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Realistic Cities For Dummies

Started by smileymk, November 29, 2010, 09:14:46 AM

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You're right, Chris. I do know how to create a config.bmp file, but there's an interesting twist just the same. I have Win7 on my new desktop and laptop computers, and I haven't taken the time to learn the Paint program that came with them. So I use an old computer I built several years ago that still has XP installed! ::)

It's obvious you've put a lot of thought into your lessons, and I appreciate your thoroughness. When a person is very familiar with a subject, it's easy to assume everyone already knows this or that and skip over some "boring" details. I'm glad to see you don't.

As for terraforming, I'll be waiting with much anticipation. I've been struggling with that very thing for months now and can't seem to get it right. Please hurry before I find out how far I can sling my SC4 Dx disks! :D



Great start to what could be a great project!! I really hope to see this go on and learn a few things myself. Love the level of understanding here, you know how to make it simple. Keep it up.


It's now time for that 3rd lesson you've all been eagerly anticipating. I should say now that this is a long lesson, but it is certainly worth it. It'll be not much narrative and lots of pictures.

But time must be taken beforehand to say a few things:

regoarrarr: Sounds cool. Maybe I should check that blog out. The best of luck with that!

cubby420: The reason why I put this here was because it isn't just a standalone tutorial, but a long-term walkthrough project. I thought it better to have it here. Also, I should think that beginners do read MDs for inspiration and to see how it's done, so this being where it is isn't doing beginners a disservice - but that's just my opinion.

Lowkee33: That is correct, however, you also need to create a region.ini file to go with it, and I thought it would be easier to explain region preparation through the method that I used. Thanks for the info though.

Devotion4Q6: I would be delighted. I plan to teach about CBDs and suburbs in this project. Marinas and historical areas will probably have to wait until the next project, however. But I'm quite happy to teach about anything you might be interested in.
Also, can I give you some advice now? Don't build motorways through the CBD - it's not very realistic and, like you said, it's really hard.

Jmouse: Well, you have to do the boring stuff before you can do the fun stuff. I assure you you'll get a lot out of this terraforming lesson.

malibu_man: I will. Thanks for the kind words.

Now then, terraforming.

Lesson 3 - Terraforming

The truth is simple - flat city tiles are fine if you want to create a huge concrete jungle, but when one is trying to create a realistic city, a flat city tile becomes boring and unrealistic. How many areas do you know of that are paper flat? I bet it's not a lot.

Therefore we must terraform our region to give it a realistic appearance. It is very hard to do this realistically and create good results, but it can be done quite simply. Let us start with hills.
The key thing with hills is to not make them too tall. Let me show how I created my hills for this region:

This was done in Zoom 1, using the Hill tool with a large brush (accessed with the SHIFT key). You should only give it a couple of quick taps on the left mouse button to make this kind of hill. Any more and it will be too tall, any less and you won't see it.

To create realistic hills, you need to link them in a 'rolling hills' style, each hill linked to the next. You do this by placing additional hills so that they overlap existing hills, like so:

Notice the gap in the middle. If I zoom in on that gap, you can see the kind of slope between hills that you're looking for:

Notice how the slopes are really gentle. This is perfect for us. The hills are linked, not too tall, and flow in a really nice way.
Also, notice how I'm using the grid. It's really worth having the grid on whilst making slopes, because slopes are quite hard to see without the gridlines, but become very obvious when you turn the grid on. It really helps you to see if your slopes are of the right steepness.

