Massive Attack: Ubisoft Show Off The Division’s Engine

Is that Source 2? Do you think it saw us?

Occasionally at GDC, there’s a big new game announcement, but that’s not really what the week-long event is for. The Game Developers Conference is instead where designers, programmers and artists go to pull back the heavy tarp of secrecy and reveal the gross, technical innards of openness and sharing. It’s in that spirit – plus the spirit of self-promotion and bragging – that we’re seeing so much detail of so many different game engines. Including, in the video embedded below, Ubisoft’s Snowdrop Engine. It’s being built by Massive Entertainment for The Division, and it’s very pretty and smart.

Here is a thing I was once told: Assassin’s Creed 3 was built by a team of 800 people. Eight hundred! That’s more than is on a rugby team. If you’ve ever wondered why big publishers are risk averse, or wondered why modern games are made by four studios across different timezones, this is why. They’re modern day cathedrals, except with better safety conditions.

It makes sense that unlike Unreal Engine 4 or the CryEngine, The Division’s main selling-point isn’t its thrice-rendered teramips, its per-pixel specular lattices, or its Dong shading. It’s that the engine allows for greater efficiency, improving workflow, and lets Ubisoft make Tom Clancy’s The Division with, I hear, a team of a mere 300 people. Three hundred! That’s barely enough for a rugby team.

Also it looks like it does good snow. Hey Ubisoft, can I license your engine for a crisp bag full of farts? Epic said I could do it.


  1. DarkLiberator says:

    After they finish this, would be cool if Massive applied this to a World in Conflict sequel.

    • Gap Gen says:

      Or a proper Ground Control one.

      • McGuit says:

        A new Ground Control would be so cool….

      • Werthead says:

        I’m still hoping they get to resolve the cliffhanger ending from Ground Control 2. It’s been 11 years and I think there may be rights issues, so it’s not likely. But we can still hope, right?

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Logged in to say just this!

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    Lexx87 says:

    Dong shading.


    • Ross Angus says:

      You laugh, but it’s a serious medical condition.

      • The Random One says:

        A dong without shade is even worse, because it means it doesn’t have a soul.

  3. LVX156 says:

    I want Fallout 4 to use this engine.

    • Wounder says:

      I think any number of games should line up at Massive’s front door, frankly. It looks more impressive every time I see it in action.

    • SillyWizard says:

      It’s high time they (or the people responsible for the AC series) start making Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser games. Fencing and parkour through a smoggy, decrepit fantasy city. How is this not already a thing?

    • chargen says:

      Sorry, no. You’ll be getting an even more Frankenstein version of Oblibion’s engine. They will, however, claim that it’s completely new.

  4. Wounder says:

    Is this coming to PC? Or rather, has it been announced? I can’t find any mention of it and there’s zero chance I’m willing to play it with random console folks. Or really, just random folks of any kind, which may be a problem as far as Massive is concerned.

      • Wounder says:

        Excellent. Thanks for that. Strange how every article I could find elsewhere only mentions consoles in their “platform” category. Perhaps too early for my Google-fu to be effective…

      • DatonKallandor says:

        It’s Ubisoft, so them saying it’ll come out on PC doesn’t mean it will. It’s like trusting a Ubisoft PC release date.

    • krisk7 says:

      Of course it’s coming to PC. I bet the original trailer was run on two Titans in SLI. The “next gen” console version will disappoint as Watch Dogs did. Look at Titanfall as devs announced 4K support to stress they are not limited by console agreements.

      Average new PC is already 2 times better than a console and next year $100 graphics card will be better than PS4 / XBOX1 ($150 as of now with 760Ti). So if they ever plan to deliver what they have shown this can only be on PC :)

  5. Ianuarius says:

    Looks cool, but I bet it’s all just pre-rendered.

  6. Gap Gen says:

    So The Division doesn’t use Unity OK that worked better in my head.

    • Mirqy says:

      This comment gave me Joy. Hmm, that worked better in my head, too.

