Lead artist at Campo Santo Jane Ng recently presented at the NYU game center about her work as an environmental artist on Firewatch, mentioning how she only modeled 23 different trees featured in the game.
Ng emphasized that designers don't need to create hyper-realistic, detailed assets in order to be memorable, but to focus on "feeling real".
She discussed the importance of atmosphere over realism when modeling the environment of Firewatch, citing a technical limitation for the reason she manually had to create the trees.
"I had to make it by hand because Speedtree was not integrated in Unity back then." She explains. "It can be done but you also realize that very few games have pine trees, because of all trees in the world pine trees are the worst in terms of being made 3D."
The environment of Firewatch doesn't feel repetitive because, according to Ng, objects and places were scaled based on what felt right as opposed to what was accurate.
Definitely check out the presentation to hear more about her creative process during the development of Firewatch.