This image is of a slope and shows you just how gentle they need to be:

For realism, the whole tile should be covered in hills, as they don't just stop when they feel like it. The process is simple - just do what you did for the first 2 hills:

Fantastic. Now, our plan calls for a river, so we need to make one. Go into Zoom 5 and select the Shallow Valley tool. Click on the edge of your city tile and hold down the cursor until you get a small layer of water like this:

The key here is not to make the river too wide. It should only be about 2 tiles wide, maximum 3. And it shouldn't be too deep either.
Drag the river through the city tile, going around hills and not through them, and you'll eventually get this:

That's fine, apart from the cliffs which border the river. We're now going to soften these out so that there's a nice transition to the river. Do this in Zoom 5, using the Soften tool, and hold it down until you get rid of the cliffs:

Then it's just a case of keeping that process going down the length of the river:

This is now better, but look at those transitions! Again in Zoom 5, use the Soften and Plains tools to sort these out. Don't stop until you get that nice, gentle slope we saw earlier:

Again, use the grid as a guide:

Keep going, and eventually you'll get this:

Now we've got the transitions we want, but part of the river's gone.
Dealing with this is simple. Turn the grid on to find the trough through which the river needs to run, and drag the Canyon tool in Zoom 5 through that:

You may need to soften the slopes again afterwards - use the same techniques as before. Take your time with this, and don't stop until you're happy with the result:

Now, before we move on to trees, let's get that rolling hill effect really visible by creating shallow valleys in between the hills. The Shallow Valley tool in Zoom 1 is perfect for this:

Again, don't hold on too long, or you'll have another river.

To finish the region off, and give it a bit of life, trees need to be added. You need to be careful, however, about where you put them, or they will spoil the look of your landscape.
The first rule of trees is that they should NOT be placed on slopes. They are big, tall things, and on a slope, gravity is going to get the better of them sooner or later. So they should either be on the tops of hills, where they're protected from flooding and landslides (there is a higher risk of lightning strike but it's still really unlikely):

Or placed at the bottom of hills, where they're protected from the brutal conditions that the hilltops experience:

(Again, there is landslide risk here, but it's unlikely.)

At the riverbank, however, you really need to go to town on the trees. A riverbank provides the ideal habitat for trees, so they will exploit that to its full potential. You need to represent this by creating a really dense cluster of trees throughout your riverbank, like so:

These 3 pictures have also shown another rule of tree placement: they should ALWAYS be in clusters. You never see a single, solitary tree standing all on its own in the landscape. They're always together in a thriving ecosystem.

And that's it. By considering all of these things, you should be able to create a really realistic and aesthetic landscape. Here's the result I got after all that hard work:

That is fantastic. That's the effect you're aiming for.
It's really important that you spend a lot of time and put a lot of effort into your terraforming to get realistic results. As a guide to how long you should spend terraforming, this tile took me about 5 or 6 hours to terraform. You should be spending more time than this, and you shouldn't stop until you're absolutely satisfied with what you've done.

I will leave it at that.

Now we're ready to start the fun bit - actually building the city. We will start with the transport infrastructure, which we will do over 3 lessons as it's quite complicated. The first of these will look at motorways.

I hope you found this useful.


Realistic Cities for Dummies
Step-by-step tutorials on every single aspect of realistic city-building.



Nice tutorial, Chris! Although I have a few points to mention.
- You can also use the SC4Terraformer to create landscapes. This is more practical to make a landscape for a whole region, rather than a single city tile. However I used some of these points when creating my latest region Schellingen-Stadt; the landscape is not completely flat, but is hilly and has a few rivers meandering through the region. However I also used the erosion tool for realism (to make my region look 'older') and I also have the rule to place large hills and mountains away from the water.
- Trees actually CAN be placed on slopes, even in RL (Luxemburg and Germany are quite hilly and have forrests on these hills), at least on low-angeled slopes. If a slope is steeper than let's say 20 degees, you shouldn't place trees on it, but for the rest you can place trees if you want to.
Lurk mode: ACTIVE


Great work on the tut.  Very similiar to how I terraform.
Robin  :thumbsup:
Call me Robin, please.


Quote from: smileymk on December 08, 2010, 02:48:52 AM
Lesson 3 - Terraforming

The truth is simple - flat city tiles are fine if you want to create a huge concrete jungle, but when one is trying to create a realistic city, a flat city tile becomes boring and unrealistic. How many areas do you know of that are paper flat? I bet it's not a lot.

Hi Chris,
This really is a very ambituous task, you took on your shoulders. I'll hope it will work out, because the idea is great. I'll follow tou closely, always being eager to learn something new.

