Terra Nova has a fascinating read up about architecture in World of Warcraft, and to an extent, all videogames. In the latest Wired (which appeared on my doorstep yesterday), there's a Clive Thompson piece about Halo 3, and in there, he compares creating videogames not to creating movies, but to designing architecture. There are all sorts of challenges in dealing with the flow of self-driven players, and those are directly related to the forms and format of architecture, and you can see that kind of design all over Azeroth. When players grouped around the bank and mailbox in Ironforge, designers spread out both in places like Silvermoon and Shattrath. And as the article Terra Nova quotes makes clear, sometimes Blizzard wants the architecture to work for the players (as in Undercity, where everything is laid out in a circle, with lots of clues as to where things are), and sometimes it wants the space to work against them-- Blackrock Depths is a challenge to get through, which is fitting for (well, what used to be) a higher level dungeon.
Just as we "learn" the places we inhabit in real life, we also eventually learn virtual spaces as well-- tell me you weren't confused the first time someone had to show you how to get to UBRS, and yet now you could probably get there blindfolded, right?
Very interesting stuff. And it brings up one more question: Most players, by now, have learned pretty much all of Azeroth. But eventually (and we've seen this hinted at in the supposed "events" that will kick off the next expansion), the world will change. What if you entered Ironforge one day, and things weren't where you expected them to be?