Fractal Terrains is fantastic at creating random maps but it took me a while to figure out how to recreate an existing map with the same level of detail.

In a previous article, I wrote about how to Transfer a CC3 Landmass to FT3. Although that worked wonderfully for getting the outline of the landmass transferred, I wasn’t able to get any further. There was no texture to the landmass or the ocean floor and there were significant artifacts where the two altitudes met. These problems (and my inability to overcome them) were certainly the result of my unfamiliarity with the software. Nevertheless, I was stuck and quite frustrated till I hit on a solution.

There are probably many other techniques for doing this but here’s what I did.

Getting Started

Click “File > New”, select “Synthetic World”, and click “Next”

The settings I used for this tutorial are:

  • Highest Peak: 32,000 Feet
  • Lowest Depth: -16,000 Feet
  • Circumference: 7,000 Miles
  • Method: RMF with Perlin’s Improved Noise
  • Roughness: 0.75
  • Percent Sea: 100
  • Land Size: 10 (Smallest)

Click “Next” and the click “Finish”.

You should now have a nicely textured map of the ocean floor. Before we go on, there’s a couple more settings to check.

Click “Map > World Settings” and select the “Editing” tab. Select “Custom” and change the value next to it to “4000”. Check “Allow Prescale Offset Editing” and click “Apply”. After the map redraws, close the “World Settings” window.

Removing Islands

One last step. If there are any unwanted islands, either click on the “Next World” icon (or click “Map > Next World”) to generate a new map with a different seed or manually remove them.

To manually remove islands, click “Tools > Paint Lower > Land Offset” (or use the shortcut key: “L”). Be sure your “Paintbrush Options” toolbar is open. To open it, click “View > Toolbars & Docking Windows” and make sure that “Paintbrush Options” is checked. I would suggest height and width of 20 and a value of 500. Note that changes to tool options do not take effect until the box where you type in the change loses focus. Press tab to change focus and the change will take effect. Now click on the islands with the brush and they should disappear below sea level. It may take multiple clicks. If so, try not to click in the same spot. Move the brush around so that the island and any surrounding area affected by the brush will lower evenly.

Raising the Ocean Floor

When you are ready to do this for real, you will need a selection of the actual landmass that you plan to recreate. However, this process will require some practice so a sample selection will do just fine for now. When you are ready to work on your actual landmass, one method for creating the necessary selection is to follow the steps outlined in my previous article, and then selecting that landmass and saving the selection. Selections are saved as external bmp files so once saved you can easily load it into another map.

Select an area where you want to create a landmass and draw a selection representing the landmass you wish to create. Remember this is just a practice run so it doesn’t matter what you use.

Before you go any further, save your selection (click “Selection > Save Selection”).

Now expand your selection by 50 pixels (click “Select > Modify > Expand”) and feather it by 20 pixels (click “Select > Modify > Feather”). Next, we will raise the ocean floor (within the selection) by 5000 feet. Click “Tools > Global Raise > Land Offset” (Be sure to use “Land Offset” and not “Prescale Land Offset”).

Load the original selection and repeat but this time expand by 30 pixels instead of 50.

That should put most of the area (within the original selection) above sea level. Further, the sea floor should have a natural looking rise up to the edge of the landmass. If it doesn’t look natural, you’ll have to try different values. In fact, it’s a good idea to play around with different values anyway to see how they affect the outcome.

An alternative method (that I actually developed first but gave up in favor of the one above) is to expand the original selection by 10-20, raise the land offset by 200-500, contract the selection by 1-2, raise the land offset again and repeat a dozen or so times. I like the other technique better and it has far fewer steps but this method produces nice results too.

Raising the landmass in a way that produced realistic terrain (transitioning between the sea floor and the landmass) was by far the step that caused me the most anguish. It sounds so easy now but without knowing how to do this step, I was feeling very lost. The next step, though more lengthy, was far more intuitive.

Adjusting the Terrain

Although the general shape of the new landmass should somewhat resemble what you want, it probably needs a lot of work. We need to raise some areas and lower others. This is the part that will take some practice to get good at. It’s not difficult (in fact, I think it’s kind of fun) but it is more a matter of developing skill at an art form that following a series of steps.

We will only need two commands for this step: Paint Raise (Land Offset) and Paint Lower (Land Offset). The “Paint Lower” command was described in the “Removing Islands” section above.

Make sure your “Paintbrush Options” toolbar is open. Click “Tools > Paint Raise > Land Offset”. Set height and width to 20 and value to 500. Be sure to tab after setting the last value so that the change takes effect. Now you’re ready to begin.

Load the original selection. Note an area inside the selection that is still under water. Deselect the selection and click in the area that needs to be raised. This will raise that area 500 feet in the middle and progressively less out to the radius of the brush. It’s important to have the selection turned off when you do this. Otherwise, changes will not affect the area outside the selection properly and you will end up with unnatural looking terrain.

You will frequently need to reselect (or possibly reload) the selection to see what needs to be done, and then deselect it while raising or lowering different areas. His process reminds me of film clips I’ve seen of cartoon animators in the 50’s, flipping a page back and forth over the one the are working on to orient themselves.

When all the area within the selection is above sea level, it is time to select the Paint Lower tool and lower areas outside the selection area that are above sea level. The process is the same but at some point you will find that the brush is too big for the adjustments you are trying to make. Reduce all three settings. I used 10/10/200 and then 5/5/100, etc, but finding what works for you is part of the process.

This method has the added benefit of creating a very organic coastline and readily makes natural looking small islands as well. Additionally, the entire landmass is just above sea level (opposed to everything always building to a mountain in the middle every time). Now you can continue raising terrain to build hills and mountains where you want them without having to tear down existing ones first. Best of all, we are still able to make use of the fractal routines (which we would lose if we had to use height maps to import the outline).

You probably will end up with some areas that just don’t look right (I did at least). Too many uses of the brush in the same place can cause craters that are hard to smooth out. With practice you should become better at spreading the brush around to create a better look. Bigger brushes and smaller values work best but sometimes you need smaller brushes to get the detail you want and larger values make it go faster.

Here are some example images of the process. They were done in about 15 minutes. With a little care, you should be able to get a much cleaner look than this. I just wanted to create a proof of concept.

Click for Full Size Images

Before

After Initial Raise

Finished

Adding a Landmass to an Existing FT3 Map

If you have a detailed FT3 map and want to add another continent, this technique would work beautifully.