Replies: 5 (Who?), Viewed: 16465 times.
Test Subject
Original Poster
#1 Old 2nd Jan 2010 at 7:47 AM Last edited by deathoflight : 2nd Jan 2010 at 9:39 AM.
Default Tutorial: Creating a Volcanic Island Heightmap using Photoshop
This tutorial will walk you through building the heightmap for a volcanic island, using Photoshop. You will also create, and apply two basic alpha maps for terrain painting.

Tools Needed: Photoshop (Tutorial written using Photoshop 7.0, there may be some menu variation with other versions.)
Skill Level Required: Moderate to Advanced (Familiarity with Layers and Actions)

Before you begin, make sure you can save images as 16 bit PNG files. If you can't, go grab a plug-in.

Prep Work:

Open a new image file. Bring your Actions tab to the top. (If it's run off, retrieve it from Window--->Actions.) Create a new set and name it CAW or something similar.

With your Rectangular Marquee Tool make a selection of at least 100x100 pixels.

Create a new Action named "Slope 1". It will start recording automatically.

Follow these steps exactly:

#1 Click "Image---->Adjustments---->Brightness/Contrast" Increase brightness +1
#2 Click "Select----> Modify---->Contract" Contract by one pixel

Repeat four times. (Five rounds total.) Stop the recording in the Actions tab.

Create three more actions. Slope 2, Slope 3, and Slope -1. Slope 2 should adjust the brightness by +2, ect.

Once you've made all four actions, close the current document.

Create a new 512x512 image, greyscale, with background color set to black.

Create a new layer, and in this layer draw a large blob, filling most of the image. Use a SOLID brush, that will leave clean edges. This blob will be the basic shape of your island. Don't make it too complex, three or four bumps should do it.

CTRL-Click "Layer 1" in the layer tab to select the outline of your island.


Try 20 at first, and see how that looks; Undo, and try again if needed. You want the curves to be fairly smooth, but don't want to lose all detail. I ended up going with 40 this time.

Delete "Layer 1", we're done with it, but keep the selection.

You should be back on the background layer now. Run Action "Slope 1." Press play at least five times, but you can keep going. Each click will bring it in five pixels. Each pixel is equal to one grid square in game. Running the action five times would create a sloped beach, twenty-five squares wide.

When you're done, create a new layer. Name this layer "Beach Alpha". Select---->Inverse; Edit---->Fill, White 100% Opacity

Select---->Inverse to get back to your original selection. Hide the beach alpha layer; you'll need that later.

Go back to the background layer.

Select---->Modify---->Contract 20 pixels
Select---->Modify---->Smooth 20 pixels

Repeat the above two steps two more times. This will give you sixty squares of flat, buildable land, all the way around the island. You should be left with an irregular blob in the center, for the volcano. See below.

Your blob needs to be at least 80 pixels across to build a proper volcano. If it looks too small, expand the selection by a few pixels, but that will mean less flat land.

Create a new layer. Name it Volcano Alpha. Fill selection with white. Hide it, and return to the background layer.

Play action "Slope 2" three or four times. Select---->Modify---->Smooth 20 pixels

Repeat once.

Play action "Slope 3" three or four times, until you are left with a small selection at the center.

Play action "Slope -1" until you run out of selected pixels.

Should look something like this:

Save your image as a photoshop file first.

Then Layer---->Flatten Image, discard hidden layers

Image---->Mode 16bits/Channel

File---->Save As: somethingdescriptive1.PNG

Undo, Undo again. Got layers? Good. Create a new one, right above the background layer, and fill it entirely with black. Unhide "Beach Alpha", flatten image, save as somethingdescriptive1-beachAlpha.png. Undo, repeat with the volcano alpha.

Close Photoshop, and load up CAW. Create a new world, with your new height map, set to 100.

Ugly, ain't it?

Take it into terrain sculpting, grab the smooth tool, and go to work. Smooth the beach, and the sides of the volcano, but don't go all the way to the top, you'll want it a little jagged up there.

When you're done smoothing, save. Now, you can either use as is, or use the valley and smooth tools to expand, or collapse part of the caldera.

Final steps, go into terrain paint. Choose, or add, a terrain paint to use for the volcano. Right click and choose Import. Find your volcano alpha file. Choose a beach paint and do the same. It's hardly perfect, but I find it helps to have at least an outline for the actual painting process.

And that's as far as I'll be taking you. Enjoy.

ETA: Obviously, for a full 'hood you would need a much larger map, or several islands, linked together with bridges. But for practice, small is best.
1 users say thanks for this. (Who?)
retired moderator
#2 Old 2nd Jan 2010 at 10:46 AM
Once you've found a good lava texture, which is actually tough work, you can add the largest spash effect as smoke. The noise is makes is a satisfying hiss, not too watery, so other than the fact that smoke doesn't rise very high, it works very well.
Test Subject
Original Poster
#3 Old 2nd Jan 2010 at 2:48 PM
Nice idea for the smoke. I hope someone figures out how to convert neighborhood effects from Sims 2, so we can get the smoke that went with the flying saucer.

Lava is a pain. High res, seamless lava is even more of a pain. This is the best I've managed so far, if you want to try it. It starts to look a little repetitious with a big fill on distant zoom, but it's a heck of a lot better than my first few attempts.

I took this shot in game, because it darkened up a lot from the PNG.

I'm attaching the DDS.
Download - please read all instructions before downloading any files!
File Type: zip (484.7 KB, 216 downloads) - View custom content
#4 Old 2nd Jan 2010 at 7:59 PM
Deathoflight, textures always look different in-game than they do in the image editing program. There is an opacity setting for textures that can be changed which if lowered will make the textures appear lighter. Keep in mind, too low and the texture will be transparent rather than opaque. If you need your texture to be lighter color AND solid, you're going to have to lighten it in your editing program.

I've also found trying to get textures not to look too repeaty pretty much takes making your image with a single pattern rather than any repeating pattern on that texture. I look at some of the in-game textures and just face-palm because zoomed out they look absolutely awful.

That is a very nice looking texture, by the way.
Lab Assistant
4th Jan 2010 at 1:03 PM
This message has been deleted by HugeLunatic. Reason: off topic
Test Subject
#5 Old 28th May 2012 at 2:55 AM
great tutorial! But is there a version of this for GIMP? its like Photoshop but A little bit different
Edge Of Darkness
retired moderator
#6 Old 8th Jun 2012 at 11:20 AM
No version for GIMP yet, but it should be very similar to Photoshop, so if you manage to figure it out maybe you could write a tutorial for that!

I will choose a path that's clear- I will choose free will
***Sims File Share- ask me for a code***
Simpeople and Me Archive- -11Dots Archive- My Sims World Archive
If you are looking for files from old websites the Internet Archive is your best friend.
Back to top