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Taking Building Modeling to the next level with Game Engines

Bringing spatial data into a gaming environment like Unreal is more than just cool — it gives you a competitive advantage. Here’s why game engines might be the perfect way to share building designs.

When designing and modelling facilities, it’s important for stakeholders to be able to collaborate effectively throughout the full project lifecycle. Good visual presentation of data is important because it helps everyone understand it in greater detail. For this, we have an exciting new option: anyone can explore and assess a building or landscape as a character in a real-time game environment.

In industries like architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) and facilities management (FM), building models are often created in applications like Autodesk Revit and 3ds Max. Other times, data is represented in GIS, point clouds, raster images, or a combination of several sources. Regardless of format, it’s possible to integrate all of your real-world data and bring it into game environments using FME.

  • A game engine is a set of tools that developers can use to build a video game. It handles rendering, physics, collision detection, and more, which means the developer doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel for all the gaming essentials. Examples include Unreal Engine and Unity.

While bringing real data into a game environment was previously considered a cutting-edge ‘wow factor’ idea, today it’s very possible, accessible, and often a competitive advantage. Let’s look at the reasons why this is a great idea and how you can try it yourself.

Exploring a building in Unreal. CAD floor plan imported to Unreal Engine using FME.


Advantages of bringing real data into a gaming environment

Allow stakeholders to understand the full extent of the dataset. As opposed to clicking around a design file or 3D model on the screen, they can virtually experience how it feels to be there – adding a ‘time’ dimension to the data as they walk through and explore it in a virtual setting. The game can render materials, relative sizes, and various properties of each component of the data model, rather than storing those details as technical metadata.

Better design communication and collaboration. When a design team wants to share the design with the client, it traditionally means sending over a subset of information, either as a presentation, a PDF or image document, or a raw file like RVT, IFC, DWG, or COLLADA. This means the client has a limited ability to collaborate on the design and to fully understand the fine details of the data model. By allowing them to view the data in as rich an environment as possible, the team is helping them to understand the designs and sign off on plans. It doesn’t get any better than immersing them in an interactive virtual world! Here’s an interesting paper from 2015 that dives into the idea of BIM design communication via gaming engines.

Better quality control. Errors are reduced when all stakeholders are able to explore the dataset at every phase in the project life cycle. Plus, exploring a virtual model helps everyone see what works and what doesn’t in the design, possible errors, and discrepancies. It’s easier to spot errors in a virtual world than on paper.

Understand every step of the project life cycle. A paper from the 2019 ASCE International Conference on Computing in Civil Engineering found that stakeholders have difficulty understanding the relationship between initial cost and life-cycle cost, and they were able to help them visualize and understand it by rendering the BIM dataset in a game environment.

Virtual site visits. Teams don’t need to go to a site in person when it’s inconvenient, unsafe, or impossible. They can explore it virtually as a character in a game environment.

Easy sharing. The game world you generate is surprisingly shareable, allowing for anyone to access and explore your dataset. With Unreal, you can send the game to the client via a .exe file that they can open to launch it. Other gaming engines can also be shared via a URL that can be opened in a web browser, or another easily shareable file package.

Learn more about data integration for AEC


Getting started: Rendering your data with a game engine

You can integrate basically any data and bring it into the Unreal game environment using an FME data integration workflow. In FME, you use transformers to set up scenes, layers, actors, assets, and properties, and convert your data to the .udatasmith format. Then you build the world and generate a game, and you’re ready to open Unreal and explore your dataset! Regenerating the virtual world with an updated dataset is just a matter of running the workflow again. Even sharing the game is easy, since you just package up and send the executable. Learn more about bringing your data into Unreal Engine using FME.

For demos and a step-by-step guide, watch our webinar about how to bring your BIM, CAD, and GIS data into Unreal Engine.

Exploring an IFC building model that was imported to Unreal using FME.

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