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  • Thesis: Game Design and Architecture

    - Christopher W. Totten

    To test the game, I recruited some volunteer students and arranged game sessions every two weeks after their Wednesday studio classes. I had the players use either Google SketchUp or Valve's Hammer Level Editor to design their buildings. Using a game engine such as Hammer allowed players to explore their buildings while they were designing it, since it lacks a traditional "orbit" tool but allows the in-program camera to be moved through the model with game controls; as one would move through a game environment with no-clip mode activated. 

    The game was a success among my playtesters, who appreciated learning how they could design a more user-centric piece of architecture. Within the game, they succeeded in creating such user-centric buildings many times over the course of the semester. I had students consistently recreate the same building every week, so I could track how different core mechanics and game variables inspired the players in different ways. With the number of volunteers, we were able to run two games:  one had players design houses with core mechanics based on the ideas of famous architects, and the other had senior students designing their current studio project, a transit hub for light rail. 

    One of the stand-out results of these playtests was a house based on the core mechanic of "viewing", which was a prominent idea in the architecture of Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier.  The site for the house was a hillside overlooking a river. 

    The playtesters conceived the house as a path of rooms that offered sporadic views to the landscape around the house, leading up to the ultimate reveal of the river on the large porch. From an entry platform, occupants walk through a long entry walkway to a front porch, where the front door is.  After entering this doorway, they go upstairs to a roof deck from which they can look down at the site around the building. Moving back downstairs on the other side of the deck, occupants can then explore the living areas and get the full view of the landscape. 

    While the opportunities to view the site and the use of these views as rewards for moving through the building responds well to the core mechanics, designers also opened up areas of the roof deck and used glass to separate certain rooms so that visitors could view one another as much as they could view the areas outside the house. In many ways, the house becomes a space were occupants try to find a place where they can be safe from the views of each other as much as they try to find a place to see elements of the landscape. Many of the other buildings had a similar level of complexity that was easier to achieve with the Game Design and Architecture than more common design methods. There was, however, unforeseen positive results to these playtests that were even more interesting. 


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