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Dec 12, 2004



I can't help but think of Lemmings, though that is obviously not what you are after. Still, an interesting game for architects and designers.


You might find a little inspiration in this article:

Title: Spatial principles of level-design in multi-player first-person shooters

Abstract: "...Basing itself on a theoretical discussion and experiments, this paper outlines the basic spatial principles of level design in multi-player first-person shooters with special reference to Counter-Strike (Sierra). In this manner, the paper seeks to outline a heuristics of level design in firstperson shooters. The thesis of the paper is that a consistent examination of a game's gameplay, its agents, and spatial components is necessary for the development of a design method that will lead to ultimate level design.Setting off from a theoretical discussion of the terms gameplay and emergence, the paper starts by establishing some basic characteristics of multiplayer shooters. The concept of emergence leads to a distinction of the unique features of multi-play and teamplay, and notions of gameplay help us to map out the basic spatial properties of the game environment and its staging of player strategies and tactical choice. The key concept in the principles of spatiality in level design advanced here is the socalled collision point; the location that marks the clash of players and hence by the set of relevant tactical choices to be made by the teams.To demonstrate the empirical basis and possible application in practical level design, the paper provides an analysis of a design and a re-design of a Counter-Strike map (de_type). These experiments demonstrate the pros and cons of various design solutions and point at the basic spatial principles referred to above.The paper affirms that it does make sense to regard level design as tool for controlling the gameplay and the game's progression. Also it affirms that it is possible by means of a critical and systematical approach to distinguish between good and bad level-design. Thus a set of heuristics is suggested as a set of guidelines that could lead to better level-design for practitioners..."

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> Jeremy Neal Kelly

Lemmings games have a lot to do with what I am talking about. They make little distinction between the rules as constraints on space and the rules as constraints on anything else. Lemmings games are predominantly finite-system management tasks (as many other games are). Their representation is highly diagrammatic. Still, their topologies refer to “real-world” places. “Up” is different from “down”, two things cannot occupy the same location at the same time, lemmings move through openings and get stuck against solids, rock is not water and not fire. “Real-world” presumptions are confirmed, refuted or restructured to dramatic effect.

So, perhaps I should have a closer look at them. Thank you for the suggestion.

On the other hand – you are right. They are not exactly what I am looking for.

I’ve been reading Mark Johnson (The Body in the Mind), and he tells me that all knowledge (including abstract) is inherently spatial. Which makes it difficult for me to explain what I mean by non-trivial use. I guess I look for examples of virtual architecture that can support versatile interpretations and appropriations.


> Troels B. Folmann

Thanks for the suggestion. It is indeed thought-provoking. The problem is now I feel like arguing.

ACM papers can be funny. This paper believes in “ultimate level design”. Ultimate? How come? According to Jesus?

Is rugby more ultimate than American football? Is pro rugby better than park rugby? Are the American ice-hockey fields ultimate while the Russian ones are not (yes, they are different)?

I agree (and I have said this above, see me on tennis) that Counter-Strike levels gain meaning through repetition. And this meaning is a meaning of intersecting paths (movement/vision). This meaning could be represented with no reference to the “real-world” buildings (I agree that they help navigation in 3D, but if that is all there is to it – what do we need 3D for?).

Chess is a beautifully balanced spatial-control system. I wonder what the authors mean when they say that its environment is “of course […] a great deal less interesting” than Counter-Strike. According to what criteria? Interesting to whom?

More to the point, I shall risk saying that Counter-Strike as played by real people is different from what this paper describes. As has been discussed here on TN, there are different kinds of players with different motivations, intelligence, technical capabilities, time constraints, etc. I find that this article privileges one type of behaviour and imposes arbitrary criteria on what constitutes good design.

E.g., my preferences in Counter-Strike (even when I peaked as an OK player) were for levels that would provide spaces for free hunting, away from the “collision points”. In my experience, the coordinated team-play is very rare to come by in Counter-Strike (and is a pleasure to disrupt anyway). So, I chose games where I was in the middle of the ladder, skill-wise. Top or bottom was equally boring. If I was in the middle, the others were faster/better to plant the bomb, etc. So, I just hunted randomly not caring much for my team’s success. I am not accounted for by this paper and there are other ways to disobey.

My suspicion is there can be NO *internal* criteria to the game’s “goodness”. Number of players? Financial gain? These goals/influences are external to the game-system, no?

And, do you want your investment returned in a month? In a year? How long do you want your game to live? Or your building? John Ruskin, for one, thought we should design for eternity. A harmful idea if you ask me.

I have tried to offer positive examples of environments I enjoy. Perhaps, this has made things a little unclear. I do find Counter-Strike interesting. However, I am particularly interested in the examples that are more like, eh… life (do not confuse with realism please). That are experienced as situations rather than systems. That guide but are flexible. Suggestive. Dramatic. Have history. I don’t know…

That is why I am curious about MMOGs. They have complex behaviour, change over time, they are large. It is easier there maybe. But then they are technically more constrained than single-user games…


At first I thought you meant "building a building" sorts of architecture, in which case I'd point you to Second Life and not much else in terms of current 3d worlds (though of course older ones like AlphaWorld and OnLive would be interesting as well). But then you seemed to mean "building an area" sorts of architecture, in which case you should look at all the games that have features player-placeable structures, since those "respond to and guide player behavior." That would be, off the top of my head, Second Life, SWG (not the design-built cities, but the player-built ones), UO (same), Shadowbane (same), and There (same).

