Triskell Interactive » Buildings size in a city builder

Buildings size in a city builder

04 Jun 2018
by Sinsem

Ok, I know the title isn’t appealing at all but this is an important part of our design process and I’d very much like to share it with you.

It may come at a surprise for some people but the actual size of each building serves a larger purpose than just “Oh it’s big it must be important”. After all it is buildings built near one another that form the shape of your city. It’s a major part of how your city feels.

Here are a few cities from the old Impressions Games. And more than the style or the art direction, look at how the sense of scale is different.

Now, how do we decide the size of each building and why?


First of all we have standards. The main standard is the road. The road is a one tiled element. Nothing is smaller than a road. In fact in Lethis – Path of Progress II 1*1 elements are only used to convey things (walkers for roads, and steam with the pipelines).

There is only one exception and it’s for decorations (If you play the first Lethis – Path of Progress you know we made a lot of decorations of all sizes). It’s the player’s wildcard.
I could also make the argument that decorations convey appeal, but that wouldn’t be fair.

There is another important standard and it’s the size of the houses. For PoP II, we decided that every house in the game would be 2*2. No more mansions and no going back to the old beautiful but chaotic Pharaoh’s system where houses range from 1*1 to 4*4. Every building we’re going to add to the game now will depend on these two standards.

With that in mind let’s dive in what we need to think about when deciding the sizes of our buildings.

Grid Density

Every building needs to be connected to a road in the game. That means that the size of the buildings is an important factor of the Grid Density. If all our buildings where 1*1 or if all our buildings where 2*2, our grid would look like this and it would be pretty boring.

Adding buildings of larger size, and the ability to fill up the void with decorations allow for diversity, and let us play with the grid density. Even if you lack the imagination to do something else than rectangles, the game will already be visually more interesting.

Screen Presence

Buildings are not equal, some you’ll build often and others you don’t. The main thing you’re going to build is the house. And you’re mostly going to build houses together.

– They should not be too big (hence the 2*2)

– They have the highest screen presence

Houses evolve in our game, it’s an important tool to solve the diversity problem we’re going to have due to that screen presence.

But some other buildings you don’t build that often, take for example the theater in the first PoP. It’s a 4*4 building so it’s pretty big.

But you only build it once in a neighborhood and you only build it when your houses have already reached level 5 out of 10. The chances that you build a pack of 15 theaters side by side are very low. Although as everything you suspect won’t happen during gameplay, it happens. Pro tip: never underestimate your players.

Still, the idea is that this is a building that is not going to repeat itself, and that has little to no chance to stand next to low level houses, we chose its size accordingly.


Each building has meaning. You don’t build stuff just because, every time you decide to build something it serves a function. What’s important here is to have a coherence between the size of the building and its function. It doesn’t mean that all building serving the same function have to be the same size. But it means that you need to have a reason to have two building serving the same function having a different size.

Here is the well in PoP II. It’s the first service building your houses will need in order to evolve. It’s a 3*3 building, like most of the buildings that will provide direct services to the houses.

Now, why do service buildings are 3*3? Well, let’s look at it:

– Grid Density: service buildings are built near houses, having them at a different size that the house allow us to play with the density

– Screen presence: you only need one service building for each neighborhood, so we can make it bigger. But the well is the first service building available and you’ll see it in every neighborhood from the start, so maybe not too big

Of course some service buildings will be bigger, but we’ll talk about that another time. 😉


One of the fun challenge of isometric 2D is that something big in front of something small can create a lot of problems. So once our building has its size in tiles, we need to think about how tall it will be. Because massive 5*5 buildings could prevent you from seeing a lot of what happens behind.

Here’s a smart design from the first PoP, with the abbey. A huge 5*5 building that looks massive but at the same time hide as little as possible behind itself.

In Lethis – Path of Progress II, weintend to allow you to see through buildings just by hovering the mouse over, which will make the problem a lot less painful.

Gameplay specificities

In both PoP games, steam plays an important part, and you have to connect buildings with pipelines, which can be quite problematic in term of visual design if the connection was possible on any adjacent tile. That’s why when we developed the first game, we made sure that steam buildings were odd-sized so they would have a center to connect themselves to the pipes. Here’s the 5*5 steam condenser.

Smart isn’t it? That’s a brilliant and simple idea to solve what could be a major problem or an ugly visual mess. Well…


To be a 100% honest with you I have no idea why we made these two even-sized. That’s hell of a design failure on my end.

