Architecture has always been a very broad term to use in any language. It is associated with building a structure while also being used to build a nation. Yet architecture was always a medium that was experienced in reality using the skin, our eyes, and our soul. But now during the digital age, building a structure may not always be the solution. Restoring buildings to their former glory may seem to serve the purpose but it is just a new way of covering up the scars of their destruction or decay. Therefore, a new path opened up for architects, designers, and illustrators to explore their visions in reality but virtually. Video Game designing which has been present since the late 1950s, only had its breakthrough in the 1980s. 

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Entertainer Danny Kaye celebrates a victory over Bertie the Brain at the Canadian National Exposition in 1950_© Electronic Squid, LIFE

Since games like Mario Kart, Road Rash, and Pokemon Red and Blue, video games have been taken to the next level by several designers or ‘architects’ who have designed these arenas. Origins of games like Pong and Asteroids, have led us to the realm where the architecture of the game could change itself or the player could build the world. The advancements of these games make us dream of achieving them in actual reality but also give us an escape from the strictness and hierarchy that is oppressed over us in the real world. 

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Nintendo Mario Kart 8_© Nintendo Everything

The connection between architecture and realm designing in the gaming industry.

From the very beginning, architecture has always been about creating spaces that can be used in any manner by us. Several tangible and intangible factors are considered while making these spaces to serve humanity. But how does one compose their ideas to a medium where people would be able to enter physically? These questions arise while designing a realm or a base for any video game. As forms interact in such virtual spaces, it does not take much time when architects are inducted into the creative process of designing the game. The key to it was by making the objectives and tasks within the story fun and interactive while also being visually powerful. 

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To fulfill these factors, one has to understand that architecture in video games can’t just serve as a backdrop for the whole storyboard. It needs to drive the gamer within the maze and allow the adrenaline to charge of the person to let them explore the virtual world. It merely teleports the viewer/gamer to another world. The point where the architect or the environment designer comes into play is when there is a need to add reality into the virtuality. Grand Theft Auto provided those subtle touches and allowed the viewers/gamers to completely immerse themselves in a singular city. 

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Grand Theft Auto 5 expansive scenery_© Wallpaper Bat

The whole freedom a designer gets while designing a game environment can be liberating but one has a very thin line to follow. Possibilities are wide open when designing a virtual environment but the designer must remember that a lot of impractical elements may break the trance a gamer is in. Hence, that is where the architect comes in. Architecture allows establishing the principles or guidelines to achieve the intangible qualities we need to experience in a virtual world. Hence, to define the “built virtual environment”, the need for architects increases, as they create elements that bring order within the game and the story but also allow scenes where one must stop to take in the beauty that has been created.

The image of Virtual Reality now!

The current technological advancements created and used in the gaming industry are breaking barriers. It allows the designers to think and imagine a whole lot of lost human environments. The term virtual architecture has been now coined to understand the spaces created in these video games as well. Virtual architecture has now become an amalgamated entity between the things that are real, that could be real, and that are fictitious. The complex part is to segregate the actual reality and virtual reality in the game that causes difficulties due to entanglement and thus, creates huge differences in the game environment and the gamer as well. The solution could be how one uses architecture to distinguish both realities while also allowing the user flow within the built environment without breaking the rhythm. Hence, the virtual image of the gaming industry has become focused on making the gamer plunge into the game to create an invigorating environment. It, in the end, this reduces the distinction between what it might feel in virtuality and what it feels like in reality!

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Assassin’s Creed II depicting 1400’s Italy._© Ubisoft Montreal

The other viewpoint towards virtual reality in gaming industries is completely diverse and futuristic. One school of thought practices on the rebirth and cultivation of the past while the other tries to create several such planes where the future is apparent in each unit and element. These futuristic games are based in several projected worlds where an apocalypse, dystopia, and utopian occurrence dictates the whole world or storyline. Basic genres like horror, fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, and drama are also utilized and woven through these complex simulations. Mirror’s Edge, Cyberpunk 2077, Control, Remember Me, and Quantum Break features these nuances where the gamer can create changes in the virtual environment that may feel like generating impact in the world. Most of the architecture depicted in these games are brutalist, modern, and post-modern era buildings which in a way give the user satisfaction in either damaging them or destroying them!