And if that's not what you mean, I really don't know quite what you are looking for. :)


Maybe this paper of mine can be of some interest. It's an attemt to rethink architecture for social virtual spaces.

Jakobsson, Mikael (2002). From architecture to interacture. Internet Research 3.0: Net / Work / Theory. Maastricht, The Netherlands.



Second Life springs to mind, though perhaps not in the exact way you are thinking of. In this game universe, players often build their own architecture in order to express who they are and refine their character, which is the point of play in this world. There is a very interesting blog, New World Notes, which deals with some of the ways that players have used architecture and place to their advantages; a recent example is an exhibition highlighting mental health issues through creative use of architecture and mental tricks. This stuff is all 3D and all designed to manipulate players in some way (for various degrees of 'manipulation' ranging from simply getting an emotional response to trying to change the way players think - recent election campaigns, for example)

In Second Life, it's player content that matters, however. If you're into architecture created by the game designers, as a player who has experienced several virtual worlds I can say that in my experience there isn't half as much richness on that side. The designers have plenty enough to worry about, after all.


I hesitate to post these examples because they border on the blindingly obvious, so I imagine you've already considered them, but the gameplay of the Sim- series (SimCity, The Sims etc) are at least partially defined by their architecture. In SimCity, placement of services relative to demand for them, distances and interconnections are vital. In The Sims, the layout of rooms, nature of spaces (size, light, number of corners etc...) and interconnections are all important to the mood and well-being of the individual sim.


I really wish people would study the most mature genres when looking at structure. There are so many well-designed 2D platform/level games to learn from.

The design-premises of MMOs are somewhat dysfunctional:

1. slow down the user, prevent the user from acquireing the content-space

2. make the user depend on others


You could be interested in Thief series, at least if I got your point correctly :-) Architecture here influences gameplay quite a lot. I will try to sum up some interesting points:

1.) There is no map, at least not the type of automap we are used to in FPS. Therefore, if you are planning to get inside the building, you usually check it out from outside to ease your orientation once you're in. You then know "I should not open this door, because this is the yard where the patrols are and I would get caught".

2.) Light and shadow play a great part, so you are thinking, where the next dark corner could be, so that you can hide from the coming guard. Next, you have the possibility to put out torches, which helps to create new dark spaces, but you have to be careful not to put out all of them, otherwise you will find yourself in complete darkness.

3.) Materials and furnishings are one more thing you have to pay close attention to. On carpets you move without the sound, whereas on the gravel path everyone can hear you. Moreover, you can use building materials to your advantage, e.g. you can shoot an arrow with a rope to high wooden beam and climb to a high balcony, but you cannot shoot it to a stone wall.

I hope I am not too off-topic.


Here are some links to papers that look at virtual world design from the point of architecture. I guess you would prefer ones that did it from a game's perspective, huh?


I have some others worth reading, too, but they head off into other areas (eg. geography) so they might not be quite what you're looking for.



>Richard Bartle

I shall respond to everybody in the evening. I am VERYVERYVERY busy during the day.

Just for now, Richard, thanks for the papers. I do know most of them but not all. More reading is great. If you have more, do put them on. Geography, anthropology or performance are all fine as long as they refer to how things happen in places.

I really hesitated calling my topic “Virtual Architecture” because the word architecture is associated with pretty buildings in common parlance but decided to use it to avoid long theoretical definitions.

I am glad the examples are coming. I was also hoping people would qualify their suggestions so that this thread would also be a discussion, not just a list of names.



Less looking at how you shape the world and more at how the world shapes your behavior:

Final Fantasy Online’s Vana d’iel has an area where players “park” their avatars while Away From Keyboard. It seems that there is no apparent reason why this specific space has become home to this parking. Other locations in Vana d’iel offer the same functionality (short distance to next teleporter, for example). So why did they chose this one? Starting an analysis from this kind of effect would be interesting but I doubt Hillier will lead very far as movement even in a consistent world like Vana d’iel is not coherent enough.

I wonder whether comparable emerging spatial behaviors can be found in Star Wars Galaxies, UO, or Everquest? And I don’t mean market places or taverns – but unexpected behavior. There is probably a lot of Kevin Lynch ‘spatial legibility' in there but it has to be combined with game play and I wonder what the results are. They are probably good pointers to functional virtual architecture and offer a bottom-up approach instead of a list of theoretical guidelines and frameworks.

For early writing on this issue: Heim mentions examples how the same event (an online talk) worked differently in different virtual spaces (Heim, The Feng Shui of Virtual Reality). He points towards the effect of the ‘flow’ in these worlds that not only depends on the virtual architecture but also on group dynamics and interaction design among other things. But he fails to identify the knots and bolts of how virtual architecture and flow are interconnected.

