Genius Loci

By Rob Dwiar

A grand tour of video game landscapes and gardens

Sunday, 17 September 2023

Layers of landscape history

It’s been a busy couple of months but recently my mum gave me, two friends, and their parents a tour of the grounds of Audley End House. The house and grounds were a staple of summertime day outs for us as a family with it being just down the road from where I grew up, and I remember learning about the place at school, but having mum share her expertise from many years of working there, shone new light on the place.

The grounds are most famous for being one of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s designs and that version of the landscape is the one that is still the most ‘visible’ today. But, like many stately homes of a certain age, it’s just one of its many layers. There are so many layers at Audley End, going all the way back to pre-Roman times, into medieval times with a monastery, and then through all the distinct layers and changes that happened since the Tudor period and onwards.

Being able to see parts of these layers and how each has guided the design and development of the grounds and the house adds to the sense of place Audley End has, as well as the landscape character - as well as adding layers of landscape use and function.

It’s a little difficult to instill that layered sense of a place having such layers in games - more often than not these are relatively static places, isolated in their own time and setting. But capturing that sense of history is still something that the virtual landscapes of games can do - and sometimes you get a chance to see the landscapes we know today being made in games, or experience a part of a place’s history that you just can’t in the modern day real world.

The Assassin’s Creed games are, typically, with their historic settings, the best for these kinds of windows into places’ historic layers. I have spent dozens of hours exploring the Renaissance world of Assassin’s Creed 2 and hundreds (literally) of hours enjoying England and Ireland in the 9th century (something which we have very little knowledge about landscape-wise), for example.

I have very high hopes for the next in the series, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Mirage, too. I’ve already seen a few hours of this game, and its setting of 9th-century Baghdad looks to be beautifully realised. I can’t wait to explore more of it, experience a historic place and time, and hopefully spot some brilliant Islamic gardens too. Such places are perfect for Genius Loci, and including them in the book will be an excellent way to celebrate them.

Thanks as always for your continued support, and please do consider further pledges, and spread the word - I can’t commit those celebrations of such great landscapes and gardens to the book until we get to 100%, after all!

All the best for now!

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