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The art of games: How to Be a Tree in GIFs
by John Polson on 01/29/14 05:15:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Tree1.gifDeveloper Jimmy Andrews makes a fractal plant come to life in How To Be a Tree, even if the Eyes won't have any of it.

As featured in the first Indie Games in GIFs collection, How to Be a Tree stars a tree which must figure out how to maneuver through various dangerous and tricky situations, while hopefully collecting the Blessed Sierpinski triangles (another L-System example, like the tree-protagonist) and resisting the normative fury of Eye and his like-minded Eyes. Alternatively, Jimmy says the tree can win by never moving. "This is a totally valid choice for any tree to make." That's a taste of what How to Be a Tree is like.

Jimmy describes it further:

The tree can move, and this upsets some characters in the game. Tree2.gif The eyes in particular are very opinionated about trees, and demand normative tree behavior. Tree3.gif(the fire effect is still a work in progress!) The player can control the tree with the arrow keys: pressing 'up' contracts the branches, 'down' expands them, and left/right rotate them left or right. With a bit of practice, you can learn to make the tree really jump around.Tree4.gif You can also shimmy through small places and sneak around ...Tree5.gif The game is still in early, active development, and I'm experimenting with new mechanics and new characters. For example, I've been working on some passive characters for the tree to push around:Tree6.gif And lately I've added some new threats for the trees:Tree7.gif Tree8.gif Tell us a bit about you: This is my first larger-scale game project, but I've made a bunch of little games before -- people seem to like Mr. Heart Loves You Very Much (my game about hearts, rotation and abandonment), Endless Frog Kids (my [still WIP] game about frog reproduction), and the Peanut Butter Spreading Simulator (my tournament-grade peanut butter spreading simulator). Beyond games, I just finished my PhD at UC Berkeley, where I worked for Carlo Sequin -- a CS professor who does super interesting work at the intersection of art and math, including a ton of lovely sculptures.

What was the inspiration for the game? It definitely started with this great recursive tree example that comes with Processing, which is a game/art programming tool that ships with a ton of really fun examples. I just loved the way that tree demo moves, and wanted to play with it further. I started out adding physics directly to that example, but as I've been refining the idea and exploring it more I ended up switching to a more proper physics engine (Box2D). I've generalized it by framing it in terms of L-Systems. 

When and on what can we expect it? I'm developing for Windows and Mac (and probably Linux, too). I think releasing this year would be great, but I really don't know: The size of the game is still up in the air. I'll be documenting my progress over on the TIGSource devlog, as I make the game. A lot is still up in the air, as I'm trying to do a lot of experiments and just feel out what works and what's fun and interesting for trees. Currently I'm working on code and art, and my friend Ghost of Electricity is working on sounds and music.

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