Jump to content
  • rybolton

    Custom Terrains and Using USGS Data

    Step 1 - First you will need to get a program called MICRODEM. Get it here. Follow the link ’Complete Install’. Now install MICRODEM.

    Step 2 - Now that you’ve installed MICRODEM you will need to get a DEM (Digital Elevation Models). You can download them from this site. Click on the button ’View and Order Data Sets’


    You should now see this map of the United States.

    Step 3 - The toolbar on the left hand side of the screen allows you to move around the map, zoom in and out, and select area to download. The zoom in tool is default. After you’ve found the location that you want to download, select the download by rectangle tool in the lower left hand of the toolbar.


    Download by rectangle tool

    Click and drag on the map to select the area you wish to download.


    The green box is the area we are going to grab.

    A new window will appear and after it’s done working you’ll see this:


    Summary page

    Step 4 - Click on the button ’Modify Data Request, and uncheck all boxes but the one for ’NED - National Elevation Dataset.’ Change the Data Format to TIFF and then click on the button marked ’Save Changes & Return to Summary’


    Change data format to TIFF

    You should now see a screen like this:


    We are ready to download the file.

    Click the download link. Save the file and remember where you put it. (I suggest creating a folder on your C drive called ’USGS DATA’ and placing your DEM’s there). Congratulations you now have a DEM to play with. You’ll need to unzip the archive you’ve just downloaded. Extract it to your C:/USGS DATA folder. (It will create it’s own folder)

    Step 5 - Start MICRODEM. Open the .tif file you just downloaded.


    Opening our .TIF file we downloaded.

    You should now see something like this:


    Our DEM is loaded.

    Right click on the Image, and select ’Display Parameter’



    A new menu will appear. Select ’Elevation’ from that menu. Your DEM will now look something like this:


    Color-coded DEM.

    Your dem is now color coded by elevation, but you need to get it in black and white, so right click on the Image again and select ’Elevation Colors’ then ’Colors’ from the next menu. You will now see a dialog box like this:


    Converting to gray scale.

    You need to select ’Grey scale.’ If your DEM is on a coast line the check box ’Ocean Check’ will make all of the ocean water blue, while your terrain will turn different shades of grey. Click ’OK.’

    This is the result:


    We’ve left the water blue for now.

    You’ll notice that the ocean check has left a section of this DEM (Puget Sound near Olympia, WA) blue, but that the shades of grey are a little too dark in the areas near the water that should be land. You can correct this.

    Right click on the Image and select ’Elevation colors’ then ’Specify’ from the following menu. You will now be able to tell MICRODEM where to start and end the shading of the elevation. The numbers you are inputting are in meters, and the first number is for the low elevation, or what height you wish to assign to black. I have reset this Image from -1 meter to -800 meters and the upper range from roughly 3400 meters to 2000 meters. The result is below:


    Gray scale is corrected for our purposes.

    Now you’ll need to save your modified DEM as a GEOTIFF:


    Save map as GEOTIFF

    Step 6- You need to edit this Image with a photo-Image editor. So start your favorite Image software. For this tutorial I’ll be using Photoshop. If you have any blue sections of terrain (Ocean) use the magic wand tool to select them and fill them black.


    Changing the blue water to black.

    Note that there are still blue sections in this Image. Now convert your TIFF in to a Greyscale Image. And crop out the elevation key on the bottom.

    We need to discuss Image sizes now. A standard region can be imported from a 1025x1025 greyscale Image.

    If you want to use custom region sizes you’ll have to create or edit a config.bmp file. There are some simple guidlines here.

    Now we have to resize our Image to 1025x1025, so resize the Image so that the shorter side is 1025 pixels long.


    Changing the Image size to 1025 high.

    Now you’ll have to reduce the Canvas Size to 1025x1025. Now you need to save this Image as a GREY SCALE JPEG.


    Convert to Greyscale before saving as JPG!


    Changing the canvas size to 1025 x 1025.

