Evolution of the tree

You don’t know how good you’ve got it. With the latest generation, you’ve got one of the most sophisticated pieces of technology in the world sitting under your television (or sitting on your desk), obediently pumping out hundreds of thousands of polygons a second and making trillions of calculations, all so you can sit there grunting about how the draw distance isn’t that great, or how the characters’ faces aren’t that well animated. Well, it’s time for a history lesson.

Over the next few pages we’ll be looking at gaming’s unsung heroes – objects like rocks, puddles and, er, breasts – and how they’ve changed over the decades. After you’ve witnessed the horrors within, you’ll never complain about graphics again. Well, not much. You’ll thank the stars your character has a fully animated face, however wonky, and more than three pre-set animations. You’ll skip merrily through the battlefield gazing at 3D barrels, thankful they no longer look like grey, pixelly potato croquettes. You’ll gaze (even more) longingly at Taki from Soul Calibur’s jiggling breasts, overjoyed at the fact that… well, you get the idea. Let’s go.

The humble tree

  Horace Goes Skiing, Sinclair Spectrum, 1982
This tree is blue. Could the developer have, at least, made them green? Even the trunk is blue, but hey – who needs realism? Anyone looking at this picture will understand it’s a tree, so scratch ‘one’ for games – the 8-bit graphics have clearly done their job. Still, this is the videogame equivalent of cave drawings.


Sonic The Hedgehog, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, 1991
The 16-bit consoles could afford more colors and bigger tiles for sprites, but they usually looked as convincing as a flat, pixilated picture of a tree could. However, artistic license enabled Sonic Team to create stylized palm trees that still look superb, with pseudo-3D hints and bold slabs of color. A giant leap forward.


  Virtua Racing, Arcade, 1992
Now we’re getting somewhere. While clearly not as detailed as the previous example, in Virtua Racing trees finally planted their roots in fast-moving, true 3D. OK, so it’s just a green pyramid with a basic slab of brown trunk, but you can almost smell the virtual pine freshness from here. Mmmm.

  Super Mario 64, N64, 1996
Not 3D, but this tree is a convincingly-shaded, playfully toy-like 2D sprite. It almost looks as if it’s been modeled in clay. Being flat, the sprite would move depending on where the camera was facing, but considering this was the first truly free-roaming 3D world, we could forgive the foliage’s technical shortcomings.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, PC/360/PS3, 2007

Thick, gnarled trunks, dense, wafting foliage and a full reaction to weather make Oblivion’s trees the finest examples in gaming to date. If someone had told us this was an in-game shot in 1982, we would have said... well, nothing actually. But we would definitely have choked on our Farley’s Rusks.

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  • mausjake - September 21, 2010 11:58 p.m.

    I can think of a few better games then the ones chosen, but someone seems to be a bit of a fan boy. And this is coming from someone who owns a 360 and PS3
  • lilspooky - September 21, 2010 3:44 p.m.

    Exhumed, looks like a console port of a PC game called Power Slave.
  • ThePeanutGangsta - September 20, 2010 8:59 p.m.

    Pretty good but one thing, how the hell did you not choose Ivy from Soul Caliber II In her impossibly tight leather dominatrix gear for the boob section? And Gta should have been on there for fire and CoD should have been on there for the explosions. Sorry to criticize and stuff but there.
  • Kopite - September 20, 2010 12:12 p.m.

    Really interesting article I partiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  • GR_JustinTowell - December 10, 2009 1:06 p.m.

    I know I'm a year late here, but just to explain. I was asked to write this article for PSM3 - a PlayStation magazine. It then got ported to GamesRadar, as a few articles do. That's why it says PSM3 instead of my name in the byline. So... that's the reason for the PlayStation-centric angle, see? :)
  • samboy218 - October 9, 2008 10:48 p.m.

    halo 3 should be in there for fire it looks awesome oh by the way great article:)
  • WinkedUp Lozza - October 8, 2008 3:37 a.m.

    Ratchet and Clank: Future: Tools of Destruction might fit in quite a lot of the PS3 catagories...
  • 1NVAD3R - October 7, 2008 1:22 a.m.

    I think it's hilarious how you describe such things as hands and walls.
  • likedamaster - October 5, 2008 4:59 p.m.

    Wow, I guess no other games exist outside of the Playstation brand. Anyway, if anyone's played "Lost Planet" then anyone would know how the explosions in that game are the most realistic and best looking to date(see for yourself, it's guaranteed you'll agree). I'm also convinced that if any other game's walls look the best it would be Gears of War's walls. They are by far the most detailed and best looking. Just those 2 games I would have included. And Black definitely deserves recognition, it's what most people liked about that game.
  • cultofbananas - October 4, 2008 6:26 a.m.

    Sweet article. To the people complaining at not seeing their favorite game on this list: stfu, quit whining.
  • TENAXIS (PSN) - October 4, 2008 4:52 a.m.

    ohh my god!!! i love this article!! its sooo cool. Although i dont know any of the 8bit games nor the 16bit. But Uncharted is in it!! so **** YEAH!!! 15 PAGES OF PURE AWESOMENESS!!!
  • Conjuror - October 4, 2008 1:01 a.m.

    "The graphics might be blocky but so what" @3:30
  • Spybreak8 - October 3, 2008 8:53 p.m.

    Very cool read, hilarious how bad objects looked in the beginning yet we thought they were the coolest.
  • Juriasu - October 3, 2008 8:23 p.m.

    A link to the past should have been on the rain list :(
  • I-Be-MAD - October 3, 2008 6:47 p.m.

    It's the little things in life are what count...
  • Major_Wood - October 3, 2008 4:23 p.m.

    That was a very...exhaustive article. My one complaint: how can you have a section on walls, with no mention of Red Faction?
  • wreltcher - October 3, 2008 10:07 a.m.

    Desert Strike but no JUNGLE Strike? Buggy Boy should have been there too. I remember hitting an awful lot of palm trees in that game.
  • noofer7 - October 3, 2008 1:17 a.m.

    you should have put elder scrolls morrowind in between mario 64 and oblivilon on the trees page.
  • BuggattiFreak - October 3, 2008 1:05 a.m.

    Love how GranTurismo geld the top places in cars.
  • Ninja-KiLLR - October 3, 2008 12:50 a.m.

    i like how the ps3 eclusives took most of the top spots and how mgs has showed the evolution of the face. very cool. both are well desiverd