Introduction to my World Design research paper, examining the use of ancient architecture in games.

For my World Design paper I would like to examine the use of ancient architecture in games. I started investigating the use of this kind of architecture in games to hopefully land on a specific architectural movement and game to study for my world design paper. In this blog post I examine the use of this form of architecture in a few games I have played, both fantasy and science fiction, the goal of it being a first draft and an introduction to the topic of my World Design research paper.


Tomb Raider

The Tomb Raider franchise has established itself as one of the leaders of action-adventure titles. Most of the franchise’s games constitute its protagonist, Lara Croft, heading off on some daring adventure to find something in some ancient place. I wanted to look at the architecture used in 2013’s Tomb Raider, where Lara explores the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Yamatai is Japan’s own Atlantis story, a kingdom believed to have existed during the Yayoi Period 300BC-300AD (Runnebaum, 2015). As mentioned by Hanna Rice in her blog post about the game’s architecture, the most striking thing is the architectural juxtaposition (2013). While the game does not perfectly reflect architecture from the Yayoi period, it bares resemblance. Many of the explorable temples feel like they come from different Japanese architectural periods. The most important thing to take from this game is its juxtaposition between these ancient temples, rural villages and war bunkers. It creates a mystery, and blurs the lines between a fantasy world lost in time and reality.

Cultivating this sense of mystery and exploration is what ancient architecture has done so well, even when we look at a simplified version of the game in Go Lara (Routon, 2015). The developers managed to condense the essence of an action adventure game into a simple low poly puzzle game, without losing the franchise’s sense of mystery culminating in a desire to explore.



Mass Effect

The use of ‘ancient architecture’ in science fiction has always been interesting. Often we see this kind of architecture as having to do with an ancient but advanced civilization that has been destroyed, with you left to explore the ruins to discover its technologies. This mysterious ancient architecture seems to have key identifiers that transcended genres and mediums, usually making use of huge spaces, grand buildings, often succumbing to atrophy, overgrown and abandoned. We can see this when we look at the intro sequence to Guardians of the Galaxy. This ancient architecture is used to insight mystery and usually offers a reward for exploration. 


If we look at Mass Effect we can see similar uses of architecture in Tuchanka’s City of the Ancients, even though the styles are completely different. In The Art of the Mass Effect Universe, designers attributed Tuchanka architecture to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture which is evident when we contrast the two images (2012). This gives the Krogan homeworld a sense of strength and lost power, mimicking their culture and the history of their race.

However, when it comes to the treatment of Prothean architecture the game often displays the fact that this race was extraordinarily advanced, yet also succumbed to destruction and atrophy – all while still maintaining that the Proteans are the key to evolving the technology of the current galaxy.

Artifact_movie_013 (1).jpg


Assassin’s Creed Revelations

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that has established itself as being designed with extraordinary attention to detail with its architecture, integrating architecture into the story and gameplay. Revelations takes place predominantly in 16th century Turkey, Constantinople and a few other Middle Eastern locations, being a bit of a throwback to the original Assassin’s Creed. As with any Assassin’s Creed, the game takes players on a journey through some historical city, traversing the architecture of the time and the older ruins of the city. What makes Revelations remarkable its Middle Eastern setting, the use of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture and its use of eastern geometric patterns and iconography. Revelations make use of Orientalism’s best qualities while avoiding most stereotypes. Sticking to historical accuracy, the game also explored the historical Roman influence on the city of Constantinople.

In an interview with the Art Director of Revelations, Lacoste recollected how they went about researching the city the way it was during that time, “One of the most important aspects for us is to make sure that the overall impression that the cities leave on the player are as true to life as possible.” (Venables 2011). The franchise manages to bring players out of space and time and allow them to explore a place as it once may have been in ways that we wouldn’t even be able to explore in the world we currently live in. These ancient places are ripe with history and traversing the entire puzzle of any given location often rewards the player with items and historical context. We can see how this kind of architecture, coupled with the game-play, encourages exploration.



I have taken a bit of a longer look at Journey in a previous blog posts where I examined its use of the principle of flow, as well as the game’s use of architecture, particularly as a game play and level design feature and its use in the game’s narrative. Journey manages to tick all of the boxes of what qualifies as mysterious ancient architecture, taking players on a quest to explore a decaying world. It gives players a very open ended story to interpret as they traverse the ruins or their once-great civilization.



Journey was based heavily on eastern architecture, with the creator Jenova Chen stating that he wanted something that felt somewhere between the East and the Middle East (Ohannesian, 2012). The architecture in Journey serves as a perfect example of the type architectural movement I would like to focus on and base my actual practical world design around. Extrapolating from that, I started to examine Himalayan architectural influences in Journey and other games.



So far we have examined the use of ancient architecture in the east, in science fiction, in the Middle East and somewhere in between. For my research paper, I really wanted to stay away from sticking too closely to the more familiar Western or classical ancient architecture, focusing the scope down from the use of just ancient architecture to the use of Orientalism in ancient architecture. Edward Said’s 1977 book sought to understand and define the western use of eastern iconography and art canon’s. This effect, as we move away from western art, has been a tool used by artists and writers for centuries to cultivate a sense of mysticism from the viewer. It is fascinating to examine how we have applied this to games. Moving forward with my essay, I wish to examine in more detail the use of orientalism and its use as a way of creating mysticism and intrigue in games, while still focusing on the use of ancient architectures in evoking a desire for exploration and puzzle solving from players.


Far Cry 4  and Himalayan Architecture

To that end, the particular game I will be focusing on and analysing is Far Cry 4’s use of Himalayan architecture. I have not yet finished this game and only played it briefly previously. I look forward to playing it with the direct focus on how it makes use of ancient ruins and Himalayan architecture.



The Old Ones

One of our rapid game prototypes for this year was a game called “The Old Ones”. As the story goes, the world has been torn asunder by an unknown cataclysm, players wake up to find themselves with the responsibility of being the sole person to restore this world. Players are guided by a wisp as they traverse the world trying to repair the damage and return it to how it once was. We decided not to go forward into production with this prototype because it lacked gameplay, but I still feel as though it would make an excellent environment to showcase Himalayan architecture. So far, The Old Ones just focused on a generic ancient architecture based on Disney’s Atlantis. I would like to examine how this game could look if I have the chance to apply some more original concepts and a more direct architecture movement to it. Fortunately, it already has a bit of a backstory and some type of gameplay to experiment with in terms of world and level design. Building upon this with Himalayan architecture in Far Cry 4 through the lense of orientalism as a source of inspiration could add the extra level of intrigue and detail that this prototype was missing.




Image References

Far Cry 4
Tomb Raider 
Yayoi period 
Lara Croft Go
Gaurdians of the Galaxy
Frank Lloyd Wright
Assassins Creed
Assassins Creed
Assassins Creed
Far Cry



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