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  • Writer's pictureJamie Wilkes

Architectural Visualisation in the Age of Game Engines

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Game engines have been around for many years and were originally created for the purpose of producing 3D computer games. There are a number of game engines available, Unreal Engine and Unity are the two most popular and I’d say Unreal is currently winning that two horse race.

Back in the late 90s, Epic made the Unreal Game Engine available to the gaming community, so that they could create their own levels for the Unreal Tournament game. It was Epic's intention that this would increase the lifetime of the game, keeping it fresh, exciting and new, as a result driving sales and increasing profit.

The editor proved so popular, that independent game makers then started to use the game engine to create their own games, Unreal Engine then took on a life of its own.

Since the beginnings of the profession, architects have used 3D sketches and hand drawn perspectives to share their ideas, and in the last few decades we have used 3D CAD rendering software to generate photo realistic images of our proposed schemes.

In recent years the gaming and architectural professions have collided, the architectural profession is now seeing the benefits of using game engine technology to showcase their unbuilt designs.

I’m often met with looks of confusion when I first talk about game engines in architecture, as at first they seem opposite ends of a spectrum. One is about death and destruction and the other is about beauty and creation. But when you turn the guns and bad guys off, it leaves you with a fantastic platform we can use in the architectural profession, to go on a virtual tour and explore our unbuilt buildings. Allowing us to understand our designs from within and as a result make better design decisions.

At Resolution Studios we have chosen to work with Epic’s Unreal Engine, which is often referred to as Unreal or just UE5, and those names are used interchangeably. In the last year, Epic have released the newest version of their engine and this has been labelled as the game engine to generate the games for the next generation of consoles. So what we are seeing currently from this software is only scratching the surface, as hardware capabilities improve then this engine has more to offer. This really is exciting times for people in the architectural visualisation industry, as what we currently see is pretty good and it will only get better.

Why would we use a Game engine in our industry?

For me, the key benefit of a game engine is its speed at generating 3D graphics.

Unreal uses computer trickery to simplify and speed up this process, they can generate frames at a phenomenal rate and they are pretty good quality too. These frames can be exported and used in a cinematic animation, a real time environment or even used for a VR experience.

It’s not only the architectural industry who are experimenting with these tools, they are being used by the automotive industry and also in high budget TV series, such as The Mandalorian.

So, if it's good enough for baby Yoda, then it's certainly good enough for us!

Prior to using the Unreal Engine, we would be relying on our usual architectural 3D software to render the frames for our animations, this was a slow process and would take hours, which could quite easily run into days. However, if we did the same project using Unreal to generate our frames, we could export a cinematic quality animation in minutes, not hours, as a result saving time and resources.

Waiting for pixels to render, is a thing of the past!

If I was to give you an analogy - The difference in speed is like comparing today's super fast broadband, with dial up from the 90s!

However game engines are capable of so much more. The nature of a 3D game is to let a player explore a 3D world and have a unique experience in real time. But what do I mean by the phrase Real Time? Real time means the viewer can move around a 3D environment freely and look in any direction, as a result the frames the viewer/player sees on screen are generated on the fly, or in real time.

Game engines also allow us to interact within this digital environment. A good example of interaction with our design could be experimenting with different wall colours or viewing different floor finishes, enabling you to try out various design options before making a final decision. As a result giving your design team, tenants, buyers or end users real choice before any design decisions are made or work commenced on site.

We can take this a step further, we can have multiple layouts / meshes or show different furniture types, allowing the viewer to experiment with different designs freely and in their own time.

The options really are endless.

Taking this 3D content one stage further, means it doesn't just have to be viewed on a PC monitor.

In recent years as processing power has gone up, the cost of VR headsets has come down and Virtual Reality is a great way to display our 3D content.

Those of you, that have used VR will appreciate how amazing this experience can be, you are literally going from looking at a scheme on a monitor, to being part of it.

If you haven't tried a Virtual Reality head set and you get the opportunity, then do give it a go.

I believe we will see more of VR going forward, as it's the perfect tool for our industry, no need to look at plans and elevations and imagine anymore, you can literally step into a design and experience it.

That first moment you pull on a VR headset, really is a WOW moment. Virtual Reality experiences are pretty good now, but over time this will improve.

They will become:-

  • Faster

  • Smoother

  • And even more realistic

To run a virtual environment like this, you don't need any expensive industry specific software.

The 3D model will be packaged as a standalone application, making it easy to distribute the files, much the same as a game would. It will run on a decent spec PC and obviously a headset if you choose to display it in this way.

But, we could take this to another level, I’m sure you're all aware of multiplayer games, using the same technology, why not meet your fellow professionals in a digital representation of the project?

This 3D model is now a collaboration tool.

These tools exist, so it's not completely out of the question.

I believe there will come a time when we don't use Zoom for our virtual meetings.

But instead, we congregate in a 3D digital version of the very building we are meeting to discuss.

As the old saying goes

  • Good

  • Fast

  • Cheap

You can choose any two!

But I believe using Unreal you can deliver to your clients on all of these fronts.

It’s Good - A high quality 3D image is made up of a combination of:-

  • Lighting

  • Materials

  • 3D Geometry

  • Camera work

Unreal offers all of these aspects and a skilful technician can generate top quality graphics.

It’s Fast - Unreal engine renders out images, far more quickly than conventional 3D software.

And it’s Cheap

Epic took the decision to gift their game engine to the gaming community, making it available to all for free.

As I said earlier, architectural design and gaming may seem a million miles apart,

but when you break it down we’re not too dissimilar.

  • We want responsive graphics, with high quality materials

  • We want a stable system, that can cope with highly detailed models

  • We also want it to handle accurate and dynamic lighting solutions

  • And of course, we want all of this fast!

Game engines can do this and they can do it really well.

For those who were curious at the start of my blog, I hope I have influenced your thinking, that once we have disabled certain gaming features, we can all agree that, game engines really are a game changer.

This technology offers us a fantastic platform that the architectural profession can use to help us to design better schemes, as a result we can then deliver better buildings.

About the Author

Jamie Wilkes has worked as a 3D visualiser and has over 20 years experience working with 3D CAD in the architectural industry. He is now owner and director of Resolution Studios, a 3D visualisation firm based in Halesowen in the West Midlands.

Starting out as an Architectural Technician, Jamie worked on a number of commercial and residential schemes, producing CAD plans, elevations & sections of buildings. After completing his Masters in Digital Architecture Jamie then followed his passion for 3D & took a role as a full time 3D visualiser working mainly in the leisure sector.

Resolution Studios was established by Jamie in 2008 and has since provided 3D visualisations, animations and interactive imagery for planning applications and marketing developments in many sectors throughout the UK and abroad.

Do you want to be making use of the latest tools and technology with your next project, if so then please get in touch and we can see how we can work together.

Email me at or 0121 674 40 20

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