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Designing Better Levels Through Human Survival Instincts
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Designing Better Levels Through Human Survival Instincts

June 21, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

Prospect and Refuge

The definition of Prospect Space has already been described as an open space where the player is exposed to threats and feels vulnerable. If the open wilderness were all that was available to our ancestors, however, we wouldn't be here.

Humans survived dangerous Prospect conditions by hiding in enclosed and intimate spaces referred to as Refuges. Refuges are places like caves and tree covered areas where early humans could look out into the Prospect spaces of wilderness and evaluate potential threats.

Refuges have evolved over time to include things like covered porches, patios, or sunken places in rooms that have the impression of being separate spaces. They have the advantage of being either safely depressed into the ground or high enough to provide a safe lookout.

When dealing with interiors, things like ceiling height can give a space the impression of being either Prospect or Refuge, with the lower ceilings of course being the Refuges. They also have enough shadow for the hiding person to not be easily visible to their enemies.

Refuges have also historically been tied to water sources, since they provide hydration, security, and the potential to attract animals that can be hunted for food.

While this seems like a simple concept, it is the type of spatial sequence that is created by the alternations of Prospects and Refuges that is of particular importance to level designers.

Refuges allow humans to look out upon their surroundings in a safe manner

When traveling, early man could rely on Refuges for safety at night or during adverse weather conditions. However, if this Refuge was temporary or simply a stopover for the human or group, they would use the Refuge as a place to look out for other Refuges. Making this goal would allow them to plan their passage over the Prospect space to the new Refuge, referred to as the "Secondary Refuge." Beyond the Secondary Refuge lies the Secondary Prospect, and so on until the final goal has been reached.

Secondary Refuges can urge the occupant of a space forward

As stated previously, the Prospect/Refuge/Secondary Refuge spatial sequence does not limit itself to travel over Stone Age plains, as these sequences are often featured in interior design. These examples are valuable to the level designer trying to come up with a path for their player. In a medium where there are still enemies lying in the Prospects, using Prospect/Refuge theory makes even more logical sense than it does in real architecture.

Prospects are often used to create areas of circulation and movement. The IT University in Copenhagen's Atrium, designed by Henning Larsen Architects, creates a large prospect space for travel between classes. The Refuges are the classrooms themselves, which look or project out into the atrium itself.

The projecting Refuge spaces are classrooms. The school somewhat appropriately features a program of study in Game Design.

Likewise, the architecture of Le Corbusier has been described as being largely Prospect-based. One of his main design philosophies was that man should rise above nature. He projected this in his architecture by placing buildings on sites that the building would starkly contrast. Living spaces, like that in his most famous project, Villa Savoye, were lifted into the air by thin columns and the spaces within were wide and flowed into one another. Ribbon windows were used to give the human the maximum view of their surroundings.

Selected views within Villa Savoye show the interior Prospect spaces

In many ways, Le Corbusier would have been a great designer of first person shooter maps. His architecture features many instances of wide open spaces and ramps leading to higher ground, like those found in Villa Savoye itself. In these games, rising levels connected by ramps allow for players to find better vantage points from which to snipe their opponents, and the spaces of a place like Villa Savoye would be very conducive to this type of competition. His architectural style is not unlike that employed in the Boardwalk map of Halo: Reach (to readers of my blog: I just complimented the design of a Halo level... please take a moment to look outside at the flying pigs) with its own rising levels, viewpoints of the surrounding game space, and geometric forms.

New Alexandria as featured in Boardwalk could very well be taken from Le Corbusier's Ville Contemporaine.

On the other hand, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright is often considered to be Refuge-based. Wright felt that the hearth was the center of the home, where the family would gather for warmth and safety. He utilized this concept in many of his building designs, and used it as his own "core mechanic" to inform everything from his room layouts to placement on sites. He liked to place houses within large groupings of trees. Even if they did not end up built in such spaces, he demanded that all perspective presentation drawings from his office be drawn with trees surrounding the house.

One example of a drafted perspective from Wright's office

Wright had a fondness for depressed sitting areas, typical of Refuge spaces.

This section drawing shows a living room space depressed into the site itself.

Fallingwater is situated in the woods of Western Pennsylvania

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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