And about the quote: obviously you've never been to the western or northern part of the Netherlands.
Although we do have differences in heighth these are so small, on the scale of SC4 they are not visible. One of the problems I face when I try to make a region that resembles my own country.


Great work on the terraforming update. I have to say that I like the SC4 terreaformer myself too but you did a great job using the game controls. Great tutorial with simple tips to make a nice looking terrain.  :thumbsup:  &apls


Great terraforming tutorial, that approach will lead to a very interesting looking city!

The only difference in my approach for Adara is I use the SC4 Terraformer to do the initial work across city borders to save me the headache of using the reconcile edges tool!  Looking forward to the next update!


considering you are not using a tree controller, your flora placement is exquisite. that is no understatement, best hand tree placement using maxis trees only i have ever seen.
NAM + CAM + RAM + SAM, that's how I roll....


You've hacked into my computer and sneaked a peek at my new region, haven't you? :D How else could you know this is exactly the effect I've been trying to achieve?

It took a bit of experimenting to discover which strength worked best for me when using the hill tool, but I finally narrowed it down to 6 (Shift+F6). Some players are likely to have a heavier or lighter hand than others, so the strength of the terrain tool is definitely a factor in the overall success - or failure - of this terraforming method. I haven't had a chance to experiment with a smileymk river yet, but I'll get around to it sooner or later.

Transportation infrastructure is another weak spot for me as is just about every other aspect of the game. I'm looking forward to seeing how you deal with motorways, but while I wait, I think I'll go and create some more hills! :)



Great terraforming tutorial :thumbsup: Although by looking at your sceenshots, I noticed my hills were way too steep, so I guess I'll just start from square one again. But anyway, thanks for the clear and simple explanation

RIP Adrian (adroman), you were a great friend

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Tomas Neto

Fantastic tutorial, great work!!!  :thumbsup:


I have spoken with Chris and he has agreed to let us post one or two photos of the results we got by following his instructions. I was especially interested in this particular lesson because I've never been able to create gently rolling hills successfully. I still need a lot of practice, but for a first try, I can see a little bit of improvement. So here goes...



OK everybody, fire away... :)


That's a nice and tricky tutorial there Chris, I'll try it out too !

Take care,
-Arthur. :thumbsup:
I'll take a quiet life... A handshake of carbon monoxide.

Props & Texture Catalog


Many thanks for the great reception to the terraforming lesson.

Important Announcement

As Jmouse has said, yesterday (Saturday) he asked me if I'd like to give you guys the chance to post a couple of your own shots, so that I could help you improve them.
I very quickly accepted this invitation, and I see that Joan has already taken up the opportunity.

That opportunity is open to you all - if you need guidance on anything, or want me to give a fair, honest review of your progress, feel free to stick in a couple of pics. I promise I will give you a fair, honest judgement - what I like about it, and what needs improving.

This is a great chance for you guys to improve your game, so make sure you take it.

I now have all those nice comments to reply to:

mrtnrln: I wanted to teach people how to use the in-game tools to great effect. Those points you made about the trees are good ones, and I'll bear that in mind for the future projects.

rooker1: Cheers. I'm obviously doing it properly then!

FrankU: Well, no, I haven't been to Holland. If you want to make small hills, I'd suggest to make them anyway - you will know that they're there, and you'll be happier with your region for it. As for this, it'll work out. I know it will.

malibu_man: Thanks - it just goes to show that it is possible to get good results with the in-game tools (but using SC4TF is fine too.)

Battlecat: That was the idea - but I'm glad you liked it, and that you're finding this helpful.

mightygoose: I'm slightly taken aback by that, but in a good way. I can only say thanks.

Jmouse: (Comment 1) Lucky guess. Good to see you're experimenting - that's a really good way to learn how to do things, and to discover new tricks.
(Comment 2) Your region has certainly improved - well done for that. However, there are still a couple of misalignments at city boundaries here and there, and in places your hills stop for the city boundaries. If they flow between tiles, the effect will be much more realistic. Apart from those minor niggles, though, good job.

