A Conversation on The Division 2

Ned Jordan
In Short
An interview with Keith Evans, Lead Game Designer at Red Storm.

At a recent The Division 2 preview event, I had the chance to sit down and talk about the game with Keith Evans, Lead Game Designer at Red Storm.

NJ: Why did you select Washington as the location for the game?

KE: Well it was a direct continuation of the first game, and we wanted to make a true sequel that pushes the story forward. The first game is all about Manhattan and the start of the outbreak, and you're trying to barely save Manhattan, trying not to let it completely collapse. The outbreak from the first game didn't stop on the island, it spread everywhere and it decimated a huge portion of the United States. So as we looked at pushing things seven months forward, we knew we wanted to raise the stakes even higher, so DC was one of the natural choices because it allowed us to raise the stakes and make it not just about saving the city, but saving a huge chunk of the nation and trying to hold onto anything that was there before the outbreak.

NJ: You obvious put a lot of work into recreating the city of Washington'

KE: Yes!

NJ: ' so how did you decide how you wanted to destroy it?

KE: (Laughs) That was the fun part! So we started from very accurate satellite imagery, and LIDAR data to start from a one-to-one base. On day one we had a very accurate recreation of the city. It just needed a lot of love. So we did a lot of research on what would actually happen in DC. We had a research team feeding the development team information on things like how would the sewer systems back up what would happen if there was heavier than expected rain for that area, what would happen when trash wouldn't have been picked up and then the heat wave of summer came in' all those things kind of pushed us in the way that we destroyed the city, so you'll see a lot of devastating flooding that collapsed roads and created massive sinkholes, you'll see buildings where if the pump systems on the roof stop working they all caved in, filled the building with water, and then nature just overtook them. And all that was based on all of that research.

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NJ: How was your approach to this game different given that the outbreak has already happened and people have had to deal with it for months now?

KE: It kind of changed everything. Like the first game you were time-capsuled into New York at Christmas time and then layered onto that was the panic of the initial outbreak. A lot of the panic was just people fleeing. It was evacuation lanes and it was that initial outbreak of violence. In the sequel it changes a lot of the core gameplay system because we knew we wanted to show what would actually happen to the civilization, and that's what the settlements came out of. Actually having the civilians be much more integrated into their world, and be their own faction alongside all of the enemies. And then it also forced us to create much more natural looking environments, because now all of a sudden, you're not in New York so you're not just going down very flat streets and it's a much more diverse environment with terrain, open parks, and places like the Mall where it's just super wide open. But it's also these much more destroyed sections, where you're dropping down into collapsed roads into a sewer pipe into a building and everything feels more connected because the world has collapsed around itself.

NJ: What kind of research did you do and what were some of your sources of inspiration to determine how the populace would react to a disaster like this?

KE: Yeah, there were a lot of people that the research team reached out to like survivalist groups and we read books like that to learn how you would collect water in this environment and of what would happen when all of the things that we take for granted are falling apart. How would you build irrigation if you had to do that on a rooftop? So capturing water in clothes that have been stitched together that funnel down into a planter box on a rooftop and just ways that civilians would adapt and it was also about seeing how they would come together, in an environment where most of the people have been destroyed you would all of a sudden no longer be like the city it would be more like the forest, a wasteland, and these small cities would pop up inside what existed before, the huge metropolis.

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NJ: How did you select the factions that appear in the game? Were there any real-world inspirations?

KE: I wouldn't say real-world inspirations, it was more a lot of our imaginations, but we definitely looked at the AI from the first game to see what was successful and that the community really liked about those, so giving each faction their own faction leader that has a story to tell, having each faction fight in a very unique way so it's a different experience as you move throughout the city. And then little fun elements like we knew in the first game that it never got not fun to blow up the pack on the back of a cleaner, and so we've really pushed that type of gameplay element to all of the factions this time to give you more counters on them, to open them up to attack, and to create more team play and a lot more diversity.

NJ: As you loosen various factions' grip on the city, does that affect the city in different ways?

KE: Yeah, it does. So the three factions and the two civilian settlements are all part of this simulation that's constantly running in the background, so you might be inside of a mission and because of events that took place before, maybe that rooftop settlement that you saw today, maybe they're in lockdown so they've collected a lot of resources and the other settlement is in bad shape, so they'll send trade routes out to send supplies to their faction just because of what you had done in the world and then because what the enemy factions have done at that time they'll try to intercept the trade routes at key points along the path. It creates this thing where you feel like you can actually create a difference in the world and that your choices matter, but it's feeding you new gameplay. Nothing is pre-scripted, it's all about adapting to stuff on the fly. And that goes through the one through thirty campaign, and then gets more involved in the endgame which I think is going to add a ton to the replayability.

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NJ: Is there an end to the end game? Can you save Washington?

KE: There's an end to the story. There's an end to the one to thirty. And this time we're pushing for the end game to be super robust at launch so a lot of the features in the first game that we added post launch will be coming back. Our goal this time is to always give you something to strive towards. At launch that's going to be the raid. It will be your aspirational goal, your power check. That will continue through year three of post-launch content.

NJ: What about PvP? Can you tell us a little about that?

KE: Yeah, that's something that we're directly responsible for at Red Storm. We had the Dark Zone when we launched the first time around. Super lawless, really hardcore experience that connected with a group of our players and made another group of our players very nervous. It was like this social experiment almost. We defiantly brought that back and refined it for the sequel and we're trying to open it up for some more players but not lose any of the teeth of it. So this time we've split the Dark Zone into three smaller distinctly different Dark Zones that offer you different gameplay experiences. And we've added this layer of normalization to the RPG so you can feel a little more comfortable going into the Dark Zone and not just get rolled by someone who has the perfect build after playing for a 1,000 hours. So it's a little bit more inviting while still being this really unique experience where anything can happen and players can be pulling up around a corner watching you clear a landmark and then come in and then that fight transforms in a really cool way. It's more accessible, it's more fair, it's more varied, but then at endgame it evolves and flips itself so we have this thing called the Occupied Dark Zones which basically takes all of the rules away. It's so much more hardcore and will cater to that group of players in a way that they're already responding to. Basically the normalization goes away, all the signs and feedback of who is good and who is bad, who you should be scared of, goes away and the amount of rewards you can pull out of there increases, so it's the highest risk reward gameplay. And on top of that we have organized PvP in a platform called Conflict that will ship at launch with maps built just for PvP, shipping with four versus four game modes and it's going to give players who just want balanced, fair PvP really short ten minutes bursts of high action. Something that we didn't have at launch in the first game and that will really fill out the experience.

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NJ: How do you work PvP into a universe in which The Division is supposed to be the heroes here?

KE: It's really baked into our narrative. Everyone's' on the edge, the Division is trying to hold everything together, but even the Division even in this game is not in a great spot. You're always trying to get more powerful and there's always that temptation of greed. But in the Dark Zone, that's why it's dark, they're not watching quite as closely and we have this element of going rogue which we've really expanded in this game. Go going rogue in the first game just meant shooting another agent and taking the stuff they have, it was all about PvP 100% o the time. Now we've really embraced the idea of greed and theft and what would you do if no one was watching, so there's a whole layer of the rogue stuff that's just PvE focused and it's you stealing credits or stealing another dead player's dropped loot. Or hijacking an extraction because someone left it unguarded. Things that aren't directly tied to you shooting another player in the face, but are selfish. That's all baked into the world of the Dark Zone.

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Transmitted: 7/2/2022 2:46:23 AM