Video games have played host to some of the most imaginative cityscapes in entertainment, and that’s what the new book Virtual Cities digs into.
Hitting the virtual streets
From author Konstantinos Dimopoulos, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Virtual Cities is a book unlike any you’ve seen before. It might not seem that way when you read the description, but it’s a different breed.
Yes, there are books out there that get into locations, settings, and more in big fictional worlds. In fact, there are a ton of them, and the genre (if you want to call it that) is very well represented on my own bookshelf. I’m a pretty big fan of the format.
But Virtual Cities differs greatly from all of what’s come before. So why is that? Well, because Dimopoulos is a PhD and trained urban planner. The writer’s experience with city layouts lends itself perfectly to a book like this one.
As you’ll see though, Virtual Cities isn’t a dry dissembling of the fantastical. Actually, it’s the exact opposite of that, giving real-world rationale and understanding to cities that would be unlikely and in some cases impossible in the real world.
A real look at faux worlds
One of the first things that you’ll notice when you crack open Virtual Cities is that it’s got a fantastic scope. The book loads up with some of the biggest locations in gaming. And I mean there’s stuff from throughout almost the entire history of gaming.
Clocking in at 209 pages (plus the index), the book has a total of 45 cities listed. These run the gamut from Beneath a Steel Sky’s Union City, to Starcraft’s Tarsonis City, to Skyrim’s Whiterun. And while there are a whole mess of big names included, there are also a solid deal of smaller releases.
Yes, for every Arkham City (Batman: Arkham City) there’s a Lizard Breath (It Came From the Desert). As you can imagine, some of these locales you might not have heard of before. But each presents an interesting chapter in Virtual Worlds, and each one gets the same treatment from Dimopoulos, which is to say he goes as deep as possible on all of them.
Laying out a deep dive
Layouts for cities each include a number of elements. When you flip to a city, you’ll see a “General Information” section that includes real-world data on the town. That shakes out to be publisher, developer, year of release for the game that the city is in, etc.
Past that is the meat of the section. This is a thorough look at the ins and outs of the city itself. In the case of The Witcher’s Novigrad, that means it’s features, both general and specific. For Novigrad, Dimopoulos goes into the placement of the city itself, and it’s defenses, as well as getting into the societal makeup.
And finally, you’ll find the “Design Insights”. Here Dimopoulos gets a little more technical with things, showing readers a side of their favorite cities that they might not have even thought about before. As a quick example, in Resident Evil 2’s Raccoon City, did you ever think about the physical construction of stuff like the police station, which makes little sense in reality. Though he also adds that Raccoon actually feels like it existed before the T-Virus ran amok, an achievement.
All of the above is framed by artwork, but you won’t find standard imagery of Deus Ex’ NYC, handed over Eidos for use in the book. No, instead each entry has original work from artist Maria Kallikaki. It’s pretty unique stuff too, especially for a book like this one, presenting a watercolored look at computer generated worlds.
Also worth mentioning is that there are some nice maps too. Those come courtesy of Vivi Papanastasiou. There’s quite a scope to Papanastasiou’s work here too, with extremely varied maps appearing from chapter to chapter..
A quality build
Another great element to Virtual Cities is its build. Frankly, it’s excellent. A hardcover book, Virtual Cities has a nice sturdy feel to it. It’s not a gigantic book, so it should make itself at home nicely on a bookshelf.
The interior is even better, with heavy stocked pages that pop the art and text perfectly. Colors are nice and bright, and there’s a terrific contrast of the “Design Insights” cutout (a vivid red) against the white pages. Of course, that carries over to the text as well, making Virtual Cities an easy read.
If you’re planning on thumbing through this book from time to time after reading it, which I pretty much am, then the quality of the design and construction is an even more welcome bonus.
Look, Virtual Cities is a nice book. It’s not one that will appeal to every game fan, given its subject matter and content. But if you fall into the target zone of its audience, then I think it’ll grab your attention quite well.
It’s surprisingly deep in parts, very well put together, and comes from someone who actually takes these fantasy worlds seriously, and knowns what he’s talking about while dissecting them. How often does that happen?
A copy of Virtual Cities was provided by The Countryman Press for review
Virtual Cities: An Atlas and Exploration of Video Game Cities
Release date: November 10th, 2020
Publisher: The Countryman Press
Written by: Konstantinos Dimopoulos, with art from Maria Kallikaki and Vivi Papanastasiou
MSRP: $30.00 USD