7
Terrains and Landscapes in
Unreal Engine
7.1 INTRO DUCTION TO LANDSCAPES
S
O far we have played mostly indoors! In almost all tutorials in this book, we first
set up a demo roo m with neat display items to showcase our creations and to
develop a p resentable set of displays. Now, it is time to go outside and have some
outdoors fun with Unreal Engine 4s brand new Landscapes!
In order to cr eate vast expanses of outdoor levels with high quality visuals we need to
fully utilize the power of landscapes in Unreal Engine 4. The good news is, creating,
manipulating and developing fantastic looking outd oors scenes is quite easy with the
landscape tools. Whether you want to crea te your landscape entirely in UE 4, or use
third party terrain tools such as World Ma chine, Terragen, Mudbox, or ZBrush, to
generate and imp ort height maps and terrains into Unreal, the results will be quite
impressive and the process fun.
In this chapter, m uch like all the other c hapters, I have tried to confine our learning
and exploration to Unreal Engine 4. As su ch, I tried to stay away from utilizing any
other software as much as possible. To this end, we will work entirely in Unr eal
Engine for the scope of our adventures into landscapes. Once you go through this
chapter and play with the Landscape editor in Unreal 4, and you would like to use
third party tools to create your own terrains and import them into Unreal Engine, you
will find the process quite straight forward.
So what exactly is a landscape? In Unreal Engine 4, a Landscape is pretty much the
equivalent o f a Terrain in UDK, Unr eal Eng ine 3, or othe r 3D game engines. Much
like terrains in UDK, a landscape in UE4 is an actor. It is used for the creation of vast
outdoors environments based on a height map. This actor enables you to develo p
high mountains and deep valleys, cave op enings, and even rivers a nd highways.
There is a significan t advantage in using a landscape instead of a static mesh with
the same number of vertices and polygo ns for terrain s. Unreal En gine has the ability
to utilize the landscape properties to automatically calculate the be st LOD (Level
of Details) based on the cam era’s distance from regions of the landscape that are
being rendered. This will dramatically decrease the demand on both CPU and GPU
operations to make vast terrains and landscapes render quite comfortably with real-
time performance.
The geometry of a landscape is contro lled form a map called a Heightmap. A
Heightmap is a black and white bitmap in which the dar ker areas represent lower
elevations, while brighter locations associate with higher elevations (see Figure 7.1).
The Heightmap sh own in Figure 7.1 corresponds to a raw landscape in Unrea l Eng ine
that looks like Figure 7.2. If the landscape looks bland and dull, it is because there
are not any landscape materials associated with it.
381
382 Game Development and Simulation with Unreal Technology
FIGURE 7.1: An Example of a H ei ghtmap.
We will learn, in this chapter, how to create landscape s and make landscape materials
to apply to our terrains. We will learn about how to blend different materia l networks
to apply and to paint on our land scape for grassy areas, rocky mountains, and snow-
capped mountains. We will also see how we can fill out landscapes with foliage
actors, and a unique and newly introduced toolkit for creating landscape splines in
our terrains.
7.2 LANDSCAPE SETUP
As I me ntion earlier, a landscape (or terrain) is an actor in Unreal Engine 4. Much
like any othe r actor, you c an create and place an instance of it in your level. Once a
landscape is created and placed in a level, you will notice two actor s in the Scene Out-
liner a Landscape Actor and a Landscape Gizmo Active Actor, hig hlighted
Terrains and Landscapes in Un real Engine 383
FIGURE 7.2: A Landscape Created from Heightmap in Figure 7.1.
in Figure 7.3(a).
(a) (b)
FIGURE 7.3: (a) Landscape Actor and Landscape Gizmo Actor. (b) Landscape Panel.
7.2.1 CREATING A LANDSCAPE
Creating a landscape is a very easy process. The mor e time-consuming process is to
edit the landscape, to set up its materials and layers, and to make it look realistic and
desirable.
To create a landscape, simply select the Landscape Tool of the Modes Panel (see
Figure 7.3(b)). The Landscape tool looks like a Mountain icon. You can also open

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