WC_EEND: Remember, little clicks give you so much more. I'm glad you're finding it easy to follow.

Tomas Neto: Thanks.

art128: Go for it!

And now it's time for the motorway lesson.

Lesson 4 - Motorways

Before you begin, make sure you have these mods. You really can't build realistic motorways without them:

Ennedi Slope Mod
Hole Digger Lots

To build your first section of motorway, go to the RHW Starter Pieces menu (under Highways) and plop a starter piece of your choosing. I selected the RHW-6C for the main motorway, as most UK motorways are like that - 3 lanes in each direction, with a hard shoulder:

Wider motorways should only be used in congested areas, and 2-lane routes (in each direction) can be built to represent motorway-standard routes that don't have the legal designation.

Now that we've built a starter piece, we can drag out the motorway from it:

I've curved it and added roads at the side, because the fork for the spur motorway is going to go here. The curve on the mainline follows the plan and gives me a way to build a bridge for the spur. There aren't any smooth curve pieces for the RHW-6C, so this'll have to do.

Now to build that bridge, you need to create 15m-high abutments for it. You do this with the hole digger lots. Find the 15m Up lot, and place two of them parallel to the motorway, with some sort of gap in between, like so:

Now drag roads through the hole diggers to create the abutments:

Place single road tiles in the centre of each abutment and place additional ones going away from the motorway to extend them, as shown above.

Then delete them and build your bridge. Do this by placing RHW-4 on-slope pieces at the abutments, so that the middle tile of the piece is on the slope of the abutment facing the motorway.

Make sure you get your "To ELEVATED" and "To GROUND" pieces the right way round - to do this, determine whether you have LHD or RHD (i.e. which side of the road your cars drive on), and use that to determine the direction your cars will take over the bridge. Place the "To ELEVATED" piece where they'll get on the bridge, and "To GROUND" where they get off. Use the arrows provided to help you.

Then drag RHW between the on-slope pieces to complete the bridge:

Now on the south side, place a MIS - RHW-4 transition, as this is going to the main motorway and there aren't any ramps for RHW-6C that have RHW-4 branching off, so you need to rely on MIS. Place a RHW-6C - MIS ramp at the appropriate place on the main motorway, and then try to find a route, as straight as possible, connecting the transition to the ramp:

This is not easy with a slope mod, and the setup isn't ideal, but it was the best I could get. Try to use smooth curves when possible, and keep the route straight.

Now we can build the other ramp for the other carriageway. This is much easier as we don't have to build a bridge. First, we have to get the ground ready so that we won't have any difficulties building the spur - just run a road alongside the carriageway:

Just place an A-type ramp before the main motorway curve, place that MIS - RHW-4 transition to make the spur carriageway 2 lanes, and drag the RHW-4 out:

Now extend the abutment north of the bridge so that there's enough space for a curve to meet the other carriageway. Drag the curve out first, and then place the RHW-4 Outer Curve piece to make a nice smooth curve:

The RHW can then be dragged out without reversion to RHW-2.
Where the carriageway meets, use the RHW-4 Inner Curve piece to bring the carriageways parallel to each other (drag the curve out first though!)

A bit further along, we can bring them together for a straight run to the north to the CBD. Use both curve pieces to do this, and place them so that the 2 carriageways are next to each other:

Now we can drag the RHW up to the city centre, where it will end at a flat roundabout.
Place the Avenue Roundabout in line with the motorway spur (i.e. so that the central 2 tiles align with the RHW), and then drag a 1-tile stub of Avenue towards the RHW from the roundabout:

Then drag the RHW into the Avenue, and you'll get a nice smooth transition from the RHW into the roundabout:

The spur is now complete. Now it's time to return to the main motorway. Drag it out in accordance with the plan. Don't worry about it going up hills - this is not unrealistic, and your slope mod will ensure they're not too steep.
Run it to the other end of the city:

Now that that's done, it's time to build the roundabout interchange in the north west, that will be a major route into Faulkner's Bridge.
Demolish a 6-tile stretch of motorway and flatten the ground by placing single road tiles, like so:

Go 2 tiles either side of the motorway, so we can place the hole digger lots to get a perfect 15m high abutment. Once done, demolish the outer 2 columns of road tiles on each side, and place your hole digger lots parallel to the motorway, like we did for the fork. Drag road through to create the abutments:

Now demolish all the road tiles and hole diggers, and place single road tiles on the abutments to extend them. For a roundabout interchange, you need to place them in this exact arrangement:

As I've done, feel free to restore the RHW at this point.

