Over the past few days, on and off whilst tinkering with other things, I have been building levels with the Terrain Editor in Unreal.

It’s fun. Using the tool is tactile, responsive and immediate. If given the choice of building in BSP or throwing something together in terrain, then terrain wins every time. It has a very shallow learning curve which suits me perfectly, and has allowed me to throw together some cool looking terrains after only a few hours practice. The following images chart my learning.


The image above is just me playing in a 64×64 terrain, trying out a few of the brushes, seeing what shapes would be made. It reminded me of working in the ModNation Racers track editor, carving out canyons with a button press and a sweep of the controller. Not sure if that is a compliment to ModNation or an insult to UDK.


Phase two was adding a material layer. I tried a few different materials, but settled on sand as a favourite. I learnt an interesting lesson here. Whilst adding a realistic material should instantly make the map more realistic, I found that it didn’t. When the mountains are in grey scale, I found that I was filling in the gaps, imaging the tundra and rocks that best fit the shape of the mountains. The minute I attached a material, in this case the sand, it gave a context to the landscape that wasn’t reflected in my rock formations. For a desert scene the mountains are too sharp and jagged, not the soft rolling dunes that the sandy texture demanded.


I wanted to keep working within the same landscape, to try and make it look a little more real. The addition of a grassy material didn’t really help. However, it provided a good base layer from which to build.



The two key changes here are pretty obvious.First, I added a sky box and moved the direction light to give the impression that of an evening on the moors. Secondly, I used a second material layer to make the hilly areas look like rocky outcrops. This instantly made the terrain a little more convincing.

From here I wanted to make something more realistic still. I went digging online for some inspiration.



I decided to try and make something that looked like the picture of Yosemite, above. I apologise to the photographer, because I forgot to get the web link for your page. I liked the depth that the landscape had, as well as the sense of scale and scope. I used three texture layers and a deco layer to make the image below.



I was really pleased with how this came together. Three material layers and a deco layer combine to give the impression of a deep, epic Yosemite valley. Lots of little details went into making this look effective. The trees vary slightly in size, giving a more random quality than the uniform deco layer often offers. Using a low strength (20) brush allowed me to blend the ground and rock textures, giving the impression of the foliage thinning as it climbs the mountain. The snow caps also work well and, combined with the dark clouds, have a very “Oblivion” feel.

Terrain_02_Ground_Rock_Evening_Lightmass_FullThis world picture shows what I had to do to the terrain to give it the depth that you see in the Yosemite photo. Tall mountains are needed to rise above the closer hills. This makes the terrain quite extreme in places and, particularly the mountain at the back left, a little unrealistic. However, I achieved my goal of creating a Yosemite-like landscape and I’m particularly pleased with the speed and confidence with which I went from the first picture to the last.

Now I’m going back to BSP and static meshes, experimenting with ideas whilst I design my big level.

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