All the arts are related; modelwork and novel-writing. Both center on making a world in miniature, a false seeming that convinces the viewer/reader of its reality.
Herewith some lessons I took away, and use in my own works:
No matter how good your model is, it won’t be perfect. No matter how much praise you get, no matter what awards you win, you’ll never be able to look at that model and see anything but its imperfections.
The rivets on model cars are badly out of scale. To have visible rivets, they’d have to have heads the size of softballs.
No one counts the rivets on a moving car.
If you suggest detail, the viewer will add his own details.
Therefore, you don’t need rivets.
Painted plastic, painted wood, and painted metal all look the same.
It isn’t a model until you add people. Before that, it’s a clever machine, perhaps, or a toy. Characters bring their own reality, and bring the person looking at the model into the story. Your models tell stories; if you have a car that’s got mud on it, or rust, or scrapes and dents, it has a history. The viewer won’t know what the dent came from, but he’ll know that the car has been places, done things, and subconsciously won’t think of it as something that just came from a modelmaker’s workbench.
All of which applies to making games in general and making levels in particular, of course.
The Making Light post was triggered by this wonderful page with pictures of small model slums, which popped up in various bits of the blogosphere recently, notably BoingBoing. Very nice stuff.