Meet The Makersː Maps

Maps are not just features of the game, they are the game. The worlds our devs create are the foundation of every moment in THE FINALS. Listen in as Joakim, Senior Environment Artist, and Midas, Level Designer, talk about building maps in THE FINALS.

Originally aired on June 14th, 2023. Meet The Makersː Maps


[Intro Music Plays]

Dusty (00:12)

Welcome to Meet the Makers, our interview style podcast on all things THE FINALS. I'm your host, Dusty Gustafsson. During our second closed beta, we assembled two members of the dev team every day to help dig into specific areas of the game and answer questions from our Discord community. Today's topic is maps. Maps are not just features of the game, they are the game. The worlds that our devs create are the foundation of every moment in THE FINALS and 95% of what the players see and experience. A good map might only take a few minutes to traverse from one end to the other, but it will provide hours upon hours of fun. Today I have with me Joakim and Midas. Welcome, guys.

Joakim (00:56)

Thank you very much.

Midas (00:56)

Thank you.

Dusty (00:58)

Joakim is the senior environment artist for THE FINALS who joined Embark back in 2020. And Midas is a level designer for THE FINALS. He's been at Embark for just shy of two years. So, Joaquin, kick us off and tell us what you do as the senior environment artist for THE FINALS.

Joakim (01:17)

Yes. So as an environment artist building maps for THE FINALS, I pretty much do everything that you see in the map. So anything that comes to architecture, anything that comes to terrain, anything that comes to assets, so more or less all the beautiful stuff that you can experience in our maps, of course, it comes with a lot more than just making it beautiful. It's a lot of about optimization, polishing, listen to the feedback, co-opping with level design as well. So, yeah, there's a lot of different things going on. And of course, as a seniors as well, it's a lot about planning and making priority stations and tasks for everyone else in the team as well. So that's what I'm doing currently. And of course, working very close to meet us as a level designer where we constantly having discussions and talks about how we can make the best possible maps there is.

Dusty (02:20)

Awesome. And Midas, what's a level designer and what do you do?

Midas (02:25)

Obviously, like Joakim mentioned, we work together a lot and he's obviously together with all the other environment artists making sure that the maps look as amazing as they can. And obviously they're doing a really good job. And the level designer's job is really to make them play as varied and balanced and interesting and most importantly, fun as possible. I think that's kind of alongside all of the things that Sticks have mentioned, we obviously have to think about performance and making sure that everyone is working in the same direction. But yeah, it's very much about the player experience and making sure that we make sure all the playstyles that we want to have, they can be played in the maps. And we want to make sure that people have exciting stories to tell when they finish the match. They're like, I jumped off this thing and I went there and it's like, cool. Yeah, we thought about that. Or sometimes we didn't think about it, and we're like, oh, that's actually we should do more of that.

Dusty (03:30)

Well, it sounds like collaboration between the two of you is really key.

Joakim (03:34)

Yes, for sure.

Dusty (03:35)

All right, let's take a look at some of the questions that we got for you. Povich, our Discord Darling asks what locations we look for when creating maps in THE FINALS, both from an esthetic standpoint, but also from a gameplay perspective. So, Joachim, let's start with you. THE FINALS is a virtual game show featuring recreations of iconic real world locations and what makes a location iconic and unique from your point of view.

Joakim (04:07)

There's a lot of things, of course, that makes it unique. I would say that the places that we pick or something that we find kind of exotic, it could be maybe a place that you've seen. Maybe it's a place that you heard of. Maybe it's a place that you really want to go to, or you might have been there as well. So maybe it's a place that you want to visit. By either even playing our games, it could be like, you get super excited, like, oh, I've heard about this place, I've seen this place. I've always wanted to go to this place. And also what Tomita say, also being able to tell a story about this place. And of course, there's a lot of those places around the world that you've seen in movies that you visited. And I think that's kind of like what we're trying to create with this game as well.

Joakim (05:07)

And since it's a virtual world, it's a game show that travels around the world as well, that allows us to actually go to different places around the world, which is super exciting, and that allows us to maybe it's places that we never been to and we can look at and see, like, oh, this is really cool. From a visual point of view and from a gameplay point of view, where it's like, oh, this provides a lot of interesting gameplay. And it also looks, you know, the combination of those two find, it's like, that's an iconic place, for sure.

