In this tutorial, we are going to create a lush valley using sample assets provided by Sickhead Games. For this guide, the terrain will be created by importing a heightmap, opacity maps, and creating new materials.


This article was written using a newly generated project with the Full Template, which ships with plenty of free assets for testing and learning. For this specific tutorial, you will want to download a zip file containing additional assets for testing: CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE ZIP FILE


None of the modifications you are about to make are required for future tutorials, so feel free to create a new level or use an existing one for testing. As long as you have access to existing materials, you are good to go.

You will want to remove any existing TerrainBlocks, Waterblock, or GroundPlane since we will be creating a terrain from scratch. To delete objects, use the Object Editor and select the object in the Scene tab and press the delete key

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Heightmap, Opacity Layer, Terrain Textures

To create high-quality and professional looking terrain, you will want to use a 3rd party external tool. Examples include L3DT and GeoControl. These tools allow you to generate extremely detailed heightmaps that can be imported by Torque 3D and generate terrain data.

Several assets are required to successfully import and render a high quality heightmap. Most terrain generating applications provide proper exporters to get the job done. First, we will cover what these assets are. The example assets you downloaded in the previous section were provided by Russell Fincher at Sickhead Games.

The primary asset required is the heightmap, which is an image used to store elevation data rendered in 3D by the engine. The heightmap itself needs to be a 16bit greyscale image, with width/height of a power of two(256x256, 1024x1024), and square. The lighter an area of a heightmap, the higher the elevation will be in that terrain location.

Example Heightmap


Next, you will want to use an opacity map. This map acts as a mask, which is designed to assign opacity layers. Opacity layers need to match the dimensions of the heightmap. For instance, a 512x512 heightmap can only use a 512x512 opacity map.

If the opacity map is a RGBA image, four opacity layers will be used for the detailing (one for each channel). If you use an 8bit greyscale image, only a single channel. You can then assign materials to the layers. This allows us to have up to 255 layers with a single ID texture map, saving memory which we can apply to more painting resolution.

Notice that the following example Opacity Map resembles the original heightmap.

Example Opacity Map


Finally, of course we want to use textures to paint the terrain. Instead of hand painting them, the opacity layer will automatically assign textures based on what channel they are loaded into. You will want to have three textures: a base (diffuse), a normal map, and a detail mask.







The base represents the color and flat detail of the textures. The normal map is used to render the bumpiness or depth of the texture, even though it is flat. Finally, the detail map provides up-close detail, but it absorbs most of their colors from the base map.

Importing A Heightmap

Now that you know what assets are required, we are going to import our first heightmap. What we are going to do is create a highly detailed valley scene, with snowcapped mountains. Since this section focuses on the World Editor, and not 3rd party tools, you are going to use sample assets. This will save time and allow you to learn the World Editor functionality first.

You should have already downloaded the sample artwork used in this tutorial. If not, click HERE to download a .zip file containing all of the assets you need for this tutorial. Again, these high quality assets were provided by Russell Fincher of Sickhead Games. The team has provided a lot of tech to Torque 3D, but they also strongly believe in solid documentation and have been a big help.

Create a folder in the game/art/terrains directory of your project called "sampleTerrain." Unzip the contents of the file you downloaded into this new folder. You should have two heightmaps, identical except for varying resolution. You will also receive three sets of textures and opacity maps.

With your blank room running in the World Editor, click on File->Import Terrain Heightmap


A floating dialog will appear and allow you to setup your new terrain before importing it.


Name:If you specify the name of an existing TerrainBlock in the dialog Torque will update that TerrainBlock and its associated .ter file. Otherwise Torque will create a new one.

Meters Per Pixel: Sets the size of the Terrain Block based on the imported heightmap. For instance, if you set the Meters Per Pixel to 2 and the heightmap is 512x512 pixels, the TerrainBlock's size will be 1024x1024 meters. Meters Per Pixel is a floating point value that does not require power of 2 values.

Height Scale: Sets the maximum height in meters you want white (RGB: 255, 255, 255) in the heightmap to be.

Height Map Image: File path to .png or .bmp heightmap itself. Remember, this needs to be a 16bit greyscale image, power of two, and square.

Texture Map: This involves opacity layers, which need to match the dimensions of the heightmap. If you add an RGBA image it will add 4 opacity layers to the list, one for each channel. If you add a 8bit greyscale image, it will be added as a single channel. You can then assign materials to the layers. If you do not add any layers the terrain will be created with just the Warning Material texture.

Keep the name default value, theTerrain. Click the browse button near Height Map Image to open a file browser dialog. Go to where you saved the terrain files, game/art/terrains/sampleTerrain and open the heightmap512.png.

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Next, click on the + button next to Texture Map to open another file browser. This is where we are going to add our opacity layers. Start by locating the prairie mask (game/art/terrains/sampleTerrain/prairie/prairie_maskX.png). You can choose the 512 or 1024, but you have to stick with that resolution for the rest of the files we will be adding.

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Do not worry if you do not see the detail, as the mask is supposed to be solid white. Repeat the process to add the rock wall mask.

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Perform this task one last time to add the snow mask.

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Your final settings should look like the following before continuing:

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Now that our opacity layers have been added, we are going to assign a material to each one. Click on the prairieMask layer, then click the edit button in the bottom right. You will now see the Terrain Materials Editor.

Image: TerrainMaterialEditor.jpg

Click the New button, found at the bottom next to the garbage bin, to add a new material. Type in Prairie for the name, then click the Edit button next to the Diffuse preview box. Again, a file browser will will pop up allowing you to open the base texture file for the prairie material. Alternatively, you can click the preview box itself, which is a checkered image until you add a texture.

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Once you have added the base texture, the preview box will update to show you what you opened. Click on the Change button under the Detail Map box. Using the file browser, open the detail map for our prairie material.

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Next, click on the Change button under Normal Map box. Use the file browser to open the prairie normal map.

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The Diffuse size controls the physical size in meters of the base texture. Before we are finished with this new material, set the Detail Size to 2. This means that the material will be scaled to two meters on the terrain. On a terrain that is 1024 square meters, the Prairie material will repeat a little less than 205 times. The Detail distance determines how far away from the camera must be before the detail map renders. Additionally, change the Detail Strength to 2. This controls how the strength of Detail map blending with the Diffuse map, a higher number. Your final material properties should look like the following:


Click the Select button to assign the new Prairie material to the opacity layer. Next, we will add the rock wall terrain material. Back in the Import Terrain Height Map dialog, select the rockWallMask opacity layer then click edit.

Repeat the process of creating a new terrain material, using the rock wall textures. Your final result will look like this:


Notice that I have set the detail size to 2, and the detail distance to 50. We are going to add our final terrain material now. Back in the Import Terrain Height Map dialog, select the snowMask opacity layer then click edit. Repeat the process of creating a new terrain material, using the snow textures. Your final result will look like this:


Now, we are all set to generate the terrain. Back in the Import Terrain Height Map dialog, click on the import button. It will take a few moments for Torque 3D to generate the terrain data from our various assets. When the import process is complete, the new TerrainBlock will be added to your scene (you might need to move your camera to see it).

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If you zoom in close to where materials overlap, you can notice the high quality detail and smooth blending that occurs.

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These last two shots are used to show you the scale of this massive terrain, which retains its high level detail over several levels of detail (LODs):

From a Distance
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Compare to Player Scale
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This tutorial showed you how to create a high resolution terrain from scratch, by importing a quality heightmap and opacity maps. Even after you have your terrain, you can continue to tweak it using the Terrain Editor and Terrain Painter tools.