Architecture in Video Games — Deus Ex: Human Revolution
How architecture adds to the immersion and meaning to a game.
I had an incredible discussion with Simon, an architecture PhD, regarding architecture and design within video games, particularly Deus Ex: Human Revolution. He produced an interesting series of videos focussing on the world of the game which is set in 2027, the golden age of cybernetic enhancements where humans utilise biotechnology to enhance themselves physically.
Having watched the series, I tremendously enjoyed watching many hours of a guy running around futuristic cities and analysing the nuances of individual design choices of buildings. When I first played the game myself, it quickly became apparent that it is more than just another sci-fi game and the architecture definitely played a part in that.
Sarif Industries HQ
Human Revolution takes on the ethics of human enhancement and what the merging of man and machine (transhumanism) which are made possible in this fictitious future through significant breakthroughs in biotechnology research sparked. It takes this and digs deeper: new social issues arise, such as the poor not being able to afford augmentation, and therefore do not have access to life-enhancing, or even life-saving, technology. The wealth gap has widened exponentially. The poor stay poor or suffer from Neuropozyne addiction, a drug that is required for the human body to accept the external augments. The rich now have a tighter grasp of wealth and power by being able to choose better augments and to fund neural implants that boost intelligence. The wealth gap is interestingly portrayed through architectural and environmental design in Deus Ex. In Detroit, there is a contrast between, say, the Sarif Industries office building and Derelict Row in the North, where the homeless roam. The transition is subtle but powerful. It certainly feels very atmospheric, walking through the streets with the fantastic ambient music.
Another city area, lower Hengsha, is poor as a whole. The entire city is in the shadow of another city built on top of it — upper Hengsha. This in itself is symbolism for the placement of the wealthy in society. Simon had a further comment to add to that. He discusses how historic cities, be it Paris or Rome, have “layers”. With time, debris builds up and city of old is lost to time and the new prevails. In Hengsha, the lower class are hidden away left to suffer with the powerful not having to worry about crossing paths with them. The unimportant are reminded of their place in society by simply looking up.
Further testament of the designer’s commitment to the game is the careful design of the ceilings. Yes, ceilings. Even they tell a story in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In the image above we see David Sarif’s office and his personality shines through here. The complexity of the design of the ceiling shows that David is a complex individual and a thinker, Simon argues. There is also the aspect of opulence. A subtle addition throughout the game with a powerful impact. Each important area of the game is uniquely designed with incredible ceiling design… Who would have thought?
In this world set in the near future, we have elements of modern and futuristic design that mix quite well. When travelling to China or Singapore in the game, it is great to see the contrast in design to Detroit and Montreal. Hengsha is inspired by current-day Hong Kong and Eidos really nailed the fact that each city truly feels unique. Lower Hengsha is my favourite video game city of all time and every time I return to it, it gives me this feeling of awe and fascination, as if it really was the golden age of technology.
Human Revolution has many memorable moments but the design is what puts it a step above all others. As a whole the game is exceptional, the design adds this important layer that is needed to fully immerse the player into a cyberpunk world. I just hope Square Enix does bring out a new sequel and do not blame their incompetence as a publisher on the studio that created one of the best cyberpunk sci-fi games of our time.
Thanks for reading, as always, and you can find Simon’s video series on YouTube here.
Yes it’s long but it’s worth it if you have completed the game yourself.
Reply to this email for feedback and comments and enjoy the rest of your weekend.