Adding to a list of examples: Did you consider GTA III’s Liberty City (or San Andreas and its surroundings, for that matter)? Distances, access routes, visibility, light changes, nodes, districts, paths, crossings, affordances … etc. but instead of a simulated ‘real’ city we get a huge playground that certainly “responds and guides in-world behavior”.



At the risk of seeming to follow up to every single Terra Nova article with a pointer to my blog (Sorry. Sorry. Seriously, I am.), I'd like to suggest you take a look at my article "There and Back Again," at http://www.tgr.com/weblog/archives/000026.html.

In it, I try to touch on some of the issues that you raise. In particular, the sections on internal signifiers (which makes clear the distinction from "architecture") and consistency. I agree with the other commenters that your use of the word "architecture" in this context is confusing. While architecture can constrain choice, it does not necessarily direct or suggest it. I use the term "signifiers", but in an attempt to reduce the level of jargon being thrown around, how about we settle on the term "signage" (where the signs need not be explicit).


Here are some other articles you might find useful - some of them deal more with geography, and/or text-based MUDs, but i imagine some of the concepts may be applicable to your work...
Carazo-Chandler, Christian. “Conceptualising Geography in a Virtual World Environment – eCOSM.” (2001). 05/02/04 http://cybergeography.hypermart.net/Conceptualising Geography in a Virtual World Environment.doc
Dodge, Martin and Rob Kitchin. Atlas of Cyberspace. (London: Addison-Wesley, 2001).
Dodge, Martin and Rob Kitchin. Mapping Cyberspace. (London: Routledge, 2001).
Gingold, Chaim. “Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons: Games, Spaces & Worlds.” MA Thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology, 2003. 19/02/04 http://www.slackworks.com/~cog/writing/Games-Spaces-Worlds.pdf
Gingras, Martine. "Symbiotic Zones: Mediations of Space in Text-Based Virtual Realities." International Conference on Technology and Mediation (Lisbon, Portugal: 1997). 21/10/99 http://martine.gingras.net/tour/d_ivoire/symbiotic.html
Mortensen, Torill. “The Geography of a Non-place.” (2003) 5:4 Dichtung Digital. 26/02/04 http://www.dichtung-digital.org/2003/issue/4/mortensen/index.htm
Nicholls, Brett and Simon Ryan. “Game, Space and the Politics of Cyberplay.” (2003) 17:8 Fine Art Forum (Digital Arts Conference, Melbourne). 15/02/04 http://www.cdes.qut.edu.au/fineart_online/Backissues/Vol_17/faf_v17_n08/reviews/pdf/Nicholls.pdf
Ryan, Marie-Laure. “Cyberspace, Cybertexts, Cybermaps.” (2004) Dichtung Digital. 21/02/04 http://www.dichtung-digital.org/2004/1/Ryan/index.htm
Taylor, Jonathan. "The emerging geographies of virtual worlds." (1997) 87:2 Geographical Review 172-192.
Tromp, Jolanda. “Results of Two Surveys About Spatial Perception and Navigation of a Text-Based Spatial Interface.” (1993). 11/02/04 http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~cph/VR/JolaPaper/jola.html

Hope this is helpful,


Thanks for the suggestions so far! It’ll take me a while to go through all the references properly…

I am sorry if my posts are not crystal clear (are they not!? shocking!). These are complicated things to say in a couple of words. I did not want to promote my perspective hoping that the answers would surprise me.

To give some background, please have a look at my papers here:


I have just added this (still to be published) book chapter (Spatial Context of Interactivity):


My thinking has progressed (as is normal) since these papers were written but they are still quite relevant. And any comments are most welcome!

> Raph

I am interested to see how players engage with their environments, be they pre-designed for them, modified to suit their behaviour or built by them. I also do not divide architecture into “buildings” architecture and “area” architecture. I guess in the “real-world” the equivalents will be architectural and urban design but these two fields are one when it comes to practical design. When researching and teaching, people distinguish between them because urban planning is more to do with economy and social engineering then with construction. Still, in practice there is no boundary between the two.

Did you have a look at my OCEAN NORTH example? I think it is worth the time you know.

In contemporary architecture, there is an ongoing discussion about the relationship between interactivity and architectural production. There is sustained innovative practice that seeks to drive formal form-generation by time-based information and process analysis. And these poor guys are limited by “real-world” tectonics. Of course, in virtual worlds both process simulation and structure response are possible and would be fun to try. The environment can be properly mobile. So, it is sometimes disappointing that virtual-world spatial design is mostly resembles the 19th-century Eclectic Architecture, the apotheosis of all-accepting kitsch complete with parrots in gilded cages and frilly curtains. It is as though avant-garde never happened…

Anyway, this is just an aside. I think it is by far more productive and interesting to study particulars than make generic observations, so I stop now.