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Cyberpunk 2077 featuring futuristic perspectives of the world © CD Projekt Red

Attaining intended spaces in games through Architecture. 

Several games in the ever-changing gaming industry are based on historical themes, heritage cities, and the golden ages of human civilization. To recreate the spaces of the past, architects and urban planners have been employed to design the specific character and essence of each city or town using its basic ideologies, lifestyles, and history. Hence, several major cities have been studied to mimic their overall fabric. The difference between the past cities and the cities built within the games needs to be obvious because it may cause the viewer to get confused if elements don’t have any navigating factors. One needs assurance and a guiding sequence that allows the gamer to feel centered and not get lost in the virtual environment. Hence, architects have the flexibility to add or subtract various elements to allow the gamer to choose a path within the game while also enjoying the architecture around. 

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate portraying the streets of London. © Ubisoft Montreal

Various such examples can be seen in the games created by Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed, a video game franchise published by Ubisoft explores various historical themes set in various influential timelines like the Renaissance, Post Modern Era, Great War Era, etc. Assassin’s Creed II explores various cities like Venice, Florence, The Vatican City, and Tuscany. Streets in these cities have been designed according to their activity, lifestyle, and character in games. So while one is playing, they may see guiding elements that will lead them to specific tasks like plazas, public squares, wide streets, palaces, narrow streets, and rooftops.

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Architecture, therefore, gives these games opportunities to reengineer these existing cities as well as lost cities to their actual glory in virtuality. Architects fulfill these qualities and make the game otherworldly yet authentic.

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Glass City in Mirror’s Edge _© DICE, Electronic Arts

Architectural Details contributing to Storytelling.

All video games are created with a single objective of storytelling. The story can only come to life when the details within them are embedded to establish authenticity and reality. Tangible aspects like weight, mass, texture, materials, exteriors, and finishes play a big role in allowing the user to perceive and experience these spaces. Contrast, scale, proportion, appearance, and quantity; these intangible aspects allow the user to comprehend and relate to spaces created to immerse themselves in. 

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Assassin’s Creed III showing various sequences in daily lifestyles in Constantinopole_© Ubisoft Montreal

Architecture and Interior Design play an important role in creating these details in the environments. Environment Designers need to think in the form of three-dimensional compositions and configurations rather than two-dimensional figures and graphics. Therefore, a lot of architectural design and interior design principles come into play to help in understanding the space and how people use it. The basic three principles that need to be abided by are:

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  • Order: Establishing the orientation and spatial configuration to allow the player to locate themselves within the built virtual environment.
  • Enrichment: Enhancing the form and its complex, manipulative nature for the reason behind the spaces.
  • Expression: The visual storytelling narrative that suggests the mood, story, or gist of the space.

Unless these principles are interlinked within the virtual environment, one may lose interest in the game or become frustrated with its indecisiveness. Only then can the environment work as intended.

Witcher III depicting Geralt’s past. © CD Projekt Red

Take Away from Virtual Reality.

Virtual Reality may seem a world far away, but it is present in the current dynamic world. We may seem ignorant to its influences but it dictates our day-to-day life. Architecture on the other hand, which is now a highly saturated artform, has found a completely different platform through virtual reality. Architects, who used to build for the present and future, are now able to build their pasts in the present timeline while also adding their personal imaginative touches to it. 

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Control using brutalist-style building and gaming environments_© Remedy Entertainment, 505 Games
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A still from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood from Campagna, Italy_© Ubisoft Montreal

Virtual Reality through the video game industry has not only created employment for the highly saturated market but has also allowed dreams and imagination to become “reality”. These “realities” allow us an escape from the present. The often overlooked subject concerning the gaming industry is the diversity of knowledge that one acquires through video games. Languages, influential figures, history, art, technology, weaponry, architecture, interior design, urban design, photography, physics, and various other fields have culminated due to such cohesive singular environments created in these video games. It allows various opportunities for learning and makes sure the knowledge doesn’t stay hidden. And now more than ever, knowledge has been a growing demand for people. What better way is there to learn something beautiful while having fun?

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Author

Ashwini is an architecture student who is trying to pursue her love for writing. She is an avid reader and also has an interest in graphic designing. She believes that the power of the pen can bring out the soul of a building to the mortal world.

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