Dusty (05:31)

And Midas, we know that Seoul and Monaco are very different in terms of what they play. Like, how would you describe the gameplay differences between these two maps?

Midas (05:41)

That's a really good think. You know, one of the things that we made Monaco first, and Monaco has been our darling for the last three years, I think. And so we've been working on that for a long time. And Monaco is very much kind of like an urban jungle where you'd kind of run in and out of buildings or over rooftops and stuff like that. And we had a lot of that kind of close quarters combat going on. And I think for Seal, we wanted to look at what can we do with verticality and how can we maybe make the routes that players take a bit more predictable? Because Monaco is quite porous is what we would call that. And Seoul is a bit more streamlined. And so I think those are the main differences that we wanted to chase. And one of the things as well, they wanted to do was kind of, how far can we push destruction? How big can we know? We made like, a giant mall and stuff like that. And the hospital, that was also for us to just kind of go out there and explore even more possibilities than we'd seen already in Monaco.

Midas (06:41)

So every map is kind of a new exploration in one direction or another.

Joakim (06:46)

Yeah, and we want to create that contrast for the player, too. It's like some people might think that a certain thing plays better or like they have their favorite playstyle. If we were to make the same map over and over again, after a while, that would just no points. No, exactly. You would need that variation. And then, of course, there's going to be certain maps that certain people like more because it's a specific kind of gameplay. And that's what we want to do. We want to create that variety both visually, but also from a gameplay point of absolutely. And Monaco. And Soul does that. You have that contrast, for sure.

Dusty (07:26)

All right, I'm going to throw in a random one here. Maybe it's like picking between your two children. But if you had to, what's your favorite map?

Midas (07:38)

Wow, that is like picking our children. I mean, the thing is, Monaco already existed when I got here, and I was mostly looking over Seoul when we were building it. So it's like I'm kind of comparing my adopted child to the one that I conceived of. Honestly, it depends. It's exactly what you say about the playstyle stuff. I love a flamethrower, so Monaco is a lot of fun. You can get up close to someone without them really kind of seeing you that far ahead. So in that sense, I love Monaco.

Joakim (08:10)

Yeah, but then you might be biased because you also built Seoul, and it was know, is this the one that I like, or would I was going to say at really? I loved Monaco, and I had a trouble just like traversing Seoul, but I didn't know the space at first. But then after a while, when you get into like, okay, I understand the space, and it might just be that know, falling off sometimes. But I think now I must say Seoul is my favorite, I'm liking it more and more. So good job, Midas.

Dusty (08:43)

Oh, you sorry to make you pick.

Joakim (08:46)

We love them all.

Dusty (08:50)

And when you're looking at upcoming locations, are there forms of gameplay we have yet to tap into?

Midas (08:56)

I mean, absolutely. I think the thing is with maps is we always try and kind of figure out a new angle for Seoul it was about verticality and the predictability. And I think there's a lot of kind of playstyles that we'd like to maybe elevate a bit more in future maps. I know the structure and that kind of tactical destruction is something that we've been looking at, but there's so many avenues. This game is quite complex and there's so many different types of gameplay that you can get out of a map.

Joakim (09:27)

Yeah. And especially since it's set in this game show event, there's so many possibilities that we can do and in so many different kind of maps that we can create as well. So it's not that it needs to be a specific location or a specific way we can create a map in so many variations and still make an interesting space, for sure.

Midas (09:48)

There's a freedom there. Yeah, it's quite cool. We try and stay a little bit grounded when it comes to these things because there's so many other things in our game going on already and it's quite cool to have that baseline, but that doesn't mean that we have to be like we always talk about. We don't really say realism. We talk about believability. We want to make things feel believable. That doesn't mean we have to make the Eiffel Tower be exactly like the Eiffel tower. If we need extra stuff there, then we can add that kind of but we shouldn't be doing crazy, crazy changes that combine.

Joakim (10:18)

I mean, we, you know, the... we built two maps so far, and and I think now we're trying we've we found the recipe of what a good map for our game is. So we have some kind of baseline that we need to, you know, the distance, the space, and, you know, the amount of players that will play be in our game, modes and stuff. So we can't create, like, huge maps, because that wouldn't make sense with the amount of players that we have. So we have some kind of rules that we need to follow, but within those rules or that baseline, we can do whatever we want.