If anybody cares to have a look at the contemporary architectural explorations I mentioned, here is a list of practices to explore. It is compiled by my friend in the order of his preference (I think I agree with the first place). The websites are a bit information-poor, I am sorry.

L.Spybroek / NOX
B.van Berkel & K.Boss / UN STUDIO
KOL / MAC studio
KOVAC architects

Well, I hope all this is of interest…


Just to let you know that I have also posted a similar request on the DIGRA-run GAMESNETWORK list. If you are interested, the web interface is here (you’ll have to register):



> Ola

Thanks for the suggestion. I have nothing against 2D games. I agree that there can be useful patterns shared between 2D and 3D (even though they are rather different species). Both deserve study. Which games did you have in mind and why?

> WanderingTaoist

Thanks for the suggestion. This sounds very interesting and not at all off-topic. I saw Thief played but only briefly. Am yet to touch it myself. Shall definitely explore…

> michael nitsche

Listen, I thought we had a formal agreement to mention Mr. Lynch NOMORE!? Spoil-sport!


I suggest looking at the realm war areas in Dark Age of Camelot both before and after the redesign. DAOC designed specific parts of the game world for player Vs. player with varying levels of success, it might be an interesting practical example for you.


Stanislav Roudavski>Geography, anthropology or performance are all fine as long as they refer to how things happen in places.

Hmm, well assuming you don't have a copy of my book (don't worry, few other posters here seem to, either) the geography, anthropology and performance references are available at http://www.mud.co.uk/dvw/bibliography.html, along with all the others.



sorry, managed to void mark my link, here it is:



You mentioned SWG, and I've actually been thinking a little about the difference in the various worlds there. It's more than the look that makes them so, it's also their architecture (in, I think, the sense that you mean).

The threat level is not just based upon the raw danger levels of the mobs and NPCs there, it's also in how the terrain ensures more contact with them.

The starter planets tend to be more open and with fewer obstacles to movement. The more "advanced" planets have many terrain features that trap you and stop progress. You can hit autorun and take a bathroom break (especially since the advent of vehicles) with little or no risk on Corellia or Naboo, at least in the areas closest to the major cities. On the advanced planets a tree or a rock will snag you, and it's likely something hostile will come and greet you.

The distribution of water terrain and vertical terrain are also important. Water can be a defensive feature in that it prevents much combat and slows much pursuit (at least if you're in a vehicle, it slows it relatively). Vertical terrain is less one-sided, conferring benefits if used tactically, but also posing problems if fleeing or trying to avoid contact blindly. You can us high ground to slow the approach of things (though there is no real line-of-sight based on ground contour), but that same slowdown can prevent effective flight if you are caught on low ground.

The distribution of shuttleports, and now with JTL spaceports, is also very important to the architecture. Anything close to a spaceport now feels very "mainstreet," and those close to shuttles feel suburban. Areas without close access to starports are beginning to feel more remote than they did before JTL because travel times with private ships have dropped considerably. The drop from 10 minute ship cycles to 5 minute improved transportation speeds considerably. Not the wait is effectively zero if you're close to a port. Places totally ignored in the "early days" have become prime real estate.

Lest any argue this latter case is mechanics versus architecture, when it's all code the differences are nothing more than arbitrary constructs. To me what matters is how the movement of player entities (or the focuses of our worldviews), our "toons" or avatars, is affected by the construction of the virtual space. With JTL spaceports have moved from being the major connections between worlds, to being the connections between worlds and a whole other game: the space flight game. And they are the places where the two games interface and players who may or may not be active in both connect.

What's interesting is how this expansion, while creating a whole new other game, dramatically changed the existing "ground game" by radically shifting the transportation economics. I just ditched a whole city of which I was mayor and moved to what used to be a remote planet, all because now I can be 250m from a spaceport (and a bazaar terminal!), AND I have my own ship(s). And I think nothing of telling customers to come shop my vendors there, because it's far more convenient for them too. I was 1500m outside the major (and lag infested) city of Coronet.

I call that a major change in architecture. It certainly drove me to make major changes in response.


Michael said:
>I wonder whether comparable emerging spatial >behaviors can be found in Star Wars Galaxies, >UO, or Everquest? And I don’t mean market >places or taverns – but unexpected behavior.

To me, the obvious example would be the emergence of the player marketplaces in EverQuest, in the East Commonlands or the Faydark Forest (depending on the server) in the years before the Luclin expansion.

Cities in the original EverQuest were not well-designed for trading goods: they were split into small zones and, apart from the banks, there was no reason for players to congregate there. The major cities were also off-limits to evil races.

So vibrant marketplaces appeared in the adjacent zones, and the zone /auction channel was filled with the chatter of buyers and sellers. It reminded me some way of the medieval faubergs, where restrictive guild rules led to the development of vibrant, industrial suburbs outside major cities.

The marketplaces are silent now, due to the establishment of the bazaar on Luclin, but they remain in my memory as one of the most interesting and delightful parts of the game.

