Virtual landscapes : a practice-based exploration of natural environment design

Ali, U ORCID: 2017, Virtual landscapes : a practice-based exploration of natural environment design , in: DiGRA UK 2017 Conference & Meeting, 5 May 2017, Manchester, England.

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This paper presents a theoretical framework as well as a practical guide for a new design framework for virtual natural environment (VNE) design in computer and video games. By applying a practice-based research methodology areas of strong/weak practice were identified with an aim to develop a new design framework that utilises a cross-disciplinary approach.

The virtual environment should be and, in many instances, is perceived as the primary aspect of digital games. Virtual environments are more than capable of being the raison d’être’ of a game, and they can either be enjoyed in themselves, as they are able to elicit play through exploration, or are capable of acting as a vessel that supports other important aspects of a game such as the narrative. However, the current VNE design practice for games is not sufficiently developed to meet current or future demands.

A review of the literature and current practice revealed that VNE design has so far been mainly driven by aesthetic principles and that future emergent design practice should employ a cross-disciplinary approach. This study proposes a new design framework for the creation of virtual landscapes that uses Landscape Character Assessments amongst other elements of environmental design. ShadowMoss Island is a practice-based exploration of how VNE design can incorporate elements from Environmental Psychology and Geology, as well as reflections and observational analysis based on a field trip. Psychological elements added to this new design framework can radically improve the success and impact of a VNE.

The design of VNEs was further examined through a contextual review of critical games produced during the last 30 years. The review involved a detailed textual and visual historical survey of virtual landscapes which resulted in the publication of a three-volume book series titled Virtual Landscapes. The book series presents for the first time these virtual spaces in a digitally enhanced manner through high-resolution panoramic imagery. Another practice-based artefact, MindFlow, was created as a pre-production tool for the purpose of environmental design. The proposed tool enables the direct visualisation of collated multimedia (audio, images, video, annotations, design and decisions) in a single visual space, allowing designers/artists to draw and influence the design and creation of VNEs by bringing together all the different aspects in an intuitive and user-friendly manner. MindFlow helps solve the problem of having to retain mental maps of image repositories structures by creating a single visual non-folder tree hierarchy virtual space.

Games design, specifically natural environment design, will increasingly become an interdisciplinary subject, one that combines disciplines such as environmental psychology, landscape architecture, geology and landscape aesthetics by drawing elements from established bodies of knowledge to improve and enrich the development of more immersive VNEs. Therefore, the design framework proposed by this research (composed of processes, tools and guidance) intends to assist academics, students and practitioners in viewing games from an alternative perspective, and developing them from an informed position through the use of landscape architecture and aligned subject areas.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media > Arts, Media and Communication Research Centre
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Depositing User: Dr Umran Ali
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2018 13:45
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:13

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