Various Uses of Landmarks in Level Design

This post is adapted from a section of a previous essay I wrote for a University assignment; ‘How Have Level Designers Adopted the Spatial Considerations of Architecture Theory?’

In this post, I shall be discussing the architechtural and urban usage of landmarks, and the ways in which level designers have used them to enrich their game worlds.

Landmarks in Urban Spaces

In ‘The Image of the City,’ Kevin Lynch discusses how urban unvironments are comprised from five unique components, one of which being Landmarks. In the real world, landmarks take the form of large, distinctive structures that people can refer to when navigating through a city, as a sort of spatial anchor. In some instances, these landmarks may be visible over great distances. An often-cited example are the weenies found within Disney parks; the large, castle-like structures that ground and attract park visitors.

Landmarks in Games

Video games can use these large structures to similar effect, acting as a physical reminder of the player’s ultimate objective. Paired with the use of Denial and Reward, a technique proposed by architect Matthew Frederick, landmarks can be used to indicate the passage of time and the player’s progress through the game. Here, the player’s view of a landmark can be temporarily hidden through different means, like turning a corner or entering a covered building. Upon emerging, the landmark is revealed, but is now closer to the player. The player’s progress through the level immediately becomes more tangible.

The perfect example of this tool in action is Thatgamecompany’s Journey.

The technique doesn’t have to be used solely for distance however; a centrally-located landmark can be used in the same vein as Disney’s castle or The Eiffel Tower. These ‘spatial anchors’ can be cross-referenced with the player’s place in a game environment.