Sir Harrok


It would be interesting to see the maps of the marketplace location (and for a more detailed analysis also the textures and other visual features)

Dan S's comments are really interesting when it comes to the combination of different games - not game zones. A comparable effect is at work on entry points to dungeons; the surface world might be all fixed and designed but the dungeons are randomly created.

But maybe a search for virtual architecture should look less on the games and virtual worlds and more on the design docs or help functions. Looking at those game "meta-maps" (e.g. http://www.clanwind.com/ffxi/zonemap.asp#) you can put your finger exactly where the areas interlock. From the "world game" design documents I have seen, most used these kind of meta-maps. The visible polygon structures appear much later and are fillings (meaningful but second-grade) of the design map's nodes.

In contrast, I don't know of any real architecture that uses these kind of spatial-conditional plans simply because real architecture operates in a given context while these kind of meta-maps generate the context.

michael nitsche



I agree that it would be very interesting to have access to such charts and that they can be productively compared to the resulting in-game environments.

At the same time, you are mistaken thinking that the “real-world” architecture does not use the diagrams of this kind. In fact, they are one of the standard techniques and are often developed very early on (e.g. together with the client as a necessary part of the design brief). They are definitely dominating design in special cases such as hospital design where functional links are known, rigid and predetermined.

It is also true that they must be (and are) viewed with suspicion because they are subject to spatial and topological constrains that are arbitrary and have little to do with human behaviour the capabilities of spatial construction. Two dimensions and boundaries of a paper sheet (or a screen) constrain the design to a structure of horizontal and vertical planes. And people simply do not live orthogonally.

It is also the case that the structures that are designed in the head are determined by the (very limited) capacities of that head to think about space-/time- based phenomena. E.g. see Brian Lawson’s How Designers Think. His book is concerned with fairly traditional techniques and still he is putting special value on the patterns of emergence as represented, for example, in paper sketching. Design techniques that do not promote the unexpected tend to trivialise design tasks and fall back on stereotypes. The opportunity for innovation is left unused. And innovation is desirable in the contemporary complex and quickly-changing world.

Hence the interest in a procedural approach towards structure-generation. Take spider-webs for example (or better still nests, there are lots of pictures on the web). They are too complex for us to visualise in mind. They have to respond to a number of conflicting requirements of great complexity. Spiders are not designers. Yet, they produce constructions that are economical, robust, functional, adoptable, mobile and (according to me) beautiful. And their webs definitely cannot be represented without loss as plans and elevations or as programmatic charts.

I am not saying that such charts are not useful. Or that other techniques are not used to design game-environments (of this I do not know enough). I am only saying that the representational capacity of such charts is limited and distortive.

And this brings me back to Lynch. His work was good and I am (have been) citing him left and right. However, his findings were meant as analysis tools (and they have been heavily criticised as such), not as design guidelines (the most common use of his book nowadays).


Without the given setting of a "nature" in which a spider can build its web or a bird its nest the design-map becomes the "missing link" that generates the necessary context for a VE.
The design-map, then, is an architectural interpretation of the underlying architecture of the code - that is their representational quality. To quote Mitchell 'code is the law' - including the physical law. Aren't your examples then confirming the importance of those design-maps in VEs?
To illustrate the difference: Thresholds and doors are conditional gamestates in those maps, they are not refering back to a real physical context of necessary fire escape routes et al. as they do in maps for hospital designs.
VE design maps are not ordering existing elements into a unique whole but are the basis for the creation of new ones. This adds to the ideas of theorists like Norberg-Schulz (based on Heidegger) who argues that the we can relate to natural space by making it more precise, complement it, and symbolise our understanding of it - in a VE we can actually generate the space.
True, we still will quote existing forms and ideas while we create it but we don't have to - look at Marcus Novak's work.


I appreciate the academic approach to "virtual architecture", but what you appear to be describing is simply good level design.

As players move through virtual worlds, the presentation of entities, such as items and enemies, and the tactical possibilities and emotions offered by the architecture, draw the player to action. In a well designed level, the player does what the designer intended. This is "guided behavior", to use your term.

However, architecture alone does not make a game. If you focus solely on architecture found in games, without fully considering the game itself, this study might not be useful outside of a rather limited context.

Tim Willits from id software was the first to point this out to me, but I'm sure it's been known in level design circles for a long time: deathmatch maps, like Quake 3 and Counter-Strike, are circular in design, allowing players to repeatedly interact with one another without making a conscious effort to do so. Single-player maps, where the player makes definite "progress" through the world, are typically linear in design, in the sense that there is a definite beginning and end.

That might be a more concrete starting point than the fairly abstract beginning you've laid out thus far.


