I am planning out a fictional game city. Based on the gameplay and story I have decided on several locations which will need to exist. I'm wondering though to what extent I need to take zoning into consideration when planning everything out. For example, there is an industrial area with processing plants, but there is also a residential area fairly close to this.

It is my understanding that industrial areas need to be a certain distance away from residential areas due to health concerns. This varies of course based on many factors, but I'm wondering to what extent I should be considering this when planning out the city. The game in no way requires realistic city planning, but for the sake of not making it obviously unrealistic I'm wondering if there are any rules of thumbs when planning this.


best way to create something realistic is to take your time and simulate the evolution from the original settlement. It'll also create some historical background for the city.

You can look for historical maps of cities of the type you want to create. Track the changes and try and reason why they happened and if you need something similar to yours.

City layouts are heavily influenced by the main mode of transport at the time they are first built. In old European cities the main mode of transport was on foot and carriage for long distance which means that industry will be close to the residence of the people working there. In the modern US preplanned towns the main mode of transport is by personal car. This allows a greater distance between the residence and the place of work and more distinct regions for residential, offices and processing plants.

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When developing games, gameplay considerations usually trump realism. Also, there are technical limitations and development resource constraints which limit what you can reasonably achieve.

For these reasons, even the largest open world games still condense cities down a lot. Landmarks and zones are usually far closer together than would be reasonable in the real world. This reduces the player's travel time (gameplay consideration), reduces the amount of city which needs to be created by 3d artists and mappers (development resources) and keeps the amount of data within reasonable orders of magnitude (technical limitations). It also leads to a far richer game experience when the player experiences something new and relevant at every street corner than when they take minutes traveling through copy&paste environments. Quality of game content is usually far more important than quantity.

But you should still try to make different areas of your city look and feel different. Industrial, upper-class residential, lower-class residential and office zones have very different aesthetics, so you should avoid mixing them too much. A good method to separate zones is to use some kind of physical barrier between them. Possible barriers are:

  • Rivers / canals
  • Railroad lines
  • Broad highways
  • Parks
  • Cliffs
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Great points. While researching, I was studying the Mafia 2 map and found most of the industrial areas (Westbank Steel, Warehouse and Storage, Scrapyard etc) were on the city outskirts, away from all residential and commercial areas. This is only one example but it seemed quite realistic to me. For example wouldn't it be strange to place a steel mill in the cbd center even if it was beneficial to gameplay? Map: brandongamer.com/archives/mafia/downloads/map-v1_7-m2.jpg \$\endgroup\$ – FrontEnd Dec 5 '16 at 14:26

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