Environmental Design: Designing for Space

To Do: Update Visuals

External Resources

Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., & Silverstein, M. (2010). A pattern language: Towns, buildings, construction. New York: Oxford Univ. Pr.
Bachelard, G., & Jolas, M. (2013). The poetics of space. Boston: Beacon Press.
Simitch, A., Warke, V., & Carnicero, I. (2014). The language of architecture: 26 principles every architect should know. Beverly: Rockport.
Totten, C. W. (2019). An architectural approach to level design. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis.
Alex K. (2020). Level Design: In Pursuit of Better Levels Link to Document​
Miriam Bellard | GDC17 | An Approach to Holistic Level Design​

Space as Intentional Existence

Space is the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move. Many spaces humans occupy have been designed with a specific purpose in mind to fulfill a function. These spaces include every type of location from office buildings to graveyards, and are often defined by the layout, objects, and people that occupy it. This intended use can (and often does) of course change over time because of a shift in layout, objects, or people.

Deciding on an Environment

Questions to ask yourself when creating a new environment:
  • Where is the player's environment?
  • What type of content exists in said enviorment?
  • What time is it in the player's environment?
  • What is the purpose or “story” of the location?
  • What are the mechanics of the experience?
  • Does the location fit the experience? vise versa?
  • Will any other people be involved in either the experience or the environment?
  • Does the player know the rules of engagement for both the experience and the environment?

Suspension of Disbelief

Intent is one of the most important aspects to world building. The intent of the digital environment relies upon and interacts with the physical one, but also creates rules for the user to understand - visual, haptic, and auditory. This new merged environment lends itself to cues that help users understand the input schema (gesture, controller, etc), visual affordances, and auditory feedback to encourage valid input (both positive and negative).
This process of design in suspension of disbelief specifically includes pushing beyond simple two dimensional interfaces and integrating spatialized audio & haptics, which many creators have never had to do previously. Users now have digital objects that persist in front of them, but we still have to convince them it is real as this is an entirely unfamilair environment to them. Users are often very uncertain how to interact with these objects because they have no mental model of previous encounter.
In similar ways, Surrealism and Science Fiction also require a kind of 'grounded' rules to these new environments that don't pertain to real world logic. Dali envisioned a world where clocks melted and time slowed down, but they still respected certain laws of physics. Superman has a heat vision that can melt through walls, but the wall still reacts in the same way as if it were melted by a high-beam laser. This type of world-building allows an end-user to believe in something not existing but still logical.

Checklist for Considering Layout, Content and People in an Environment:

  • Consider users with limited mobility in finger, arm, head, or whole body due to perminent, temporary, or situational circumstance
  • Consider users operating in different positions like a seated, standing, or walking position
  • Consider users operating in different spaces like open office floor plan, studio apartment, auditorium, or an elevator
  • Consider layout of objects shifting around a space
  • Consider moving objects like other people but also pets like dogs, cats, sneks
  • Consider the societal norms in different locations such as a graveyard or a playground
  • Consider the impact of architecture and urban design between different neighborhoods and cities
  • Consider the impact of architecture and space between different landscapes and rural environments