Monday, June 10th, 2013 Posted by Jim Thacker

e-on software pre-releases The Plant Factory

e-on software’s latest video demo for The Plant Factory, showing recursive modelling. The developer has just confirmed that such node-based workflow will only be available in the higher-end editions of the software.

Originally posted on 6 June: scroll down for updates.

e-on software has made The Plant Factory, its next-generation plant modelling and rendering system, available as a ‘pre-release’ – but has run into flak from potential users over the software’s pricing and feature restrictions.

Powerful and versatile…
Originally announced in February, The Plant Factory enables to create plant models from a node graph, by assembling pre-built components, or manually painting shapes.

The software can export models in file formats such as FBX, 3DS and OBJ, but is more tightly integrated with Vue, with version 11 and above of the software able to read files in The Plant Factory’s native .veg format.

On Monday, e-on announced that The Plant Factory would be released in five editions, from a $99 Converter edition designed to enable TPF artists to use assets in other software, to a full $1,495 Producer edition.

…but overpriced and overly restricted?
The announcement generated a lot of comments on The Plant Factory website, the majority negative.

Complaints included the price of the high-end editions, the restrictions on distributing or sharing content created with the software, and the 1-million-polygon export limit in the $995 Studio edition.

e-on quickly removed the latter, saying in a blog post that the limit “was never intended to be a hard ceiling”.

However, price remains an issue, with users complaining that the $495 ‘for Vue’ edition, which lacks the option to export plants as 3D meshes, is underpowered; and that the Studio edition is overpriced.

Updated 10 June: e-on has now cancelled the ‘for Vue’ edition in response to the early user feedback, replacing it with a new Designer edition, which will feature mesh export.

But are the price and licensing conditions really that unusual?
Certainly, rival plant-creation tool SpeedTree Architect, priced identically to the for Vue edition, offers mesh export – although e-on would no doubt point out that it isn’t specifically tailored to work with Vue.

However, the version with the feature set most similar to The Plant Factory Studio is SpeedTree’s own Studio edition – which, at $895, isn’t priced too dissimilarly.

e-on’s licensing conditions, which forbid users from “distribution of content made by you in Plant Factory, [either] in the native format nor in standard 3D formats” are also fairly standard: SpeedTree developer IDV offers a specific middleware edition for games, for example.

Additionally, e-on has posted on its forum that TPF content can be used in videogames, “provided that you can guarantee that no content can be exported from your game”.

More unusual conditions and restrictions
However, content created in The Plant Factory can be sold through e-on’s own online marketplace: “If this is something you would like to do, it can be done through our content division, Cornucopia3D.”

That isn’t standard, and many users have interpreted it as meaning: ‘Actually, it’s okay to sell content created in The Plant Factory – so long as we can take a 30% cut of the profits.’

But the most unusual restriction is the inability of the lower-priced editions of The Plant Factory to exchange assets natively with other TPF users: to do that, you need the $1,495 Producer edition.

As far as we’re aware, that isn’t something other vegetation software developers do, and effectively restricts studios using to the Producer edition.

A victim of its own success?
In some ways, e-on seems to have been the victim of its own extended teaser campaign, which has effectively built interest in the software, but has also raised expectations far beyond that of most product launches.

So far, the flak surrounding pricing and licensing has drowned out feedback from early users as to what the software can actually do.

That’s a shame, as The Plant Factory is an interesting product, and one that seems to be capable – in the Producer edition, at least – of generating some very detailed results.

Pre-released now: full release later this month
The Plant Factory Studio is currently available at a special pre-order price of $395, although minus full documentation, and for Windows only.

According to e-on: “Although there is no pre-release for the Mac platform, if you purchase the pre-release today, you will be able to download the final Mac version when it ships (no release date is scheduled at this point – this could take a while).”

The commercial release of all five editions of the software is due “in the coming month”, again initially for Windows. The software will run on Windows XP and above, although a 64-bit OS is recommended.

Updated 7 June: There are a couple of interesting new threads on e-on’s forums on the difference between the Studio and Producer editions of The Plant Factory.

This one has some fairly detailed feedback from an early user (read through to page 3), and this one includes a longish post from e-on’s Steve Bell.

Updated 10 June: Phase II of the pre-release of The Plant Factory Studio is now shipping. In response to the early feedback, e-on has lifted all graph and node restrictions in the Studio edition.

See a full feature and price comparison of the five editions of The Plant Factory

Visit The Plant Factory website
(Includes more technical information and teaser images)