Dusty (10:52)

And this question is from Tyler oops. I need to reread it. And this question from Tyler is a favorite of mine. Tyler asks if the destruction in THE FINALS has presented any unique challenges for you. THE FINALS has completely destructible environments, and I imagine that impacts things like cover sight lines, traversal, and where we place objectives. So this question is for both of you. Did you have to unlearn stuff to create our maps to cater for all of the dynamism and destruction?

Midas (11:21)

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think especially for shooters. And traditionally, there's a lot of things that in previous projects that I worked on that I just can't use here. One of the things that's quite obvious with destruction is in a lot of regular games, you see a wall, and we can make that just solid, and we can make you not go there in our game, however, you can just burst through it. So we have to make what's behind the wall make sense. Right. And I think that has a lot of ramifications. When we were working on sill, when we built the buildings at the start, they were quite accurate to real life. We even had, like, toilets sit there at some point, and it became quite obvious quite fast that all that extra space that usually is just kind of shot off from the players adds a lot of complexity. So we're fighting in the building, and we're like, he's in the toilet, and it's like, which one?

Midas (12:21)

That's just five stories worth of toilets. So we had to kind of relearn how to guide players and how to also kind of work destruction into our philosophy. I think the thing that was really cool about is that because destruction adds so much complexity, it also adds a lot of potential for players to shape the environment through their will. And you have to kind of sometimes keep spaces quite simple, and then over time, that will just become super, super complex. And for us, that meant that our maps kind of we can trust that at the start of the round, we respawn the map like it's just the base map. And so we put a lot of effort in making that kind of a really big potential kind of gameplay have a lot of gameplay potential. And that's the kind of stuff then that players can then react on and play towards. And it's not something that I had to worry about before as much as I have here. But it's really cool because it's like, you're kind of making the map together with players.

Joakim (13:17)

Yeah, exactly. And then at the same time, the destruction system that we have in our game is so procedural and dynamic. It's not something that we would have to set up, like, manually every little thing. But that also means because we try to make it as accurate to reality as possible, like, you have weights to things, you have health, like, how hard is a material, like concrete or wood? So we kind of become architects where we have to think about structure in a building. Like, if you have pillars that would support a certain area. So first, when we're starting to build things, it's like the old school way that you would do it. It's like, oh, I just put some walls in, and then a floor, and then that's it. But then you realize...

Midas (14:02)

Press play and the whole thing comes down!

Joakim (14:03)

Yeah, you need to have some things holding this building up. Like, pillars need to be supporting beams and all that kind of stuff that you also need to add.

Midas (14:14)

We watched a bunch of architecture videos just to kind of understand. Okay. Real life skyscrapers are built with, like, a skeleton, and it holds the thing.

Joakim (14:23)

Oh, there's a reason why they build it that way, its not just coincidence. So that's kind of like the way that we need to work as well, which is super fun and challenging, for sure.

Midas (14:36)


Dusty (14:37)

Okay, I have another question, and I think it ties into what you were just talking about. This one is from Jeremy, and he asks, why isn't there more variety inside the buildings in Monaco?

Midas (14:49)

I mean, that's literally kind of the thing about the complexity. I mean, Monaco houses are really quite small. Obviously, we've tested quite a bit with different setups there. And I think for us, one of the things that I think was rightfully pointed out not too long ago is that all the Monaco houses are quite similar in buildup, but that actually makes it quite easy to learn Monaco. If every building, every room was like its own thing, you'd have to learn, like... how many houses do we have? 30 houses. Exactly 30 houses. So we try to kind of keep that complexity down, because with destruction, every time someone blows a hole in a wall, that's a new angle you have to cover. And if we put a bunch of stuff in the way already, it just adds up really fast.

Joakim (15:36)

And with the pacing of our game as well, it's like you have to make decision so fast. You enter a space, and it's like, oh, am I going to go left? Going to go right, and am I going to go up here? And then if you have to stop and think of, like, oh, wait, should I go into this room before I hit this room? And then the toilet is there, and then you're already dead. So that's why we kind of like to what you're saying before, keep the things as simple as possible, because we know after the destruction and all the layering...

