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Other options include building the terrain from a grayscale image, or generating it procedurally (there's quite a few well-documented algorithms you can use for the latter).

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Check out "Height Maps" for doing 3d terrain.

It's what the other guys were talking about too, but at least now you have something you can google (:

Once you have height maps down, you can check out "fractal terrain generation". When you search for that, you'll find there are 2 kinds of fractal terrain generation:

#1 - Terrain generation using fractals (the self similar mathematical oddities). This is really neat and interesting, but in practice not very useful.

#2 - Terrain generation using simulated fault lines. This is what people normally are referring to when they talk about fractal terrain generation and is a neat and simple way of generating height maps procedurally.

Once you have your terrain, in some ways your search has only just begun!

Next up you probably will want to study terrain LODing techniques such as ROAM (and others). LOD stands "level of detail" and means essentially that the parts of your terrain that are farther away don't need as much detail (as many polygons) so it automatically cuts it down while the program is running to improve performance, hopefully without any (or much) visual degradation.


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