The Architects of Midgar: how we rebuilt FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE’s City of MakoHow do you recreate a place as iconic as Midgar? FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi explains how the team approached this difficult task.
Hello - my name is Naoki Hamaguchi and I am the Co-Director of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE.
When we started development of the game, we were faced with a daunting task: rebuild and expand upon the city of Midgar. It’s one of the most famous videogame locations of all time, and we had to remake it without ruining the atmosphere that makes it so beloved.
It’s fair to say that the team felt the pressure!
So how did we do it? Let me share a little about how we approached this challenge, and the various elements we had to consider.
Why did we reimagine Midgar?
Before we talk about how we did reimagined Midgar, we should probably answer a question many fans may have: why do it at all? After all, the original backgrounds of FINAL FANTASY VII are burned into our collective memories - why not simply remake them in 3D?
The short answer is: we couldn’t. Converting the 2D backgrounds of the original game into 3D actually revealed a lot of structural contradictions. Even in a fantasy world, the buildings and environments have to hang together believably, and that simply wasn’t the case with the old environments.
We realized that we couldn’t create a convincingly realistic Midgar without resolving these contradictions - and that was the main driving force behind our decision to reimagine so much of the city.
Of course, making the decision to recreate and expand the city is one thing: actually doing it is quite another!
Drawing up plans
Our first step for designing FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE’s Midgar was to look at the scale of the city. We needed to convey the idea of realistic proportions, so an early priority was to establish things like the height and depth of the buildings.
To do this, we tried out an interesting idea: we took an aerial photograph with the rooftop of Square Enix's office building in Shinjuku, Tokyo, at the very centre. We overlaid this with diagrams of Midgar, with the Square Enix roof taking the place of the Shinra building.
This let the development staff imagine the scale of Midgar compared to real life, and they were able to use this aerial image as a point of comparison for how densely we should fit buildings together, while keeping the proportions as realistic as possible.
Taking inspiration from the real world
That wasn’t the only time we used the real world to influence the look and feel of Midgar. We took inspiration from many cities all over the world that we felt captured the spirit of FINAL FANTASY VII.
We wanted Midgar - and FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE as a whole - to have a kind of jumbled together, eclectic, and fun atmosphere. For that, we took particular inspiration from Tokyo. For example, some people may already know this, but the game’s Wall Market is heavily influenced by Shinjuku’s Kabukicho area.
Additionally, the team explored Tokyo looking for odd cityscapes, strange architecture and interesting scenery. You know - the kind of thing where you have no idea how it even ended up that way. These then got compiled into reference documents - that was a pretty fun part of development!
How we made each sector feel unique
Once we had an understanding of the scale, we started work on designing the different sectors of the city. Midgar is split into the areas above and below the plate and each of these contains different regions that all have their own distinct identity - and we wanted that to be clearly expressed by the game,
At the start of development, the game designers and scenario writers created documents that detailed the setting and the world, including the economic status of the different regions.
This information was invaluable in helping us define which elements of the environment could be shared across areas, and which should be region-specific - right down to the ratio of text on the posters!
We also realised that the lighting would play a vital role in helping to differentiate the areas. For example, Mako Reactor 1 is the oldest of the Mako Reactors. Most of the lighting here was made to look like mercury-vapor lamps, which have been around for a long time.
In contrast, Mako Reactor 5 is comparatively new. Most of the lighting here was made to look kind of blue-ish, like LEDs.
Mako is still the energy source for both, but by using real-life lighting as a reference like this we were able to represent the unique characteristics of the different regions, and their own identities within Midgar.
The importance of the little details
Another way we helped give the locations their personality was to add lots of small environmental details to each place you visit. Every place is packed with these little touches - they’re easy to miss, but they add realism and atmosphere to each area.
That said, I hope some of you did notice them, because a huge amount of effort went into their creation. Take the posters for example. The team got really into this part of the process and were resubmitting new designs all the way through development - even after we finished the game!
The graffiti got the team similarly excited - including our Localisation team. We asked them to write us some playful phrases from the perspective of the inhabitants of Midgar, which we then used in the game.
The stuff they came up with was brilliant. Some of my favorites include:
I once came to Midgar in search of riches,
But now I wallow alone in its ditches.
It no longer matters what words I utter,
Because none will get me out of the gutter.
Life can still get you down even after you've grown up.
You can see some more examples here:
Those are just a fraction of what’s in the final game - I hope you enjoy discovering them all!
Designing the upper plate residential zone
As well as reimagining areas of Midgar from the original game, we wanted to add entirely new parts of the city - partly to connect the different areas but also to give players more insight into this world.
One of the new areas was the Sector 7 Upper Plate residential zone. Early on we knew that we wanted to focus on the members of Avalanche to a much greater extent to the original game, and featuring Jessie’s family home was a great way to explore her history - and give players more information about the city itself.
This new area was developed as employee housing for workers at the Shinra Electric Power Company, so we took inspiration from real life residential areas that have a lot of identical buildings crammed together.
We were very careful to get the feeling of this area right because the collapse of the Sector 7 plate is a hugely important part in the story. By having a memorable location that the player has actually visited be the one to collapse, it gives the event more of an impact and makes it feel even more real.
A city is its people
Of course, to create a truly believable Midgar we needed to do more than just design things like the buildings and scenery - the people matter too. In fact, this element of the city was considered just as important as the others.
Right from the start, we created information about each part of the city, including the economic status of its residents. This helped us create a consistent look and feel for the inhabitants in those areas.
In addition, it was important to me that the inhabitants didn’t just stand around passively - if you look closely, the people actually interact with different elements of their environment.
This in particular was difficult for the team and it took a lot of repeated adjustments. But in the end I think it was worth it, as it really breathes life into the city.
The importance of the Shinra Building
The final element of designing Midgar I want to talk about is the Shinra Building. You’ll notice that this imposing structure is visible from all over the city - and we paid special attention to the layout to make sure that was the case.
That building is so important to the climax of the game that we wanted it to always be there as a kind of cinematic foreshadowing, so we designed each area to ensure players always had an eyeline to it.
As well as the building, we also created the entire plaza around it… but players never got to visit it!
Early on in development, the plan was that Cloud and the others would enter the Shinra Building from the main entrance, like in the original, so we actually made all the assets for the plaza. However, since we planned that section around stealth, it was difficult to make the story flow naturally.
Considering it was an infiltration mission, we decided that it made more sense to reimagine it and have them enter from the underground car park instead. I think this was ultimately a good decision, as it allowed us to focus on representing the Shinra Building in ways it hadn’t been shown in the original.
At least we didn’t completely lose all that work - you can see the plaza in the distance when sneaking into the building!
I hope that gave you an interesting insight into how we rebuilt Midgar for FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE.
When I look back over the development, I’m proud that we were able to portray areas of the city that had been ‘off-screen’ in the original FINAL FANTASY VII - such as the underside of the plate and more in-depth portrayals of the city and its residents.
I imagine that a lot of people had their own ideas about what these parts of the city were like, so in a sense it was quite nerve-wracking to explicitly show them. But since we put so much thought into the scale and making the city feel realistic, I think that we were ultimately successful in bringing it to life in the way we wanted.
Thanks for reading - and I hope you have fun exploring the City of Mako!
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is out now for PlayStation 4. It's currently on sale from PlayStation Store and select retailers, with up to 34% off, so if you've yet to play it, now's the time: