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The Division 2

The Division 2’s Creative Director Discusses Dark Zone Changes, Weapon Normalization, And Anti-Cheating Plans
by Matt Bertz on Jan 17, 2019 at 11:01 AM
Platform PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
Publisher Ubisoft
Developer Massive Entertainment
Rating Mature

If you’ve read our extensive preview that launched earlier today, you know that the  developers at Massive and Red Storm have a lot of ambitious plans for evolving the dark zone and PvP experiences in The Division 2. Creating three distinct dark zones, normalizing weapon stats to create an even playing field, and still having one rotating “anything goes” region, where hardcore players can test their min-maxed gear unabated, should give the game its own identity. To explain the rationale behind these sweeping changes, we spoke to Red Storm creative director Terry Spier. 

Let's talk normalization – the community has been discussing the pros and cons of putting weapon damage on an even playing field. Can you explain how exactly you want it to work? 

I think how I described it, that's the deepest I'll go here. When we're talking about weapon damage and things like that, if you have an assault rifle and I have an assault rifle, but yours is legendary and mine is common, we're going to bring those inline. We're going to take stats, we're going to respect your build, but we're going to make sure that all the things are pretty in line, and that's as deep as I'll go because we're still working on it. We're still fixing stuff and figuring out – that doesn't work at all. But the ultimate goal is to make sure that players get what they've been asking for – at least the ones who have been asking for it: Give us a fair chance in the dark zone. 

By adopting normalization in the dark zone, are you seeing more diversity in the types of builds people use? 

Yeah, I do. I see a lot more diversity because players are able to play with their build but their output, I don't want to say it's marginalized, but the fact that it's even means you can play the way you want to play and have success. And the other player feels the same way. That wasn't the case in the original game. It was, “I'm trying to play the way I want to play, and I can't because that is too powerful,” so we're seeing a lot more parity. The truth of the matter is we have much more variety in this game already, and we haven't even hit post-launch. So, there's going to be a lot of options for players to explore and experiment with.

When you're in the dark zone fighting both A.I. and other players; are you basically running two scripts on top of one another when NPCs are in a battle with humans?

That's a good question and one I'm probably not properly equipped to answer. How our damage effect, we changed the way the A.I. scale. Maybe you noticed, but we don't display A.I. level in the dark zone anymore. The A.I. will always be equal to you. So, when you are attacking the A.I. you are doing appropriate damage, and when someone else is attacking the A.I. and they are a different level, they are doing appropriate damage. The way we work it all out in the wash, god bless the technical people. They figured out a way to make sure it all works. 

On the map, it looked like there were parts of the dark zone that were higher level, but you're getting rid of that? 

Yeah. Remember, the dark zones unlock in a linear fashion, so the player will be introduced to Dark Zone East first and then they'll go on the journey. You will experience dark zones and they will seem to get harder, and when you open them all up and unlock them, they will all be appropriate. If you're level 29 and you go back to Dark Zone East, which you played when you were level 10, it's going to be just as hard. 

Let's talk about density – the three zones on their own are obviously smaller than the dark zone in the first game. When I saw them on the map, the new zones didn't look that big. How are you controlling population? Are you trying to kill those longer, quiet moments that people had in the original dark zone?

That's a great question. We did have a lot of those longer, quiet moments, and how we've replaced that or how I believe we've approached those moments is we've given more feedback to the player. If you noticed, when a player engages a landmark, it now flashes. Little subtleties like that – how we display the rogues and manhunts on the map. How we don't display the gray rogues on the map. We want to make sure that because we have reduced player count, players can control more where they want to go based on the feedback they are getting. We didn’t have any of that feedback during the first game. My experience was people just went north. If they didn't want to see other people, they would just go north and it was generally free space. I don't think that was as efficient as it could have been, because you had a lot of the dark zone that wasn't active. The other way we approached it was the dark zone sort of lives on its own. If there are players grouped up and spending a lot of time in the southern portion of a dark zone, the dark zone will decide to spawn activities elsewhere to creation motion and movement. Players will be able to safely move around the dark zone and avoid or collide with the other groups. It's worked well so far. 

