The hyperrealist reconstruction of the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral by the developers of Assassin's Creed Unity. Credit: Ubisoft

  • Innovation


From futuristic scenarios full of fantasy to hyper-realistic constructions, the most popular video games have also become an ideal platform to conceptualize authentic urban wonders. Able to recreate the reconstruction of Notre Dame in detail or build a colony on another planet, developers and even users test their imagination using similar tools to the ones used by architects.


In April 2019 a fire devastated a large part of Notre Dame Cathedral. The flames devoured the timber spire and two-thirds of the vaults and roofs. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, was quick to announce his intention to rebuild this church, a symbol of the European capital, within five years. While architects from all over the world shared their proposals, others wondered if the key to the reconstruction might lie in the background of a video game: Assassin's Creed Unity.

The developers of this action-adventure title spent 5,000 hours reconstructing the cathedral in virtually every detail. On the advice of historian Andrew Tallon, they used a laser scanner to achieve the most realistic reproduction of the monuments of Paris.

The Notre Dame cathedral is just one example of the architectural wonders found in this video game, which is characterised by recreating key urban structures and historical periods. From the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Giotto's Bell Tower in Florence to St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge's Palace in Venice. Other sites include the Colosseum and the Pantheon in Rome, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and the pyramids of ancient Egypt.

From mythology to hyperrealism

Like Assassin's Creed, many video games have surprising architectural and urbanistic ideas. From the buildings with a touch of Nordic mythology in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to others with real-world inspiration like those in the contaminated area of Chernobyl in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

The buildings of Red Dead Redemption 2 also stand out. In this video game the user plays the role of Arthur Morgan, a member of a band of outlaws that tries to seek refuge in the mountains because they are wanted by the authorities and bounty hunters after a failed robbery. As the game progresses, which takes place in the southwestern United States in the late 19th century, players can observe how the nation is built from its foundations. The protagonists begin to leave their mark on the Wild West, reflected in the creation of the first settlements and the construction process of the increasingly sophisticated houses and buildings.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt stands out precisely because of its complex and fantastic structures. In this role-playing game, the sorcerer Geralt of Rivia embarks on a long journey through the northern kingdoms. He fights constantly using his magic and swords in a medieval setting. Among other architectural gems in the video game, the castle of Kaer Morhen, the city of Novigrad and the home of Anna Henrietta are particularly striking.

The journey through the northern kingdoms of the sorcerer Geralt de Rivia in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is enriched with fantastic structures such as the castle of Kaer Morhen. Credit: CD Projekt RED.

The new architects of the virtual world

Behind all the examples mentioned are the video game developers. But on many occasions it is the users themselves who are the architects of true urban wonders. Both architects and gamers use similar tools to conceptualise virtual buildings with a user-centred approach.

Thousands of users have honed their architectural and design skills with The Sims. Among the most remarkable creations in The Sims 4 is Gingerbread Coffee House2, a coffee shop with Christmas decoration whose construction is inspired by the classic gingerbread cookies. By comparison, The Magic Mushroom Bar is a pub full of neon lights in which the umbrellas on the terrace look like giant mushrooms. And there are also those who have chosen to recreate a piece of Greece in their virtual city. Santorini Greece boasts white houses with their classic blue roofs surrounded by a small canal.

The different structures designed by players of No Man's Sky are also eye-catching. This game allows you to build futuristic and colourful bases on different unknown planets. Once there, there are those who create everything from small buildings to complex colonies of planets.

As opposed to more imaginary scenarios, there are also gamers who opt for hyper-realistic constructions. In Minecraft there are many places built with exquisite detail, bearing a striking resemblance to reality. For example, one can find football stadiums like the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, churches like the Notre Dame cathedral or historical monuments like the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel tower or the Parthenon.

This large cube with more than 36,000 different materials is located in the Fortnite video game, which incorporates the Playground Mode that allows players to develop amazing creations like this. Credit: Fortnite

Building construction as part of the game

There are also some creations that stand out for their originality, from hanging houses that take advantage of the verticality of a mountain to incredible ice palaces. And some can even have repercussions in the real world. Block by Block is a UN project whose objective is to receive ideas for construction projects from gamers with which to carry out urban development projects in countries such as Sweden or Kenya.

These types of constructions are also present in the trendy video game: Fortnite. In 2018 the popular multiplayer game from Epic Games incorporated the Playground Mode to its Battle Royale, which allows players to practice and test their building skills. Thousands of gamers use both this alternative and the game's Creative Mode, which allows them to create maps with almost no resource limits, to experiment. There are no limits to one’s imagination. Among the most surprising creations is a large cube with more than 36,000 different materials, large fortifications, castles, pyramids, towers and even an incredible replica of the Titanic.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

  • Tungsteno
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