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Andrew House, president and chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., is silhouetted as he watches a trailer for Grand Theft Auto 5 in 2014. The game is set in a realistic simulation of Los Angeles.

Andrew House, president and chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., is silhouetted as he watches a trailer for Grand Theft Auto 5 in 2014. The game is set in a realistic simulation of Los Angeles.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

CityLab
Culture

What Designers of Video Game Cities Understand About Real Cities

The complex urban settings in computer games can feel as believable as the cities they’re based on. But the rules that govern them are very different. 

Players of the Grand Theft Auto video game series steer their criminal avatars around convincingly grimy simulations of New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, while the Assassin’s Creed saga unfurls amid 18th century Paris and Victorian London. These digital cityscapes offer spectacular visuals and help make for compelling play. But building gaming cities that feel immersive is no easy feat, as a session staged at the recent Utopian Hours festival in Turin, Italy, made clear.

Konstantinos Dimopoulos, a game designer with a Ph.D. in urban planning who teaches at creative media institute SAE Athens, used the session to thrash out some key considerations any virtual city designer should bear in mind — and highlight what he calls “the interplay between digital and natural urban spaces.”