What is the player count now in the dark zones? Does it scale differently depending on the zones?

The max player count in the dark zones now is 12. 

How do you feel the density change is going to affect solo play in the dark zone? Some of my favorite moments in the dark zone were when I escaped by the skin of my teeth when I was by myself out there waiting for friends to join. Those are rewarding moments, and my initial reaction was these maps are small enough that it's going to be hard to avoid people. Are there perks or abilities that allow solo players to be effective in that space? 

Your dark-zone level now has passive perks attached to it, so you'll be able to go to the base of operations and pick and choose from a tree of things that will help you be able to play how you want to play. So, there is that, and you will be able to do that and assist yourself as a solo player. And then, I'm going to touch back on things that we communicate in the dark zone and how we hide the PvE player very subtly in the new dark zones, and the fact we normalize. All these things – they don't take away from the tension. I will admit that it will be harder to fully disappear, you can't just go up into DZ09 where no one is going. You're going to have to remain real cognizant. And I want to retain that sort of hair on the back of your neck feeling when you're in the dark zone. Bringing the people in a little bit closer, making sure people know what's going on in their zone. Pay attention to all the signs and feedback, because if you don't you could die. But to me that creates the essence of the tension that dark zone creates. I'm not going to say I'm making it any easier for the solo players, but I think I am. Especially given the normalization. 

When I visited one of the underground thieves dens available if you complete a rogue loop, there was a guy in the den who had an icon that said 0/5 MRE. What does that mean? 

MRE is a military ration. Each dark zone has a specific item that only drops from that dark zone, and the vendors in the thieves’ den are always looking for a mix and match or a specific type of item. If you can satisfy his needs, you will get his reward. We'll be able to control the value and scale of those rewards and how much you have to collect. Each dark zone has its own unique needs item that players can hunt and find. 

Do you sometimes need to farm these unique items from one place and bring it to another?

Sometimes. Absolutely. You might say, "We need more morphine and that's only in east. East is occupied...what do we do?” I don't want to say there are time-sensitive elements – players can play at their own pace – but yeah, sometimes you need to go into east, and what are you going to do? Are you going to risk it? Are you not? We'll let players make the choice. 

How did you change the manhunt system for The Division 2?

In The Division 2, we've upgraded the manhunt endgame we had in the original. Now you have three shade terminals that are going to activate when you go manhunt, and those terminals are what you'd go to if you want to clear your manhunt – essentially reboot your shade system and collect your reward. But this time, we don't give specifics to people that are chasing you. We give you the precise location of the terminals and we give players that are chasing you a general vicinity. Of course, players will learn where those are, but they don't know which one you are heading to. When you arrive as a manhunt at one of those terminals, you can choose to clear and collect your bounty, or you can choose to increase your notoriety. We're essentially letting people ante-up and increase the rewards you can earn. When you do that, the players chasing you will see you have done that and that one station goes offline and you only have two left. They still don't know which one you are going to, but there is an interesting cat and mouse game that's played by the manhunt folks and the people who are chasing them. Depending on how aggressive the manhunters want to be, they can earn a sizeable award if they increase their notoriety twice if they end up at one station where everyone on the server knows where they are going to be. It's pretty lucrative, and it's super intense. 

We saw landmarks, manhunts, hacking, and supply drops. Are there any other variable events that pop up in the dark zones?

In the original game we had contamination events that would happen in the dark zone. We did not include those at launch. So right now, we're starting with dark zone drops, landmarks, and we've changed the dynamic nature of the zone. You'll see a lot more A.I. you didn't expect. Part of that is because we reduced the player count so we can include a little more A.I. and increase the density because player characters are pretty expensive [resource wise]. So, as far as things that are calling you on the actual map, it's supply drop, extraction, and landmarks. Those are the things that are going to really ring the bell. 

But you'll see more variety within these?

