Game Design and Architecture

Hello Archinecters,

I am an architectural engineering student who likes to design video games in his spare time. Many dismiss video games as a juvenile and therefore worthless medium, but I believe that thinking about how virtual experiences are designed can assist in the design of physical experiences.

The above is a great, in-depth article from UCLA game lab about using visual cues to direct a player’s actions.  I can see these principles applied easily to public buildings and spaces.  What are your thoughts on game design principles being used in architectural design?  Are there any existing examples of this crossover? 

Aug 27, 14 9:46 pm


Having been a video game developer in th past, I'll say that video game design has little application to architecture beyond that with is basic art design principles. However, architecture schools has more application to video game 3d world development then it is in the opposite direction because in real world, you deal the HSW matters that doesn't exist in video games because there is no buildings. You are just a 3d modeler/artist in role employing your architectural art skills.

Your engineering science knowledge will have next to nothing to do with the video game work.

This is because video games is basically an interactive cartoon in a sense unless your goal is to simulate sciences (physics, chemistry, geological, engineering, etc.) accurately.

Video games do not have to follow the laws of physics just so you realize the difference between a video game and real world.

Having said that, user experience could perhaps apply because you are looking as the psychological studies of how experiences in the games effect people but you got to be careful in how far you construe an experience of users of a video game experience to that of real world. 

WIth advancement into VR and immersive AR, I suppose the experiences maybe more usable in time and the experience might translate more accurately to the real world.

Aug 27, 14 9:58 pm  · 

Try to edit the above some.

Lets me correct some points...

Video games up to so far has relatively little application to architecture. With immersive technologies that are coming about may have more application when the experience becomes more transferable to reality. I can see where the psychological aspects being able to be applied back and forth. It is just that people come into a video game in a different mindset than we carry ourselves in the real world.

Aug 27, 14 10:09 pm  · 


When I said that game design and architectural design had some crossover, I was talking not about aesthetics or physics, but about a games ability in its visuals to affect a person's thoughts and actions.  Granted this phenomenon is probably only useful in early conceptual phases of architectural design, while it is thought of constantly in game design.  How can you say, as a game designer, that the design of 3d environments is only an artistic matter?  Did you not consider the implications that the placements of objects and barriers had on a player's ability to realize their environment and successfully navigate through it?  I am curious, what kinds of games have you worked on?  The principles I am referring to are mostly applied to action or adventure games.

Aug 27, 14 10:13 pm  · 

I worked as a 3D environment designer for Rockstar games, then studied architecture - the processes we used in game design, specifically 3D diagrammatics is what I brought to my architecture education, then upon graduation to a architecture practice with BIM. Video game design processes are what we have been doing with BIM, programs like Revit and Vasari. The 3D thinking process I used with Maya at Rockstar games is what I use for problem solving at architecture and structural engineering offices.

Aug 27, 14 10:19 pm  · 

I am thinking of going the opposite route... I have a masters in architecture and have created a fondness for working in the digital realm of BIM. How would you advise someone going the opposite route? Bad/good details..

Apr 11, 18 2:49 pm  · 

I agree that so far, video games have had very little impact on other mediums.  Mostly because the majority of adults do not think of video games themselves as an artistic medium.  But, like you said, emerging technologies (such as the occulus rift, Sony morpheus, and more capable graphics and physics engines) allow for an extremely immersive experience.  I see this as possibly leading to "architectural playtesting," where designers, clients, or volunteers can walk through a fully designed space before it is actually built.  You are right, though, that people carry themselves differently in a virtual experience than they do in reality, and that is a limitation of this technology.  I also wonder if this sort of testing is worth the costs and time it would take to implement it, or if it would amount to nothing but an additional method of visualization. 

Aug 27, 14 10:25 pm  · 

rb, would love to see some video games you developed. Post links!


Schoon, You should go for it. I for one would love to see a real-time render engine/ parametric modeler that could simulate advanced crowd behaviors, rainfall, runoff, outflow, etc... There was talk of this in this thread:

Aug 27, 14 10:35 pm  · 

archanonymous, I have been thinking about simulating crowd behaviors as well.  Using multiplayer network servers where hundreds of players can move around on a single map at once, crowd behaviors can be simulated by real people trying to navigate a building or space instead of AI, yielding more realistic data.  

