Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
July 20, 2019
arrowPress Releases







If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Develop 2009: Architecture Has Much To Learn From Game Design

Develop 2009: Architecture Has Much To Learn From Game Design Exclusive

July 15, 2009 | By Simon Parkin




Architecture has much to learn from video games. So said a group of architects and game artists speaking at a panel session at Brighton's Develop conference, where they explained in-depth the fascinating relationship between games and real-world environment design.

"Cities like Dubai have been designed explicitly from the ground up as experience locations, their architecture intended to give tourists and visitors a heady journey," said Rory Olcayto, features editor from The Architects Journal.

"But when you visit Dubai and experience that journey for yourself, it's a very poor experience. Videogames tend to present coherent architecture-led experiences far better than those we build in the real world," he said For that reason, I think city architects have a lot more to learn from games than vice-versa."

The panel, which also featured Viktor Antonov, the art director behind Half-Life 2 and The Crossing and Rob Watkins, an architect-trained artist on Fable 2, investigated the ways in which games and architecture influence behavior and emotion, and are used to tell stories.

Panel host Alex Wiltshire of Edge magazine took the example Londons Natural History Museum: "Its a superbly practical place to show off huge skeletons and glass cases filled with stuffed animals to thousands of people a day," he began.

"But it also subtly steers its visitors through its spaces, is suitably grand for a national museum and is a physical representation of Darwinian principles with terra cotta tiling thats banded to look like stratified rock and featuring carved animals crawling up its columns."

He drew comparisons between this function of architecture and multiplayer maps in games like Team Fortress 2 and Halo 3. "Their forms are engineered to be fun killing grounds, designed for specific game types and to facilitate players to flow through their spaces in general patterns," he pointed out. "Their decoration, meanwhile, is designed to extend their host games fictions or, in TF2s case, tell their own."

All three men on the panel described how its the freedom of form that drew them to video game architecture.

Said Olcayto: "I started out working for Hamilton district council, visiting estates and working to replace windows on council houses. It was mundane work, relived only by our lunchtime sessions playing Doom 2. I realized that I preferred living in the type of environment found in that game than working with real architecture, which is actually quite onerous."

Watkins was also drawn into video game design after graduating with a degree in architecture by the promise of freedom. "The chance to play with building of almost any scale, with true freedom to do really interesting things and none of the drawbacks of having to worry about damp-proofing or RSJ was irresistible," he enthused. "In games, your primary concern is look, feel and impact."

However, he was quick to point out that contemporary games also require a level of sober realism to their virtual architecture.

"Buildings have to look credible," he said, "and have structure and form with joists, beams and so on. These things are important, so the player doesnt just think it's a flat world with a texture stuck on it."

Antonov agreed, saying that injecting scenes with history as well as realistic coherency is just as important. "For Half Life 2, we wrote three pieces of supplementary narrative for every location in the game, stating what happened there two days ago, two weeks ago and two years ago."

"This historical record (which ran longer than the entire story for the game) gave every location in the game a sense of place, history and verisimilitude, something far more nuanced and rich than simply slapping some graffiti on a wall," he added.

Wiltshire asked the panel about the differences in function between buildings in games, which are generally there to provide mood or direction for the player, and real-life buildings, which have more utilitarian purposes.

Antonov was unsure of the distinction. "The citys a theatre and a spectacle in itself," he opined. "I don't think the differences are so great; we shouldnt be snobbish about real architectures function. It's there for public fun. After all, you see it first and use it second.

Olcayto agreed that, as with many real-life developments, buildings in games are primarily about creating and framing an atmosphere. The difference is that architecture in games has "a strange dream logic that stems from it being explicitly built for psychological mood creation to serve the narrative."

Antonov pointed out that there are three different types of places that exist in architecture: Capitals, Villages and Colonies. "It's important to understand which one youre working on and why when building a game world," he advised.

"Capitals are hub icons of success and prosperity. Villages are often less structured, more freeform and communicate a different ambiance, while colonies have usually been designed in a strict, formatted way."

Contrast Paris, he suggested, with its experiential journey from monument to monument with Marrakesh, which is organic and very easy to get disorientated and lost in. Knowing what you are aiming for, and how that relates to he game narrative themes is crucial.

Wiltshire concluded by challenging attendees to consider the way both video games and architecture are germinated with a grand idea and a sprinkle of available technology before the practicalities take over. "Its time to stop thinking so much about the cosmetic similarities between games and film," he argued, "and look to architecture instead."


Related Jobs

Sucker Punch Productions
Sucker Punch Productions — Bellevue, Washington, United States
[07.18.19]

QA Manager
Sony PlayStation
Sony PlayStation — San Mateo , California, United States
[07.18.19]

Global Partner Marketing Manager
Hi-Rez Studios
Hi-Rez Studios — Alpharetta, Georgia, United States
[07.18.19]

Senior Technical Artist
Hi-Rez Studios
Hi-Rez Studios — Alpharetta, Georgia, United States
[07.18.19]

Senior Sound Designer









Loading Comments

loader image