Recently I’ve been experimenting with a tool called Vertex Meadow by Ian Maclarty. It’s a wonderful browser-based terrain editor that uses height and color maps, meaning anyone, even without 3D modeling skill, can make explorable 3D environments with relative ease. It features an exploration mode, where you can move freely in your environment, and an edit mode, where you can paint heightmaps in black and white (lighter = higher) and view your results in real-time. You can also edit attributes such as the height of the sky, the ambient light of the area, fog, specularity, and more.
When you’re done creating your world, you can set a title and then share it, creating a unique URL for your world.
What I love about Vertex Meadow
- It’s amazing for caves, open landscapes, and abstract areas. You can manipulate the heightmap of the sky the same way you can manipulate the ground, meaning you can turn the sky into a low ceiling, instead of a far-away plane.
- You can create a detail map, adding a repeating height and texture to the area. This is great for adding grass, but can also be used to add other effects.
- Vertex Meadow allows you to upload height and image maps you’ve made in external programs, allowing you to import previously made images, or use Photoshop to paint maps with greater detail. You can generate a heightmap in an external procedural generation program, or theoretically download heightmap data using real-world topography to upload into Vertex Meadow.
- Probably my favorite thing about Vertex Meadow, you can link areas together using URLs. This means you can add links to sites as secrets for the player to find, or, more excitingly, create multiple Vertex Meadow worlds, and then use their unique URLs to link them to one-another, adventure game style. This takes a bit of planning, but is an incredibly interesting feature.
- There are NoClip and Wireframe modes available. I haven’t yet tested if these modes are usable in shared maps, but if they are, that’s another incredibly unique option.
What I like less about Vertex Meadow
- Since it’s simply a heightmap editor, you can’t do something like create a building with an arch or tunnel, or even vertical indents and details like niches or windows. This isn’t a dealbreaker, and it makes sense given the purpose of the program, but it is something to keep in mind when creating environments.
- It doesn’t work well when using a pen and tablet, whether that be a Wacom artists tablet like my Intuos Pro, or a touchscreen tablet like my Surface Pro. The way Vertex Meadow captures your mouse cursor works in such a way that using a tablet will cause the cursor to skip around the screen in an uncontrollable way. The cursor’s real position will be different from what Vertex Meadow thinks the position is, and that can sometimes cause the user to hit buttons they weren’t intending, like the Back button in-browser. The cursor darting around the screen also makes it near-impossible to draw.
This is alleviated by the ability to upload images into Vertex Meadow, so I can paint with my tablet in Photoshop and then upload it. However, this removes the real-time view and fragments the process of creating maps.
- It’s soft-locked a few times while switching between it and Photoshop. This seems to be an issue with when the window gains focus, and is being worked on.
In all, the downsides are fairly minor and easily worked around. I earnestly recommend anyone interested in creating unique and abstract 3D landscapes give this program a try – you don’t need any 3D experience to create something wonderful!
I’ve created an adventure game using Vertex Meadow that you can access as a backer on Patreon. Check it out!