Midas (16:01)

There's going to be so much rubble laying around.

Joakim (16:03)

Yeah, its complex.

Midas (16:04)

And we also we learned from Monaco because Seoul is already built slightly differently, and we've gone back to Monaco a little bit already for this kind of stuff. And so just because we built it one way now, we're still kind of figuring out what's the kind of level of complexity that we can afford with our pacing, with our destruction. There's a lot of aspects to this that are quite exciting to kind of still be uncovering and improving on time, for sure.

Dusty (16:34)

Pavel asks if we plan to change our maps over time. That is how we plan to use player feedback to balance, optimize, and change our maps.

Joakim (16:44)

Yeah. I mean, that ties into what you were saying.

Midas (16:47)

Yeah, absolutely. We're already doing it. The difference between now and closed beta one, we've been using a lot of data and a lot of feedback from closed beta one. I think the biggest point was people falling off the skyscrapers in Seal. I remember us when we just went live for CB One. We were watching a bunch of streams, and we just saw people spawn and run right out of a window unto their deaths. And we're like, oh, no, we need to make sure that we fix this. And so we've been gathering a bunch of feedback and data, and we got heat maps, which are, like, top down overviews of the maps that we can see. Like, oh, this is a hotspot right here. Many, many people fell off the building and died. We need to fix something there. We need to do something there. So it's definitely a process, and it's something that is actually really fun. It's really fun to work with the community and get some ideas, because we're like a team of 100 people, maybe, and we play test every day, and we make sure that we get the best thing going. But to get them this external, kind of enormous group of passionate people that then bring you all this feedback.

Midas (17:47)

You're like, oh, man, that's some really cool ideas. And we totally didn't see that problem as big of a problem as it actually turns out to be. So there's a lot of things, and even for the art side.

Joakim (18:02)

Yeah, for sure. I mean, there's always room for improvement. And I mean, as a live service as well, once we go live, we need to have that mindset of being able to change things quickly and listen to the feedback and improve things, instead of just like, now we're not going to deal with it, move on to the next things. Now we actually have opportunity to change things and improve things over time, which is awesome. And then working together with the community and the fans and being able to have more inputs to it together with the heat maps and everything.

Midas (18:32)

And sometimes we don't fix the map itself. We actually take the learning onto the next map. So sometimes it's like, no, that's just what Monaco is. Monaco is this kind of jungle of close quarters action.

Joakim (18:44)

Yeah because that was one of the goals.

Midas (18:46)

Yeah that was the thing that we set out to do there. And if players are like, oh, I'd much rather like the things that we see in Seoul, like, okay, well, maybe the next map will have a bit more of that ingredient than a bit less of this. Or actually more of it because people really love it. That's the cool thing. We're not just tied to the maps that we currently have. There's probably more maps in the future. I don't want to say anything, but y'know.

Dusty (19:11)

Here is a question that we have received a lot, and I think that probably listeners right now are also having this question. And even I am considering a change in career after this conversation. But how and why did you get into this craft? And do you have any tips for listeners out there who are interested in environment, art or level design?

Joakim (19:33)

Yeah, I was really interested into photography at first, and I at the same time was playing a lot of games. And then I heard about this school that actually had a course into graphics, or graphic design. And then I was like, oh, maybe I can try that out. And I did, and I was like, oh, really hooked into it as well. And instead of me just taking photos of the environment, it meant that I can actually create the environments for myself and come up with these spaces myself, which was really cool and creative. So I did that and then I joined this very small little studio. We're doing mobile games, platform games, and that was really fun as kind of starting point, but I always wanted to work on some bigger projects. So I applied for a company in England and we were working on the Crysis series, and I played the Crysis games before, and I was like, oh, yeah, this is really cool to be able to actually play one of the or work with one of the games that you played before. And then I was doing that for a little while and then I was like, well, I'm from Sweden. There is actually some game companies in Sweden as well. And I applied for DICE, so I started to work on the Battlefield franchise, which was again really exciting because I've been playing Battlefield games when I was younger as well.

