Mar 13, 2019

How Tattoos Help Build the World of The Division 2

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A realistic game experience is not just about environment – it’s also about characters. For Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, the production team decided on raising the bar for character customization through a maybe unlikely focus: tattoos. 

In collaboration with a local tattoo parlor, the team has created a unique set of tattoo designs which aims to create a more authentic experience.

The atmosphere is practically buzzing as the six tattoo artists from the local tattoo parlor One Floor Down enter the Massive reception. In September, members of The Division 2’s production team came to them asking if they would be interested in creating tattoo designs for the character customization.

Today, they will see their designs in the game for the very first time.

“I’m a massive fan of the game – I was actually one of the play testers for The Division and I played it to bits when it was released. When we were asked to do this collaboration, I felt completely ecstatic. Now I can make all my friends have my designs in the game,” says Hjalmar Ekberg Hammenskog, one of the tattoo artists involved in the collaboration.

The idea of collaborating with real tattoo artists for the game originally came from a discussion between Lead Environment Artist Adam Olsson, Associate Producer Johan Oldbring, and Art Director Benedikt Podlesnigg on how to further build The Division’s universe and how to create an authentic experience for the players.

“We wanted to create designs that look real because they are real,” explains Adam Olsson. “We have a history of working outside of the box – in The Division we worked with real graffiti artists for example. We believe that it’s important to trust the experts and go beyond what our Game Artists can do.”

Benedikt adds:

“Having these talented tattoo artists design the tattoos have given us a better variety of style. Sometimes, tattoos in games are lacking in authenticity, and without this collaboration we would never have ended up with the more quirky tattoos which makes it all feel real.”

Unique designs and in-game brands

Sitting down with the six tattoo artists before they enter the Games Lab for their first look at their designs, we start talking about tattoos in games. Echoing Benedikt and Adam’s sentiment about authenticity, they start to list what makes a tattoo feel unreal.

“Most of the time, there simply aren’t enough options. And the options you have are either full sleeves or tribals, which can feel a bit outdated. I often get the feeling that it never really looks like a tattoo, but rather like body paint,” says Mike McGlashan to everyone’s agreement.

The artists were given some directions on the designs related to the game’s different factions, in-game brands, and pop culture references that only exist in the universe. But they were also asked to create unique designs with their own styles, which proved to be both fun and challenging.

“One of the greatest challenges I faced was to not second guess everything I was doing – I mean, millions of people will click through our designs, and it’s hard to not think about that while drawing! We are also used to doing everything our own way, and this collaboration forced us out of our comfort zones a bit.” says Mike.

Simon Huhtala agrees:

“It was all very new to us, but a really good thing to experience.”

“They look like tattoos do!”

The Games Lab is all set, and as the group enter the computer-filled room, they gather in front of the big screen so they can see their designs together for the first time.

“This is beyond exciting – I have no idea which designs they’ve actually chosen! We made a whole bunch, and when Adam came in to the studio to collect them he also raided our flash wall – so it can be anything really,” comments Philip Hylen.

The build loads.

Games Lab Coordinator Mikkel Colbe Nielsen chooses a character, and starts to show all the designs available. The room erupts in a frenzy.

“Oh my Gosh, this is so cool! They look like tattoos do!” shouts Philip as one of his designs is placed on the characters neck.

As Mikkel clicks through the designs, the artists become more and more incredulous at what they have created is actually in the game.

“This feels so weird – but in a good way,” says Hjalmar.

Afterwards, the artists have some time alone with the customization tool, and they sit and play around with their designs, twisting and turning to see their work in every angle possible. Some are also able to get an even closer look with the photo mode in the game.

Next to them, Adam, Benedikt and Johan look on with big smiles on their faces.

“This has been such a fun process, and I do believe that it’s been extra fun because of this collaboration with a local tattoo parlor. It gives the whole thing a flavor of Malmö, somehow,” says Adam.

“Hopefully, our work on The Division 2 can help raise the bar for tattoo standards in games,” concludes Hjalmar as his character runs towards the Capitolium.

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