Feature Article

The Division Interview: "We're not holding anything back."

Comments

Ubisoft Massive is striving to build an RPG-shooter that's bold with new ideas yet as polished as triple-A can get.

Magnus Jansen, creative director at Ubisoft Massive, couldn't hide his frown when I suggested that The Division is an online RPG masquerading as a blockbuster shooter.

It was, I think, the implication that such an endeavour was perhaps deceitful, that wound his gears. "From the very moment we announced the game, we were super up-front that it was a deep RPG," he replied.

"We're not hiding the cat's medicine in its food."

For what it's worth, I wouldn't have found it dishonest had that been the intention. The Division is a handsome cover shooter set in an iconic city thrown into disarray. At face value it's an intoxicating mix of the mechanics of Gears of War with the desperation and savagery of The Last of Us. But more impressive than this alluring sales pitch is what lies behind the mask; a deep and intricate xp system, with a wealth of weapons, perks, abilities, mods, and team skills to unlock and equip.

At the trunk of this immense skill tree is your overall player level, which for now is capped at 30. Having played The Division for several hours, I suspect that your journey from level one to 30 across this smouldering, lawless city will likely be more important than the narrative set within it.

During a recent press trip hosted by Ubisoft Massive, I sat down with Jansen to discuss the marriage of the cover shooter and RPG, as well as a whole range of other subjects such as post-launch plans, tonal anomalies, and the inevitable comparisons with Destiny.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

GAMESPOT: How does it feel to be on the final stretch of this mammoth development project? You're so close to the light now.

JANSEN: The short answer is great, and we're obviously very happy with the way it has turned out. It's not my first rodeo! I know some games are innovative but not very polished, while other games are... [long pause]

Polished but rather rote.

Yes exactly, so to be given that extra time is great. This is the first entry in a series, which has some bold new ideas, and to be able to do that and ensure it's polished is a great feeling.

When first revealed at E3 2013, The Division was initially scheduled to ship a year later. The project has been delayed twice since.
When first revealed at E3 2013, The Division was initially scheduled to ship a year later. The project has been delayed twice since.

Which I suppose explains why there were a couple of delays to the project?

Yeah I mean, this is a brand new game, built from a new engine, with a bigger team, working on new platforms with the consoles, and lots of new concepts such as seamless PvP, no map loading, and the Dark Zones, and the unique narrative tools--all of these things take an enormous amount of time to get right.

The time that it's taken has not so much to do with changing direction, or meltdowns; it's just about the amount of stuff we had to do, as well as trying to do it right. I'm super pleased we've been given the time.

It's increasingly rare for a publisher's internal studio to be given the chance to build a triple-A game with a brand new IP. Compared to making a sequel, the demands are higher; not only do you have to build a game, but you need to create a brand that can be taken forwards. Has that put extra pressure on your team?

It's always pressure, but a wonderful pressure. We're having a great time. Any intelligent human being who has been given an opportunity to create something with a lot of freedom is always going to feel a lot of pressure.

On your other point, yes it's a new IP, and maybe there will be more things to come, but we certainly haven't been paying too much attention to that. All the groundwork we do is the same, no matter whether you're planning for one game or many. To put it another way, all the investment is showing up in this game. We're not holding anything back.

Oh, I hope you didn't think I was insinuating that you were holding content back.

No it's like one of those things, like with DLC, where people think you're holding content back.

Yeah, there's a level of distrust sometimes.

Yeah, and we're putting so much into this game. The fact that we didn't cut too much back on our original vision is what's taken a long time, because we haven't made any compromises either. We're working incredibly hard on getting this tremendous monster of a game out.

I was speaking more about the philosophical approach to creating a new franchise. Destiny for example--which I think has some similarities with The Division--was built as a platform, essentially, where expansions and an ocean of content can be added each day or week. I wondered if you were paving that same path. Is there an idea?

There are plenty of ideas, because any world that is as enticing as ours is going to spur ideas. If you develop an interesting, well-researched, well-executed universe, then it's going to spawn ideas where you can take it. I definitely feel we have created that.

"[A level-skip] was under consideration, but it never made it into the game. So there won't be any microtransactions like that. No shortcuts."

Magnus Jansen

But don't you need to plan ahead? Either this is a platform or it isn't.

There are thoughts [about the future], but I want to emphasise just how it's mostly been just thoughts up until very, very recently, when we started to wind down development. There's two reasons for that; one is that everything has gone into finishing the main game, the second is, we need to see what happens once the game is in the wild. You don't want to set all plans in stone. We need to react to what the community does. So right now we've just started to work on the free updates and DLC.

Just a point of clarification; Is the DLC free too?

Well I prefer the terminology that "updates" are free content and "DLC" is paid. It's a package of "stuff" we're going to work on.

The early free update offer is a really smart move; You're trying to foster a community, you're going to make sure the numbers don't fall off a cliff after a few weeks. You want to launch with momentum. I wanted to know what your plans were for after that?

Obviously we have plans, and we want to be flexible with them. Only now are we ramping up production on DLC.

I asked because I read in a previous interview that Massive was considering microtransactions, and specifically, you were considering microtransactions where players could pay for shortcuts to level up.

It was under consideration, but it never made it into the game. So there won't be any microtransactions like that. No shortcuts.

