Playing Architecture with Architecture_Engine_1.0


Jochen Hoog, Dipl.-Ing.

Institute for architecture and design, Vienna University of Technology, Austria





Architecture_Engine_1.0 is a software game installation. It’s a computer game, where the player acts in a 3d virtual environment, like in a first-person-view game (ego-shooter). The focus of my thesis is to show how a game engine can be used in the architectural design process. In contrast to modifying computer games (modding) or using them as fast real-time rendering machines, I want to stress the possibility within game engines to run self programmed scripts (behaviour) in a programming language. 

In the game Architecture_Engine_1.0, the player starts as a human being in the ego-perspective within a virtual space, where four objects act and react to him and to each other. The architect can take the role of the player or even of an object. Four simple cubes always ‘know’ where the player is and follow him. The player is pressed for time, because he is loosing time-credits every five seconds and only in doing something can he gets time-credits back. The result is a reactive three dimensional virtual architecture, within which the player can interact in runtime.

The process of an architectural design task is divided in two parts. The first one (design-time) is to break down the specific design task into rules and to define the environmental conditions of the virtual space, i.e. gravity, size, time, goal of the game, perspective of the user etc. (That is a very useful way for an architect to handle the resources, the time management, the planning regulations and the budget in a project.) In the second part (runtime) the architect now becomes the player; he tries to win his own game, he can influence the spatial events, and according to the possibilities of a game engine he can be the user or even the architectural object itself. The architect becomes part of an infinite, generative, and reactive game.

The result is always different and unpredictable, even if the basic rules are very simple. The possibility to change the perspective in the game, which means to become even the architecture itself, really changes the definition of an architect: Play architecture before the game is over!


1. Introduction

In the last couple of years the technology to create three dimensional (3D) virtual environments has become very powerful and cheap. The evolving computer game industry provides a wide spectrum of software tools like game engines to create fully accessible and responsible 3D worlds rendered in real time. The focus of this paper is on how architects can use games engines for the architectural design process, especially to emphasize the feature of a game engine to use self programmed scripts (behaviour) in a 3D virtual environment. In contrast to a computer simulation a computer game is an environment which you can interact with objects in real time, the player can be part of the 3D virtual environment. The architect can become the architecture itself.


2. Technology - Game Engine

Game Engines provide hardware-independent access to computer hardware such as input devices (i.e. keyboard, mouse, and joystick), and output devices like graphic cards, network cards, and sound cards. “A game engine is the core software component of a computer or video game or other interactive application with real-time graphics. It provides the underlying technologies, (…) like a rendering engine (“renderer”) for 2D or 3D graphics, a physics engine, collision detection, sound, scripting, animation, artificial intelligence, networking, and a scene graph.” [1]

A 3D virtual computer game is a real virtual world, calculated and provided within the computer, and the game engine shows us at least 12 rendered pictures per second (frames-per-second) on the screen of the computer, so the human eye sees a living image of this world. Everything within this virtual environment is a computer calculated object with certain behaviour: the objects, the light, the players, the sound, the virtual camera, which gives the perspective into the virtual world, and so on. They are called entities (e.g.: the entity light has the behaviour to illuminate, the entity floor has the behaviour to be static etc.) The virtual world itself is a three dimensional Euclidean space, which has to be limited, because of the limited computer power. So the most virtual worlds are big boxes.


2.1. 3DGameStudio

In the game ‘Architecture_Engine_1.0’ I used 3D GameStudio (Version 6.1). It is a computer game development system with a model editor, world editor and a script editor (C# - Scripting language). It provides a physics engine to create gravity and collision detection.

(1) Screenshot virtual world and objects (entities)

3. The experiment - Architecture_Engine_1.0

"I dare to predict that within 10-15 years almost all architects offices will hire software programmers to design their own customized design software. Animation software is out, game software is in." (Kas Osterhuis) [2].

To examine how a game engine can be used for a specific architectural design task, it was decided to divide the design process into two parts: design-time and play-time. In the design-time the designer has to break down the specific design task into computer readable algorithms. He has to define the environmental conditions of the virtual space, i.e. gravity, size, time, goal of the game, perspective of the player etc. The designer has to write computer readable scripts. The design process has to be simplified. The most important issues of the design task have to be extracted and simulated in an abstract way. The architect has to think of algorithms (scripts).

