3 min read

[8/50] The ground beneath your feet - Landscapes in Unreal (Part 1)

A photo of a landscape generated in Unreal
Stable Diffusion thinks this is an art form of a landscape generated in Unreal

In the to-do list of infinite things when thinking of the game-play environment design, one of the first things that pops out is the landscape - the ground that your characters would walk on. Unless your game doesn't really involve a lot of walking and you are just floating around in a surreal world where the laws of physics don't apply.

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The part two of this post is published here.

The terrain acts as a platter on which the world is based on. If you are familiar with Unreal Engine, you’d know about the Landscape Mode which is where most of the landscape management features of the engine reside. You can do one of two things - you generate a flat landscape based on the standard measurements provided by Unreal Engine’s own documentation here.

With Unreal 5, unlike the previous versions - the terrain calculations have become more rigid. I highly recommend you read Unreal’s technical guide if you are new to landscapes and terrains. It will save quite a bit of time trying to understand the calculations.

The second way is to import height maps in the engine and use them to generate terrains which later can be sculpted using the tools provided by the engine.

We did both! And each of them came with their own set of trials and tribulations. For the sake of simplicity and structure, we will divide the post into:

  • Landscape Sculpting (Sculpt Mode, Landmass Blueprint Plugin)
  • Height maps (Gaea and Arboreal Mask)
  • Landscape Tiles and Sizes
  • Landscape Seams and World Partition

Again, this is not a “what to do” guide but a documentation of what we learnt while creating terrains and how we maneuvered the hurdles we came across.

Landscape Sculpting

When we started off, our workflow majorly involved using the tools the engine already provides. And while Unreal provides some impeccable tools, sculpting is not one of them. It will do what it claims- sculpt, erode and create mountainous terrains but it fails to capture the logical nuances of terrain formation. Plus, you end up with more jagged edges than not and it really isn't a feasible way to go about creating landscapes, especially for bigger terrains with a pronounced mountain range.

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Landscape Brush in Unreal

The Landmass Blueprint Brushes plugin found in the plugin section of Unreal is a much more organic approach to Landscape Sculpting than the standard sculpting tools in Landscape mode. To use this you will need to switch on the Landmass Checkbox in the plugins section. You will also get access to a lot of water based landmass brushes if your Water Body Plugin is checked on.

Landscape sculpting can be a non destructive process if sculpting on the base layer is avoided. Lock the base layer and create new layers for sculpting. It is essentially like Photoshop. It gives you more control over the sculpt and any further modifications of it won't affect the base terrain. If you ever re-import the base terrain, it won't affect the sculpts you have created as they blend procedurally with the base.

Screenshot showing how to add non-destructive layers with UE5 landscape tools.
Adding non-destructive layers when sculpting the landscape.

This Spline based Blueprint Brush gives you a much more dynamic control over Landscape Sculpting letting you create Landscape variation of different heights. The curl strength and tiling lets you create variations in your mountains. However after the removal of Displacement (RIP) in UE5, it has lost its effectiveness in creating depth variation and randomization. While this may be a good tool for minor landscape variation on a micro level, we felt the need for a much more nuanced tool for landscape definition for the macro scale.

In a future blog post, we will discuss about our experience using Heightmaps and Gaea.