Monuments and unique buildings

What makes a monument a monument? It’s big, it stands out from the crowd, and there is only one in your entire city.

We determine a size limit. Below that limit, buildings are common and above it, they’re unique.
This mean that the steam condenser will come in a bigger version in Pop II for example.

We also allow ourselves to make them tall, despite me telling you a few minutes ago that that wasn’t a good idea. Having a set of rules is a good thing, knowing when to break them is better.


Because, and I’ll finish on that, that’s exactly what this is: a set of design rules we decided to use to make the games. It won’t resist development there will be exceptions, but it helps us going where we want to go. These are not rules just for the sake of it, they serve a design purpose. How do we want the cities in Lethis – Path of Progress II to look and feel?

And if size does matter a bit, this is certainly not the only things we have in mind when designing buildings: color, material, animation and many other fun things that are invisible to you when you play but are so important to think about when designing a game experience.

Thank you for reading and as always do not hesitate to share and comment on this blog. Subscribe to the newsletter to never miss a post and if you want to reflect further on the subject you can join our community on Discord and debate endlessly with us, we’d be more than happy to take you in!




  • Momo on June 5, 2018 at 11:12 am Reply

    Salut !

    Quelque retours pour ce sujet :
    Je pense qu’il serait judicieux de ne pas mettre que des bâtiments de forme ” carré ” (2×2, 3×3, 4×4), mais comme le lavoir dans PoP1 (2×4) ou encore même s’amuser à coller une forme lavoir (2×4) + une forme maison (2×2) (soit un carré 4×4 – un carré 2×2 par exemple)
    Avez-vous songé à mettre des bâtiments dépendants de route ? (style square, kiosque, pavillon de pharaon, les lieux de divertissements)
    Ou des bâtiments ne pouvant être construits que sur un certain type de case (style les points d’eau/puits de pharaon (terrain herbeux) les fermes dans tous les jeux (ferme ou élevage de bestiaux, j’aimais bien l’idée de zeus, mais c’était gourmand en place) ou selon le chaotique feng-shui de empereur)

    Pour ” voir derrière les bâtiments “, je ne peux que trop vous conseiller de, lorsque l’on passe en mode construction (soit 75% du temps), faire apparaître chaque route même si elle est obstruée par un bâtiment (faire passer la route en ROUGE fluo pour qu’elle se voit bien, et en priorité SUR chaque texture, même si y’a le condensateur à vapeur de PoP1 qui gache la vue ! :p ) —— On peut même imaginer ” rogner ” les textures qui dépasses des cases quand l’on passe en mode construction (ça permettrait de voir derrière les monuments —– On peut aussi penser à mettre un gros sens interdit rouge (comme dans stronghold) quand le bâtiment n’a pas accès à une route (ou non liée au reste de la ville) qui apparaitrait 1 minute après la construction dudit bâtiment (pour que a choque l’oeil qu’un bâtiment soit pas lié à une route et qu’on n’ait pas la mine de cuivre construite depuis 200 ans mais auquel

    Dernièrement : c’est presque hors sujet, mais je préfère grandement un système de construction à la pharaon (où chaque pierre est posée une par une) au système de PoP1 (où apporter les marchandises apporte visuellement des automates supplémentaires jusqu’à ce qu’il y ait un changement majeur de texture et que tous les automates disparaissent)

    • Noodle on June 5, 2018 at 7:39 pm Reply

      Merci pour ces retours !
      N’hésites pas à passer sur notre Discord, nous y avons un chanel dédié aux suggestions des joueurs.
      Il est évident que certaines “erreurs” commises dans Lethis I ne seront pas reproduites dans le II.
      Nous allons utiliser au mieux le moteur Unity à notre disposition pour améliorer globalement l’ergonomie du jeu.

  • Aryo on June 4, 2018 at 11:48 pm Reply

    How about road visibility in more advance stage in the game? In the first game, I felt the road was obstruct by the buildings so I can’t see what’s happening.

    Something after long playing and buildings things you just want to know what you have achieved by looking at the whole map. And seeing busy street was my way to know that the cities I build is a live. Seeing that little people walk was very calming. But I can’t see them in the first game when in advance stage of the game. That’s what makes me stop playing. I felt the cities just buildings with no people. It felt empty.

    I really hope the next game can give me the same feeling when I played Sierra’s game just by looking at the street and see people walking from all over the place.

    • Sinsem on June 6, 2018 at 1:28 pm Reply

      We’re working on solving this problem 😉

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