New art assets for The Division - Click on the thumbnails below to view in full-screen
New art assets for The Division - Click on the thumbnails below to view in full-screen
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5

Do you think this is a PR issue more than anything else? Microtransactions tend to cause flare-ups on forums, but the numbers suggest people do pay for them. Some people do appear to like them.

It's a super interesting idea. People will happily pay for the game, but I think the issue people have is when they feel like some content has been held back. They feel as though in previous years they would have got all the content for free. Even worse, some people find that certain microtransactions allow people to pay to compete. Pay-to-win, essentially. So I understand the hesitation. I don't see an issue with people paying for content, and there will of course be DLC, because there's nothing bad about creating more content after we release this huge game.

Okay let's move on. For me the most interesting thing about The Division is that constant sense of threat and suspicion when you're in a Dark Zone. Other players ambush you, your own teammates can betray you. I think it's pretty cool. What's the most interesting aspect of the game for you?

That's actually a harder question than it seems, because I want to give equal love to all the people who have worked on it.

One thing is the seamlessness, for sure. Walking into the Dark Zone, which is essentially walking into a multiplayer mode, with no loading screens, no menus, no lobbies, no waiting, no matchmaking at all. Or you can just as easily walk into safe houses, which are essentially social spaces. You can find people in there, right-click on them, form a group with them, and leave and be on your mission together. That's incredibly immersive.

"All the investment is showing up in this game. We're not holding anything back."

Magnus Jansen

In terms of tone, I wonder whether you're going for realism or fantastical. There is a faithful recreation of New York in here, albeit one thrown into crisis, but sometimes I notice tonal clashes with that. For example, there are gang members who I've shot about ten times in the head with a small machine gun, and they're still running at me with a baseball bat. Suddenly that's remarkably fantastical. Do you recognise those tonal anomalies?

I think there's obviously going to be a difference between authentic and realistic. We're not making a simulator. If you watch a fight in a Hollywood film, the amount of punches each person can take to the head without falling is crazy. Both the hero and the villain would have such absurd amounts of head trauma even half way through the fight. But that's an accepted unrealism.

In movies you accept that, and in RPGs, you just accept those gameisms too. I would say that the really tough enemies carry lots of amour, and we try to explain why they're tougher.

Perhaps it was just me then. Some of it took me out of the game. If I was shooting at a tank, I could understand why it could just sit there and absorb the bullets. But someone in a hoodie holding a gun sideways just took me a while to adjust with.

For sure, and we're hoping players will still be immersed, and it's one of the elements in this great open-world RPG.

I was really impressed with the RPG aspects. In fact I'd go as far to say you're redefining what a typical RPG looks like. It's a genre that seems synonymous with high fantasy, swords and sorcery, dragons and villages. The Division draws fans in because it's an attractive co-op cover shooter set in a famous western city, but actually the meat of the dish is perks, upgrades, mods, damage numbers, party perks, abilities, complex skill trees. Do you think you're stealthily selling people an RPG?

Well, not stealthily. We're not hiding the cat's medicine in its food. Because from the very moment we announced the game, we were super up-front that it was a deep RPG.

Merging a shooter with an RPG has worked really well for us. That rags-to-riches journey that the player goes on, where they gradually accumulate power and items, is something we're very happy with.

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

You've probably heard comparisons with Destiny, because both games take a classic western genre and make it behave like an online RPG. Was there anything about Bungie's game that helped influence or inspire you?

We've been working on this game for quite some time, and the first pioneering shared-world MMOs are 10, sometimes 15 years old. Those are the shoulders of the giants we are standing on.

Of course, being able to see that yes it can be done on console is the one thing that we got [from Bungie].

I suppose Destiny also showed you that these kinds of MMOs can be accepted by a large western audience.

Yes.

I'm a little lost on the structure of the game. Is there a traditional single-player mode? When you boot up, can you select campaign mode?

No, absolutely not. And that's what I'm so proud of. You start up the game, and within seconds you can play co-op seamlessly with friends or strangers, and go chase objectives. You can ignore people too if you want.

You could say that the main missions in the game make up the story campaign, if you want to call it that. But at any point you can play that yourself, or drop in and out whenever you want. There's no main menu choice.

I'm going to ask about graphics. From what I can tell, the visual gap between Xbox One and PS4 games has narrowed in the past two years, to the extent that more new games have resolution and framerate parity. Is this the case with The Division?

I'm not the best at commenting on how things look. I'm sure there are things we shouldn't talk about. I don't know is the honest truth.

Does your team know? Have you locked it down yet?

I'm sure the team has a very good idea. We're very close to release. So, somebody knows. But in terms of what that means for the gamer, I don't know.

Right. I see.

[Statement provided by Ubisoft: "The game is still in development and we are focusing on providing the best experience for players. We are at a stage of production where we have yet to finalise our adaptation for each SKU, but as you can see, the game looks great on both PC and new generation consoles ... the final game will be fully optimized on each platform."]

Please use a html5 video capable browser to watch videos.
This video has an invalid file format.
00:00:00
Sorry, but you can't access this content!
Please enter your date of birth to view this video

By clicking 'enter', you agree to GameSpot's
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com
  • View Comments (0)

    crossleyrob

    Rob Crossley

    Rob Crossley was GameSpot's UK Editor between 2014 and 2016.
    Tom Clancy's The Division

    Tom Clancy's The Division

    Follow
    Back To Top