind was one of the features that first drew me to SineSpace. I enjoyed using trees in my builds in previous generation worlds, but the environments felt less immersive and rigid. Avatars walked through cities and countrysides where nothing moved, something felt off.
That’s Great, But Does It Work With Unity?
Part of the nearly-two-year-long wait was that Unity needed to add support for Speedtree 8 into their game engine. Unity sometimes takes a while to add or update support for something, and Speedtree was no exception. They finally got there with the recent release of Unity 2018.3. Strangely enough, after waiting so long for Unity to get it together, Unity was ready before Speedtree finished their end.
What About SineSpace?
We can expect to have Speedtree 8 support in the near future in SineSpace. Their development team is hard at work at what is the biggest update yet for both the Editor Pack (package of tools for content creators to use with the Unity Editor) and the client (the thing everybody uses to go in-world, play and explore in SineSpace). As that gets tested and tweaked and bugs get fixed, we should see that update get released anywhere from the next few weeks to the next few months.
How Will It Work?
From what I’ve gathered, the folks at Speedtree have organized their whole “Speedtree for Games” ecosystem a lot better with v8 than they did in the past.
The Speedtree Modeler application will be a free download. In free mode, it can export only. So any Speedtree models that you buy get loaded through there and exported in a format that makes Unity happy. If you’re a subscriber (it’s $20 per month), you enter your account details and it unlocks all the features. You can build trees from scratch or load a model and make infinite variations from it.
Play with your designs and creations to your heart’s content, and when you’re happy with it, export it to Unity. Then for SineSpace, you just drop them in your scene. You can place trees using Unity’s terrain tools, drag them from your project folder, or use a third party asset toplace your trees.
Stay tuned, I plan to post some videos showing trees in SineSpace, and possibly also some tutorials on how to use Speedtree 8 for Unity once it’s released.
Update: It’s Been Released!