Watch Magical Procedural Trees Grow In Starboretum

Sooner or later, we all make the little flowers grow.

At the intersection of three of my greatest passions – plants, wandering, and watching plants grow – sprouts a new work-in-progress look at the tech behind Starboretum [official site]. Also trees. Lots of trees. They sprout, rise, branch out, and spread their leaves, powered by magical procedural generation. Starboretum’s made by Alex May, one half of the duo behind arboreal RTS Eufloria. As an expert virtuatree-watching wanderer, I must say this video is just the ticket for a Friday afternoon.

Alex also suggests listening to, say, this while watching. Go on.

Lovely that, isn’t it? You might now be wondering, “But what is it?” Don’t know. Couldn’t tell you. Perfectly happy in this ignorance. Its description on Twitter is a “monouser cultivation and transcendence simulator”. All I know is that has wonderful trees and is quiet and calming to encourage idle reflection and contemplation, which I am certainly on board with.

Watching this reminds me of Meadows but it’s so very much fancier. The way the different trees rise and spread and sprout is just magical. Sadly, we have no word on when it’ll be released.

[Disclosure: I know Alex May. He has bought me drinks in pubs, but I’ve bought him drinks too. I didn’t keep a record so I couldn’t tell you whether he’s up or I am. It’s probably me.]


  1. Robert Post's Child says:

    Seems calming, but also like it might become a briefly-satisfying-yet-maddening bubble wrap -style scenario where I just keep wanting to push at it, trying to make more branches pop up. That might just be me though.

    Certainly looks nice.

    • haowan says:

      I’m hoping that you’ll be so absorbed by other aspects of it that the minutiae of branch growth will not concern you greatly!

  2. sicanshu says:


    *Furiously sharpens Ethics in Journalism pitchfork*

    But yeah, those trees are pretty.

    • Shuck says:

      Pubgate! (Sorry, I’ll punch myself in the groin as an act of contrition now.)

      • haowan says:

        In the spirit of disclosure, I have not sent links to this footage to anyone except a potential musician – only posted it on my social media accounts. Alice probably is ahead on pints, but if I buy her a pint in the future it’ll be to redress that, or because I know and like her, rather than to thank her for writing so nicely about the game.

        I actually had a pubgate incident recently in which I baited some members of a certain hashtag meetup on twitter, and it was an unkind thing to do and I regret it.

    • Distec says:

      Well, she did disclose it. So you can put it away.

  3. haowan says:


  4. Niko says:

    But will I be able to punch those lovely trees?

    • haowan says:

      I’m planning to add punching as paid DLC. You’ll be able to punch so hard that you’ll change the very DNA of the tree. Shards of polygonal bark will explode across the screen and litter the landscape, and you’ll be able to use them as ammunition for your vast array of procedurally-generated cyberguns.

      • wu wei says:

        I know you’re just kidding but I would play the crap out of that (the gene-altering punches more so than the cyberguns).

        • haowan says:

          I *am* just kidding, but I am also thinking of ways to ease long term interest, and removing some of the opacity of the tree mutation by perhaps providing the player with tools to directly manipulate parameters of the tree “DNA” is definitely something I’m considering. It probably won’t be punching, though.

  5. Jicksta says:

    It’d be cool to see a more exacting growth simulation, but this does look gorgeous

    • haowan says:

      I’m not planning to model growth with a high level of accuracy, but am definitely considering adding extra branches for the early stages of growth, which are then discarded as the tree ages. This should help with what I see as the problem of giant stalks with no branches or leaves in young trees.

      Exhaustive simulation of growth isn’t part of the aim of this game – it’s going to be more about exploring the possibilities of the algorithm to find something that suits you aesthetically, so you can create your own customised space filled with forms that please you. Normally I’m very interested in systems and how they interact, but I’ve deliberately withdrawn from that for Starboretum.

  6. dskzero says:

    This is sad because this “monouser cultivation and transcendence simulator” looks beautiful and pointless.

    • haowan says:

      Yeah. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: the concept of pointlessness, and the need to have a point in a game. Over the years I’ve benefited a lot from meditation and related concepts. What would you say the point of Proteus was? Do you think that adding things like survival and narrative to Eidolon contributed positively to the atmosphere of the landscape? What is the point of a walk in the woods? Did Fez have a point? Probably a lot of people who played these games thought they were wasting their time, but I don’t think time can really be wasted, only spent. I guess I’m confused by the idea that something can be both beautiful and yet pointless!

      Starboretum isn’t simply about walking, but appreciation of environments is a strong motivator for me and is a large part of the direction of the project, the other being the possibilities offered by an opaque complex system – hopefully sparking the same kind of interest people take in diving deep into fractals.

      David O’Reilly recently wrote about his game Mountain, and this part really stood out for me:

      One horrible aspect of 20th century culture is it that it has tricked a lot of people into believing there is always something to get in art 

      There won’t be anything to get in Starboretum, beyond personal interest in the possibilities of the world, and cultivating your own space. I’m planning for it to be an absorbing escape into another reality. The description of the game on Twitter you quote is deliberately pretentious.

  7. EkoAzarak says:

    Starboretum looks very cool. And I’d like to have an app to run on my second monitor while i do productivity or game.. something to get the zen vibe goin. I bought Mountain to do that but holy shit that “game” runs like dogshit. Whomever programmed that mess needs some help because it cripples my intel i7 4770k to the point i cant even watch youtube while running it. 50% cpu usage for a procedural screensaver? worst 1.99$ i ever spent.

    if Starboretum turns out to be lightweight, ill buy it.