So you've fired up A.L.E, and you can see a nice little world in front of you. But you're thinking "hmm...how do I do that". Well A.L.E was designed to be very, very simple - so don't worry. Its an artists tool, After following this tutorial you'll be able to make any landscape you can think of...
Firstly, you may not have noticed that A.L.E comes with a launcher. You can find this in by clicking Start->Programs->ALE->ALE Launch. Here you can alter graphics settings and controls. In this tutorial, I will assume you are using the default settings.
Ok, after launching A.L.E, take a minute to familiarise yourself with the controls. You move around the world using the W,A,S,& D keys just like in many popular FPS games (don't forget you can redefine these keys if you want to). You can also move up and down by pressing the R & F keys, giving you 6 degrees of freedom.
To look around, hold down the middle mouse button and move the mouse. Again, if you've ever played an FPS game this should be second nature. If you're mouse dousn't have a third button (sometimes accessed by clicking the scroll-wheel), hold the LEFT CTRL key. You can alter the mouse (and other) options further by clicking OPTIONS->GENERAL OPTIONS
So, lets start a new landscape. Click FILE->NEW.
Since the landscape now looks very baron, why not add a little color. In the toolbar you should see 6 little texture blocks (images). These are the default textures, and they can obviously be changed, but I'll get to that later. For now just click the nice green grass texture. It will become selected, and this is indicated by the red box that surrounds it.
You are now in 'paint' mode. Move the mouse pointer over the landscape. You will notice there are small red dots that move with the cursor. These indicate what area of the landscape you are working on.
Now click and hold the left mouse button over the landscape. Instant grass! Whilst holding the left mouse button, start to move the mouse over the landscape. Wherever you point - more grass!
You can alter the area that you are affecting at any given time by moving the scroll wheel, or by using the BRUSH SIZE slider in the toolbar. This allows you to paint huge areas, or small details.
As you might have noticed, the texture you are painting with is sort of 'sprayed' onto the landscape gradually. By altering the SPRAY RATE slider, you can control the rate at which a texture is applied. Moving the slider close to the left gives a low spray rate, letting you give a light 'tinge' of texture.
Now take a look at the little color block next to each texture in the toolbar. Click the one next to the grass texture, and you are presented with a color picker. Choose a brown/orange color and try painting the landscape again. The grass is now an off brown color! Using this technique you can add *massive* amounts of variation to your landscape using the same textures!
But what if you don't like that grass texture? Click the replace button and navigate to a new texture file to change it - simple as that.
If you want to alter the scale of the texture, use the small SCALEUV slider bar underneath each texture block in the toolbar. This lets you set up the UV co-ordinates to suit your own needs. Detail textures can be set to repeat more than say, sprawling rock textures.
The landscape is very flat right now, so we'll put in some features. Click the RAISE/LOWR button, and start to paint the landscape just as you did with the texture. The left mouse button raises the highlighted area, and the right mouse button lowers it. If you make a mistake, you can use good old UNDO in the Functions menu. Don't forget that you can change the brush size in exactly the same way as you did when texture painting (scroll wheel).
If you want to flatten an area of your landscape (perhaps for a village or a road), click the FLATTEN button in the toolbar and paint flat areas on the landscape in the same way. Again, the longer you hold the button, the 'flatter' the landscape becomes. This is the real power of A.L.E - the same technique is used to achieve all functions. If you can move a mouse you can make a landscape!
Lets add some light. Click the SUN->SET POSITION in the menu. A small toolbar appears. Look at the sky, and move these sliders. You will see the yellow sun marker moving around. Put the sun wherever you want (a 5pm-like sun gives a nice effect).
Now click the LIGHTMAP->CALCULATE LIGHTMAP menu. Choose a filename for the lightmap and click OK. Lightmaps are saved in .PNG format, which is a lossless compression format. This means it retains all its detail even though it is compressed (unlike .JPG for example which is 'lossey').
You will need to wait a few minutes while the program calculates the lightmap. Once it has, you should see the new lighting. If not, click LIGHTMAP->HIDE LIGHTMAP to make sure it is turned off.
Play around a bit, and create a landscape yourself.
Now you're ready to try some other functions. FUNCTIONS->AUTOSMOOTH will smooth off any harsh edges on the landscape for you automatically.
FUNCTIONS->MAKE SELF-TILEABLE will alter the very edges of the landscape so that if 2 copies are put side by side they will tile seamlessly.
FUNCTIONS->EDGE TO ZERO is similar to 'Make Self-Tileable', but ANY 2 landscapes with this function applied will tile seamlessly when placd side by side.
If you work with heightmaps (a 2d greyscale representation of the height at any point of a landscape), the HEIGHTMAP->IMPORT and EXPORT menu is self explanatory. It is NOT necessary to use heightmaps at all in A.L.E, but the feature does allow data transfer between many different 3D engines / modellers / terraformers / CAD programs.
In A.L.E, a 'Prop' is any 3D mesh object in either .b3d .x or .3ds format. You can add a prop to the scene by clicking PROPS->LOAD PROP MESH. There are a couple of props included for you to experiment with (tree.b3d, lighthouse.b3d).
To move and manipulate any prop, you must first click the SELECT/MOVE button in the toolbar.
Left click will select a prop.
Left click, hold & drag moves the selected prop around the scene. Props will automatically follow the contours of the landscape, but you can make them 'float' if you wish by altering the ALT SLIDER (short for altitude) in the toolbar.
PITCH, YAW and ROLL sloders are used to rotate the selected prop around the x, y and z axes. The RESET ROT button resets the selected props rotation to default.
The NAME TEXTBOX can be used to assign an individual name to each prop.
The SHADOW tick-box lets you define whether a prop should cast a shadow on to the landscape. These shadows will not be visible until/unless you re-calculate the lightmap (see above to find out how - don't worry its very simple).
CLONE make a copy of the prop and places it close to the original.
DEL deletes the selected prop. You may also use PROPS->DELETE ALL or PROPS->DELETE BY NAME from the menu.
The SCALE SLIDER scales the prop (makes it larger/smaller).
The small G BUTTON at the far right of the toolbar is a very useful tool. This will GROUND the selected prop ie. make it 'sit' on the landscape so that it is not 'floating' or 'buried'.
You can terraform the landscape after placing props - don't worry, they will automatically adapt to any changes you make! Try it and see.
Now imagine that you want to create a forest. Placing every single tree by hand would be a nightmare, right? Well in A.L.E there is a special feature performs such a chore for you. Having placed, scaled and named a tree to your own taste, make sure it is selected and click PROPS->PLACE WITH BITMAP. You will be presented with an options screen. Activate the USE CURRENTLY SELECTED PROP tick-box to tell A.L.E you want to place copies of your tree.
Now click SELECT BITMAP. You will find a file called 'placemap.png' in your A.L.E installation directory to use as an example. If you open this file in your favourite paint program you will see that it is simply a black bitmap with some white pixels on it. The tree prop will be placed on the landscape wherever a white pixel appears on the bitmap - imagine it as a plan view (top-down) of your world. The PROP SIZE slider is set up for you to match the prop you selected so don't worry about that.
The RANDOM PITCH, YAW & ROLL tick-boxes can be used to add some variation. Activate the RANDOM YAW box, and leave the others turned off.
Now click OK. You'll see the trees being placed according to the 'placemap.png' file. Try making your own placemap in the paint program of your choice.
Above all, feel free to EXPERIMENT. A.L.E is an artists tool, so let your creative side loose! And if you make something you are proud of, send me a screenshot and I'll post it on the A.L.E website :)