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  • Master's Thesis: Game Design and Architecture

    - Christopher W. Totten

  • Working with professors at the school, I shifted my focus to creating a design method that pushed architecture through the filter of game design, resulting in a hybrid design method that creates real pieces of architecture that exemplify the meaningful experiences described in game design texts and my course. This new goal for my project led to an invitation to visit Valve Corporation’s offices in Bellevue, Washington, where I met with several members of the development team and learned how they take their design ideas from concept to implementation. This rare opportunity to observe Valve’s process first-hand provided my research with actual proof of the usefulness game design methods have for the field of architecture.

    Upon returning from my trip to Valve, I utilized the results of the interviews I had with Valve’s designers to finish my paper on Game Design and Architecture. This paper described the difficulties of designing architecture from a traditional top-down design method while attempting to create a user experience. It then focused on how the game design methods of identifying core mechanics, designing in a “cabal” (as is done at Valve), and playtesting the project could supplement the traditional design considerations of site, context, zoning, materials, and structure, with ones allowing the creation and implementation of experiential components such as risk, goals, Behavior Theory, narrative, and numerous others.

    The appendices of this paper also included written testimonials from students in my course, and short descriptions of some experiential considerations that my new design method could create, considerations that I would like to further expand upon in later work. This paper earned me an elusive grade of “commend” within the “pass, fail, commend” structure of the School of Architecture’s Thesis Research semester.

    The realization of my thesis committee after reading the paper was that my project did not immediately lend itself to a “traditional” thesis project within our school’s normal requirements: which requires students to choose a concept, write a research paper featuring an analysis of an intended site and building use, and design a building. In the interest of having critics in the final presentation focus on the design process I describe in my paper rather than the aesthetic features of a building, we decided that I would design games based on my design method, as well as others.

    The interest of this exercise is to create a context for learning about architecture in which players kinesthetically engage in design without dealing with the “real-life” pressures of grades and deadlines. This allows players to absorb design lessons or even reconsider elements of their own design methods while having fun.

    [PDF download 772KB]

    Contents of paper:
    Table of contents
    Chapter I: Introduction – On the Design of Architecture and Games
    Chapter II: Parti vs. Core Mechanic – Generators of Design
    Chapter III: Narrative and Meaning – A Second Generator of Design
    Chapter IV: The Rules of Games and Spaces
    Chapter V: Conclusion – Architecture: The Game
    Appendix A: Experiential Design Considerations of Games and Architecture
    Appendix B: Game Design and Architecture Course at The Catholic University of America – Fall 2008.

    Chris Totten
    “Game Design and Architecture”
    Thesis for the completion of the degree: Master of Architecture
    The Catholic University of America, School of Architecture and Planning, Washington D.C.
    Thesis Coordinator/committee member: Matthew Geiss, M Arch
    Thesis Advocate: George Martin, M Arch
    Thesis committee member: Carlos Barrios, PhD.
    Outside consultant: Chris Chin, Level designer, Valve Corporation


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