Submitted by , posted on 28 February 2002

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Well, here it is - another terrain engine! I know there have been many lately, but I think mine is a little different and somewhat interesting (and I'm proud that I acually finished it!). The terrain you see was entirely generated with Terragen and I found the world and heightmap files at an online gallery. In retrospect, the simple hills and valley are a little plain for a demo, but it took so long to create that I don't have the patience to do it again!

The original intent of this demo was to create an engine that could display hi-res satelite imagery and 3d terrain in realtime. I could then get data of places I have been, and check them out from a different angle! Unfortunately, the only high-enough-res data that I found costs thousands of dollars (anyone know some sources?). I then fell back to using Terragen to create equivalently high-res images. Since I wanted to use satelite imagery, there are no ecosystem based effects. No detail textures. No artwork whatsoever. No flashy stuff. Nothing. Its one texture for the terrain - as raw as it gets - and that's the goal!

Actually, I lied. The entire scene is composed of two textures - the skybox and the terrain map. The terrain map is a 16384x16384 RGB file (grand total of 268M pixels!). In its uncompressed form, it consumes 768MB and after pre-computation, it is over 1GB! The landscape is modelled to be 8192x8192 meters, giving the terrain map a resolution of 4 pixels/m^2 - quite some detail! The terrain data and texture data are stored in a quadtree-like data structure that facilitates fast dynamic level-of-detail for both of them. In this demo, there are 128x128 bezier patches (sorry non-GeForce3+ users) that compose the terrain, and each is associated with "relative" texture coordinates (uv's relative to the entire terrain).

When rendering, the quadtree nodes are allocated/deallocated dynamically. For each visible patch in a node, its actual area (in this case 8192/128=64m^2) is divided by the projected screen space area and a resolution for the patch is determined. Starting at the tree root, I traverse downwards until I find a texture that covers the desired area and is at greater or equal resolution to the patch. Patches don't contain texture coordinates in their vertex data (to save memory) but a single vertex buffer with 16 texture coordinates (to match the cubic patches' 4x4 vertices) in the range [0,1] are used along with a texture matrix to compute the relative coordinates into the desired texture. Some of you may be saying "hey, this is sort of like a super-mipmapping algo." Yup, It is similar (although quite different in some respects) and it allows keeping the pixel:texel ration between 1:1 and 1:2.

The bezier patches themselves also use a level-of-detail technique. Using the screen space projected area, it is easy to determine how many segments are needed to draw the patch at a certain resolution (pixels/segment). In my case, I use 16 if it is relatively close and a geometrically precomputed lower-bound if it is relatively distant. Since tesselating patches with different control points would cause cracks in the terrain, each patch examines its neighbors before rendering. It then tesselates its East edge according to the control points of its East neighbor and does similarly with the South edge. Both North and West edges are tesselated according to the patch's determined resolution, regardless of neighboring patches.

You can see the result in the screenshots. The larger top-left and bottom-right shots show you the landscape from 1.8 meters above ground, and the larger bottom-left and top-right shots lift you by 100 meters or so. The 8 smaller shots show a zoom sequence from 7 kilometers back to a closeup!

Image of the Day Gallery



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