Today I take a look at landscapes and foliage. In UDK, we used landscape to create the entire island of Enola, and it took a while but the tools made it easy (for the most part) to make the terrain. The tools are pretty much the same in UE4.
One nice thing about the landscape is that it has built-in LOD. For those who don’t know, LOD in videogames stands for “level of detail” and it’s a setting that lets you swap your model for a lower resolution one as it gets farther from the camera (you can have different levels of detail depending on the distance, for example you can have a high resolution model, a somewhat high resolution model, a medium resolution model, and a low resolution model).
The LOD in the landscape works more or less the same, except that it dynamically subdivides and optimizes parts of the entire mesh to adjust the LOD. As a comparison, last time I used a terrain in Unity, it didn’t offer that feature (back in 2018 for The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest).
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Shaping the landscape is very easy. UE4 has a few sculpting tools that you can use, and you can import a height map you have created in an image editing program like Photoshop or GIMP. It takes a while to create a nice looking landscape, but it can be worth it.
UE4 also has painting tools that you can use to paint different materials on your landscape.
Adding the different layers is a little tricky, though. What you need to do is add those layers to your actual landscape material, since you cannot add “paint layers” to the landscape object.
Foliage is a different mode in UE4, but I decided to check it out in companion with the landscape tools because they pretty much complement each other. With the foliage tools you can use a brush to paint actors or static meshes on top of other objects (meshes, landscapes, etc.). The idea is that, rather than adding all those objects by hand, the foliage tool creates a single object that contains all the instances, making the engine render all objects in one single draw call. I’d still need to test it on a foliage-heavy scene, to see if it works, so I won’t just say “it’s amazing!!!” just yet.
A nice touch is the ability to select a single instance (using the selection tool in the foliage mode), which allows you to transform that specific instance. This can be useful to fine-tune the location of each instance.
You may feel inclined to think that foliage will only be useful if you are creating landscapes and open environments. However, I think it can also be useful if you are creating a game that takes place in a house with a garden, since that garden will include grass, plants and maybe even trees (actually a scene in Just Let Me Go is just like that). Sometimes, the “big high-end features” can also be useful for smaller scope projects.
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