On the first row of each abutment, one tile in from the edge, place one-way T on-slope pieces to create stubs for the bridge. As with the RHW, make sure you get the ON and OFF pieces the right way round. For LHD, which I'm using, the ON pieces need to be in the north-west and south-east corners, and the OFF pieces in the other 2. For RHD, this is reversed.
Again, use the provided arrows to help you, and think about the direction your cars will travel in:

Notice how I've dragged one-way roads between the stubs. This is so when we delete them, we don't delete the puzzle pieces as well, and we can build curves straight from the pieces.

Now build the bridges, using the One-Way Road over RHW-6C piece (don't worry about orientation), delete the roads between the bridges, and drag one-way road in the correct direction (clockwise for LHD, the other way for RHD), around the edge of the abutments:

Drag the surface road stubs out at the edges, as shown (using one-way roads). Notice how it's all smooth, with no traffic lights in sight.
Now you can build your ramps. Use the A-type ramps and drag MIS towards the one-way stubs parallel to the RHW, leaving space for a nice smooth S-curve to bring the MIS into line:

Pay attention to how I've used the RHW-4 - MIS transition on the exit slip roads to make them 2 lanes wide. This is a good way of making your interchange more realistic and sophisticated, as it increases the capacity of the interchange, as it creates different lanes for different movements. This advantage is not present for the entry slips, so they can just be ordinary MIS.

Finally, drag avenue from your side stubs to complete the interchange:

And we're completely finished building our motorways! Let's have a look at the network:

Looks good. And that wraps up the lesson.

Next up is the roads, appropriately.

Any questions then feel free to ask,


Realistic Cities for Dummies
Step-by-step tutorials on every single aspect of realistic city-building.



Nice highway layout. Looking forward to seeing how you'll deal with the roads.
BTW... looks like there's a small problem with one of your 90 degrees MIS corners ;)
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Last updated: 28 November


my only concern is that your primary highway (RHW6C) seems to follow a predetermined route that has not taken into account the local terrain. although slope mod safe, the incline immediately after the left turn past the fork is very steep for such a substantial arterial. perhaps continuing diagonally up the length of the valley may offer smoother slopes?
NAM + CAM + RAM + SAM, that's how I roll....


Very nice update!!! Great tutorial on RHW and interchanges, I like the roundabout and will be using that after a nice lesson. I agree with mightygoose on the 6C after the spur, I feel it would also help with pointyness of the curves a little. Keep up the great work, cant wait for the next update!!!


QuoteFirstly, a note about the title. It's a good and proper rip-off of the popular British book series '(Subject) for Dummies', which is a bestselling series of 'idiot's guides' to a wide range of subjects, from iPods to carpentry (I just plucked the 2nd one out of thin air but you get the idea), which are written for someone who knows little, if anything, about that subject, but are also used by people who do know what they're doing for use as and when necessary.


Enlarged image: http://i56.tinypic.com/2sbplk2.jpg


Good update!

Jumping the gun somewhat, I take it that in the vicinity of either the spur or the roundabout interchange, you will lay out a few retail and business parks? They seem to like motorway junctions for the convenience of being next to a high speed route.

Please don't be disheartened, but I have just two points of note...

1: It may be an idea to plant up the free flowing spur junction; the UK system likes trees and bushes as long as they don't conflict with sight-lines on the curves.

2: Going on from what Mightygoose said, It may be more realistic if the motorway is in a cutting on the hill section? They rarely stay at ground level. Take a look at the M62 or parts of the M1.

Very good work thus far, look forward to more.