Tom Clancy’s The Division Interview with Game Director Ryan Barnard

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Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game that impresses with every showing, teaching us a tad more about it every time. At this year’s EB Games Expo, I learnt more about the game than I expected to. Our hands-off preview, soon-to-be-published, will elucidate further, but our interview with game director Ryan Barnard clarified some common questions as well. Read on to find out exactly how the team at Ubisoft Massive defines the title, the inspiration behind the premise and setting, and most importantly details behind the MMO features and character progression.

So first off, I think after the most recent demo walkthrough that was shared online by Ubisoft, there was some confusion bred about the actual genre of The Division. There are so many elements to it, but also some non-traditional aspects that threw people off the MMO categorisation. How would you define the game?

That’s a great opener, because I do think we’re kind of – we have this mantra – “genreless”. We’re a Clancy game, we’re an online game, we have some MMO mechanics, we have an RPG flavour to everything, we’re a third-person shooter, we have a lot of guns, we have a lot of gear that you need, we have crafting in the game… so, I come from an MMO background and I definitely think that we’re making a new type of online RPG game, but I’m not sure that a straight genre really fits. So, I think that’s why you get that “I can’t really pin it down”, because it’s open-world, and it’s just a lot of things, so besides just being an online multiplayer action-RPG, then it’s however you want to define it, I guess.


In terms of the story, how did you guys come to this kind of contagion-ravaged future? Being an original IP that wasn’t based directly off of any previous Tom Clancy work, you must’ve had all this freedom to do whatever you wanted?

It was a few years back when we kind of had a mandate from – you know, we have this great license with Clancy – and they really wanted an RPG Clancy title; something different. We have a very robust suite of games; we have Ghost Recon, we have Splinter Cell, we have Rainbow, so we needed a new unit that fits in that spectrum but doesn’t step on anyone’s area, you know? So, that really was the genesis, and then basically our creative group, when you hunker down, asks “well, how is it going to be different?”. Well, the first thing that sparked it was, to be different, something has to have already happened; all of the Clancy games are about stopping this horrific thing from happening, so to really fit this new style of game we wanted to have the horrible thing happen, whatever it was at that point, and have the unit designed around responding to that sort of thing. And then, the idea of the fragility of society and the kind of dystopian world is very contemporary, and the more you research it the scarier and more real it is. It all just kinda fit and fed in, it’s like “okay, well then if we have a virus that actually hits a Western society and can spread really rapidly and is militarised…what would happen?” I can’t hunt for food, can you?! I would die immediately. So, it’s really scary when you start looking into this. I think it all just kind of filtered from there.


And specifically New York, what influenced your decision to place the events of the game in ‘the Big Apple’?

The reason why New York sort of stood out is that we wanted the game to be global. It doesn’t matter where you’re from in the world, you have an image of Times Square, you have an image of Madison Square Garden, so to be able to create this mid-crisis scenario – not post-apocalyptic – we need to be able to have this iconic locations look like “oh, something is wrong”. It’s not destroyed, but something is wrong. Besides, New York has a great cultural mix of people for enemy faction types and all types of stuff. It’s also one of, if not the most, busiest hubs of travel, which is key to our kind of scenario.

It seems like Ubisoft’s overriding M.O. as of late is to tell stories based around real-life dangers and epidemics. The Division, Watch_Dogs deals with the whole issue is privacy and security, and even Rainbow Six: Siege addresses terrorism…

I think those are very contemporary themes for cinema, for television shows; look at the movies that are out that are popular. It’s a very fascinating and entertaining kind of idea, and it’s scary basically, so there are some within Ubisoft, but I’d say it’s a kind of entertainment industry wide contemporary theme.


Okay, in terms of specifics relating to the game, clarifying for those who developed misconceptions or misunderstanding of the game and exactly what it is, can you tell us about just how you come across other players and factions, and also progression in regards to weapons, etc.?

To the first question, we actually have both types in the game, talking about the standard or, I would said, older MMOs, having a persistent world. So you can see a 4 v 4 running through your area while you’re trying to do your mission or whatever. We also have phased open-world, so when you’re out exploring New York or doing your own missions, that’s a private space for you and your group, which is what we’ve showcased in the demos. But then we have public areas which will be very clear when you come into those areas, where you can run across other players. And then in regards to progression, basically everything in the game is wrapped in it, so you start at level 1, you have experience progression, the skills that you possess have their own progression, the gear is level specific so you’ll often be replacing gear and salvaging gear. You can also craft stuff…so there’s lots of pieces there. If it works don’t fix it; in a lot of ways that’s our kind of philosophy for those kinds of mechanics. We want to create a system where players can play for a potentially limitless amount of time.


Lastly, if you wanted to play the game entirely by yourself, are you able to do that and, if so, how would the experience differ?

That’s a good question to answer, because we got those queries a lot. I mean, we always say “multiplayer, online” and that is our focus, because we know people get more engaged and you generally have more fun when you play with more people. But, you can absolutely play the game from beginning to end, never seeing another human and never grouping with anyone if you don’t want to. The game scales with the amount of players in a group too.

Awesome, I am very much looking forward to it. Thanks so much for your time.

Thanks a lot.

Thanks once again to Ryan Barnard for affording us a little bit of his time during an extremely busy day at the expo for him and the rest of the crew. As mentioned at the top, we also witnessed a brand-new demo of Tom Clancy’s The Division presented at the show, our impressions of which can be viewed hereTom Clancy’s The Division is slated for a 2015 release.

I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment (w/ major in Games Design) course at Qantm College, Sydney.

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