That can be a very useful way for an architect to handle the resources, the time management, the planning regulations and the budget in a project. After designing the scripts (behaviour), they will be assigned to the objects (entities) and the game can start.

During the play-time the architect becomes the player; he now has to win his own game, he can influence the spatial events; he is part of the simulation and can interact directly within the design-space. The designer can become the user, the player, or even the architectural object itself.




3.1. Rules

In order to demonstrate the possibilities in general the rules were kept to a minimum. The aim was to create architecture through the movement of the player in the virtual game world. Also I wanted to add an element of gameplay in order to force the player to explore the world and to force him to do something. “Gameplay is a crucial element in any skill-and-action game. This term has been in use for some years, but no clear consensus has arisen as to its meaning. Everyone agrees that good game play is essential to the success of a game, and that game play has something to do with the quality of the player’s interaction with the game.” (Crawford) [3].

The player starts the game as a human being (avatar) in the ego-perspective. As in first-person-shooter games he can walk and look around. The virtual space has an earth like gravity. From the beginning onwards there are four kinds of simple cubes of various sizes placed around him. They always know where the player is and follow him (which is their behaviour). If they reach the player entity in a certain distance (collision detection) they stop and stay there for a couple of seconds; after that they delete themselves and are reloaded somewhere else to start the loop again.

(2) Behaviour 1  - “Search and go to the player!”

(3) Result of behaviour 1 


To demonstrate the interaction between the player and the environment during the play-time, the player is pressed for time. He starts with 100 credit points and he looses credits every five seconds; only in doing something can he get credit points back. The player has to activate the cubes by pressing the left mouse button at it (like shooting). By doing so, the player changes the behaviour of the cubes. An activated cube now has the behaviour to copy itself twenty fold in a random direction away from the players position.

(4) Behaviour 2  - “Copy away from the player!”

(5) Result of behaviour 2 

The player has the possibility to load a prefabricated stairway and a little bridge, so he can easily build upwards. In the virtual world are hidden some ‘invisible events’. If the player touches them, some trees grow randomly around the player or some virtual visitors are loaded.


(5) Result of behaviour 2 


3.2. Be god, be architecture

All objects in the virtual world are entities with behaviour. The ability to control an avatar with the keyboard and mouse is a written script that enables this function in the computer. This function is assigned to an object. Also the view into the virtual world is only a kind of virtual camera which simulates a human eye. In contrast to our world we live in, you can change these kinds of assignments in the virtual world, which means you can look into the virtual world as an object (third-person-view) or like a god from the sky (god-view). The control of the movement of the human avatar (which is another script) can remain or it can be assigned to an architectural object. So the player becomes the architectural object, he becomes architecture.

(6) First-person view, third-person view and god view 

(7) Player is architecture


3.3 Interventions

When the game is running (play-time) the player can only do what have been planned to be possible within the scripts. So it is possible to replace behaviour by another, but you can’t change the script itself. For that you have to go back to the design-time, change the script in the script-editor and start playing again. “Every Game has its own rules. They determine what should happen in the inner world of a game. They are all-dominant, and no one is allowed to doubt about the rules. Only if you are in the game, you can change them.(…) Paul Valery mentioned in some very precise words: It is not allowed to have any kind of scepticism about the rules in a game (…) if you brake the rules, the game dies.” (Huizinga) [4]

3.4 Export

The game produces virtual 3D data in real time. It is possible to ‘freeze’ the game and export the 3D data at any moment.

3.5. Interface

The Interface into the world is your keyboard, mouse and your screen. The player gets the normal game like information, like the menu to save, load or stop the game, or a display with the current credit points. On the upper left corner of the screen the player can load a ground plan-like top view of his position in the game world.

3.6. Too much architecture

To work with computer based algorithms in a game engine brings up an interesting problem. The computer throws up too many results. It is not only necessary to write scripts to create something; you always have to limit your work, in space and time. A virtual computer created world, is indeed a very limited thing. Within the currently available computer power and the 3D GameStudio software, you can provide about 300 working entities. So the architect has to think about ways of destroying and deleting, not only of creating.

3.7. Software bugs

I had the experience of working with scripts that can be very frustrating. Things are right or they are wrong. There is no grey area, no in between. The Architecture_Engine_1.0 has approximately 500 sheets of written scripts. So the chance of forgetting one semicolon is big and because of that the game will not start. However there is another kind of error which is more interesting. If the game runs and everything seems to work properly, sometimes something strange and unexpected happens. In the Architecture_Engine_1.0 the objects suddenly start to fly. I don’t know why, I haven’t found the error; so perhaps it is kind of an unexpected evolution. The objects behave in a new way; the reason as yet has not been ascertained.


