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Submitted by Jordan Maynard, posted on February 07, 2001

Image Description, by Jordan Maynard

Here is a screen shot of a program I wrote for an OpenGL class at San Diego State University. The terrain shown is actually a representation of the real terrain near the university. The elevation data was taken from USGS .DEM files and then textured with actual aerial photographs (not satellite) of the same region. The hardest part of the whole thing was getting the textures to line up with the elevation data - some of them had to be tweaked/skewed/stretched in an image manipulation program to more accurately line up with the elevations. In the top left picture you see Cowles Mt as seen from the north (in Santee), with Mission Gorge Rd. The bottom left picture is Highway 8 as seen from above, with San Diego State off to the right (you can just make out the track and field) The overpass in the center is College Ave. The bottom right picture shows the entire region (elevation exaggerated, no fog) and in it you can see Cowles Mt., Highway 8, and Lake Murray. I sent this screenshot to a few local pilots and gotten good reactions from them. Hope you all like it. : )

Any questions about it can be directed to (though I'm not sure how long the account will remain active now that I've graduated...)

Image of the Day Gallery


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Archive Notice: This thread is old and no longer active. It is here for reference purposes. This thread was created on an older version of the flipcode forums, before the site closed in 2005. Please keep that in mind as you view this thread, as many of the topics and opinions may be outdated.

February 07, 2001, 05:54 AM

Holy mother of all that is 3d!
That is damn beautiful.

Does it run in realtime?


February 07, 2001, 06:00 AM

Very nice.

How were you doing the sky? Looks nice.


David Olsson

February 07, 2001, 06:12 AM

Looks really nice, Id love to see a binary...

I saw screenshots of warmachine at your homepage, what is that ?

henry ludemann

February 07, 2001, 06:27 AM

Nice program! I found a download for the program (that seems recent)...

Wayne Marsh

February 07, 2001, 06:46 AM

I like engines which use actual geographical data. It would be interesting to make some sort of LOD, so that when you zoom closer to a road you can explore it in close detail, though I imagine gathering all the data needed would be quite painstaking. Impressive, nonetheless.


February 07, 2001, 07:15 AM

Best looking iotd in a looooong time.


February 07, 2001, 08:42 AM

Very very impressive! I must say I've never seen anything quite like that before.


February 07, 2001, 09:01 AM

Look really nice!
Where did you found the documentation about .DEM format ?
Is there a web site where you can download some .DEM maps ?


February 07, 2001, 09:44 AM

"I must say I've never seen anything quite like that before"

Um. Sorry, but if I saw it right, this is just a plain, normal heightmap renderer. Just a program that renders a buch of triangles with a texture on it. So you never saw a program that renders a simple heightmap ? Please correct me if I missed some fancy tech.

Actually I think it's a cool idea, but the textures are very low res, and as the author stated, you need to invest work in them before they tile and look nice.



February 07, 2001, 09:54 AM

The heightmap does have good detail, but other than that the only unusualy things are the sky and the detail and realism of the textures. But I still think this looks very good. If you can't make the real thing, make something that makes other people think you can.

Those skies look very good (although the second one feels wrong...maybe it's becase the "horizon" appears to be a straight line and doesn't show the mountains in front of the sunset?). Are they from photos too? Is this real-time lighted?


February 07, 2001, 10:10 AM

What would be the point of realtime lighting it? There is already lighting in the texture, and trying to change
that lighting would involve removing the old lighting - which would be damn hard to do :)

David Olsson

February 07, 2001, 10:16 AM

I think you're wrong.

It's more work than just a heightmap render. Think about extracting
height info, creating sky, aligning textures and so on.

I don't think a IOTD need to be the nextgen engine for the author to
post it here. So instead of calling it a plain heightmap render, give
him some credits instead. Maybe he put a lot of work into it.



February 07, 2001, 10:32 AM

Nice work.

For the past year and half, I have been involved with a similar project. We have done this same thing, but we have the ENTIRE earth in our system. Using the WGS-84 standard, we have a round world geometry which allows for more accurate distributed simulation. As you fly closer to the earth, terrain LODs come in and more detail is achieved. For the most part, we are using DTED data.

As Jordan indicated, the lining up of images with the terrain can be a real problem. We have avoided this problem by using images that have been matched to the coordinates using some sophiticated image processing tools (the format we ultimately use is GeoTIFF).

While we do have the entire world, we have varying levels of resolution (of imagery). The resolution varies from 2km all the way up (or down) to 3 inch.

Our system can be used as an out the window display for a flight sim, command and control operations, mission rehearsal and planning, or large scale video games (if I could only justify the effort)!

If I can get approval, I will post this as an IOTD.


February 07, 2001, 10:52 AM

>I think you're wrong.

I don't think so :)
Have you seen the demo itself ?

>It's more work than just a heightmap render. Think about extracting
>height info, creating sky, aligning textures and so on.

the sky is a bitmap (aka sprite), not a skybox. it doesn't change position on the screen when you look up or down.

height info extracting is a matter of reading a file.
aligning textures / creating sky is a matter of photoshopping.
If it is an automated process in the program, that's very impressive.
But as it's not, the code behind all this is a normal heightmap-renderer.

