Terrain material Quality?

Hey guys, sorry for asking so many newbie questions, I am just trying to learn more.

One thing that bugs me before starting to work on a few prototype terrains is the quality of the terrain itself.

I mean you can make a rock in Maya/ZBrush with insane quality, you can make trees that look like from a movie, but then you look at the materials on the ground, and if you zoom in they look like a 2005 badly made game.

Even with fairly HD Textures+normal maps.

Are there tricks that these AAA Games use to get realistic looking “ground”?

I mean populating the world with loads of assets to cover the ground works sure, and making roads and such works too.

However some things always look bad:

  • Grass land (looks terrible)
  • Rock faces (medium bad)
  • Dirt (looks okish)
  • Sand (looks fairly good)
  • Metals/Roads (look good)
  • Concrete/reflective ground (amazing)

Is there a trick for grass/mud environment in order to make it look nicer? Obviously for grass you don’t just have the ground, you add a lot of grass to the environment itself? Is there a trick like lighting etc to make the grass look more HD?

Obviously doing this will crash the FPS by so much it’s not even worth it: TES V - Skyrim Mods: Grass Field - YouTube

I mean Witcher 3 seems to have good grass density to cover the ground material: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Downwarren Gameplay Gamescom 2014 - YouTube

I was thinking, a grass texture makes no sense, such a thing does not exist in real life, is this why it looks so unatural and unflattering?

I was thinking while looking through pictures of natural terrains and I noticed that the ground is mainly brown, which adds a realistic feel to the environment.

Such as here:


I mean what if you make multiple “layers”:

  1. Muddy ground with a few green specs here and there for trampled grass or such, add some small rocks and rough normal maps, with some metalic if you want to make it look wet
  2. Add moss vegetation, low poly, VERY rough, dense normal maps, no metalic
  3. Add small random vegetation like in the picture with metalic if you want wetness
  4. Add grass above in lower densities and various plants

Will this look much more realistic than the usual

  1. Add grass material
  2. Loads of grass models moving to divert attention away from the actual surface which looks terrible?

In my opinion you can get pretty good looking results with ground materials. You just have to bring lot’s of variation in it -> take a look at the starter content grass material + add a overall normal map over all landscape textures (in the material editor)

You should paint a grass material onto parts with grass meshes, because when you e.g use a dirt material it wont looks so dense, because then you can clearly see the gaps between the meshes -> the density gets lost :slight_smile:

The ground materials don’t make much sense, which is why they don’t look “realistic”. I looked at the Unreal Tutorials and a few examples of them, and of course it includes normal maps. It’s nothing to do with resolution, they can be 4k Textures, it just doesn’t look real. The reason I believe is that there is no such thing as a green terrain in real life… The ground is usually dirt and mud, which is brown. Above it, in forests for example it will be littered with dry leaves and smaller plants, above that some moss, and above that grass.

I want to get more input to see if my concept will be better, since you will need lower grass density to achieve realistic results, what do you think?

What do you mean gaps between meshes? Aren’t all the textures continuous? (ie already blended?)

Here is an example:


In my opinion the one with the grass ground looks more “dense” than the one with dirt. You can also blend in/out a high resolution texture over distance -> search on google for such a material (probably you will find something from the ue4, otherwise you will have to search for such a UDK material setup)

In a forest you should use a mixture -> leaves, grass, dirt