In video games, architecture plays a much bigger role than you might think it does. It acts as a backdrop for a virtual city or renders for an existing one. It makes gamers feel that the virtual world is just as authentic as the real work but with extra adrenaline.
From a definitive standpoint, games are more or less architectural, since they are “built environments”. Similar to any architecture project, games are made the same way using the materials and textures. The added value, however, is not how accurate the city is or the HD quality of the graphics – although to be fair, they do elevate the gaming experience in phenomenal ways – it is, in fact, the story-telling: the journey and experience of going from point A to point B and interacting with the environment built by the designers.
According to a former video game designer, Benjamin Cordero, virtual architecture comes from a mix between what is real, what could be real, and what is imaginary. There is a big difference between physical and virtual presence, and the problem lies in how to use architecture as a design experience that enhances this difference, and how to let it guide or inform the user without interrupting the experience itself. The aim is to immerse the player as much as possible by stimulating as many senses as possible and by doing so, reducing the gap between what someone may feel in real life, and how it feels in the virtual space.
How can architecture help game designers in achieving their intended mood and individual spaces?
One way to do so is to observe the typologies of cities (space, circulation, visual consideration, and physical comfort) and how people act in them. In abstraction, city typologies are positive and negative spaces – buildings being the positive elements and roads being the negative ones. Empty roads are just as important as buildings, especially if the designer is trying to convey a mood of “mystery” or “ambiguity”. Take for example a suburban scene in the Walking Dead or Assassin’s Creed: Renaissance; the designers want the players to feel a sense of uncertainty as to where they want to go next. Therefore they give equal importance to the roads and urban layout. On the other hand, the direction is also equally important, and so designers manipulate the circulation or add elements of intrigue through architecture. For example, designers would narrow down the roads’ width or add otherworldly details that spark interest, inviting players towards a specific direction.
In almost all video games, details are used to do environmental storytelling. Material characteristics such as weight, texture, and finishes all play a role in how gamers perceive spaces. If you want to have a sense of heaviness, you surround the player with “chunky” structures, if you want to make an element stand out and give it more value, you contrast it from its surroundings. This is where interior design comes into play (pun intended).
You don’t need a degree in architecture to be a 3D Environment Artist, but if you do, it is a huge advantage! With 3D, you have total freedom to create any kind of structure your mind can think of, without having to worry about gravity, material costs, labor, etc… Combine that with VR, and the possibilities are endless! I see this as a complementary skill for any architect. It will unleash your imagination.