Part 1. Think like an Architect

When designing an area, there’s a big decision to first make. Are you going for immersion, pure gameplay or do yo want to reconcile the two? We’ll start by discussing how using real floor plans can build immersion and improve our design.

Buildings are immersive to players not through slavish copying of irl floor plans but by examining the principles behind those floor plans. This basic sketch will be used to show how the principles of a building design can be applied.


This clinic is unusual but it follows common principles found in nursing homes and hospitals, meaning it’ll “scan” as a viable clinic to players(Aside from the unrealistic and absolutely beautiful patient:staff ratio) . This clinic uses Panoptic design, meaning the architecture allows workers in a central location to observe patients at all times. True panoptic design was briefly used in 1800’s hospitals but is mainly associated with prisons.  In a modern nursing home or hospital, there are more concessions to patient privacy but you’ll still notice that the nursing station is at the intersection of two hallways. This allows workers to see down both hallways in case, say, an alzheimered out patient wanders out half naked and not using their walker. By comparing differing versions of the same structure (clinics from multiple time periods), we can find similarities and therefore functions common to all of the structures.

The overall structure of the location always supports a function, though that function may not be immediately obvious. A church is designed to impress with the altar area and carry sound. In a castle, the outer area funnels movement into small, linear areas while interior areas are “open” as they’re designed for rapid movement and deployment of defenders.  The function of our above example can be intuited by careful attention, some basic research, and by imagining oneself as someone using the structure.

Once you have chosen a specific structure that supports the building’s function, you can work out the details such as how different groups of people interact with the structure. In the above example, the nurse’s station has an employee only area behind it, allowing employees to block access by patients. In larger structures, worker only rooms form almost a “shadow structure” within the overall floor plan. This is repeated with a security room blocking access from the dining room to the kitchen delivery area. As well, all doors are visible from the nursing station to help control access in or out. Modern healthcare facilities are designed with passcoded doors by the nursing station to keep patients out with security being much more extreme in memory care facilities. Baby wards are instead designed to keep people out, forcing them to talk to reception before going through a door to the actual ward.  When you see a difference like this between similar structures, it points to important differences in function.

The high amount of windows in this building is a feature from the moral treatment movement of the 1800’s in which light & air circulation were considered essential to healing. Though the odd angles and lack of square shaped rooms makes it feel more modernist, this design is firmly in the 19th century.

A note on smaller architectural elements. The aesthetic sense of doorways, regular columns and floor patterns can be thought of in terms of “flow”. If a person walks from one end of the building to the other, are the artistic elements tied together in a sequence?  What psychological effect are they meant to have? Aside from this, load bearing elements can clue to the players about other floors. A conspicuous amount of columns may mean there’s a lot of building weight above. If repeated elements are suddenly absent, there may be a secret room or something in that area.

When you’ve identified the functions of a structure, there’s an implied question. Why did the architect choose these specific solutions? What does it say about their cultural values or technology? The specific placement of bathrooms can speak volumes about both subjects. The above clinic is a “fuck your feelings” design. Patients going anywhere must pass by the nurses station. They’re observed at all times. All exits are monitored. Any pretense of patient privacy is sacrificed so they can be controlled and monitored. The architect isn’t cold though, the patients get a spa and plenty of sunlight. This building takes a paternalistic and paranoid view towards patients.

Now that we’re thinking about the characters and culture behind the building, we can think about thematics. What feelings or connotations do the architectural elements have? A small balcony for making speeches could be a simple balcony. For me, as a southerner, it brings up connotations of plantation era aristocrats. For others, it could bring to mind roman elites, italian fascism, or latin populism by way of Peron. The surrounding structure can reinforce the thematics in one direction or another. Is the balcony supported by columns on a veranda or is it a decorated square jutting out from a wall with arched windows?

This clinic brings up prison system connotations and 1800’s paternalism. Its small patient size, inclusion of a spa and fondness for circular rooms brings up ideas of clinics for the wealthy, club med and whatnot. One of the themes of the adventure this clinic appears in is the totalitarianism of caring for people, made more explicit by having an underground reform-minded prison with similar architecture to the clinic. A floor plan, when well designed, brings connotations and cultural ideas. How you weave these into an adventure can make for a more meaningful player experience.
To recap the article, remember this with designing a building
1. Overall purpose of the building. The most general part of the floorplan and how it relates to the purpose of the structure.
2. How will the workers use the building. What are their concerns? How do visitors interact with the architecture? Are there different classes of people? Does it even have visitors? Do you want to distinguish between workers and managers in the floorplan? How easy should building repair and maintenance be?
3. What effect is the sequential flow of artistic elements meant to have?
4. What is the psychology of the architect? How does this relate to the adventure?
5. Does the architecture raise themes pertinent to the adventure?

Now that the initial rugged verismillitude aspect of building design has been handled, I’ll soon post the part 2 to this “Think like an Angry God.” There we’ll talk about gameplay considerations and how to break the building we’ve closely considered. Any comments or tangents appreciated. Hope to post again soon.

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