August 23, 2018

13 Min Read

the division 2

The Division 2 - Why Massive Chose Washington DC

Seven months after the Black Friday virus threw New York City into chaos, The Division 2 thrusts players into a post-collapse Washington, DC. While the virus has been contained, society has all but crumbled. As a Division Agent, you'll be tasked with saving the nation's capital from complete collapse when the game launches on Xbox One, PC and PS4 on March 15.

Built on a one-to-one scale with its real life counterpart, The Division 2's version of DC presents a vastly different experience than that of midtown Manhattan in the original game. This time around, wide-open expanses offer up new gameplay opportunities, while seven months of devastation have left the city with its own unique history of tragedy. Recreating Washington, DC is no small task. The nation's capital is home to some of the most recognizable and revered landmarks in the country including the White House, Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial. To faithfully build up the city, and to believably tear it down, the team at Ubisoft Massive had to do their research and utilize some new building methods. We spoke with creative director Julian Gerighty to learn more about how the team at Ubisoft Massive built a convincing game world where every street has a unique story to tell.

How did you choose Washington, DC, and what is your process for building it?

Julian Gerighty: Fundamentally, when we were thinking about the sequel, I was very passionate about changing the environment. For all the qualities that New York had, there were certain things I really wanted to address, and we investigated a lot of different cities and built up rational cases for all of them by asking, "how iconic is it?" "How suited is it for The Division?" "How many things could we explore narratively?" Very clearly, the one city that best suited those questions was Washington, DC. It was the one we were really the most passionate about.

Then, to make sure we were representing it properly, we organized research trips there. We had a chance to go to DC and get familiar with the type of city that it is, the type of variety that it brings, the types of lives that people live there, to make sure it was absolutely the right city for The Division 2.

What about Washington, DC stood out to you when you visited it in person? What did you have to see up close that wasn't understood from pictures and media?

JG: What's interesting about DC, is that it's always been a city for people to congregate and demonstrate. It's also a city that has an enormous amount of life, which really separates it from many of other political centers around the world. It has variety, it has districts that are unique to it as a city. The sheer size and scope of not only the buildings, but of what they represent, can be intimidating. You contrast those political and historical centers with the liveliness of Georgetown, it's remarkably different, and that variety is not something we could've had in New York, for example. There are a lot of things I discovered by visiting that I wouldn't have known otherwise.

DC, is not huge, it's a manageable scale. That really helped us with our desire to recreate a city on a one-to-one scale, which is what our Snowdrop engine allowed us to do this time around.

What aspects of DC did you feel you had absolutely nail?

JG: One of the things that I was completely in awe of when we visited DC was how it was a monument to America, a monument to the values of America. When you go to the Capitol, or the White House, or the Smithsonian, all of these icons of American values, you can't help but have respect for all the values that the country stood for, what it stands for, what it will stand for. Encapsulating that and trying to capture the reverence you have when you visit DC for the first time is incredible.

DC is a repository for artifacts of American history: the Constitution, the Star Spangled Banner, the Declaration of Independence, all of these things within a very small place. If you were to crystalize the best of what America can be and has been in the past, it's there.

Was it important for you that The Division 2's version of Washington, DC be familiar to someone who knows the real DC?

JG: Absolutely, that was something that we were very passionate about in the first game. Underpinning everything is that familiarity of the city. The recognition of all of those icons that you're familiar with. For The Division 2, what we were pushing even more is Geographic Information System mapping (GIS) and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data to recreate the city one-to-one. Which means we have data for where light posts are, where park benches are, so we could recreate those details faithfully as well.

Was achieving a one-to-one scale something you knew you wanted to do from the beginning?

JG: That arose out of being very attached to real-world locations and faithful recreations of real world locations. We were able to develop a tool that could integrate GIS and LIDAR data very easily, which also cut down a huge amount of legwork that takes place when you first start to build a city. This way, we were able to focus much more on the handcrafted elements of production.

With so much effort put into faithfully recreating Washington, DC, how did you go about depicting it in a post-pandemic setting? How do you research for a circumstance that has never happened?

JG: We have a few people that are full-time researchers on the project. Our lead researcher is Cloé Hammoud, who works very closely with the narrative and world teams. She not only spoke to first responders, fire teams, SWAT teams, security teams, special forces, ex-special forces, but she also did a ton of research on places that had experienced catastrophic events. She researched the protocols in various capital cities to protect themselves and key personnel, so we have hundreds of hours of interviews, tape recordings, and videos of people who have experienced these actual events or whose job it is to prepare for these actual events.

So when catastrophe strikes Washington, DC in The Division 2, we have these settlements pop up for survivors and civilians. Part of this idea comes from the research our teams have done, but part of it is a romantic notion that people, at their best, are communities that bind together, and that the future and the hope for humanity is not division, or selfishness. It comes from people really believing in building something together. When you look at these catastrophic events, like Hurricane Katrina, you start to see the best of humanity arise to help each other.

How do you decide how to alter these famous landmarks that DC is known for?

