The video game Fortnite Creation brought together a global audience of millions with a simple proposition: gaming allows players to create virtual spaces and easily experience them with others. It’s the multiplayer digital version of a sandbox, or the equivalent of a pile of Lego bricks that anyone in the world can come and stack.
It’s all fun and games. But it’s also the kind of accessible building and design tool that has relevance beyond playtime. Increasingly, the technology behind Fortnite and other video games are adapted for use in the very real world of architecture, urban planning and development.
Ken Pimentel, head of architecture industry at Epic Games, is focused on bringing the company’s video game visualization engines – the entry-level Twinmotion and advanced Unreal Engine – into the world of architecture. These tools are used to transform digital models and drawings into 3D virtual spaces that can be augmented and adjusted in real time.
Like the video games they’re typically used to power, Twinmotion and Unreal Engine can transform an architectural model into an easily navigable 3D environment that people can access, often with little more than a web browser. Adding video game elements to architectural design means people can even adjust designs and see what those changes look like in real time.
For designers, the tools make it possible to create highly visual representations of projects very quickly. The technology dramatically increases what Pimentel calls a design team’s “assumptions per hour.”
“The more what-if scenarios you can explore in the same amount of time, the more creative and efficient you’ll be,” says Pimentel, who previously worked for architecture software company Autodesk. “You can make decisions in real time, and you need the visual details to support that decision making.”
It is a useful way for architects to develop their designs, both in collaboration with clients and the public. In the UK, a project is underway to build and upgrade dozens of railway stations across Britain. To involve the public in guiding these designs, the UK Design Council is using Twinmotion technology to power an online and in-person interactive design process that allows users to manipulate 3D models of a prototype station, adding features and modifying layouts.
Unlike more traditional audience participation processes that involve gathering feedback and ideas and then waiting for designers to try them out, this method allows audience members to configure designs and see how they change to fit. immediately under different conditions. The process is used to guide final designs.
Another project using Epic Games technology is the renovation of the Canadian Parliament complex in Ottawa. Led by architecture firm HOK, the decade-long rehabilitation project uses the Unreal Engine’s real-time visualization tools to create a sort of video game version of the project showing exactly what’s going on at all times.
Intended more for internal use by design and contracting teams, the digital version uses 3D models to create a detailed digital twin of the project, with high-resolution graphics showing structural details and interior finishes. Incorporating scans of the construction site and IoT sensors in the building, the digital model made in Unreal Engine provides an almost live view of the project.
“It shows a realistic representation of what’s actually going on in some of these rooms,” says David Weir McCall, head of architecture marketing at Epic Games. “It allows for an honest conversation around the space and how it’s developed.”
These projects are just the beginning, according to Pimentel, who expects this kind of real-time modeling and visualization to be used more widely in the architecture industry in the coming years. Commercial licenses for Twinmotion start at $499 and individual licenses for Unreal Engine are $1,500.
Pimentel says Epic Games recently worked with the American Institute of Architects to showcase the technology to about 60 different architecture firms, showing off the real-time design and feedback these gaming-centric tools make possible. He expected 10 firms to express interest in integrating the tools into their practice. About 40 did.
The fact that so many people are familiar with these types of visualizations in the context of video games could change expectations when it comes to presenting architectural designs. Pimentel says applying the immersive nature of video games to architectural projects is a natural pivot. “We offer experience,” he says. “This is something unique possible with real-time tools.”