    You are now ready to import your terrain to Simcity 4.

    Step 7- Home-stretch. Start Simcity 4 and create a new region. After the blank region appears press Ctrl+Shift+Alt+R, find your terrain Image and let Simcity 4 run.

    Note: Do not do anything else while your terrain is being loaded. This will take several minutes depending on the speed of your computer, so expect to wait.

    Here are the results of the terrain we used:


    A couple of points.

    You can import any grey scale Image that is 1025x1025 pixels. It doesn’t have to be real world terrain. Try taking any photo to make a terrain, it just needs to be in 8-bit gray scale and sized at 1025x1025.

    The elevation translation scale in Simcity 4 starts the water level at about R:61 G:61 B:61. Which is about a 75% gray. So everything darker than that will be deeper water.

    Happy customizing! A big thanks to Forkboy2 for providing a lot of insight.

    Sign in to follow this  
    Sign in to follow this  

    User Feedback



    This tutorial is impossible for me to follow.  I am looking at USGS here and it is completely different from what was used for this tutorial, and the instructions here do not apply to new seamless website.


    We need a new tutorial.


    Things sure have changed in the two years since this tutorial was made.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Please would one of you awesome terrain makers update this. I would love to be able to grab the needed info and make my own. I've downloaded/installed the needed programs but none of them look anything like the tutorial. Can't get anything from SEAMLESS or the USGS to import into MicroDEM.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I also encountered a lot of dead ends trying to follow this, but I finally managed to get it done.  The elevation maps you get from here




    MicroDEM you get from here:




    Install MicroDEM with the default options.


    Download the NED 1/3 arc second elevation data.  Make sure you uncheck land cover from your data requests.  You only want elevation data.  If you select too large of an area, the server will deny you.  This is good, because the limit far exceeds a usable area.  Remember that real cities are large, and a "region" in the game is more akin to a "city" in real life.  The "city" squares of your region correspond to "neighborhoods" in a real city.  The Tampa "region" I created using this is 33x27 km (each small tiles of a region is 1 sq. km), and this only includes basically the city limits on the southern end.


    After selecting a rectangle for download, in order to get it in GeoTIFF format and not ArcGrid, you have to modify the download request before you click the Download button.  After downloading a GeoTIFF archive from the server, extract only the .TIF (which is really a DEM), and use the "Open DEM" feature of MicroDEM to access it.


    After the image loads, perform the following:


    Right click -> Display Parameter -> Elevation -> Grayscale

    Right click -> Legends/Marginalia -> Deselect all -> Grid -> Neither

    Right click -> Modify Map Area -> 1:1 view

    Right click -> Save image -> Bitmap type


    Now, finally, you have a flattened raster grayscale image with which to begin your work.


    If you're not comfortable with advanced image manipulation, then I'd say don't bother.  Adjusting black & white points, gamma, color depth and other image manipulation tasks are necessary to produce a usable height map from a grayscale DEM.


    Good information about SimCity height maps here:




    I'll soon be uploading the Tampa region I created with this.  Good luck.

    Share this comment

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an Account  

    Sign up to join our friendly community. It's easy!  

    Register a New Account

    Sign In  

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


Thank You for the Continued Support!

Simtropolis relies mainly on member donations to continue operating. Without your support, we just would not be able to be entering our 15th year online!  You've really help make this a great community.

But we still need your support to stay online. If you're able to, please consider a donation to help us stay up and running, so that we can help keep bringing SimCity players together to share our creations.

Make a Donation, Get a Gift!

Expand your city with the best from the Simtropolis Echange.
Make a donation and get one or all three discs today!


By way of a "Thank You" gift, we'd like to send you our STEX Collector's DVD. It's some of the best buildings, lots, maps and mods collected for you over the years. Check out the STEX Collections for more info.

Each donation helps keep Simtropolis online, open and free!

Thank you for reading and enjoy the site!

More About STEX Collections