For a game that’s set in a mid-crisis world, with civilization in the midst of a devastating epidemic, you’d think maybe a smidge of The Division’s societal breakdown might spill over into the game’s development process. You might even wonder about any possible tensions that could naturally arise on a global team involving multiple studios around the world.
The good news: no such tensions exist. At all. Especially when it comes to the recent addition of Red Storm to The Division’s global development team led by Massive Entertainment.
While Massive is running the development of The Division – building everything from their proprietary Snowdrop engine powering the game, to the design of the world, the innovative gameplay systems and the intriguing story – the Swedish studio began to seek out additional Ubisoft studio support last fall. Red Storm was naturally at the top of their list, simply based on their long history with Clancy games. Founded in 1996 with a small team that included Tom Clancy himself, the North Carolina-based studio created the original Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon – and has been an integral part of the Ubisoft development ecosystem since it was acquired in 2000.
But it wasn’t just the proud Clancy legacy that helped bring Red Storm into the fold. One of Massive’s primary needs: developing an authentic arsenal of weapons. “They knew that surely we must have a team here that knows what we’re doing on that front,” says Red Storm Producer Tony Sturtzel. “They were right and our weapons team was available.”
Indeed, Red Storm has an entire team whose focus is weapons design. “I, personally, have been doing it for about six years now,” says Lead Weapons Designer JD Cragg. “One of the guys on my team has been doing it for almost nine. This is pretty much all I do – authentic military weapons, vehicles and that sort of thing.”
So what, exactly, is Red Storm working on? The studio is sworn to secrecy (for now), but we were able to pry free a few enticing details. Red Storm’s primary focus is the artwork for The Division’s weapons. The studio currently has three dedicated artists in North Carolina who are working with a team member in Malmo, Sweden. “He helped pick a list of realistic weapons and common weapons that would appear in the fiction of the game and we started building them from scratch in 3D,” Cragg says of his Malmo counterpart. “So we take the process from a list of assets that we need all the way through to completed artwork.”
Realism – already a pillar of the overall Clancy brand – is a key component of The Division. And when it comes to realism, Red Storm can make a massive impact on the game. “One of the huge benefits that we have is our connections with local military,” Sturtzel says. Not only does Red Storm have an in-house authenticity department, but the studio also has strong relationships with regional manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, meaning they’re able to get their hands on actual weapons. “We’ve had manufacturers come in and literally disassemble the entire weapon all the way
down to the nuts and bolts, and our guys are taking hi-res photos of those things. We probably have unparalleled access to these types of things because of our authenticity department and their focus on relationships. We’re not ever gonna let the cat out of the bag on some of the relationships we have!” It all translates to tens of thousands of photos, terabytes of data – and, as Cragg promises, “the most accurate weapons of any videogame.”
‘We know that that we can build absolutely the most authentic piece of equipment, right down to the millimeter’
This even extends down to the sounds of the weapons. After all, a next-gen game needs next-gen audio, too. “Our audio guys are some of the luckiest guys in the world,” Sturtzel says. “They get to travel to all these exotic locations and record ambient audio. And then they get to travel to the desert and shoot every gun under the sun. This project will be no different.” The audio quality is so good, according to Cragg, that former military guys can pick out the exact weapon and how far way it was fired, just from the sounds. “It’s spot on,” he says.
Of course, realism should never trump fun in a videogame. And despite their relentless focus on realism, Cragg is the first to admit that small concessions can and will be made in order to elevate the fun factor. “Fun is definitely the number one goal,” Cragg tells us. “But as far as the artwork is concerned, we don’t have to make too many concessions there.”
Part of what makes this process so vibrant, though, is that Red Storm isn’t solely in charge of weapons development. While Massive relies on them for the design work, they remain active when it comes to the gameplay for the weapons. “We know that that we can build absolutely the most authentic piece of equipment, right down to the millimeter,” Sturtzel says. “And the guys who are coming in from the gameplay side maybe want to push the envelope a bit, which is a great jumping off point to push the collaboration, because we have to get together regularly and talk about it from both sides.”
Which brings us back to where we started: With multiple studios working around the globe on a game that’s all about the breakdown of society, has there been any challenges working together?
Nope. Despite a heavy interrogation in both Sweden and North Carolina, we couldn’t find a single crack. “Red Storm is the birthplace of the Tom Clancy game franchise – having them work with us is a fantastic opportunity,” says Fredrik Rundqvist, Executive Producer at Massive. “Their expertise in military hardware, weapons and everything Tom Clancy is second to none in the industry. I really look forward to having them onboard and I am sure they will add a lot of amazing things to the game!”
“I can’t really say enough about how excited I am to be a part of this collaboration,” Sturtzel smiles. “We’ve so far dealt with nothing but the most professional, talented group of people that I’ve ever worked with. I’m really excited to continue building on that as we go forward in the project.”
Cragg is quick to agree. “Everyone we’ve worked with has been fantastic,” he says. “The guys at Massive are insanely smart.”
For David Polfeldt, the Managing Director at Massive Entertainment, the collaboration isn’t just successful, but also a chance to connect with the studio behind one of his favorite gaming experiences. “One of my best gaming memories is playing the very first Ghost Recon,” Polfeldt says. “Since then I have always been a fan of Red Storm, and it is a great pleasure to end up working with them on The Division. We have a lot in common in terms of heritage and studio culture that makes it very easy for us to collaborate, despite the distances and different time zones. I hope that what we see today is only the beginning of a long and exciting journey together.”
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