Thinking of Berlin it is often its sheer size of it that comes to mind first. Secondly that it is a fantastic place for skateboarding. A huge scene, as diverse as it could be, and tons of spots scattered on 900 square kilometres. Map maker GyOm_XL has taken it upon himself to condense Berlin's most iconic spots into a map for Easy Day Studio's "Skater XL". A project that has gotten incredible feedback of the community and even to the non-gamer, his dedication and attention to detail won't go unnoticed. Against our initial believe that GyOm_XL, whose real name Guillaume Galante sounds like an Artist's alias in and of itself, must be the nerdy type - he actually turns out to be an outdoorsy multi-talented dude with strong ties into the skateboarding world.
Who is GyOm_XL in real-life?
I’m Guillaume, originally from Paris but moved to Berlin 6 years ago.
What’s your personal background in skateboarding, design, photography?
I’ve started skateboarding back at the time when you had to download illegally Menikmati or The End and hope for the best it wasn’t something else. I was around 10 and got to be part of the Paris skate scene. I never really saw myself getting sponsored or doing contests, so I picked up a camera to shoot my friends. Turned out they were good so I was able to document the local skaters that are nowadays part of Converse, Supra or Carhartt teams. Being surrounded by so many creative people in the skateboarding world, I naturally got interested in graphic design and right after my studies got to work for some design agencies. Once I’ve moved to Berlin I transitioned to UX design and now designing mainly mobile apps for tech companies. Skateboarding, photography and design are all part of my everyday life.
What made you start building maps and especially take on this ambitious project?
I’ve never really been into video games, always thought it was not really my thing, I usually enjoy exploring the outdoors. However, when the pandemic started becoming serious in Berlin, around March 2020, I convinced myself to boot up an old PC I had in the corner of my flat (it was really dusty) and gave a try to this new skateboarding simulation game I had heard about. I probably played the game for a week, it was still in beta at the time, the controls and realism really felt natural as if I was actually on a board. I remember coming back from a session at Pappelplatz, frustrated because it started raining. When I reached home I thought “Maybe I continue the session in the game”.
When did you start building this map, how long have you been working on the map, is it finished or still evolving?
At the beginning, I just wanted to reproduce “Pappelplatz”. I had no idea I would start a 6 months journey to recreate all the Berlin skate spots I knew. It was started early April 2020, i worked on it next to my full time job, so mostly weekday nights and weekends. I’ve now been able to create 26 spots from Berlin, which is crazy when I think about it. I still have many more spots I want to add but I’m currently focusing on other map projects.
What is the process of building a detailed map like this?
It all begins early morning around 7-8 am, with me biking to the spot with my camera and sometimes a sound recorder. The reason I go in the morning is that the sun is not set so I don’t have strong shadows and the light is great, also most people are not out yet, especially during covid. I take pictures of the chosen spot from various angles first to gather reference images. Then I get really close to everything to take pictures of textures (ledges, floor, walls, bins, ...). In some locations, I even recorded some ambient sounds. Once I’m done, I always enjoy skating the spot on my own. It also helps, later on, to remember if that ledge was high or low. This is the exciting part, then all the rest is in front of a computer. I use these reference pictures and google maps to get an idea of scale and positions when modelling the spot in Blender. Once I have the spot modelled, I move on to textures. I’ll skip the technical aspect of it, I basically project all my texture pictures from the spot onto the model itself, that part is a true pain to go through. Once I have my model with the textures on it, I move on to Unity, the game engine Skater XL uses. This is where I work on the light, sun and shadows and add the sounds. It starts to look much more like the real-life spot at this stage. The last part of the process is to indicate to the game what is grindable on the spot and what sound to launch on each surface. And I’ve basically gone through this process 26 times, once for each spot.
What’s the bare minimum one needs in order to be able to build a map?
If you have the motivation, anyone can do it. I had really no knowledge of 3D tools like Blender or Unity (both free) when I started. Early on, it took me maybe 2-3 weeks to complete one spot like Pappelplatz, nowadays I might take a day or two to make a new spot. There’s a huge community of mappers and if you really want to get your hands dirty it won’t be hard to find great resources or tutorials. I’ve already supported and helped skaters build their own local spots, so feel free to reach out to me if you want to build your own map.
How has the feedback from the community been?
Berlin has been downloaded by 100.000 players, which makes it the most downloaded map ever on Skater XL. It is amazing to see Berlin getting this much exposure. The community’s response to my project has been nothing but motivating and supportive It has been a really positive experience and it’s always amazing to see how the skaters around the world skate Berlin. Sometimes in ways I would have never considered skating a spot.
Any hints to whether or not it will be implemented into the console version?
It’s fair to say that what keeps this game alive is the huge amount of community-created content. New maps or script mods that allow you to have even more control of how you flip the board or perform certain tricks. I believe Easyday, the game's developer, has been overwhelmed to see how the community has appropriated the game and made it the game every skater always dreamt of playing. They took some steps to bring this content into the console version of the game already, so I have no doubt Berlin will one day be available on console.
Are you working on further maps and do you get a lot of requests? Which map is most requested?
I did receive requests from the Berlin community, even sharing secret spots with me that I didn’t know existed. But most requests are definitely coming from the US. This resulted into me creating another large map focused only on New York spots. I’ve also been travelling to Barcelona a lot recently, skating and storing loads of textures and references from spots there, so some of them will definitely show up in my future maps.
Do you think Skater XL and its community-created content will have an impact on how games will be played or developed in the future?
Of course! The skate community hasn’t got a decent skate game since 2010 (Skate 3). Skater XL is just scratching the surface of what a strong and eager community can do. The reason it might take some time to get there is that platforms like Playstation and Xbox are not making it easy for independent game studios to bring community-generated content onto consoles, due to security reasons and also game performance-wise. However, I have no doubt EA with the "Skate" series saw the huge potential of enabling the skate community to contribute to the game i.e. an open-source game.
What do you prefer, building maps or skating them?
Without a doubt, building maps! To be honest, I only have time to play the game when I have to test things for my maps.
If you like photography or shooting videos, I believe this game is the best tool to practice and learn how to bring the best angles out of a trick or spot. I believe any skater always dreamt of creating their perfect spot or skatepark. It’s rewarding for me that whatever spot comes to mind, I can put it together quickly and skate it.