(8) Software error – Flying objects 


3.8. Gaming

“Denn um es endlich auf einmal herauszusagen, der Mensch spielt nur, wo er in voller Bedeutung des Wortes Mensch ist, und er ist nur da ganz Mensch, wo er spielt.“ (Schiller) [5]

Despite the palpable success of computer games, questions about gaming as a cultural, social and economic phenomenon have yet to be answered.  Scientists are just starting to ask the right questions. Brian Sutton-Smith writes: “Each person defines games in his own way – the anthropologists and folklorists in terms of historical origins; the military men, businessman, and educators in terms of usages; the social scientists in terms of psychological and social functions. There is a overwhelming evidence in all this that the meaning of games is, in part, a function of the ideas of those who think about them.” [6]

Games are extremely complex, in their internal structure and in the various kinds of player experiences they create. “For hundreds of years, the field of game design has drifted along under the radar of culture, producing timeless masterpieces and masterful time-wasters without drawing much attention to itself – without, in fact, behaving like a ‘field’ at all.” (Salen, Zimmermann) [7]

“A game creates a subjective and deliberately simplified representation of emotional reality. A game is not an objectively accurate representation of reality; objective accuracy is only necessary to the extent required to support the player’s fantasy. The player’s fantasy is the key agent in making the game psychologically real.” (Crawford) [8]

Johan Huizinga argues in his famous book Homo Ludens, that  culture always grows out of gaming “(…) dass Kultur in Form von Spiel entsteht, dass Kultur anfänglich gespielt wird.”) [9]


3.9. Multiplayer

One big issue which was not tested in the experiment is the possibility within the technology of game engines to create multiplayer environments or collaborative spaces. MMORPG’s (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) such as Second Life or Open Croquet are currently prospering. They provide the possibility to interact and to communicate in a 3D virtual world.

4. Conclusions and further work

The Architecure_Engine_1.0 is meant to be an approach and not a ready to use tool. The result is an infinite game. “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” (Carse) [10]

To get best results it is necessary to alternate between the design-time and the play-time as often as possible. And yet the result is always virtual. The architecture becomes a playful event.


(9-10) Screenshots of the game


“Architecture becomes a game being played by its users.” (Oosterhuis) [11] As an architect you are the designer of the rules, you write the scripts of the game, you develop the algorithms, and finally you play your own game. But in the game you can become everything and everybody: the user, the planer, god or even the architecture itself. The architect becomes programmer, player, user, god and architecture.

„It is extremely relevant that the designers don’t just talk about the process, but that they actually make it work. You must run the process and work in the process.” as Kas Oosterhuis said. [11] The outcome of the Architecture_Engine_1.0 is a reactive 3D virtual architecture, within which the player can interact in runtime. The architect becomes part of an infinite, generative, and reactive game. The result is always different and unpredictable, even if the basic rules are very simple. Play architecture before the game is over!


5. References


[1]  Wikipedia,


[2] Oosterhuis, K. and L. Feireiss (2006). Game Set and Match II. Game Set and Match II, Delft University of Technology, episode publishers, Rotterdam, p. 11.


[3] Crawford, C. (1982). The Art of Computer Game Design


[4] Huizinga, J. (1938). Homo Ludens. Hamburg, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag. p. 20


[5] Schiller, Friedrich (1795): Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen. Wohlhardt Henchmann. Fink, München.


[6] E.M. Avedon, “The Structural Eleemnts of Games”, in The Study of Games, edited by E.M. Avedon and Brian Sutton-Smith, New York, 1971, p. 438


[7] Salen, K. and E. Zimmermann (2004). Rules of Play – Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge, MIT Press.


[8] Crawford, C. (1982). The Art of Computer Game Design


[9] Huizinga, J. (1938). Homo Ludens. Hamburg, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag.


[10] Carse, J. p. (1994). Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility. Reissue, Ballantine Books.


[11] Oosterhuis, K. (2003). Hyper Bodies - Towards an E-motive architecture. Basel, Birkhäuser.


[12] Oosterhuis, K. (2001). game set and match. game set and match, Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, TU Delft.




Images 1-10

Screenshots of the game Architecure_Engine_1.0