Joakim (21:11)

So now I was actually creating multiplayer maps for the Battlefield franchise. Amazing. And then eventually I had this dream to be able to work for a company called Naughty Dog, who's doing Less of US because I was a big fan as well. So I actually took a little detour to America for a couple of years working on the less of US franchise. That's quite different than working on multiplayer, but I learned a lot. And then this company started and some of the colleagues that I used to work with at Dice was here already and they were like, oh, we're building this new multiplayer game, and they pitched it and I was like, oh my God, this is amazing. So I moved back to Sweden and now I've been here for three years and it's really cool and exciting. Yeah, so that's kind of the path that I've been taking.

Dusty (22:12)

Yeah, that's quite the path.

Joakim (22:14)

Yeah, it's been a journey. It's been a couple of years. It's only been a couple, few years. And I was like, no, it's been like twelve years now.

Dusty (22:21)

Time flies!

Joakim (22:23)

When you're having fun, time flies. Yes.

Dusty (22:29)

How about you, Midas?

Midas (22:31)

Yeah, I mean, I didn't even know video games as a job. I thought video games just happened magically. I think when I was younger, I accidentally did some level design. I was playing, I think, Far Cry Two, and that game came with a level editor and I booted up and I was like, oh, I can just place some stuff down, like trees and stuff like that. And I think the worst level in existence for me and my brother, which was like this hill. And I would spawn on top of the hill, and he would spawn at the bottom of the hill, and I'd give him a car to give him some hope, and he'd drive up the hill. And at the top, I had also put for myself a grenade launcher. And he'd just be driving up, I'd be shooting him, and he'd be exploding. And that was the whole level. That's all I did. And that's like, oh, that's really fun. The time I spent on that didn't really feel like I was actually doing anything. Like I had to do it. It was just a lot of fun. And then a couple of years later, my brother actually, he got me towards a university that did video games.

Midas (23:27)

And I think in the second year, we had a course in what was called level design. And I was like, what's this level design? I completely fell in love. That's the first time in my life my homework didn't feel like homework. And ever since, every single course I had from then on, I was just doing turning into level design exercise, just figuring out, how can I make this a level and do that? And then, yeah, I got a job working at a small indie company, and then I worked at Guerrilla Games on Horizon, Zero Dawn. And then I moved to England and I worked there for five years on a bunch of shooters. I think the most familiar one, maybe for folks, is, like, World of Tanks and a bunch of stuff that's not announced yet, even. And then I got into contact with a friend from England who'd moved here to work at Embark, and he was like, hey, you're looking for level designers? Like, I'm a level designer. And the project sounded really cool, so I was like, I'll move to Sweden and join these folks working on THE FINALS. And, I mean, when I got here, there wasn't really a level design department.

Midas (24:29)

So that was a whole new experience as well. Kind of going from level design department to level design department to being like, make the level design department. And yeah, working together for the last two years. Crazy exciting. We have so many new level designers now I'm surrounded by my people.

Joakim (24:47)


Midas (24:52)

That's kind of how it started for me. By accident, really. And then I just fell in love with Sweden.

Joakim (24:53)

Yeah, with Sweden and me.

[All Laugh]

Dusty (25:12)

Thank you both. Now, let's end this with a surprise egg mint to honor our glorious spokes egg, the Nama Tama, as well as to continue the great tradition here at Embark of telling terrible, terrible puns, I invite each of you to shell us an egg joke.

Midas (25:34)

Oh, I got a terrible one.

Joakim (25:35)

Yeah, go ahead.

Midas (25:38)

What does Nama Tama do when it sees the frying pan?

Dusty (25:43)


Midas (25:44)

I forgot the punchline again.

Joakim (25:47)


Midas (25:48)

Scramble. Yes, that's the one. There we go.

Joakim (25:51)

You always crack me up. And you're always eggs-aggerating as well.

Midas (25:57)

Exaggerating. Exaggerating. Magnificent. I love it.

Dusty (26:02)

It's so painful, you guys.

Midas (26:04)

We were made to do this.

Joakim (26:06)

Exactly. Not forced at all.

Dusty (26:09)

All right, that is all for today's episode of Meet the Makers. Thank you so much for listening. If you're hungry for more, please join our Discord community and make sure to play THE FINALS when it finally releases.

Joakim (26:21)

Thank you very much.

Midas (26:22)

Thank you.

[Outro Music Plays]

Smashel Was Here

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