With Tom Clancy’s The Division 2’s Title Update 15, released roughly three weeks ago, comes another Apparel Event, starting on June 7, which features new, cool vanity gear for players to pick up. But what goes into creating that gear, from inception to implementation in the game?
It all starts with a concept. “I try to find something in the new content that we can tie an Apparel Event to, so when we do an update, it all feels coherent,” Art Producer Palle Hoffstein says. Sometimes it can be tricky and take a while to find that tie-in, but in the case of Title Update 15 and the Fairview Crew Apparel Event, it was clear from the start.
TELLING A STORY
“Fairview Crew came together very quickly because the new content is set in an atomic power plant, a very specific environment that we haven’t had in the game before,” Palle tells us. To him, the best events tell a story through their gear, answering the question “why would somebody be dressed that way?”. And in a power plant, there were a lot of stories to tell about the people dressing up in the clothes offered in the new event.
“Who is keeping the plant running, six months after society collapsed? Who is there? Do they live there now?” Palle asked himself and his team. “They would have gear that was part of their old job, but by now their stuff is going to be taped up, the visors are going to be cracked, they might be mixing and matching stuff that’s probably not even keeping them safe anymore!”
“And while some people still know how to run the power plant, others have completely fallen apart. But for all of them, the gear is their connection to a world that is gone – that is why they are holding on to these pieces of clothing.”
FINDING THE COOL
After the concept has been finalized, Palle shares it with the Creative Director and the Narrative Director. If they like it, he then goes to the Concept Artists so everyone can get an idea of what the gear will look like visually.
“I will take that high level idea and start turning it into something concrete,” Senior Concept Artist Topi Pajunen, who worked on the Fairview Crew Apparel Event, says. “I do research, mood boards and sketches before handing it to Palle to discuss what they look like, what kind of feel does this gear convey?”
“But also, how would it work in-game? Does it function with our characters? Does it look cool?”
This coolness factor means that, despite the research, a piece of clothing does not need to be completely realistic and practical. It just needs to be iconic for the theme, archetypes of something you would straight away connect with the subject matter.
And while creating the final concept art, the artists keep building on the connection to the world of Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 – in the case of Fairview Crew, it was branding. “Pentco is a fictional company that our players have already seen in the Division games,” Palle says, “so we decided that this power plant would be a part of this established corporation that has a logo, that has brand colors. In real work clothing, you would see logos everywhere, so we used that to ground the gear into the ‘reality’ of the game world.”
FROM 2D TO 3D
Once the concepts are signed off on, it is time to get the gear into the game. Some of the 3D assets are created in-house at Massive, but much of it is handled primarily at Ubisoft Shanghai, following the regular 3D process pipeline before ending up inside Tom Clancy’s The Division 2.
“There’s a high polygon version, we review it, it goes to low poly, we review it, it goes to skinning and rigging, we review it, it goes into the game, we look at it,” Palle tells us. “All through that process we stop and iterate as needed, because something that works great as a concept does not always come to life in the way you would like when you see it in 3D.”
The way Tom Clancy’s The Division 2’s character work, with five pieces of clothing and six pieces of gear that all need to be shown on the character, there is a lot of complexity involved and tweaks must be continuously made before Palle and his team are happy with the result.
And, as Topi points out to us, the team must be aware that players, in the end, want to mix and match gear to get the look they want for their character. During an event, the new pieces are meant to fit together as coherent outfits, but if you want to wear a Hawaii shirt from the Heat Wave Apparel Event that ran in 2019 with a new gasmask from the Fairview Crew Apparel Event in 2022, you should be able to.
“We have so many pieces in the game, not everything works with everything,” Palle elaborates. “If you are going to wear something we made two years ago with something we made now, we cannot guarantee that they look amazing together. That is not our priority when putting together new outfits. And we build them quite differently now than we did in the past.”
THE SHIFTING TECHNOLOGY OF VANITY
“It was more rigid when we started,” Palle says. “The biggest thing we added in Year 1 was probably the ability to have hoodies up, which everyone was asking for, which I was asking for, that we just could not do originally. We needed gameplay support and I had to nag people for a long time.”
“The other big thing was the ability to hide the chest piece.”
That might not sound like a big thing on paper, but a lot of thought and work went into hiding that piece. When Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 launched, the real focus was on the game’s regular gear that was designed to have a visible progression as you moved from level 1 to level 30. The equipment would get bigger and more technologically complex, and in the end, you would be decked out in heavy, impressive and elaborate gear.
“The problem was the players did not like that,” Palle says. “They liked being powerful, they did not like the look of being encumbered with a lot of gear. So, we started producing things that looked more streamlined, and then we started hiding the chest piece on some shirt pieces.”
Together with hats and jackets, a shirt has some of the most interesting real estate where people communicate through clothing, both overtly and subtly. It is a good place for logos and slogans, and helps players define who their character is. It gave the team a lot more places to play and tell stories.
In the Fairview Crew Apparel Event, the team is adding a new type of item that has not been in the game before – purely cosmetic backpacks meant to fit in with the rest of the outfits in the event. They have no gameplay advantages, but because the players can choose to change the look of their regular gear while keeping their stats using Appearance Slots – colloquially called a “transmog” system in games – these new backpacks open a lot of options for both players and developers.
“What’s cool is that The Division 2 is a third person game, you see your character over the shoulder, so the backpack takes up a big amount of screen space,” Palle says. “It is very front and center. The new functionality takes the canvas of the screen and opens up a big area that was not available to us before to do some storytelling and play around a little bit. “
“Before they needed to be fully plausible, they had to look like real gear. But with the new cosmetic gear, we have more room to play with colors and materials. This is going to be fun!”
It sounds like a simple process but opening up this space did take some gameplay programming and design to work. To Topi it was worth that extra effort. “We can now work in full 360 degrees around a character,” he says with a smile. “It is very exciting to me. The visual area of games is where I live. I love it. There are so many things you can imagine what characters can put in a backpack, so many different materials they can be made out of.”
THE FUTURE OF AGENT FASHION
Moving forward, the team wants to do two Apparel Events per season and for them to counterbalance each other. If one has a more militaristic theme, they want the second one to not have that. “We might have underestimated the importance of self-expression in the community when we launched,” Palle says, “but that is something we can address now. And it is fun to work on!”
The next one is meant to tap into contemporary clothing, but still with the same “six months later” vibe that Fairview Crew has.
“It is something we tackled a little bit in the past, but I do not think we really pulled it off,” Palle says. “We are better positioned to do that now. We have people here that are more into clothing and fashion. I am really looking forward to that event and to see what the community does with it.”
The team of course has more ideas and plans for what they are going to do for future Apparel Events, hoping to do even more with the vanity system they started with the backpacks and using it for more pieces.
“We want to give players more options,” Palle summarizes their philosophy. “And we always want to give them even more opportunities to communicate who they are in our game world.”