JG: It comes down to the research we've done for a particular location. Take, for example, Madison Square Garden from the first game. It might not have the same cultural weight as the landmarks of DC, but just like those micro stories, we seek to ask ourselves, "how would they be used?" and "how would they transform in a collapse?" Going from that, you create a series of objectives for all the factions in the world, and then it becomes fairly obvious who gravitates to which location, and how they would alter it.

Environmental storytelling was a huge part of The Division. How do you build upon that for The Division 2?

JG: The Division 2 is a multiplayer-focused game within an open-world, non-linear setting. Classic, linear storytelling is very hard to do, and not necessarily something we want to do. Environmental storytelling is a huge opportunity, because you can share that in a four-person fireteam, you can share that with your squad. You can go into a hotel that's been taken over, and you can see the layers of history in this hotel and how it's been transformed since the collapse. Environmental storytelling is essential.

Fundamentally, the way we went about it was dividing the city into districts. Within each of those districts, every street had to have some sort of theme. Every location that we're going to use for a mission or side mission has to have not only a story for the building, but for the people who live in that building. When you take a building, you think, "what was it used for before the collapse?" Then you have to think, "what was it used for during the collapse?" Now, it's seven months later, so how is it being transformed now? What is your mission there?

We have a world logic bible in the office that was prepared by our director and the research and narrative teams, which breaks down and describes this seven-month period between Black Friday and the day that you start in The Division 2. We've created a timeline for every important location within the game and have micro stories based on individuals, so it's not only about those big landmarks, hotels, and museums. You can go into a fraternity house and discover what happened to an individual, what his life was like before the outbreak, and how it affected him.

We don't only look at the macro level. We go into the individual life stories to try and create this rich tapestry that you can experience by yourself in single-player, but that you won't be kept from experiencing in multiplayer.

That sort of world-building is my favorite part of the creative process. It's one of the reasons we decided to advance the timeline as well. We've explored New York, the epicenter of the disease in winter, so what would this be like in the center of power in the summer? How would the situation be different? How would people's lives be affected?

DC in the summer is hot and humid. How do you go about conveying that sense of climate to the player?

JG: We have many ways of showing that. It's part of the whole sense of realization of the scene. Let's say you're just outside of a settlement; you might see heat haze coming up off the tops of cars, or those mirage puddles you see on the road. There are visual cues and tricks we use. You see the way the heat affects your character through huge sweat patches under their arms, and their skin is vividly moist. When you go into the settlement, you'll see folks are sweating as well; they are tired and broken from the heat. It all starts with visual cues, and then you can use dialogue to reinforce the crushing sense of heat and humidity.

How does the change in topography and urban landscape affect gameplay?

JG: At the highest level, it brings us more variety. You'll be able to have firefights not only in these claustrophobic, narrow streets with buildings on either side, but now also wide-open spaces. National parks and suburbs like Georgetown give us a lot of variety. In terms of combat, you also have more verticality, because there are more slopes and hills within the city. You can play around with bigger wide-open spaces.

If you look at the E3 demo, that took place just outside the Capitol, near the Reflecting Pool. That's a huge, open space, and I think people will appreciate what differences that puts forward for the enemy AI, and how you have to adapt your fighting style to take on that control point. We really looked forward to giving the player many more opportunities to decide how they were going to approach different situations.

How do you differentiate the different districts of DC so that they are distinct, but still feel connected?

JG: We craft these environmental stories into our districts as well. So maybe one area was used for evacuations, and another area was a refugee camp; you can create massive differences between areas with different stories and different actions that led them to where they are.

We have a map of DC for every month since the collapse. It shows where and how each enemy faction started, what sort of reaction the government had, and what landmarks were attacked and defended. So now, we have this natural history that documents the collapse of Washington, DC area by area, with tons of story that we can pull from that.

The subway in New York played a large role in the original Division. Will DC's underground play an important role in The Division 2?

JG: We definitely have certain parts of DC's underground incorporated into the world, but unlike the one-to-one mapping of the surface level, there are more artistic liberties taken with the underground. We want to feed into that fantasy that there is a network of secret tunnels and bunkers that are hidden underground. We know of certain tunnels and escape routes, but we definitely don't have accurate mapping of everything, because they are secret.

What do you hope players take away from the world of The Division 2?

JG: There are certain learnings and feelings you can get by walking around the city. To me, DC represents power, and the thing we want bring up is that the responsibility of that power in a situation like this is really something worth thinking about.

I really love this setting, and I think it's richer and more full of those environmental story details than we've ever achieved before, so I'm excited to see people jump into it and come out with their own interpretation of what happened to this building, or this woman, or this car. There are lots of stories we've told within the city that I'm excited to see players dig into.

The Division 2's Washington, DC is filled with locations to explore and stories to uncover. As you save society from total collapse, you'll have your own opportunity to dig into everything tje game has to offer when it launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on March 15. If March is just too far away for you, there are plenty of reasons to , and for those of you eager to jump into The Division 2, you can now register for a chance to join the beta and pre-order the game.

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