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Aesthetics, Art, & Architecture

A map yields much more than Game Play; it forms a comprehensive experience. This includes more than just the competitive experience, and yes more than just the visual experience. Good or bad, full or lacking, a map offers a full spectrum of experience across a player’s senses and emotions. To discuss this topic in detail, we need to begin to understand three key terms – Aesthetics, Art, and Architecture.


At its very core, the term Aesthetics means The study of beauty and the emotions. But forgers use the term Aesthetics in place of the word Art when discussing a map’s beautiful Architecture or Artistic elements. Instead of saying, Your map has great Aesthetics, one should say, Your map is beautiful, or Your map is very artistic.

The emotions that a game can invoke include the emotions that the map invokes, or the emotions that the map supports (or fails to support). In this way the Aesthetics of a map are best understood as how the map contribute to the Aesthetics of the Game Play. In this context, it becomes a study of how the map contributes (or fails to contribute) to the emotions or the emotive context of the game itself.

A Penny Arcade video made by Extra Credits talks to The Aesthetics of Play, in which they study nine emotive elements that video games tap (usually only two or three in a single game) as the reason a player keeps coming back for more. They discuss how a game, through its collective experience from the Game Play, produces an aggregate of emotions that a player enjoys. In this sense it is a study of the emotions that Game Play produces in a person.

The nine include Sense Pleasure, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge (not the same as difficulty), Fellowship (cooperative, teamwork), Competition (games allowing us to express dominance), Discovery,  Expression, and Abnegation (unwinding, not having to engage our brains). Each is, the best that I can describe here, a discipline of emotion. Games provide players with usually two or three of these at a time. For example, Halo multiplayer isn’t a game that provides discovery, because it is an Arena style shooter. But it does offer fellowship and competition.

Aesthetics can be driven through the quality of the visual components (the quality of the unifying and beauty of the Art forged into the map); but it also includes the emotions created by the sounds and music, the mechanics, the team play, the wonder of exploration, and so forth. Aesthetics is the collective emotions that a player feels when playing the game, and only some of what he feels is driven by what he sees. And by now you can see that forgers have extremely limited control over making great Aesthetics – most of Aesthetics are built into the game and cannot be altered.

The sound of Jeff Steitzer’s voice can invoke desired emotions in the context of the Game Play. Imagine for a moment how you would feel during the game if you heard the voice of Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, or Sylvester Stallone? Or of Nicole Kidman, or Demi Moore? Some of those voices may seem attractive, but in the context of the Game Play, they clash, they stand out, they don’t feel like they belong. They create a flaw, a rip, in the painting that we view as the Artistic qualities of the Game Play.

Once you understand that Aesthetics encompasses every sense of the player, you then realize that Art and Architecture are tools of the forger to complete the Aesthetics on their maps. Those are pretty much the only elements of the whole realm of Aesthetics that are under a forger’s control. (In this sense it might be considered proper to use the term Aesthetics in referring to how a forger employed Art in their map, but the term is too broad for me to consider using in this context myself.)


Art is what most forgers mean when they use the term Aesthetics. They are talking about how beautiful a map looks. But when you think about it, you need to step back and look at why a map looks beautiful. Generally it is due to the Architecture presenting itself in a way that people see as unusually good, very pleasing to look at. This is where Art comes in. We can say that the Architecture employs wonderful Art.

At the same time it is important to point out that Art is perhaps the most subjective term one can use as a forger. Art is literally bound and gagged by the adage, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Others may not agree with your assessment of how beautiful your map actually appears.

Every forger has artistic talent in degrees – some far more than others. Art – or how to make beautiful maps – is so subjective, I don’t know if anyone can teach you how to go about creating it. It is something that I feel a forger can only be inspired with.

In a nut shell, beauty makes your map more interesting. If the beauty is found through out the map, then your map is interesting through out. If your map is beautiful only in one corner, then it will be interesting only in that corner. When people play on a map that is beautiful through out, they find it interesting to play on, because of how the map makes them feel.

If you get nothing else out of this chapter on Art, get this point here. People enjoy playing on a beautiful map, because they enjoy how the map makes them feel when all they do is look at it. Can you see how important Art can be?

And while it is also worth noting that a beautiful map that plays good will usually win over a great playing map that looks like nothing more than a pile of blocks, don’t think for a second that a beautiful map that is boring to play on will be taken seriously.

All that aside, Art is expressed most often through the Architecture of structures.


Architecture is what you think it is. It isn’t a subjective term like Art, and it isn’t a wide ranging conceptual term like Aesthetics. It literally is just how structures appear, the artwork carved into the structures, Walkways, etc.

The key thing that matters is unity – that the Architecture of every structure is the same or that they have the same common Architectural Theme that unifies them as one solid Architecture. Likewise, it is important that the Architecture produces or promotes cohesion with the Canvas the map is forged on. You would never create a barn yard map on Impact; and you shouldn’t try to create a space station on Ravine.

Any interruption in an Architectural Theme can make the interruption stand out like trash on a pristine street corner. It almost always breaks cohesion with the rest of the map, making a distraction or even visual noise that consumes the brain processing power of a player who would prefer to concentrate on Game Play. Interruptions or even distinctively different Architectures make you look like you never really knew what it was you wanted to forge in the first place – or you never cared to begin with.

Architectural Theme carries with it more than the Architecture of the structures you forge. It also ties in the layout of the map, the Geometry that defines where the structures are related to each other, how much space exists between structures, how the Walkways connect the Spaces, etc. In some Game Types, like Invasion, it goes even further to include which Race is the defender, and does the structural Architecture present strong cohesion to the defenders’ race? You would never expect to see the Elites defending a Spartan facility, yet you would expect to see Elites defending a Forerunner facility.

It is through a quality and unified Architecture that your map can express enormous Artistic qualities that can add tremendous value to your map.

Implementing Art

I can only share how I go about forging Art into my maps. I would never tell you what steps you should follow, because I believe everyone works a little differently.

I begin by playing around with blocks of various kinds, trying to achieve the right combination of skins to form some type of structural Architecture that I can spread through out the map.

Once I get the idea of what I want the Architecture to look like, I then go about creating the necessary Geometry for the map size and Game Play I want. I do this while implementing the Architectural Theme through out. It is during this phase I learn if I have enough blocks, what kinds of trade offs I must endure, and if the Architecture remains fully unified through out.

After this, I optimize the structures, looking for replacement blocks, or eliminate blocks, to maintain split screen performance. And while this may seem like a minor issue, it is critical in how the final Architecture will turn out.

Eventually I have a map that I try out and see if it plays well and is well received for a variety of reasons.


Aesthetics is far more than Art, and is the wrong word to use when discussing the quality of a map’s Art or Architectural theme.

To achieve quality Art on your map, you need to have some artistic talent and you need to have an eye for what people will enjoy looking at.

To achieve unified Architecture through out your map, you simply need to be disciplined never to interrupt the Architectural theme.

It is my opinion that anyone can create any Geometry, but it is the Art behind the Architecture that is the real burden on the forger.