Game Development Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional and independent game developers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I've been looking at 3D environments for games and I would like to know (case by case) which would be the best fit for development. The types in question are between heightmaps or a model of an environment (created in Maya, Max, etc). And when I say "environment," I mean "the ground the player walks on (street, hill, valley, etc).

Here are the scenarios based off of actual games:

  1. Red Dead Redemption - massive open world
  2. Gears of War - smaller/confined world and linear navigation; urban + natural
  3. MW3 - small world; urban-oriented

Which is the best fit for developing the ground for each of these games?

Keep in mind that these games have varying degrees of slopes.


  1. This is not a coding problem. This is a design problem.
  2. I'm not asking how the above games were codes. I'm asking about the environment "style of whether it would be best to use a height map or model the environment (terrain) entirely within a 3D editor.
share|improve this question

closed as not a real question by Byte56, Maik Semder, Ali.S, Sean Middleditch, Trevor Powell Jan 26 '13 at 9:27

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

So... Is this an actual problem you're facing? Sounds like you just want a discussion. I don't see how an answer to this could help you in your own development. – Byte56 Jan 25 '13 at 21:58
I really doubt any of these games use heightmaps. – Almo Jan 25 '13 at 21:58
I agree with @Byte56, as it stands this question is not a good fit for this Q&A site, voting to close too. However, feel free to rephrase the question with an actual implementation problem of your game project that you are facing, which is answerable. – Maik Semder Jan 25 '13 at 22:13
@ChocoMan You think Maik is trying to scam some free code off of you? He's trying to help you improve your question. Relax and take a second look at what's really going on. – Byte56 Jan 25 '13 at 22:22
the update doesn't help – Jimmy Jan 25 '13 at 22:25
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Most games (I guess all you listed) combine both approaches to reduce the amount of data to process and render.

Using one huge model is very costly, because you'll always have to draw everything (or do lots of culling calculations).

Due to this, the probably most often used approach is drawing the raw map using one or more heightmaps (to improve performance, you'd most likely split this into "cells").

In addition, these cells are decorated with more detailed and modeled objects, such as rocks, cliffs, bridges, houses, etc.

When drawing, you can then restrict yourself to only draw the heightmap of the current (or neighboring) cells as well as all their objects. Recent and popular examples would be games such as Skyrim or Far Cry 3.

This approach will be less attractive if you plan on doing things like indoor maps. Brush based drawing, e.g. as done by Valve's Source engine are more suited for something like this. Overall they'll still do the same thing: Use the rough drawing (brushes here) to create the map, objects to decorate it.

So in short: Always try to get your general map layout done with some simple method. Keep this simple, because this will be fast and allow you to cull other elements (e.g. using depth buffers, cell hierarchy, etc.). Then add the details.

share|improve this answer
Thank you for shedding new light! – ChocoMan Jan 26 '13 at 3:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.