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KennyG3D

Virtual environments and applied architectural thinking

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KennyG3D    122
Greetings to all... I am a Landscape Architecture Student currently writing a thesis on the three dimensional modelling of outdoor space. I am particullarly interested in how architectural principals can be used to help design vibrant and convicing environments. What degree of architectural thinking is applied to the design of virtual environments? Where do planning principals of orientation, navigation and landmarks appear and how similar is the interpretation of such aspects in the virtual world compared to that in the real world? How much research goes into real places and how they feel and how does this research inform what happens in the virtual world? I would be very grateful for the views of designers and players alike in order to take my research to the next level. Also if there are any other important issues relating to this subject that I should research let me know... Many Thanks

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Kest    547
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Original post by KennyG3D
How much research goes into real places and how they feel and how does this research inform what happens in the virtual world?

My usual approach is to lay things out realistically, then find ways to conform and restrict the environment to whatever suits the gameplay best. I'll literally search out floor plans and study snapshots of medical laboratories before I start constructing one. Then I have to come up with ways to change the realistic design into something more practical for the game.

You see a lot of this in Fallout 3. The building designs are realistic and practical. But entrances and pathways are often boarded up or blocked by destruction to create an actual play area. Where a factory might have a straight hallway that leads from the entrance to an elevator to reach the player's desired floor, the hallway is now destroyed, and the elevator is inoperable. The floor above can be reached by climbing up some caved in flooring, then the second floor can be accessed with a leaned over beam, etc. All the while, boring or useless areas are blocked off by rubble, keeping things tight and engaging, rather than huge and empty.

My own situation is more complicated, since my environment hasn't been destroyed by nukes. I'll probably have to use door access code restrictions and other similar techy limitations to avoid huge worthless areas to roam around in.

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KennyG3D    122
Thanks that gives me a few things to think about... so basically the game environment is put in place before gameplay. But spaces are adapted to fit the desired route of play to stop the player becoming confused or lost?

What about larger game spaces, what are the principals employed to help people navigate the worlds in oblivion or fallout? Landmarks are obviously very important here.

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WavyVirus    884
I found this tech-talk pretty interesting and it might be somewhat relevant:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6fAszlImPM

It talks about procedurally generating buildings, as well as entire cities. It takes into account the "purpose" and population density of certain areas, as well as the placement and orientation of things like roads, pathways, ornamental items and foliage. It also introduces a concept of formal architectural grammar.

Apparently this system has been used for both movies and interactive purposes.

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KennyG3D    122
Thanks for that, interesting video. Very much introduces the idea of being able to model places quickly and easily which I can see some potential in for designing city spaces and testing how they work. Also i can imagine this being used in conjunction with GIS perhaps...

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WavyVirus    884
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Original post by KennyG3D
Thanks for that, interesting video. Very much introduces the idea of being able to model places quickly and easily which I can see some potential in for designing city spaces and testing how they work. Also i can imagine this being used in conjunction with GIS perhaps...


He actually very briefly mentions that GIS integration is supported. Part of my job involves administering a large ArcGIS database... It would be interesting to apply this tool to it! Especially since so many local government/planning and development organisations already keep this kind of data.

Particularly interesting was the way they seek to formalise architecture and even city planning. For procedurally generated cities these seem extremely rich and convincing as far as the variety and placement of buildings goes - you can see areas that seem like financial or residential districts.

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KennyG3D    122
Yes the building layouts do help us get an idea about what each space was used for. Particullarly in thier Pompei model where you see people in the city squares or plazas. The modelled crownd movement also looks very realistic is it is reponsive to hubs such as shops...
The landscape does suffer from a lack of variety i feel. GIS could be used to create the model for the wider landscape to give a bit more of a sense of place and context.

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WavyVirus    884
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Original post by KennyG3D
The landscape does suffer from a lack of variety i feel. GIS could be used to create the model for the wider landscape to give a bit more of a sense of place and context.


I agree - but as a proof of concept and when combined with existing procedural landscape algorithms I can see it being quite successful

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KennyG3D    122
The City Engine would seem to have massive potential for a range of disciplines, exciting stuff, it will interesting to keep track of what can be achived with it over the next couple of years.

So in terms of architecture in games... What role does architecture play? How does this affect the gameplay? It clearly contains the gamepley and creates purpose and context, but how does the design affect the experience of a game and how we feel when we play?

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WavyVirus    884
Quote:
Original post by KennyG3D
...
So in terms of architecture in games... What role does architecture play? How does this affect the gameplay?
...


I suppose this depends on the genre...

Something like Halo requires layout finely tuned through playtesting to optimize "flow" through the level and ensure balance. I would imagine that perhaps the approach of refining (through playtesting) a concept mostly brought to life by artistic vision rather than real "architectural thinking" is more common, but this depends on the individual designing levels and their background.

A less multiplayer-focused game like Thief, for example, might apply layout to encourage stealth and provide recognisable kinds of rooms to allow the player to predict what an enemy AI might be up to, and where they are likely to move next.



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KennyG3D    122
I would imagine that games based heavilly on cities would be based on principles from architecture, landscape and planning. It would seem to me that some of the best city environments are rich in landmarks and are easilly navigated. This enables the player to familiarise themselves with the environment quickly. Getting lost is a problem in both real-life cities as well as the virtual city (although there is usually a map in the menu system) but what else can contribute to the ease of navigation and the overall the beleivability of the environment?

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WavyVirus    884
I agree, although there is definately a distinction between games where the setting is an entire virtual city (eg GTA) and those which simply take place entirely in an urban environment (eg Left4Dead or even Mirror's Edge).

In the latter gameplay flow through the environment, atmosphere and aesthetics are more important than city planning aspects - players are less likely to be using architectural landmarks (in the traditional sense of the word) to navigate on a large scale ("go right near the smashed up car" rather than "it's near the Statue of Liberty", "lost :( ah! these buildings! looks like i'm in the financial district. my destination is east of here", "its on the edge of the suburbs").

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KennyG3D    122
ah interesting, this suggests that any objects in the game environment can become landmarks despite thier generic nature. The smashed up car in your example is easilly remembered and so helps with navigation of a level or area. I guess since the levels are always more or less the same architecturally (landscape and builings) this is made possible...

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