>So instead of calling it a plain heightmap render, give
>him some credits instead. Maybe he put a lot of work into it.

Well, it *IS* a plain heightmap-renderer..! Look at the demo! :)

> Maybe he put a lot of work into it.
True, and that can also be the case if it's 'a plain heightmap-renderer' !

No flamewar please :), but tcs was right.

The images are beautiful, the terrain looks splendid.
But that's all thanks to the textures, not because the code has some nifty tricks we've never seen before.

But still, it's a *beautiful* heightmap-renderer :)



February 07, 2001, 11:08 AM

tcs -- No, I have seen heightmap-based terrain renderer before. In fact many of them right here in this forum. But what I mean is I've never seen one of this quality based on real data. It's one thing to draw some textures and randomly generate terrain, it's another thing altogether to use real data and arial photographs. That's what I think is cool.


February 07, 2001, 11:21 AM

Totally agree.


February 07, 2001, 11:34 AM

Nice Work!
I have hicked up Cowles Mt. quite a few times and images you showed have struck home! (Currently on the East Coast in freezing weather) Keep up the good programming :)


February 07, 2001, 12:07 PM

Yeah, I understand your point. I don't want to flame the author or so, not my intention.



February 07, 2001, 12:42 PM

I wonder how much data you could push through that thing... would be cool to get terrain data for the whole world and make a flight sim or something.


February 07, 2001, 12:55 PM

Y'Know, I was just thinking about this and how good it would look in a game like PilotWings (not PilotWings 64, the original one). Can you imagine skydiving toward the ground that looks like the lower-left shot? That'd be awesome.


February 07, 2001, 01:56 PM

after looking at the awesome screenshot i downloaded the demo, and was very unimpressed, the textures are very low detail, and framerate is aweful. i bet it was a fun project still, and hell, you should always try to get away with doing some kind of graphics thing for every school project! good job.


February 07, 2001, 02:24 PM

Hey - well!

Yeah Tim is totally right - its a simple heightfield, nothing near as cool as his octtree terrain program... :)

Also - (in self defense ;P ) the class I did this for was my very first ever exposure to any kind of 3D programming... :)

To answer some questions:

1) It does run in real time (on my machine) and has "dumb" LOD in that you can hit 1-4 to go from high to low LOD... Oh and I'm not doing any lighting at all, all the shading is built into the texture photos...
2) Parsing the DEM format was too much of a nightmare for this project (which was done in the last 2 weeks of a semester in which I was taking 21 units)
So I ended up just importing the DEM into a package that supports them and rendering out a grayscale heightfield with that packages "distance render" option...
3) the sky is just a static bitmap rendered out from a 3d package... again not as cool as Tim skybox! :)
4) WarMachine is a program I did for a contest at ;) I won a Geforce2 GTS...

Yeah - its def. not an advanced engine - i fully expect anyone who downloads the exe to be greatly dissapointed - just something I slapped together to get an 'A', but i figured it was a pretty enough picture...


p.s. - funny - i never knew lake murray was behind a dam until I saw in my program! Once I knew where to look for it I found that there is one place on SDSU campus where you can see the dam from, the middle of the footbridge that leads to KB Books ;)


February 07, 2001, 02:34 PM

*sniff* my old Alma Mater. I think I can see my old apartment in your picture, but it's hard to line up landmarks in my memory. Actually, I still play racquetball at State occasionally. BTW, beautiful pics. Good to know the CS department is in good shape there.

James Matthews

February 07, 2001, 03:27 PM

Very nice shots. The demo is cool - I get excellent frame rates, even with the top LOD. I'm impressed, since I'm trying to get into 3D programming a little and I'd be very happy if I created something like this.

Complicated or not, it is a step in the right direction.

Timothy Barnes

February 07, 2001, 04:08 PM

Hey. Did you know this guy is one of the dudes who worked on Alice? Check out the credits if you don't believe me.


February 07, 2001, 04:20 PM

i also once tried to render my island realtime..
pity that i just cant find nice photos taken from satellite or sumtin for it..
but hey, it is a nice piece of work there!
why do you always care about the programming side? =)
i think it looks nice (ofcoz, screenshots makes things look better than when we're running the program :)
take care


February 07, 2001, 07:08 PM

THAT SOUNDS AWESOME! How big are all the files? it's probably huge. Also, does the geological resolution match the texture resolution? 3 in. is INCREDIBLY accurate for geo data


February 07, 2001, 07:25 PM

So, you mean you just lie to the author to make him happy?

It is nothing more than a rendered heightmap and a sky, but I don't mean that it's bad in any way, just that most people probably have seen something quite like it before.

Great work Jordan.


February 07, 2001, 08:14 PM

I have seen this application, and it scares me. I zoomed in to 9 feet, and there I saw OGAPO, jumping on his bed, masturbating to the teletubbies and screaming "Who's your daddy!?".
So you know his geo-images are very recent.


February 07, 2001, 10:37 PM

he just said that it looked good, didnt say that it was new/original...
new and original to me, but thats probably because I havent coded anything really advanced... hence I would not recognize the pattern that you are seeing exhibited by this one

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