VistaPro 4.11 Review|
VistaPro is an inexpensive, yet capable 3D landscape creation tool. VistaPro has been around for quite some time; I recall playing around with it for the first time on my Amiga 500 in the early 90's. VistaPro seemed to be hiding from view, overshadowed by the bigger names in the 3D terrain creation world dominated by Bryce, Vue D'Esprit, and WorldBuilder. The new publisher, VendorNation has been doing a good job recently of dragging it back from obscurity, and introducing a new generation of artists to it's capabilities.
VistaPro's interface is very intuitive. Two view screens show the terrain you are working with. The top view shows the entire topographic terrain map. The bottom view gives you a low-res camera view. These view screens can be zoomed or panned, and in the camera view you can enter 'walk around' mode, which allows you to walk the camera through a wireframe scene.
Work flow within interface is a simple process of manipulating the numerous scene parameters. On the right side of the interface are buttons which let you access these parameter controls. Starting from the top, you have camera controls. Placing the camera is as simple as clicking on the topo map. To refine the camera view, you can adjust the heading, pitch, and bank, as well as adjust numerically the X,Y,Z coordinates of both the camera location, and target. The camera view windows allows you to zoom in and out, and clicking in the view window refines the where in the current view the camera is looking.
The Light and Sky sections are where you set the sun's, (and moon) position, size, color, and brightness. The sun parameters allow color and texture mapping. With an adjustable flare intensity and radius you can create some interesting lighting effects. The program unfortunately limits you to a single sun, and moon, which is fine for earth scenes, but does limit your possibilities for interesting alien skies. You also can't have a moon, without also having stars, and turning your scene to night.
The VistaPro sky also has a great fractal cloud generation system.
With clouds you can control the density, altitude, pattern, and color. Patterns can be generated fractually, or loaded from presets. You are limited to just a single planar cloud set. Even with the limitations, I was able to create some very realistic skies.
There are a few different ways to generate your terrain. The default method is Fractal Landscape Creation. As you can see from the screen shots to the right, VistaPro provides you with quite a few parameters to generate, and manipulate the basic structure of the overall terrain. These controls are adequate to generate the general type of terrain you are after; whether it be mountainous, rolling hills etc. It doesn't however give you specific control over the individual details of the terrain. For example, you can't flatten, or build up a single mountain. The controls of smooth, roughen, errode, stretch affect the entire terrain. I would have expected to be able to draw directly onto the color map to make fine adjustments to the terrain elevations. It can still be done, but it requires that you first export the elevation map as a pcx file, manipulate it in PhotoShop, and then import it back into VistaPro.
The other method of terrain creation, is through importing Digital Elevation Maps. DEM files are available in various elevations covering virtually the entire planet, many are free from various places on the web. The VistaPro CD comes jam packed with these DEM's - including the planet Mars! Example of the included DEM's are: Grand Canyon, Jackson Hole, Hawaii, San Francisco, Yosemite, Puerto Rico, and many more.
The final method for creating your terrain is by importing the elevations from a color or gray scale image. This allows you to draw your own terrains using color for the height data, or bring in color terrain maps from other applications such as Vue D'Esprit. You can also import VistaPro binary format terrain maps. Terragen allows you to export it's terrains in the this format.
Once you have your terrain in place, you can further refine the world by setting the sea level, and adding lakes and rivers. Adding rivers is a pretty cool features. When you click Create River, then click on the terrain map, the river seeks it's own path by following the terrain down toward sea level. Water is affected by controls to adjust the wave length, direction, speed and amplitude. There are 5 different color texture maps settings to adjust the color of the water. Alternatively you can substitute the color for a .tga texture map.
VistaPro offers 4 tree types to populate your scene with: Palm, Oak, Cactus and Pine. Of each type the program will generate 4 different variations. You can have the program automatically populate the scene with trees based on your setting for tree density, type, and height. It only places trees on relatively flat surfaces, as they would grow in the real world. The only glitch here is that it will grow trees in the middle of a river. You can also choose to individually place the trees in your scene. Trees can be generated a 3D objects, or in 2D. Adjustments for detail level, and branching provide the capability for generating a wide variation of vegetation. The 3D trees are the most realistic, but can slow down rendering times especially when creating an entire forest.
River Started at the top of a mountain
80% Density - Pine Trees
The program has 4 built in house objects you can drop onto the terrain. You can also draw in roads, and add beaches. Unfortunately, you cannot bring in any of your own 3D objects.
Textures and Rendering
VistaPro gives you choice of Low, Medium, High, and Ultra for rendering resolutions. I found rendering speeds to be quite fast. With highest detail level of terrain, trees, clouds, haze, and shadows, on Ultra, a 800x600 scene rendered in less than two minuets on my 2GHz laptop. The rendering results were OK, but not spectacular. There are no controls to affect the specularity, transparency, bump mapping, or reflections. In general the terrains were too shiny. The only adjustments possible were to substitute colors with image maps.
VistaPro has the ability to create flythrough animations of your terrain. The process involves clicking out a path in the topo view, and then tweaking each node (Keyframe) for altitude using the terrain side view.
Also adjustable are the speed, and view targets for each node. There are selectable vehicle type: Glider, Jet, Cruise Missle, Dune Buggy, and Motorcycle. Dune Buggy and Motorcycle hug the terrain, while the others have different flight characteristics.
Animations can be rendered to AVI, FLC, or a series of PCX, BMP, TGA, or JPG images.
VistaPro is a fun little program. It does a decent, though not spectacular job of creating realistic landscapes. With the ability to export the terrain to DXF for importing into your main 3D application, it's a useful tool for getting fractal, or real-world DEM's into your 3D program. At just $50.00 for the full version, it is certainly an excellent value!