109: London in Oblivion

London in Oblivion

"You'd think this would encourage a marriage of architecture and gaming. In comparison to game engines, architectural packages need heavy hardware, aren't optimized for real-time walkthroughs, and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. As the Fallingwater map shows, a good game engine can achieve many effects seen in the high-end packages, in real time. It also brings bonuses like weather effects, and it costs $50 or less. So why don't architects use game engines?

"Because, it seems, real architects laugh at game engines."

Allen Varney maps the rise of game engines as design tools - in and out of the game industry.

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I'm an indie developer and long-time modder. I was always a gamer, I grew up playing PC games back in the days of DOS, and I learned how to draw and design in 3D during my high school years when I took CAD classes. My first introduction to making games came while playing Duke Nukem 3D at about the same time, where I came to know the Build engine and editor that it ran on.
It's no surprise to me that game engines make great visualization tools. I just wish that the existing professionals in the field would have caught onto this faster. The speed with which I can implement a design in Hammer (Valve's Source engine design tool) is astounding.

As an aside, I'm involved with the Black Mesa project, where we're working on re-working Half-Life. If you get the chance, you should check us out, Allen.

I started with modding Wolfenstein and Doom back in the days when 3D Studio was DOS-based and a piece of cake to model in, nowadays the (Windows) operating system takes so much hardware overhead just to keep afloat, that there's not much room for performance rendering in real time -- you need a shit-hot network of workstations to do a decent rendering job, and it still takes days to produce results.

Instead, I envisage a modeller/rendering/visualising engine that ran directly on the PS3 (or overheating X360) hardware that would run in real time, with an immersive 3D interface, be expandable by way of multiple boxes, rather than upgrades, there's no need to export/import from your PC because it's all in the console.

It would be a serious threat to 3DSMax and it's peers. Silicon Graphics is the only company that has done anything close to this type of thing, and on massive hardware/software setups that are prohibitively expensive for most of us. Microsoft is also pushing their Milan/Surface Computing, but it's still too expensive and hasn't any real software yet. Like it or not, the PC is nearly dead and cheap mass-produced multi-purpose consoles are the future.
I would love to ditch Mac/Windows and get my hands dirty with my TV...

Architectural offices getting into games console visualisation definitely gets my vote!

As for Rhino -- still a great modeller I hope they port it to other platforms, like Mac/Linux/PS3 :-) it's not actually 'high-end' as stated -- at <$1000 it's in the 'lower-end'; sure if you compare it with SketchUp at $0 it's expensive, but compare with Houdini at $40,000 it's very cheap!

I'm really surprised that you brushed off the Sims as something your sister plays with.

Whilst the modeling isn't perfect, the scale is perfect for living humans, and the modding community has gone to great lengths to replicate real-world architecture.


Like it or not, the PC is nearly dead and cheap mass-produced multi-purpose consoles are the future.


Nearly dead? based on what, exactly?
I've heard before that "the PC is dead as a gaming system"...which is highly arguable, and completely untrue, IMO... but are you really suggestiing the PC is also dead as an electronic tool, an application platform, a computer? What a load of manure.

We've all heard how difficult programming games for the PS3 is. Why do you think programming a modeling application will be easier, or better for the user?
How exactly will you even interface with you "console wokstation"? Using the gamepad???
Even supposing you get the "additional boxes" and peripherlas to allow this usage... you'll end up paying as much as you do for a decent PC...so what's the advantage?


Microsoft is also pushing their Milan/Surface Computing, but it's still too expensive and hasn't any real software yet

By the way, Milan is an interface powered by a normal, Windows-running, PC... so your support of it seems inconsistent.
While windows does incur a processing overhead (especially with Vista), you don't seem to understand that in order turn a console to a rendering/photo-editing/modeling workstation, you'd need someone to mange different apps, disk writes and whatnot... and that's an Operating System. And guess what: it will create some processing overhead!

In short... take the time to think about what you're about to spout on this forum... preferably before you post.

I'm an Architect and a gamer as well. Right now, I am still finding a better way to turn CAD drawings (usually from Autocad) into the Source Engine. What many Architects and designers aim for is the real-time walkthroughs to show their work to clients. While design is my main goal, I also consider the distribution. While Oblivion and Crysis utilize more advanced features, they require higher system specifications.

The Source engine is the only modern game engine out there that scales down games beautifully from high-end systems down to the low end. It can currently run on Direct X 7 only video cards with their latest The Orange Box games running on Direct X 8 hardware. All their games run in only one engine and since Source is designed to constantly upgrade, there won't be any Source II you'll have to buy later on.

When you do your artwork on an engine that only has a three to five year version cycle, you might end up creating work that won't be enjoyed by future generations. Dead end technology. Porting it over to the latest engine might prove to be too much work that you'll probably have to do everything from scratch.

Another reason why I would like to design for mass consumption and not just for clients is because like any art, Architecture generally strives to be appreciated by everyone. Just like how art websites are now promoting every little artist's work out there, a multiplayer game with my mapping art will give me the satisfaction that although I may never have a project involving towers touching the sky or gigantic spheres with pulsating cores, it would be nice to know that virtually, people have been there because of me. Architects have a profession dating back to the dawn of man. You can understand how they of all artists are very slow at adapting to what's new in the world.

One day, all our work will be dust. Only our blueprints remain in digital storage units. Only in the virtual world can we visit what we left behind.


Hi Mark.

I read your post with interest as i'm currently, as part of my architecture degree, doing a self-study into exactly this topic: Visualization of architecture using the Source engine.
Whilst it's good fun to build and view architecture using the Hammer/Source combination it is not something we can generally expect architects to use. They've already built it in Autocad or 3DS, and won't be inclined to do it all over again.
I am wondering how far you have come in finding a path from CAD to Source.
The few "solutions" i have seen so far are still quite application specific, for instance the Convexity/Game Level Builder which is a 3DS plugin, and haven't got the flexibility of, say, a .dwg to .vmf converter would.
Any info or insights would be greatly appreciated.


On his "Digital Urban" blog, Dr. Andrew Hudson-Smith, whom I quote extensively in my "London in Oblivion" article, has posted a new entry in his series "London in Crysis." He's chronicling his team's efforts to import their digital model of London into Crysis, of which he says, "The engine is probably the most powerful on the market today, and the speed in which it is possible to work is refreshing." Impressive screenshots.

Hey all, I just finished a thesis on this very topic in early May. Here's the link to the Gamasutra feature on it:


I am doing contract 3D animation for an architecture firm in Alexandria, VA right now and the principal of the firm and I are talking of developing game-engine walkthroughs for some of their clients. I have been researching the integrated engine in Blender for this.


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