Think about if "players" were given an environment (lets say, an office building) to walk around in and a specific task (go to room 620) to perform.  The players would navigate the environment, take the stairs or elevator to their specified floor, and try to find the room using only the information present in the environment.  A moderator / observer with engineering simulation programs in their version of the software could use the data to find out where crowding could be a structural problem, as well as collect data about crowd flow.  Disaster simulations could ever be possible as well (say a fire starts on the 4th floor).  The software could be used to simulate adequate egress from the building in case of such an emergency. 

Aug 27, 14 10:47 pm  · 

Most were back in the Commodore 64 and AMIGA era.

However, new stuff being worked on AROS as time goes along. I don't do the big AAA corporate stuff because it just takes too much human resource to do those types of games by myself. That is another matter altogether. 

A small video game project (in this case, I was doing just the bitmap graphics... which you need to understand the original Commodore 64 and its graphics chip & its limitations)  that I did for the original Commodore 64 just for kicks back in 2005:

Spork 64 - which is basically a whack-a-mole video game.

You WILL need a Commodore 64 emulator such as VICE or WinVICE to run it.

This was done for a 16 color computer with 320x200 screen resolution and character cell color attribute limitations such as 2 or 3 colors of the 16 color palette maybe used in an 8x8 character cell or sprite without using more advanced FLI trick. I'll save explaining how that work.

It should not be a compared with today's modern 3d video games.

Aug 27, 14 10:51 pm  · 

Schoon, your idea could work to simulate traffic flow in that respect.

Aug 27, 14 11:41 pm  · 


Exactly, and that is just the beginning. You should consider doing a dual-degree in computer science and making this happen, or at least being part of the team making this happen. This is the next wave of cloud-based BIM tools, and logical evolution from the likes of CASE, SHoP, Black Box Group, etc...

Imagine that it takes into account all these seemingly unrelated elements of a project and can show areas and instances where a single decision or action greatly impacts the project, for better or worse. Mapping complex dynamic behaviours, emergent conditions.

In urban planning, you could identify traffic choke points or see what adding a 50-floor office tower does to parking, traffic congestion, accidents, etc in the area of the building. 

Environmental and energy modeling, integrating the simulation with engineering and physics info to further optimize the structure, etc, etc... Someone is going to nail this within the next 10-20 years. It is simply a matter of processing power and algorithm complexity. The algorithms are basically there, and you could easily run this on most supercomputers for a small to mid-size city. Typically supercomputers of 15-20 years ago are as fast as today's workstations. There was a time when 1 teraflop was a serious supercomputer - now you can buy a $400 NVIDIA Tesla card that breaks 2 teraflops. 

Whoever seriously pursues this has the capacity to introduce a wonderful tool for design...

Aug 28, 14 12:05 am  · 

Interesting topic… And yes, there is crossover.  For those who aren’t gamers, might as well think about it like set design for theatre.  The game environment is tweaked in such a way to illicit an emotional response. My personal favorite is the Bioshock series; Brilliant set design creating a relatable world.  But as a game designer, you also know a lot of other things besides just the architectural shapes create that emotion; Light, color, props and sound.  And usually what you are looking for, just like the theatre folks, is a specific feel that wouldn’t be warmly received anywhere else in the ‘real world’ (outside Vegas that is where folks are looking for the surreal :P). 

But you can use the stimuli like lighting, and colors and spacial impressions to create an atmosphere and influence those within these spaces.  So there is crossover.  I wish my electrical engineers would play games… nice even lighting does not evoke any emotion or impact.  So think like your game; You hot spot where you want the player to go or be drawn to.  Little things like that I’d think could transition well.

Aug 28, 14 11:43 am  · 

my pro-practice course had an activity that was very similar to a business/economic sim - each quarter you may or may not get a commission, you had a choice of picking some kind of marketing activity that may or may not pay off in the future, and you figure out if you need to hire lay-off staff etc...  sounds kind of dry, but it was actually pretty fun.


the other thing could be "construction administration simulator" - where you shoot RFIs with lasers or something - and it goes "PROCESSED!"  every time you hit one.

