[Ed: Posted on behalf of Stanislav Roudavski]
I need some advice please.
What interesting examples of virtual architecture (i.e. spatial structure of the game-world) do you know of? To explain, I am not interested in style, or in picturesque backdrops, or in realism. Not for their own sake. Rather, I am looking for examples where spatial structures are designed (or gradually grown) to respond to and guide in-world behaviour.
Of course one could say that this is an inescapable situation. And I would have to agree. So, to give an idea what I mean - a couple of examples:
Say in Half-Life 2, I move through a single possible path encountering system-like puzzles. The way the world looks is largely irrelevant to what I do. It is in fact a distraction. The progress depends on the ability of reducing the environment to its functional essentials.
It is different in Counter-Strike. Distances, heights and fields of view are that much more meaningful here. Meaningful largely through the functionality of my weapons, to be sure. Still, a variety of tactical behaviours is possible. The spatial structures can be appropriated in different ways. But again, the look of the buildings is largely irrelevant. I learn the valuable properties of places via multiple repeated attempts.
On one hand this is much like, say, tennis. Take an existing pattern of behaviour (a free ball-play) and restrict it to enable and encourage certain patterns. Spatial constraints are part of the rule-set. Players are free to practice with other players. Through practice, they learn what they can do within the constraints. This knowledge is individual, visceral and unstable. Without regular competitive practice it degrades. (I know that tennis history/theory is more complex then my description).
Let’s compare Counter-Strike places with another competitive practice – orienteering. In orienteering, a set of rules makes the fair comparison of in-place performance possible. But the appropriation of space has a different focus than in tennis. People indeed rely on training but in each competition they are presented with a new place and a new challenge. Therefore, their preparation is of a different kind. It is more to do with their general knowledge of natural landscapes and moving through them. (I know that orienteers use maps, i.e. systems and that their competitions do not venture out of the comfortable pastoral places).
Counter-Strike (and many other games) is a bit like orienteering, but only a bit. The appearances are usually disconnected from functionality as given by space. In the “real-world” I can infer a lot from the experiential structure of the city even if I have not been to the place before. The same is true about landscapes. I have knowledge and experiential capacities to deal with spatial situations, both learned and innate. In games, I have to rely on my game-system knowledge more then on my world-knowledge and this is a recipe for clichés.
More random examples.
Say, we have Rez: interesting – a set of spatialized rules in their purified form. Have to play it more.
Or Star Wars Galaxies: again interesting, complex worlds with complex internal logic. Still, most of buildings and cities there are not much more than sets of buttons. Their structure and look matter little even on the urban scale, not talking about extremely schematic interior spaces (note: I am not saying that this is necessarily a problem).
Then there are strategy games, but these are openly treated as systems. Axonometric, grid-based, etc. A player’s (e.g. my) engagement with them is predominantly intellectual, not experiential. The link with the “real-world” embodied experience is weak. I actually do find them extremely interesting (and, yes, I do like chess and go as you can predict from my name).
I only know that many games. But I hear all kind of exciting things of MMOGs (e.g Lineage, Pentacore), IF games, etc. And I want to know more.
Now to architecture.
Well, I do not think architecture is “a play of light and shadows”. Or “frozen music”. It is even not enough to say that “form follows function” or that “a house is a machine for living”. I’d say that it is about organising (and responding to) human behaviour. There are interesting contemporary efforts in this direction. I shall mention two:
Theoretically, you can have a look at Bill Hillier’s work on Space Syntax: http://www.spacesyntax.com/
Practically, there is a strong contemporary movement that is trying to respond to the processes when making structures (or making them mobile). For this, you can have a look at Ambient Amplifiers Project by Ocean North in the Urban section on their web site: http://www.ocean-north.net/
To round it all up. I would be very interested to hear if you can suggest examples of non-trivial use of virtual architecture (spatial design) in games (or virtual worlds) and hint at how you think it affects player-behaviour. I am particularly interested in the games that use full 3D representations but suspect that there might be rewarding examples elsewhere as well.
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