Stanislav -

interesting question, interesting group of responses and some very useful bibliography. it seems several keywords have been picked up for emphasis - game over virtual and level design over architecture. i thought your initial comment was quite provocative that all the work devoted by the valve designers (hl2) to find eastern europe + alien tech + characters might be distracting. it is a good point, and derives from the S part of FPS, which seems to have been the main focus of what they call 'gameplay'. the valve folks are hardly alone in taking action-movies as their basic orientation, which means all the stereotypes that go with that. these stereotypes are not without value, as they can imply a life which the production budget (processing power, memory) cannot supply...the consequent emptiness of streets, courtyards, buildings can be attributed to lockdowns, plagues, danger, etc. as an element of the 'plot'. when one looks at stills from the game (or even more when one reads about the discussions that went into the choices for sets), one might think, 'what an interesting place to visit' or 'what in interesting place to design', whereas, in the game, it is all demoted to a kind of frantic pin-ball ornament, as you say. the quest-narrative from which these sorts of game derive results more in victory (survival) than in insight. there is narrative structure but no plot (hough there is doubtless entertainment). narrative without mimesis.

in part, this is a consequence of the genre, which is, as warren spector continually lamented, big-budget, mass-market (mass here being people for whom these sorts of narratives are valid, and can be triggered in toto with a few references/stereotypes). the game literature is full of people trying to break this mould - an indie scene, flash games, etc. - but the effort and money required to put together a game is not unlike that for a movie. indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of valve's literature is the manner in which the game was constructed; and it makes one wonder if this is not in fact where the real interest lies. why should the modding scene be so weird, for example, why is it not an integral part of the game. one of the key aspects of this for valve was obviously that they were not operating in a virtual world, but in a concrete setting, where they could bounce ideas off each other, get annoyed, tell jokes, the rest of it.

the second reason one finds oneself with narrative but no mimesis is the coding. a computer level is by definition clickable. it presumes that human behaviour is stimulus-response, and always out for the main chance - roughly a darwinian paradigm, without the long history of failures/improvements or the econmy of inter-related diversity. the much-vaunted multiple-paths-through the game often comes down to a choice between taking the airshaft or the sewer. efforts to key such choices to dialogue with AI's - eg., i'll go with pequod coffee this time or i'll buy the tatts and t-shirt to become part of the gang - are necessarily framed in terms of globalised lingo standing for political choice, not unlike interacting with a brand. these sorts of games are the surest proof that the standard semiotic terminology for language - a system of signs - is wrong, or at least very incomplete. to the extent the iconography of such choice-structures does work, it is less something intrinsic to the game than to the interaction between the game and the player's culture (experience with the stereotypes).

there is of course a substantial literature on the relation between ludic behaviour, mimetic representation and 'life'. however, the extent to which 'rules' are understood to be the key element is a portal through which a lot of confusion has marched. the architecture and the rules of chess are virtually the same thing, and are so rigorously structured that it is possible to unpack the 'moves' back to the starting position. however, even here, this does not comprise chess as a cultural phenomenon - outside the non-discursive conditions of tournament play (the conditions evoked in computer chess), the game is potentially part of a much more profound structure of involvements - ranging from those in the movie, 'the chess players', to comparisons to music, etc. poker, with an even more simple rule-set, is less about card-counting as it is about psychology. social conventions differ from rules such as those for chess (or the coding of a game) as do the 'laws' of science differ from legal practice and its situations. even in the most highly structured situations of ceremony or ritual, there is a requirement for spontaneous, creative, interpretation (did i raise my hat casually or with emphasis and deference). this depends upon those to whom, or with whom, the actions are performed - all motility in the practical life is fundamentally communicative, symbolic. i would even be prepared to argue that something so apparently rule-based as grammar is better understood in terms of decorum than in terms of a system of signs. the confusion of realism in such games - or in the sim or rpg - is less a matter of the profiles, textures or dimensions of the sets than it is the flattening of reality to a single mode of involvement.

again, the interaction between the game and the player's culture is being fudged in such discussions. there are levels to our relation to phenomena in reality - some things are silent, part of the background (architecture, for example), some things are part of history (situations, conversations) and some things are in between (furniture, implements, regalia). this comprises not a system, or system of systems (rules), but a continuum, with different structures of analogy and relationship (involvement) mediating the whole.

conversely, it is for just this reason that 'realism' and stereotypes are so useful. one gets all that content for free, because the player 'knows' what is a cup, s/he doesn't need to discover what is drinking...much less what is 'tea' (in england as opposed to japan). in principle, it would be possible to invent a game in which discovering the rules of the game were the point - floors are not always floors, distance is not always distance, time happens according to chance, talking to empty grid-spaces or raw data is common, and so forth...the ultimate mod...sort of like being given a computer and told to do something interesting with it. similarly, one could buy into complexity theory and, by deploying simple rules, find one's way into emergent structures, etc. (which is the way sim city should have worked, rather than disallowing everything but an american semi-suburban town). what might be termed the joycean computer game would be very aware of its protocols and would use them wittily, so that one might at least find oneself with the sort of insights one gets from alice in wonderland. aside from the tendency for such entities to become interesting only to the train-spotters, or to christmas crossword fanatics, it seems there is perhaps something deeper than marketability which makes games - whether of the FPS type or the sim type - gravitate around 'reality' (or to consign the milieux of platformers to characters like ratchet and clank). the issue is not to invent an equivalent of chess - the game which stands for all others - but to 'play' with something like reality. it is for this reason that one even asks about 'architecture' , a term which automatically hides the actual status of the entities in a game (texture-mapped extrusions, collision enabled, triggers, linked to data-trees which give numerical choice-values, etc.). efforts to export such games to actual settings, such as has happened in nyc, san francisco, boston, in which participants chase all over a city - or even between san francisco and los angeles - following up clues both planted and exploiting the given topography (also requiring phone messages and visits to web-sites, etc.), still require at least one participant to be a sort of rain-man who is good at treating reality as code rather than as content (eg, recognising that a bill-board is supposed to be used to derive an alpha-numeric message rather than to buy soup). this indicates that the question of architecture - virtual or otherwise - is significantly distorted by what is meant by 'game'.

