Home Forums General PC and Console Gaming Video games for terrain and scenery

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    Avatar photoRhoderic

    I bought a cheap Xbox One S last christmas. With a few rare exceptions (getting some low-spec indie or retro games to work on my laptop PC) it’s my first time being a proper hands-on video gamer since the days of the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance. I’ve watched a lot of video gaming on Youtube and Twitch in the intervening years, however.

    While I enjoy all the same aspects of gaming that any other gamer enjoys (fun gameplay, cool graphics, interesting stories, lore and worlds, and getting to be part of a cool community – keeping in mind I define “community” selectively to exclude the horrible people), there’s an additional thing that draws me to video games: I use them as inspiration and reference material for building miniature terrain and scenery.

    Case in point: Right now I’m mostly playing Just Cause 4. It’s not GOTY material and I feel slightly silly talking about it when there are other games rightly receiving much more buzz at the moment (see Red Dead Redemption 2), but it’s a fun, solid enough game. What really uplifts it for me, however, is the eminent usefulness of its gameworld for terrain/scenery-building reference and inspiration. It has numerous biomes (I use that term incorrectly, the way video gamers usually do) and each biome has some internal variation in its environments. It also has urban milieus (again with internal variation) and dozens of cool industrial/infastructural/military/scientific facilities. This being an open-world game, I can roam freely, and once I’ve cleared an area of enemies I can study it in detail from any angle I want. I’ve spent hours just studying the gameworld this way. I look at the way they modelled plant life, rock formations, hill slopes, waterways, villages, urban slums, industrial complexes, and more. I intend to return to the game when I’m actually building stuff and need more visual reference.

    Other games I’ve looked at with a similar eye include Skyrim, Forza Horizon 4, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Hitman, Conan Exiles, Sea of Thieves and No Man’s Sky. The last three I’ve never played myself, but I’ve watched them plenty on Youtube and Twitch. Assassin’s Creed Origins is probably next (mainly for the desert fantasy theme), and I’ll probably get RDR2 when it’s cheaper (I’m not so hardcore a gamer as to normally buy games at full price when they’re new – I’d rather save my money for miniatures).

    Obviously there’s a case to be made for studying the real world instead, by walking around outside, poring over satellite imagery on Google Maps, and so on. But I do these things as well, and I still find video games a good complement. To be honest, I consider it an advantage that video game worlds aren’t the real world, but “models” of it, or of some fantastical version/parallel of it. It’s comparable to the way many historical wargamers would sooner use colour plates from Ospreys and similar books as visual reference for modelling and painting their troops, than to collate an image all their own from the original source material.

    Does anyone else do what I do? Of course I’m aware that video games are used often enough as inspiration for figures and model vehicles (particularly in the fantastical genres), and sometimes for rules design. But specifically studying video games for purposes of building terrain and scenery?

    Avatar photoDeleted User

    Stuff I’ve done and doing are heavily influenced/based on Black Desert Online, it has some nice lived in looking areas.
    Other games are Ghost Recon Wildlands, for the variety in terrain. I also like Drakendang The River of time for medieval buildings and town layout, I really like the main town (Nadoret) in that game.

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    Avatar photoDarkest Star Games

    Oh yes, many video games have great material for reference.  Satellite Reign is great for that cyberpunk style skirmish layout reference.  The last THIEF installment works as great inspiration for fantasy cities, as well as for Mordheim and the like.  (of course, there’s also a Mordheim video game)

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    Stuff I’ve done and doing are heavily influenced/based on Black Desert Online, it has some nice lived in looking areas.

    I was just eyeing Black Desert Online earlier today as it happens, it’s recently been made available in Game Pass (I love this subscription service). MMOs aren’t really my thing (it’s the “hell is other people” thing again) but I might just install it purely to study the gameworld a bit, like some demented Linnean Society member rambling about in a warzone. The other players will love that

    I’m also thinking of doing this with Elder Scrolls Online, BTW.


    Oh yes, many video games have great material for reference. Satellite Reign is great for that cyberpunk style skirmish layout reference. The last THIEF installment works as great inspiration for fantasy cities, as well as for Mordheim and the like. (of course, there’s also a Mordheim video game)

    I’ve been interested in the Thief reboot game for the very same reason. I loved the worldbuilding and milieus of the original game, despite the clunky 90s graphics. At some point I want to do a Lankhmar-ish project, and while the Thief setting isn’t Lankhmar, it’ll do more than fine for the purpose of figuring out what a city like it would look like in detail.

    I don’t think I’ve heard of Satellite Reign before, but I’ll have to check it out now. I definitely want more reference material for cyberpunk cityscapes.

    Avatar photoThorsten Frank

    For sure! I´m currently pouring over Borderlands 1 and 2 for terrain that I want to include in my planned 5Parsecs/5150/Outlands mashup. Yes, not new but still good. Also I want to include influences from the Elite games. Maybe I will do include something from the old Hard Nova CRPG. No Man´s Sky is maybe THE terrain generator currently available but the game is sometimes a bit “weird”. But the procedural generated flora and fauna is pure fun. Ever imagined a world where every living being is a bouncing ball? It´s even weirder than the ball alien from the Dark Star movie.

    Darkest Star Games mentioned Satellite Reign which I also closely follow. The Deus Ex games are next in line for this theme.

    A project that lies dormant for a few years now is a Carrier Command/Hostile Waters:Anteus Rising like game using the Horizon Wars rules (Robey Jenkins, I hope you´ve includes some naval rules into the expansion).

    I have used M&B Calradia for a campaign a 7 or 8 ago and plan to come back to it sometimes in the future.

    "In strange grammar this one writes" - Master Yoda

    Avatar photoMike

    Borderlands inspired a lot of my 6mm sci fi.

    Avatar photoRuarigh

    My ideal urban landscape for gaming would be that of X-Com Apocalypse. I love the look and feel of it.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.


    Avatar photoRhoderic

    I’m probably a bit weird in that I use video games not only as inspiration for things that are visually/aesthetically unique to those games (such as the bizarre alien flora in No Man’s Sky, or the architecture in Skyrim which looks like an interesting cross between the 1982 Conan film and the Rohan portions of the Lord of the Rings films), but also as reference for perfectly ordinary things like terrestrial bushes and trees. Hence, for instance, my naming Forza Horizon 4 as one of my sources (it intentionally has a very undramatic, “ordinary life”-looking gameworld, with the partial exception of the Fortune Island DLC which would be great for anyone wanting to model landscapes like the Outer Hebrides, the Scottish Northern Isles or the Faroe Islands).

    I do this in RL as well – staring intently at bushes and trees from every angle – but get enough weird looks from strangers that I try to curtail such behaviour when I’m out and about.

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