Embark — our continued journey

This has been a special year, to say the least.

Patrick Söderlund
Nov 12, 2020 · 5 min read

As individuals and as a collective, the global pandemic has required us to adapt.

While it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve been so impressed to see our teams adjusting and keep having fun despite the circumstances. We’re continuing to work on the things we have set out to do, and the studio keeps growing (we’re now close to 200 people).

What’s more, the importance of games as a medium has never been more palpable. During these strange times, games have helped us retain some sense of normalcy — a way to enjoy ourselves, pass time, hang out with friends. As a group making games for a living, we consider ourselves lucky.

As we’re now continuing on our journey, it’s time for an update on where we are, what we’re working on, and where we’re heading.

Some of you have reached out to ask me about some job ads that we have posted, for game-makers with first-person-shooter experience. What’s that all about? So yes, we have begun the development of our second game, and yes, it’s a PVP shooter.

To be honest, I thought I was done with PVP-shooters having worked on them in one form or another for almost my entire career. But a while back, some of us here put together a small pitch that was too irresistible to ignore.

Character concepts from our second game, a team-based PVP shooter.

It’s a concept that leans heavily into team-based gameplay and puts dynamism, physicality, and destruction front and center. Some of the industry’s most experienced first-person-shooter developers are with us here at Embark, and if you think working with them on a new project sounds like fun, you should take a look at our open positions!

We’re also continuing work on our first game, the one we first mentioned to you back in February of 2019. This spring we moved into what’s referred to as production in game development speak. That means we’ve moved beyond prototyping, into a phase where all the things we create are done so with the game we intend to launch in mind.

Our ambition with this game is to combine new and old genres with groundbreaking technical innovation, into something unique and consequential. And now, coming to a point where all this work is starting to manifest itself as a real game, is really exciting.

In-game captures from the UXR-build of our first game (made in Epic’s Unreal Engine) that we’re now testing with people outside the studio.

The next step is to get our first taste of outside feedback. We’ve been doing in-studio testing of the game every day for well over a year. Over the past few months, we’ve also been working on our first so-called UXR-build — an early, unfinished build of the game that we’re putting in front of people outside the studio to gather feedback and insights.

Working on our first games as a new studio, we’re adamant about rethinking how we go about development.

Traditionally, the biggest chunk of time in game development is centered around simply producing and polishing game assets. For large AAA games, this is painstakingly tedious, involving a lot of manual and boring work, and a big reason why burnout and crunch is such a prevalent problem for the industry — especially nowadays when games are live and always updated.

To solve this in the long term, we need to become smarter about the way we build games.

Right now, there’s a combination of technical breakthroughs happening in tandem, in fields like proceduralism and reinforcement learning, that will lead to a big shift in how we’re able to create and scale game content.

Our procedurally-aided and non-destructive character pipeline tool has significantly reduced the time it takes for us to create and iterate on in-game characters.

Our ambition as a studio is to make use of these breakthroughs and remove as many of the tedious, manual tasks from our own workflows as possible. In certain areas, like hard-surface modeling or character creation, our artists are now able to create content in days, where it used to take weeks, by applying procedural tools.

We want to show you all what this looks like in practice, in everything from environment art to animation. So stay tuned for more on this in the weeks to come, kicking off with an upcoming post on our approach to content creation from my colleague and Embark co-founder Rob Runesson.

Lastly, let’s briefly touch upon the work we’re doing with our game creation platform. It’s the project that I probably get the most questions about, and one we frankly haven’t talked extensively about yet.

Over the past years, we’ve seen the emergence of experiences that start to blur the boundaries between making and playing. I’m thinking of game creation platforms like Dreams or Roblox, or sandbox games like Minecraft. We’re seeing elements of this appearing in established franchises too, like Fortnite with its Creative sandbox, and in indie-games like Baba is You.

It’s really encouraging to see all these developments. It’s obvious when you think about it, that allowing anyone to create sharable interactive experiences, that are played with others, is the next big frontier for games. But we think there’s much more to do in this space than making the editors we know and recognize more simple to use.

So since the day this studio was founded, we’ve been attempting to re-think how games are created, so that anyone can do it. We’re exploring ways for players to be in worlds, and play with them— ways for players to effortlessly and intuitively change rules, creatures, and possibilities.

Obviously, building an experience that enables this is a big endeavor. A lot of our work so far has been focused on laying the groundwork for our engine and platform. If you’ve followed our progress, you might have seen that we’re open-sourcing some of our work to add capabilities to the Rust ecosystem, on which we’re basing this platform (starting with things like physics, dependency management, and shaders).

Next year we plan to release a preview of our work so far — to gather feedback, and to further our work with the community. If you want to chat with Embark devs, open-source contributors, and other gamedev or tech enthusiasts about all of this, head over to our Discord.

Finally, a shoutout to our team. Embark consists of the most talented group of people I have ever worked with. I’m awestruck, every single day, at the things I see from them, and I can’t overstate what a special place this studio has become.

Embark Studios

Embark Studios is a Stockholm-based games studio, on a…