all of what i have said applies to the identity of the FP in FPS. the term FP itself derives from discourse, although in this context, it actually carries the double sense of 'i' that is carried by i-mac or i-pod (self + info). as ever, most of the literature surrounding the FP in games has to do with enhancing the FP's freedom - more choices, etc. to this has been added the prisoner's dilemma - the value of altruism and co-operation with teams, squads, families, etc. even if, in practice, it comes down to managing the gameplay to ensure that these 'people' survive the level, this is an interesting example - the example of the market from sir harrock sounds like another - of getting the code to do things other than score a hit, open a door, pick up health. in taking responsibility for an AI, even if presently more A than I, the metaphoric possibilities of complex code and complex interaction seem to shift to another level. my son enjoyed stomping on all the cats in deus ex whereas i was more amused by their movement, as with that game's flocking of fish and birds.

FP is also of course supposed to stand for the hero as customarily seen in novels and movies - tending to imply that gamers want to kill bill, rather than to be ulysses or hamlet or leopold bloom. the anti-hero has become a staple of FPS games, as it has of branding; and it has induced a preference for the parts of cities good folk don't visit. this too is an interesting aspect of the realism, whose grime, grafitti and dim lighting are the very opposite of architects' standard visions of peaceful, clean, efficient, luminous, contented happiness. it is true that the cgfx industry - in both games and movies - has exhausted itself on the protocols of xixth-century history-painting, struggling to pile up the telling detail (this is also where disney started, in pinnochio, snow-white and so on); and, again like xixth-century history-painting, the preference is for the exotic and the sublime. the detail is for the sake of invoking history - weathering, ruin, traces of habitation whether ancient egypt or hong kong alleyway. the discontinuity between this impression of history and the flatness of the FP hero - though getting praise from an important AI is mildly satisfying - is much less a fault of set-design or rendering than it is of gameplay. similarly, the problem with hospital design is less architects or orthognality than the paradigm of the laboratory as the centre of gravity of healing (though the scanner in akira looked like fun).

lastly, FP stands for view-point in the very literal sense of being forced to go through the game like a camera attached to prosthetic limbs. in fact it is possible to worry overmuch about the interface. one soon learns to develop a more complex experience of participation. one does not look at the image, but through it, using the customary modes of perception in new ways. our perception is intimately connected with our modes of involvement - distances are not simply optical (the principal defect of hillier and lynch). rather we perceive in terms of several ranges, each of which is characterised by how we are involved with them. some are within arm's reach - for embracing or punching - some are within a short walk - across puddles or around the inevitable crate - some are more distant - for surveying or sniping - others are qualified by recollection - people hide things in desks, anywhere near the sea evokes profound associations. the arduous work of sound-engineers on some games allows the impression of invisible activity, and therefore a certain amount of depth, like foreground shadows cast by an unseen source. we don't worry much if things don't quite work or are slightly strange or awkward, so long as they repeat often enough to become the style of that milieu - ditto enhancements or augs: what would normally be an extraordinary medical achievement - being able to leap 100 yards (and land it) - is not remarkable in a game, one simply learns to go along with it. in other words, the interface is not the issue, with the possible exception of a loss of style - the manner in which one does things counts for nothing in the non-communicative milieu of a game. this being so, it is very odd that the great achievement of participation has not resulted in the 'work of art' with lasting - which is different from memorable - value, a vehicle of insights into 'life' worth the attention of a roskolnikov or bovary or grapes of wrath.

if the robotic FP (not greatly to be distinguished from the RP) is alienated in game-space, yet everyone wants game-space to be creative, perhaps the question of architecture is premature because the genre is still so new, and played on machines of comparative simplicity. if we still respond to renaissance wood-block images, however, the conditions of representation are not the issue. i suspect it has to do with the play. the people who get the most 'play' out of games are the designers - for them it is all contingent, the final version is simply shipped and the money comes in or not. the player is more of a victim than a player, the source of the great discontinuity between the richness of the sets - kitsch or otherwise - and the life led by the hero. the actual design of buildings for a game is not very different from design anywhere - it is the fault of the designers that most levels are either standard fare (bits of italy or manhattan or futuretown) or look like contemporary architecture in china - bad quotes from other work hastily thrown together. for that matter, contemporary architecture is mostly a few remarkable works and an infinite number of weak or bad copies. even here, the remarkable works are pretty puzzling sometimes - i don't know if you've ever tried to sort through eisenman's dada discourse intended to support what are otherwise fairly attractive images. to him, architecture is primarily consumed in visual contemplation as a spectacle of analogies to phrases from contemporary philosophy.