Aug 28, 14 1:14 pm  · 

Architects and MEs alike could do with a few semesters of basic lighting theory in a theatre setting. Too much focus is put on correct task lighting and general levels and not enough is spend on adding drama. Lighting is a huge tool in the box and it usually sits there in its original packaging.

Aug 28, 14 1:54 pm  · 

Most architects love video games... There is a relationship there but I think it is dangerous to blur the lines too much--there is a movement in the design community to fetishize video games but architecture is completely different and has different goals--video games being entertainment and arch relating to real life.

Aug 30, 14 10:27 am  · 

Gamers role-play and get into their in-game alter ego or Mr. A--hole Maximus while in real life they are wimps and never dream of doing that in person where they can get hurt and feel it.

That is why I think we have to be careful with applying how people feel of things in a video game and translate that to real life.

Aug 30, 14 11:44 am  · 

You do have a point, but that's a horrible generalization of gamers...

Aug 31, 14 2:08 pm  · 

Yes, it's a generalization but one based on a general populous that has such a predominate demographics of being Major Phallic because they get kicks out of being jerks. After all, since Jackass, Jackass 2 and any other Jackass movies, all popularized the idea of being a total jerk to everyone is cool and they do it in the video games because they can and who's going to stop them. What incentive. 

Regardless, people enter into an alter ego state of mind in most video games like MMOs. Yeah, been there and know all about how people will be the most biggest demeaning jerk they can be because they can.

MMOs are basically anarchy. If reality was like the video games, might as well not worry about being architects or responsibility, ethics, morals, etc. I don't feel most gamers really pay any attention to the buildings portrayed in video games.

Different mindset but perhaps my statement maybe a horrible generalization but sadly, it is true regarding the vastly dominate proportion of the population. The vast majority is literally that horrible if not worse because in video games the rules are there is no rules. 

Think about all the teabaggers, killstealers, gangkers, etc.

It is a serious point where I think translating experiences in video games to reality is risky at best. It might be informative for some. Care must be take in interpreting that how people experience buildings and spaces in video games translates to real world experiences.

Regardless of how bad gamer behave in video games, the principle point is gamers are in a different mindset in the video game then they are in the real world unless they become 24/7 absorbed in the video game even when they are not playing. Then that maybe a psychological issue.

Aug 31, 14 3:41 pm  · 

I would argue that a person's video game mindset depends on the subject matter of the game.  Of course competitive first-person shooter games and combat-based multiplayer games encourage violent language and general jack-assery.  But games like Journey evoke a calm and curious mindset because of its warm tone and completely nonviolent gameplay style.  

It's easy to look at the most popular, most violent games and damn the entire gaming community based on the community of players around those games.  But when you start to think about the how the games themselves and the subject matter therein affect and encourage how the player behaves, the attitudes of those communities seem obvious.  Players will act differently in a chaotic warzone than they would in a peaceful desert.

Sep 1, 14 3:01 pm  · 

Perhaps, Schoon. That's a good point. As of yet, we don't live our lives, economy, etc. in the video games. At least in the U.S. 

Sep 1, 14 3:46 pm  · 

"Of course competitive first-person shooter games and combat-based multiplayer games encourage violent language and general jack-assery"

Situational.  I did real competitive fps gaming: As in fully sponsored, paid to play, interviews, streamed type gaming.  At that level, it's more organized sport.  On the game side, practices, scrimmages, matches.  Teamwork, strategy, specialist players assigned a role or duty.  On the other side, public marketing, image making, and creating a 'sellable product' to corporations.  Sort of funny is we weren't the best team, however, being half ex-military, mostly professionals, fit, mid-20's to 30's, several married, etc.  We got away from that image of the chubby loser in Mom's basement and appealed to the young professional male with disposable income.  That is why we were sponsored, why they flew us to events to compete, why their marketing departments had fun selling this 'idea' that games aren't for kids anymore. 

Weird world eh?  Sort of funny how I see it now blending over into the tv commercials they do now.  I was sort on the front end of all that transition so society would accept men playing on their xbox after a day at work and not feel shame about it....

Sep 3, 14 1:53 pm  · 

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