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Form follows... gameplay

10 of August '21

The interview with Tomasz Andrzejewski appeared
in A&B 6'2021

Does the Vitruvian triad - sustainability, utility, beauty - apply in the world of video games? What does the process of creating a virtual space look like and is it similar to the work of an architect? Why don't the standards accepted in construction work well in virtual reality? Tomasz Andrzejewski - graphic designer, lead artist at Exit Plan Games and, above all, gamer - talks about the mysteries of the video game environment.

Tomasz Andrzejewski

- an experienced graphic designer and designer, hiding the soul of an artist. He gained his professional training by creating such games as Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 and 3 and Enemy Front. He worked on a never-published project at the Warsaw branch of Techland. He is currently co-developing the independent game Bang-On Balls: Chronicles. An avid lover of pop culture and a stand-up enthusiast.

Blazej Ciarkowski
: Let's start our conversation about the relationship between video games and architecture with Vitruvius and his three timeless criteria - durability, utility, beauty. Can they be found in the world of games?

Tomasz Andrzejewski
: If we are looking for timeless and universal values, there is one rule in the world of games: gameplay above all else! Video games are a specific medium. Its basis is the interaction between me, my psyche and the machine, the software. All other aspects, such as sound, graphics, architecture, are just instruments to support this interaction. If the game environment only fulfills the condition of being beautiful, a dissonance can arise between what I see and what I feel. Of course, the game environment should be beautiful in its own way, but the starting point must always be to enhance interaction and gameplay.

Blazej: So functionality first and foremost?

Tomasz: Definitely. Form always comes second. It follows function.

Blazej: And durability?

Thomas: We still know quite little about sustainability in the game world. If we were to talk about the earliest examples of games, we can't go back further than fifty years or so.

Blazej: What if we look at successive editions of the same game, such as the iconic early 1990s Wolfenstein? Can we talk about the longevity of a certain idea, concept?

Tomasz: About the longevity of the game's fantasy? Fantasy is the key word. It's the starting point when I think about creating a game. To summarize a game in one short sentence. So if I had to summarize Wolfenstein in one sentence, it's the dynamic shooting of Nazis. However the theater of this action changes, because from the first version to the latest, the game has gone through a lot of changes in terms of setting, the idea and basic principles remain. The fantasy of the game is enduring, unchanging.

Blazej: The permanence of architecture is also the permanence of matter. Are there games where we can say that despite the passage of years, they play out all the time in the same space?

Thomas: This phenomenon applies to games that are remakes or reboots. A studio takes a game that is twenty years old, makes better resolution textures, improves animations and after many years the "old" game comes back in a new and improved version. An example is Mafia, which is almost twenty years old and has now been re-released as Definitive Edition. There is an evolution going on in the world of video games, which includes, among other things, architecture. It is due not only to the fact that the games themselves are becoming more complex, and we know more and more about how to make them. Wolfenstein 3D was created in the early 1990s, when hardware capabilities were very limited. Almost thirty years later, we have completely different capabilities.

Blazej: So it's like in architecture - fantastic concepts that were completely unrealistic to realize in the 1920s, we could successfully realize now.

Thomas: Yes. Although I'm not convinced that twenty years ago the people creating games imagined what they could become in the future. How wide their range of possibilities would be. The first developers were pioneers a handful of people with a deep interest in a completely new, unknown medium.

Blazej: Tell us, please, what thegame design process is like. I'm guessing that at the beginning there is ascript....

Tomasz: The script should be at the end! [Laughs]

Blazej: So where do we start? From the general concept?

Thomas: It's good if there's any general concept at all at the beginning of the process [laughs].

Mostly it starts with the birth of a certain fantasy. The first thought appears - "I would like to play a game". For many people, the desire to make games comes from the fact that they themselves would like to play something that doesn't exist yet. Sometimes it happens that I create "something" in the technical sense. I start designing something and it turns out that I have created some interesting movement mechanics that look very cool. Around this mechanics(feature), which I see on the screen, the whole fantasy of the game is created.

Blazej: Translating this into the language of architecture....

Thomas: It's like you would suddenly invent concrete.

Blazej: I rather thought of something else. At the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, Jean Nouvel designed a facade that uses the motif of traditional Arab mussarabs and at the same time the mechanics of a camera lens aperture.

Tomasz: Yes. It's recontextualization. I take an idea out of the context in which it existed before and throw it into a completely foreign environment to get something absolutely new. Games can also start from a script. An example is The Witcher, which began with abook by Andrzej Sapkowski. On its pages there was a whole world, there was a specific character ... Thepeople of CD Projekt bought a ready-made engine that could more or less meet their needs. They combined these two things and a game was created , the first part of which was good, the second - better, and the third turned out to be almost a masterpiece. Well ,however, thecreation of the third part of The Witcher began with the search for gameplay! [Laughs]

Blazej: We're talking about the creative process. You say that the genesis of the creation of a game can be the desire to play, the script... What else can be the inspiration?

