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Vivek Melwani, Chair of the Department of Game Software Design and Production at DigiPen Singapore, was recently featured on Going Places, the online magazine for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore. In the interview, Melwani talks about the various video games that have featured Singapore’s skyline over the years and how game designers go about mapping a virtual city.

Melwani explains why game designers focus on game mechanics rather than realism when it comes to drawing maps of cities or designing virtual versions of famous landmarks. He poses the question, “What type of interactive experience are you trying to give the user? From there, you can then design the environment, or a city in this case. [You] have to design around the experience you want to give the player.”

Depending on the type of experience you are trying to make, Melwani says, you may opt for less realism or more realism in your games. For instance, in examples of “applied gaming”, which focus on using virtual reality as a tool to help plan for the real world, recreating a city block down to the pixel can be vital. “For example, someone can simulate, say, an earthquake in Singapore,” Melwani says, “We can create that within the game and programme people with artificial intelligence to react in a certain way.” Making sure the virtual city matches the layout of the real one is integral to designing a valuable simulation.

Ultimately, students have to know the audience they are designing a game for, especially when it comes to deciding whether to opt for realism or abstraction in city design. “You have to be good at mathematics and computer science obviously, but when it comes to designing cities, you have to become cartographers and city planners to create a realistic and immersive world.”