Analyzing dynamic vision in urban environments with the aid of game technologies

Dynamic vision refers to a person’s visual perception of the environment when the person is in motion. Pedestrians naturally have dynamic visual experiences, the aesthetic qualities of which may modify their walking and seeing behaviors. Architectural and planning researchers have long discoursed upon the phenomena that some well-designed urban environments afford satisfying dynamic visual experiences and hence induce positive environmental meanings. Despite the subject’s significant design relevance, existing design research literature offers few practical methods for assessing a designed space’s dynamic visual qualities, let alone incorporating dynamic visual evaluation in the design process.

I propose a Simulated Dynamic Visual Analysis Model that enables architectural and planning designers to simulate and evaluate pedestrians’ dynamic visual experiences about designed environments. The model utilized 3D game technologies to accomplish real-time visualization of dynamic views and synchronous collection of massive visual and numerical data. At the core of the model is Downtown Explorer, a 3D role-playing game that the author developed in Unreal Engine. The game can automatically document lengths of multiple Lines of Sight (LOS) within the human character avatar’s Field of View (FOV) while synchronously collecting other relevant visual and numerical data. The research model possesses considerable methodological advantages for advancing dynamic visual research and expanding its utilization in the professional practice of architecture and urban design. Further explorations applying the model will help develop more sophisticated understandings illuminating the ecological nature of dynamic vision that manifests complex person-environment reciprocity.

In Downtown Explorer, users can control a human character avatar featuring third-person and first-person views to move within a fully visualized 3D urban environment. By default, Downtown Explorer automatically loads a sample digital environment after startup. The sample is a digital replica of the eight-block area of downtown Watertown, South Dakota, with all streets, sidewalks, buildings, and vegetations visualized in high-quality 3D graphics. Users can choose to unload the sample and load any other digital environments saved in FBX files. The Graphic User Interface (GUI) of Downtown Explorer provides a console menu for data collection and visualization settings. Users can set up the time interval for data collection, decide whether to collect both color views and depth views, toggle an overlaying user interface widget showing visual depth data, set depth view style to be grayscale or heatmap, and set the time of the day for day lighting. The menu also allows users to load FBX files and save or load game records of specific character location and time of the day.

Leveraging on real-time 3D game technologies, the Simulated Dynamic Visual Analysis Model is a first attempt to conduct dynamic visual research via digital simulation. It offers a practical approach to fathom the complex temporal-spatial dynamics of visual forms as perceived by pedestrians in the city. The Model possesses several unique strengths: efficient synchronous data collection, computational data analysis procedures, and diversity in the formats of analysis outcomes. For environmental design researchers, the Model helps overcome some ostensible methodological challenges, simulating immersive, dynamic vision in real time, and managing multi-dimensional research data. The Model’s digital automation features improve not only efficiency but also research qualities by purging extraneous subjective influences from researchers or participants. For practicing architects or planners, the Model prescribes a functional evaluation-in-design solution for assessing formal design proposals’ potential affordance of favorable dynamic visual experiences. Downtown Explorer can conveniently load and import 3D design data. Applying the Model requires minimal prerequisite research knowledge and skills. These merits would encourage designers to address dynamic visual experiences in design. Furthermore, designers can substantially involve clients and end-users in the design process by inviting them to be research participants, therefore actualizing a user-centered design agenda.

Download Link for Downtown Explorer:

Demonstration Video for Downtown Explorer

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