Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 153 / JUNE 1993 / PAGE S6

How to create a 3D world. (Vistapro 3.0) (Compute's Getting Started with 3D Graphics)
by Steven Anzovin

Jaded with the Earth and its dowdy old terrain? You can take a 3D tour of Mars, Venus, or worlds that exist only in your imagination with Vistapro 3.0, the PC's only 3D virtual-reality landscape simulation program.

The basic concept of Vista-pro 3.0 isn't that difficult, though the math behind it is pretty advanced. Landscape simulation takes numbers--for example, radar readings of elevations taken at set intervals on the surface of a planet--and turns them into an accurate 3D topographic representation.

Landscape simulation is used increasingly for line-of-sight surveys, previews of large-scale civil and architectural engineering projects, environmental impact forecasting, modeling of exotic environments (such as the surface of Venus), and other applications where it's too hazardous or costly to go in person.

Vistapro 3.0 takes 2D elevation and contour data from United States Geologic Survey Digital Elevation Mapping (DEM) files and NASA radar surveys and applies fractal geometry to convert the raw data into a 3D virtual landscape that can be viewed from any angle. Creating an image isn't difficult. Here's how:

1. Load one of the supplied landscape files. The program's topo maps include El Capitan, Yosemite; Mt. Saint Helens, Washington; and Olympus Mons, Mars.

2. You don't have to settle for what Mother Nature has provided. Use the control panel to change the fractal settings. Make the terrain impossibly pointy or as smooth as a baby's cheek, add more or less texture to the rocks, or change the colors at will, With the climatic controls, you can assign sea level, tree line, snow line, and atmospheric haze. Add a rive, too: It will follow the lowest point in the terrain and feed into a lake, if you choose. There are also settings for sky effects--sun direction, clouds, haze, and even the stars.

3. Even with water, snow, and clouds, the landscape is barren. Add realistic fractal trees (oak, pine, palm, or cactus, with individual leaves and needles), buildings, and roads.

4. You can fly through your finished landscape by moving the viewpoint in a path. A wireframe option speeds view location. For more exciting flyby animations, Virtual Reality Studios offers an animation program, Makepath Flight Director. Makepath Flight Director gives full control over direction, elevation, acceleration, banking, and pitch. Readymade flight paths include glider, cruise missile, and dune buggy. Another program, TerraMorph, creates morphs between one landscape and another, so, for example, you could smoothly change the Grand Canyon into the Matterhorn. Just be sure to rest on the seventh day.