Thomas: Anything can be an inspiration! I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is!

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 - architecture inspired by Soviet modernism and brutalismSniper: Ghost Warrior 3 - architecture inspired by Soviet modernism and brutalismSniper: Ghost Warrior 3 - architecture inspired by Soviet modernism and brutalism

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 - architecture inspired by Soviet modernism and brutalism

© CI Games

: Tell us a bit about the work on the game itself. Is it in any way similar to the work of a team creating an architectural project? Is there a chief designer, an office head who outlines the vision and passes it on to assistants?

Thomas: There are some games where the figure of the chief designer, the creator, the person who has the vision, is very prominent. Such a figure is Hideo Kojima, author of the Metal Gear Solid or Death Stranding games. There is Peter Molyneux, who did the Black & White series of games. Kojima is a star, he was even a guest on Conan O'Brien's show [laughs]. He has a very clear vision of what he wants to create and is building a team around him to help make that vision a reality. An almost complete picture of the game is being created in his head. From the smallest detail, who the main character is, how he should move, to the look of the game environment, the theater of action. Most games have a game director, a person who takes a course, sets a certain direction and has a vision of the result in front of his eyes all the time. The most interesting games, with the most fans, usually have someone like a director. Of course, his vision is only a certain direction, because in the course of creation he works with people who suggest hundreds of other new ideas. In the context of the things we're talking about, it's worth mentioning the Motion Twin studio from Bordeaux, which created one of the best indie games Dead Cells a few years ago. It's a company you should like [laughs], because it's fascinated by an almost communist approach to game development. It employs about eleven people. The whole studio has an absolutely flat structure, it works like a committee. Every decision is made by voting. To do this, they have created for themselves the right tools - a kind of AI or algorithm, in which everyone participates. If, for example, two employees have a conflict with each other, one of them reports it to the system, and the next system pulls everyone in to participate in working out a solution. Everyone in Motion Twin earns the same amount. The admission of any new person must be voted on by the employees. In the case of Dead Cells, therefore, the game was not the result of one person's vision, but of a committee.

As you can see, games can be made as a result of the vision of one distinct figure, a star like Hideo Kojima, or they can be made collectively, as in Motion Twin. There is no one right way.

Blazej: You say that anything can be a source of inspiration. As the person responsible for creating the game environment, do you often draw on patterns taken from the architecture around us?

Tomasz: While working on Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, which is set in Georgia, I had to explore the topic of Brutalist architecture. My team and I did extensive research on what is interesting and characteristic of the communist-era construction there. Brutalism is one of those themes in architecture that works fantastically well in the gaming world.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3

© CI Games

: Are there times when, walking down the street, you notice a building or an element of a building and think, "This is it! I'll use it in the new game!"?

Tomasz: During the development of a game, the number of problems is so huge that sooner or later almost every architectural element that you have seen somewhere and has become memorable will come in handy. That is, not "I saw something cool, I must have it in the game," but "I saw something cool, I put it in my idea bank." I recently worked on a game called Bang-On Balls: Chronicles. We were preparing a level set during the Viking attack on Britain. It turned out that, thanks to what I saw a few years ago, I can almost instantly recreate the ancient Roman baths whose ruins are located in England. Of course, my approach is quite casual (the game itself is not very serious), but the starting point was the fact that I saw the ruins of Roman baths a few years ago in Morocco [laughs]. Another example is the Sniper I mentioned above. In creating the environment, we moved in the reality of socialist modernism. We recreated almost 1:1 blocks of large slab buildings, along with the smallest details, such as the mosaics on the top walls of the blocks. We checked how they were made, the dimensions of the tiles.

{Image@url=,alt=Bang-On Balls: Chronicles - Roman ruins,title=Bang-On Balls: Chronicles - Roman ruins}

Bang-On Balls: Chronicles - Roman Ruins.

© Exit Plan Games

Blazej: To what extent have you entered the big board technology? If the player shoots, he hits the concrete, which should crack, exposing the reinforcement.

Thomas: In games that strive to be as realistic as possible, we don't so much try to recreate reality as it is, but to give a certain impression. To make the player believe that the world created by us is realistic. If one were to ask the average gamer, "what does a block of big plate look like," almost everyone will mention concrete, rebar. And these elements must appear. To what extent they will conform to reality is a secondary issue.

Blazej: So you were creating a certain idea of a big slab block, not a specific block?

Tomasz: Yes.

Blazej: I had hoped that these were objects from Warsaw blockhouses....

Tomasz: No, they aren't. In general, transferring things from the real world to games doesn't work.

Blazej: Why is that?

Tomasz: We have to think about what is our starting point. Is it the context, the environment in which we move, or the gameplay? Of course, gameplay is the most important. The role of the level designer is to create the context in which the player will move. Only later does the artist (if that's what we'll call the character) introduce elements of the environment, such as a block of flats, a stretch of street and so on. But first there must be gameplay. Introducing gameplay into a ready-made, pre-imposed environment practically never works.

continued conversation on next page

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