GTA IV about urbanism
Anyone interested in the relationship between technologies and contemporary cities followed the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. Tom Bramwell from Eurogamer recently interviewed Aaron Garbut from Rockstar. The following part sparked my interest:
"We never reproduce real world locations. We take interesting or representative elements and create something new from them. It's about taking inspiration from real places and producing something that captures the essence of it. We're trying to take our impression of New York and keep it as that, an impression, not a laboured reproduction. I think that gives it more flavour, more intensity and in an odd way makes it feel more real. I've seen it in other games that set out to rebuild a city street by street, not only do compromises get made that favour realism over fun but a lot of the life is lost and all that's left is a hollow representation of a real place. I'd rather have the right vibe than an accurate roadmap. (...) The cities are never built specifically with missions in mind. We always build the cities first and fit the missions and stories into them. There are a few reasons for that. One of the main ones is practical and it's more pronounced on a new engine. The basic rendering parts of an engine tend to come online a lot sooner. The mission designers need a scripting language, fairly evolved physics and vehicle handling, the weapon systems, AI etc before there is much they can play with. Whereas the artists have 3D software from day one and the game can start rendering that quickly so we can get on with building the city right from the start.
So we've always treated the cities like a real place. We build them, we pack them with interesting things and then we place the missions within them at a later date. Obviously once a mission is placed and working we will tweak the area to work better, but essentially the processes are fairly separate. That's not to say there isn't a deliberate intention to evoke emotional reaction as you say. It's just that if there is one it's happening during the placement and pacing of the missions. I think having this massive environment available first gives a lot of opportunity to play with the missions and find what works best."
(Excerpt from a GTA IV map)
Why do I blog this I find extremely interesting to see the spatial thinking behind the level design of GTA IV as described here. There are good parallels to draw between the game designers and urbanists as both of them have to build/transform an "environment" where "things will happen", filled with various sorts of agencies. The approach level designer take, as described by Garbut, is of course different. More specifically the purpose is not make a city efficient but instead about how to engage players in fun and free interactions. That said, I am sure that there are relevant ideas to pick up.