Tom Clancy’s The Division Interview
It was, actually. So what Ubisoft asked us to start thinking about was something they’d been thinking about for a long time, which was to bring Tom Clancy into the RPG genre. There are a lot of us on the team that have worked on RPGs in the past – we’re very passionate about that genre – so we started to think about how to update the franchise. How can you take the clear and present danger of the threats of the Eighties and update it to 2013? We were thinking ‘Okay, terrorists’, but a lot of games have done that already. Then you have the ecological threats, the pandemic threats, the biological threats. We decided that was one of the most scary clear and present dangers of our time. We started to do research into this a few years ago and what the US government did, what contingency plans they had, whether they ran any exercises or simulations to see how to deal with these sorts of scenarios. We discovered the Dark Winter exercise they ran in 2001 – basically they released a smallpox virus into Atlanta in their simulation and within two to three weeks it spiralled out of control. The US basically started to shut down and the whole country started collapsing. That’s the seed of our IP. So then we were thinking about what kind of Clancy unit or agency would make sense in this scenario? How would they train? What would they be ready for? We looked at simulations of this type of exercise to see how they failed. So we imagined this overlay of this highly professional disaster specialist that doesn’t have to work within the normal agencies. Because, what always happens in these disaster scenarios is that you want to be decentralised, you want to be flexible, you want to be sustained, so all the big structures crumble when you don’t have the usual logistics, the usual supplies coming in.
You used the phrase ‘online open world RPG’ when describing the game. How much DNA does this share with an MMO?
Well, I think it’s safe to say we have a lot of MMO players on the team and we’re trying to pick the best features from RPG games and MMO games. Maybe not adding all of the elements, but trying to pick the best ones to be able to do what we really want, as gamers.
It’s quite a leap from the current gen. If you’re in a contemporary setting, the type of scenario that we like to bring to gamers, the immersion, the realism, is very important. Just adding more power to the machines, you can do more real physics, procedural destruction, you can do global illumination, you can do all these things to make it feel like a living breathing world. You can’t do that to the same extent on current-gen.
What’s the single-player experience like? Will you miss out by not going online?
The way we designed it is that you will still have a very good experience with the single-player. You can still explore the same content, take on the same challenges, you can still move seamlessly from PvE to PvP if you wish to do that. You can group up with friends or group up with people with our new matchmaking system, but you can definitely play it on your own.
How will the new consoles improve the open world experience?
I think it’s the sheer size of it, and within that how many people can be online at the same time, how immersive you can make the world and keep it one large map at the same time. It’s a mix of all that stuff, and I think you’re going to see it with all these new kinds of big world, online games because we couldn’t do that in the past.
Is the game mainly set in Manhattan?
Yeah, it’s the greater New York area, not just Manhattan. We want to showcase all the different biomes. It’s a very rich biome type of situation around New York, the iconic Manhattan that everybody in the world knows, you have the forests, the parks, the beaches. The big harbours, the big airports. All these different biomes we want the gamers to be able to explore.
Actually, that was prototyped earlier. We started doing the tech before we were doing the game. Specifically, designing the new engine to take advantage of the next generation features and next generation specs. We challenged our engineers, around two years back, to move away from the gimmicky use of a tablet or an app and make something that’s really meaningful, both for the tablet player and the guys with the consoles. That’s why we came up with this real-time interaction concept, where you basically control a drone with a tablet that has its own progression, its own skill, within the HD client. It’s 3D-rendered, and whatever support or damage they do in the world, that stays. It’s part of the persistent world.
When designing a new game, how much of a challenge do you face in integrating and balancing that kind of tablet play?
Well, I think it’s fair to say it’s always challenging to balance a game where you have multiple talent skills [and] weapons, with multiple players who want it to feel fun and rewarding but also challenging. And we have the same challenges with the tablet player, definitely.
What kind of range of customisation can you bring to your character?
I’m not really ready to talk about details with that just yet, but I can say there will be a lot of customisation to the way your character looks. You can customise hundreds of different weapons in all sorts of ways, gear pieces you can loot and craft and customise. We wanted it to feel very rich.
We prefer to call it a mid-crisis scenario, rather than post-apocalyptic. Things are really bad and society has started to close down, and you see all these new factions arising as law enforcement and military structures crumble, but at the same time you’re an agent of hope. You’re there to try and fix this.
Will players see a lot of variety in the way the world is designed?
That’s what we’re shooting for. If you’ve ever been to New York, you know that Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark, they’re very different. They’re like different cities, basically. And then you have all the forests close to the cities, all the islands, Rikers Island, Staten Island, and the big airports. We want to show a wide variety of all those things and all those iconic landmarks that you would expect.