Jump to content

* * * - -

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’

Posted Image

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.

Posted Image

Download by rectangle tool

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

Posted Image

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:

Posted Image

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’

Posted Image

Change data format to TIFF

You should now see a screen like this:

Posted Image

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.

Posted Image

Opening our .TIF file we downloaded.

You should now see something like this:

Posted Image

Our DEM is loaded.

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

Posted Image


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

Posted Image

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:

Posted Image

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:

Posted Image

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:

Posted Image

Gray scale is corrected for our purposes.

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

Posted Image

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.

Posted Image

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.

Posted Image

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.

Posted Image

Convert to Greyscale before saving as JPG!

Posted Image

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:

Posted Image

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.


Updated link to download the Microdem:
all the links are broken, try to fix that first.

This is completely outdated.

New SEAMLESS website:





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.

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.

Jan 30, 2014 - 05:33 PM

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.