Absolutely. You saw the landmarks have difficulty ratings now, so you're going to be able to pick as a solo player or a group player. I want to do the challenging one, or I want to just do normal. That's going to dictate how many waves of A.I. come out of the landmark and how much loot you get out of it. It also dictates how long you stay at a landmark, which could be detrimental depending on the other players in the dark zone, that density – how it fluctuates depending on who is playing the dark zone – is a lot different than the first one. 

I noticed not every item you loot is contaminated. Was that a decision you made so players still feel somewhat rewarded even if they aren't able to extract stuff? 

Yeah. It was kind of a two- or three-fold decision. It was in part for the solo player. It was tough as a solo player, as you said, having to extract everything. You have to ring the dinner bell every time you want to get something out of the dark zone. Quite frankly, I was disappointed that yellow bag started to mean a little bit less in the original game because players had everything they wanted, nobody really cared, and they were just killing each other for killing's sake. Making it so when you saw a yellow bag, you say, "Oh, that dude has a contaminated item!" and how we're handling the loot rolls on those contaminated items is different than it was in the original game. We're taking a look at who extracts that item, and then we're going to roll it after they successfully get it out. The likelihood that you get an upgrade is much higher. If the three of us fight over a contaminated bag for two hours, it's an M4, but that's all we know. Its roll is going to depend on who extracts it. Making that yellow bag special, making it a real thing that you care about again, and making players who don't want to care, they can avoid it altogether and farm regular loot. 

There seemed to be a lot of new crafting items like titanium and ceramic. Are you diversifying so there is more variety in the types of items users need to build new gear? 

The crafting system is insane. It's completely out of my range to talk about, but I know that Massive has put a lot of time into it. It doesn't come into play in organized PvP, but we'll have crafting nodes it the dark zone so players can gather and get all the things they need. There is a lot. 

As I gathered loot through the dark zone, I noticed that none of it was cosmetics. Is that all tied to progression, currency, or a store now? Or can I still find new vanity items in the world?

I can't comment exactly on that. What I can say is how we distribute the vanity is something that's still happening. But I'll tell you there is a whole s---load of vanity in the game. There's going to be a whole lot of ways to collect it. 

Talk about occupied dark zones. You want that essentially to be a thunderdome

Yeah, absolutely. We want a fair experience and the dark zone is a huge part of the map and the gameplay. I want more people in it, so let's make sure that people can go in it and we do what we need to do. But we have to respect the players who still play today, who still go in the dark zone today, to really blow off steam and flex and reap the benefits of all the optimization they have done on other people's faces. Give it to them, let them play as hard as they want to play. And take all the gloves off – everything. The A.I. is harder. The PvP is harder. The signs and feedback are harder. That intensity appeals to me so much. I think it's going to be crazier than the dark zone was when we launched the original game. 

How does the occupied system work exactly? It's at endgame?

It's at endgame, just as you said. When you hit endgame, the dark zone will become occupied, and it's one of the three dark zones. It's only going to happen at endgame so you're never going to see this. When you hit endgame, there is a very clear icon over the dark zone, and it's an event that occurs. If you are already in the dark zone, things will begin to happen. You'll get notifications from Isaac, and you'll notice things begin to happen in the air and on the ground. Things will change and they'll be a timer and you'll know shit is about to go down. It will stay that way, Let's say it will stay in Dark Zone West for 16 hours, and then it will go away and appear somewhere else. I'm not going to tell you what it's occupied by, but it's one and it rotates. We're never going to force anyone in it and we want it to be organic so it wasn't like a toggle. 

Let's talk PvP. How are the awards different in that mode than they are in the general game? Are there PvP specific gear that I need to play this mode to get? 

No gear. The same gear you can get doing any of our activities is the gear you're going to get playing PvP. We do have exclusive vanity that played out through the course of your PvP level, but we don't want to open up a place where people have to play PvP to get the quote “best gun” or whatever. But you'll get rewarded for playing PvP and have cool stuff that other people won't have. 

