A Beginner’s Guide To Crafting Video Game Cities

Konstantinos Dimopoulos
12 min readJun 7, 2017

(originally published in Presura issue XIII)

From the underwater, art deco wonders of Rapture (2K Boston, 2K Australia, 2007) to the oppressive urban environments of City 17 (Valve, 2004), cities are far too common a setting in modern videogaming. Then again, they also happen to be a commonplace backdrop of contemporary everyday life, incredibly rich hubs of a myriad human interactions, and thus also the birthplaces of most of our modern art.

Cities, history’s unparalleled centers of human creativity and drama, are the places where the majority of us actually live, work, love, create, dream, and occasionally kill each other; they simply have to serve as the imaginary settings for our sporadic conjuring of mythical entities as well. Cities are sources of constant inspiration, and with 54 per cent of the world’s population already residing in urban areas (United Nations, 2014), and the accelerating rates of global urbanization, one should expect them to play an ever increasing role in the ways we, an urbanized species, shape our culture.

Of course all art is not the same, and each medium is bound to take differing approaches when tackling urbanism, but we would be wise to admit that, generally, games rarely do cities right. At the moment iconic, unique, and immersive as both Rapture and City 17 might be, they are two essentially rare exceptions to the prevalent non-immersive game city.

Immersion, you see, an elusive and much sought after quality of game worlds, demands believability, and believability in the case of cities is never easy to achieve. Excellent art design, exciting levels, and even clever architecture are not enough. A city, no matter how exotic it might have to be, can only be believable if it makes sense. If it feels real and complex enough to fulfill the many expectations of experienced city dwellers.

Cities, as most types of settlements, are rarely done right in games by failing to feel real; not by failing to be imaginative.

Supposedly sprawling metropolises are presented as little more than simplistic towns trying to pass for…

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Konstantinos Dimopoulos

Game urbanist, city planner, game designer, educator and occasional writer, with a PhD in urban planning & geography. Personal site: www.game-cities.com