Feb 162020

I bought a bunch of the popular Unity landscape tools recently, namely Gaia Pro, Vegetation Studio Pro, Complete Terrain Shader and River Auto Material. I also picked up a couple of the Nature Manufacture asset packs.

Here’s a little video of using the tools to quickly create a landscape. Note that I have spent a decent amount of time setting up the biomes and rules first so there’s work to be done after acquiring the tools, but once that’s done it’s super quick to create landscapes!

Gaia Pro

Gaia Pro from Procedural Worlds is primarily a tool for creating terrain heightmaps. It includes a wide range of ‘stamps’ (predefined heightmaps) which you can move, scale and rotate, and then apply to your terrain. There are loads of modes for applying stamps – add, subtract, blend, or apply effects like erosion, steps or peak enhancement. Stamps can be further combined with distance masks or other heightmaps for plenty of control. There’s a nice preview visualiser so you can see more or less what it’s going to do to your terrain before you apply.

Gaia Pro has loads of other features bundled in. You can set up texturing rules based on angle and height to automatically texture your terrain, as well as add rule-based spawners to add trees, rocks and buildings. Also bundled in are other asset sample, such as water, environmental audio, post-processing control, and a selection of trees, rocks and building assets.

This was the first tool I bought, and it’s a good all-in-one package to get started with. The terrain editing bit is great, but personally I don’t used the texturing and spawning controls – I find that Vegetation Studio Pro does that better.

Vegetation Studio Pro

Vegetation Studio Pro from Awesome Technologies is a must-have if you’re making large outdoor terrains. It takes a bit of setup, but afterwards you can author whole terrains in minutes.

You set up a series of biomes, each of which consists of terrain texturing rules and vegetation placement rules. The terrain texturing is similar to Gaia. You defines rules for each texture based on height and slope, convex or concave terrain, and Perlin noise, and they’re all combined to get the final texture. Vegetation follows similar rules – drop in your prefabs and set up similar rules for each based on height and slope, underlying texture, and density.

One massive bonus of the Pro version is that it supports multiple biomes types simultaneously. You define a default biome and can then drop other biomes into the scene and define their extents. The highest priority biome at each point is the one used, and there are cross-fade rules and curves to blend textures and reduce vegetation density or scale across the border.

In my game I have a default grass biome. I’ve defined a couple of different forest biomes so I can drop them into the level, mark the borders and you’ve got instant forests. And it uses its own batching and rending system so everything draws super fast! It’s the most expensive tool I’ve bought but definitely worth it.

Complete Terrain Shader (CTS)

Complete Terrain Shader is also from Procedural Worlds. It replaces the default Unity terrain shader with a more advanced one with more options. I think it has two main uses – the simple one is to add interest to distant terrain and break up the tiling, and the second is to use height maps for each terrain textures to completely change how textures are blended together.

The standard shader variant adds ambient occlusion, low frequency detail normal maps, height-based geological banding and snow, lower frequency tiling on distant terrain, and a few other features. These tweaks will make your distant terrain more visually interesting and less flat. Whether it’s worth it probably depends how much stuff you have in your world – if there’s a lot of detail and objects over your distant terrain it might not be so noticeable.

There’s an advanced shader variant that uses per-texture heightmaps, combined with the standard texture blending, to determine which texture to use per-pixel. I’ve not looked into this too far, but done well it can give far higher resolution, sharper texture blending.

River Auto Material (R.A.M.)

River Auto Material is a tool for creating river, lake and road geometry. You just click to add river spline nodes, set the scale and rotation of each node, apply a material preset, and paint transparency for blending. Fast and slow water effects are applied automatically based on the river gradient, or you can paint them yourself.

You can also simulate river flow, which I use a lot. Drop in the start point, hit the Simulate button and it’ll generate a river that flows downhill. Then there’s a terrain carving tool – draw the river bed profile in the graph editor, hit the Carve button and it’ll reshape the terrain around the river and blend it in to the existing terrain.

The other great feature is Vegetation Studio Pro integration. For each river preset you can define an associate biome type. Simply set the desired biome width, press a button and it’ll automatically generate a matching biome mask around your river. This makes it really easy to blend your rivers into your scene – the sand and rocks in the screenshot above were added like this.

I’ve not dived too far into the possibilities yet, but it’s a fun tool to use and I like the results a lot.

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