Evolution of the tree

... and 14 other everyday objects we take for granted in videogames

You don%26rsquo;t know how good you%26rsquo;ve got it. With the latest generation, you%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;t that great, or how the characters%26rsquo; faces aren%26rsquo;t that well animated. Well, it%26rsquo;s time for a history lesson.

Over the next few pages we%26rsquo;ll be looking at gaming%26rsquo;s unsung heroes %26ndash; objects like rocks, puddles and, er, breasts %26ndash; and how they%26rsquo;ve changed over the decades. After you%26rsquo;ve witnessed the horrors within, you%26rsquo;ll never complain about graphics again. Well, not much. You%26rsquo;ll thank the stars your character has a fully animated face, however wonky, and more than three pre-set animations. You%26rsquo;ll skip merrily through the battlefield gazing at 3D barrels, thankful they no longer look like grey, pixelly potato croquettes. You%26rsquo;ll gaze (even more) longingly at Taki from Soul Calibur%26rsquo;s jiggling breasts, overjoyed at the fact that%26hellip; well, you get the idea. Let%26rsquo;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 %26ndash; who needs realism? Anyone looking at this picture will understand it%26rsquo;s a tree, so scratch %26lsquo;one%26rsquo; for games %26ndash; 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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s Rusks.


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