How do you get into PvP? Are there multiple ways to access it?

There are two main ways. You can go to the base of operations. There's going to be an actual person there you can talk to. Or you go right to the mega-map, and there's a whole PvP tab where you can do it right from the menu. You don't have to go to that person if you don't want to. 

Can you jump into PvP from the beginning or is it locked behind endgame?

It's not the super-duper beginning because of how we do some of the skill unlocks and the progression, but let's just say level five. Super early you can jump it, we just want to make sure players are at a baseline before we let them go. Pretty early. 

Let's talk about clans. How are you handling clan progression? What are the rewards behind that? Is that cosmetic emblems and things like that?

It's absolutely cosmetic. We want to make sure that people who participate in the clan feature can be as flamboyant as they want to really deck out their character and make sure they can be as proud as they want of their organization. There's nothing behind clans. If you were not to participate, you're not missing out on anything beyond being a part of a special community. You're not missing out on weapons or gear or anything like that. 

Are you creating an infrastructure that allows clans to matchmake and scrimmage with other clans? 

At launch, that's not integrated. But I can tell the goal is to have clans be part of all the features in the game. Right now, no, there isn't a custom match with clan, but hold tight. 

Are you locked with 4v4 in PvP or are you leaving the door open to try different populations with different modes? 

I think the goal is to try as many things as possible. A group of four is the DNA of the Division, so that was the perfect place to start. Everything works well, including the back end. All the engineers made sure we started with 4v4. But we want to make Conflict the destination for PvP, and that means new experiences. That means working on new things. I think speaking to the fact that we're going to have an eight-player raid, that's going to allow us to explore a lot. 

When you get into a battle when there are two different groups of players and your players, the HUD can get really busy. Is there and customization you can do to strip stuff away that maybe you're comfortable not having on the screen and getting more of a pure experience where you can manage sightlines better?

Yeah. We're going to allow PC and console HUD customization. You can customize in a lot of ways and pick and choose what you want.

Let's talk about toxicity and cheating. You said you are having multiple anti-cheat systems at work. 

I don't know that I've been cleared to name the third-party software, but everything we did to combat cheating in the original game is in place, and then we've got that third-party software. It's not just about us responding to people that get reported. It's about us detecting cheaters and proactively taking them out of the system. We can do that now. It's pretty robust. We've been doing a lot of work here [at Red Storm] and at Massive. I'm happy because I hate cheaters. 

In terms of toxicity, when the bullets start flying the proximity chat will be turned off. Are there any other de-griefing measures? 

That's where we're starting. I think it's going to be a very fluid thing. We really want to respond to community feedback and handle it with care because the proximity VOIP is a unique part of the DZ. The instinct was Yank that shit! because nothing good came from it. But that wasn't the case. There were so many good moments we heard about from fans, ETF members, and people who were on Reddit. But let's start with this, and then we'll see where we go from there. 

Of all the changes you have made to dark zone, which are you most proud of and do you feel enhances the experience the most? 

It's such a two-fold answer. We sat down at the table and said, “We want more people to go in the dark zone.” And at the same time, I said "I want a crazy-ass dark zone." Being able to deliver – I think we're going to do it, I think we're going to get more people in the dark zone because the intro missions are safe, and because they can explore at their own pace, and because it's normalized and we give great signs and feedback and I've got this crazy place where all these awesome people who spend a hundred billion hours playing, they can go there and kick each other's butt. I'm most proud of that, having those two ends of the spectrum and I just envision a day where there is someone who wasn't a darkzoner, and they experience it and realize they kind of like this. And one day they decide to step foot in the occupied dark zone. To me, that's the ultimate success. They've become confident in their ability to play against other players even though they didn't think they were, and then they spend enough time playing to optimize their build and realize that I'm going to try this. Then we've won. I can't wait for that. 

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The Division 2cover

The Division 2

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC
Release Date:
March 15, 2019 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC), 
March 17, 2020 (Stadia)