i think you are looking for ways in which simulation or game-design could support novel approaches to architecture, to judge from your list of practices. for the most part, this list implies novel in appearance, in which complex forms support simple life. to this extent they might be perfect for importation into games - and it is probably only copyright laws and the desire on the part of the game-designers to be the designers that has prevented such importation, since most are produced on importable cad-ware. the expected commerce between architects and game-design has not developed, largely i think because game design asks a building to be something different (and mostly concocted in texture-maps, for reasons of production economy) than it is as a support for the practical life. games are certainly suggestive to architects, but less a matter of design than for simulations (often historical), and then often only as slightly more elaborate fly-throughs. efforts to concoct 'living' urban metabolisms with heuristic value, which is something i have looked at, however, seems to require the sort of team - and therefore money and time - that one customarily sees with a decent game. because so much of life is built out of typical situations, one might be able to build a library of such situations as animations; and perhaps by dropping the demands on the production economy of targeting and explosions, one could develop more sophisticated AI so that the result would be only in part pre-scripted; but again, this is not trivial to do. however, if the dialogue between games and architecture is to produce anything new, i think it will depend upon a more profound understanding of the play and of the role of the culture of the player in the 'interaction'; and we are looking at games that are more like what i've termed 'joycean', in which the possibility of suspending all rules but the economy of the game becomes the vehicle by which architectural experience is transformed. this line of thought implies a dimension of difficulty of comprehension for both designer and player, not unlike what has happened to contemporary music, in which wrenching demands are placed upon assumptions, and discoveries arise from what can and cannot be tolerated, understood, enjoyed. under these circumstances, for example, down can be sideways or a noise, it is no longer necessary to have conversations face-to-face, one needn't walk or fly but the space itself can morph, shadows are more solid than matter, the code is re-written through movement in game history (but 'history' is not necessarily linear or cumulative), and so on. as a player, one is less obligated to tasks than playing with reality at a fairly deep level...that is, the distinction between designer and player is much more dialogical. incidentally, the requisite software would be all that any computer would need, the single killer app which could go seamlessly from discourse to cad to image-manipulation to coding to sound and linked to www.... it is a matter of actually trying it to discover whether one would undertake such an exercise like leonardo scribbling away in his notebooks or like the valve designers, in actual rooms with hunger, pain, a love-life, a sense of humour, the need to have someone else to talk to...all the aspects of human finitude that are otherwise the basis of our creativity, including having the mental kit to say 'game' is relevant. 'architecture' is not simply form but a symbol of how we have a world, or of how the world has us.

season's greetings to all participants


The stream of consciousness runs rich from the mountains of academia.



Hello, Ted. You know, I asked the question and I find Peter’s response interesting and suggestive even though I also have to struggle to stay above water in the waves of idiosyncratically punctuated stream-of-consciousness writing.

I am sorry I have not replied to your post earlier. I actually find it difficult to engage with it as it appears to me that you suggest that my question is trivial and approach abstract and unproductive.

Fine. But what is your alternative?

You suggest that it is a matter of “simply good level design”. It is like saying to someone who wants to know how Italian pasta comes to be what it is that it is “simply a matter of good cooking”. How does it help?

Let’s see.

You say “good”. Games are different and so are players. The word “good” has a meaning in relationship to goals (or are you religious and the idea of Good is a given for you?). But which goals? Profit? Number of players? Something else? What? And who decides? So, if you say “good” you have to qualify your criteria (and this was discussed above).

You say “level”. But why do you think games (or virtual architecture rather, I was not asking or commenting on how to improve game design) should be designed in levels? And if you do not mean “levels” as in a typical FPS, then how is this word different from the (also non-unproblematic) word “architecture” that I used?

You say “design”. But should it (or is it) even be (is) designed in the traditional sense of the world? What about player-built areas? Or trial-and-error-based refinement?

You say “simply”. Do you suggest that there is a universally understood and accepted technique? Does it come in a shape of “Make Cool” button? To me, these questions do not seem simple at all.

You say that “in a well designed level, the player does what the designer intended”. Well if a designer gives the player only one thing to do the player will certainly do it (or leave). According to this criterion, your ideal design is a mouse-trap.

I have not explained what the focus of my study is (it would be a distraction to talk about it here) but it is not to give guidelines for better game design. I have also never suggested that architecture alone is what makes a game. Rather, I am interested to see *how* architecture *is* in VEs and games and I disagree with you that this question is trivial.

Thanks for your example. This is the kind of thing I am talking about and this exact point has been discussed before (see the paper Troels B. Folmann has suggested).

May I ask if you have looked up (or know) my references? They show some “concrete” stuff on what I was talking about.

In any case – happy designing.


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