  7. battles_atlas says:

    I’m always a bit surprised at the number of different engines in circulation. If it works out cheaper or more productive to build your own engine than license an existing one, then surely something is wrong with the pricing models of the engine owner?

    I get that for a company like EA having Frostbite to use across a several games has logic, but that doesn’t explain a lot of examples. From the outside looks like the wheel being reinvented an awful lot.

    • mrwonko says:

      Well, it’s more like creating a different wheel for a bicycle than for a monster truck or a train. If you have special requirements, off-the-shelf engines may not be of much use to you.

      It’s mostly the open world games that use custom engines, isn’t it? Maybe the existing ones aren’t good enough at that?

    • manny says:

      Well AAA games need cutting edge graphics so the only engine players are cry engine and unreal. Both which cost millions. Its cheaper.for them to make their own engine.

      A middle path would be heavily modifying cheaper engines like gamebryo source or unity. Bethseda did that with gamebryo and Titanfall devs did it with source.

  8. Zulthar says:

    The fact that they’re only showing tech from this game makes me worried about the actual gameplay. It feels very silly that a company under Ubisoft focus so much on showing off the graphics when we’ve all seen what happened to Watch Dogs. The new consoles aren’t as powerful as we’d want.

    • Pythonic says:

      “The Game Developers Conference is instead where designers, programmers and artists go to pull back the heavy tarp of secrecy and reveal the gross, technical innards of openness and sharing. It’s in that spirit – plus the spirit of self-promotion and bragging – that we’re seeing so much detail of so many different game engines. Including, in the video embedded below, ”

      You seemed to miss a part of the article, here you go!

      • Zulthar says:

        I’m fully aware of that and I fail to see how it affects my comment whatsoever. They haven’t shown anything from this game except the first trailer that was most likely scripted. Everything else has just been tech talk.

        • MrEclectic says:

          It is a “tech talk” (sic!) conference mainly.

        • Darth Grabass says:

          They haven’t shown anything from the game except the first time they released a trailer that showed stuff from the game.

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    It looks so lovely but for me it would need to be first person single player to buy. I shall look on with interest as others tweak its teraflops and narrative dong pipe emergent social media tweeting

  10. RPSRSVP says:

    How many Titans does it take to run as shown? They should have named the engine Jawdrop, the night footage and dark details look amazing. I’m all for efficient engines but I’m skeptical this image quality and at least decent frame rate is achievable on consoles and mid range PC’s…

  11. SuicideKing says:

    I Hope This Game Impresses.

  12. TimorousBeastie says:

    UE4’s big selling point actually is ease of use and heavily optimised pipelines (blueprint is the poster child for this, but it’s really across the board). The engine shown here it’s definitely impressive, but the only thing that they show here that UE4 doesn’t do out of the box atm is the procedural building stuff, which UE3 did (albeit badly in terms of collision) and I’m sure epic are looking to put back in under blueprint.

    Mostly this video is ‘hey guys, don’t worry, our engine does everything everyone else does’

  13. Cinek says:

    I’m very much into that game, and most certainly will play it, but….

    …but there’s something odd in the engine itself. I don’t know why, but large part of the game world looks like… a half-melted ice-cream. It’s missing sharpness and corners. Everything looks a little bit like… made of rounded shapes with blurred textures.

    Oh, and two mandatory things from Ubisoft: Glow + Lens Flare. Since Anno 2070 I simply can’t stand having slight glow on everything in an entire game.

  14. Forceflow says:

    Looks very good, but most of the legwork is done by high-resolution textures and normal maps. Developers finally can bake them at a higher resolution because new console generation allows it.

    They seem to be using lots of light probes for indirect lighting, the current (quite brute-force) go-to technique to get indirect lighting bounces of light. (see also: Ryse).

    Kudos to them for what looks like a great engine, but there’s nothing revolutionary or new here, when it comes to graphics rendering, at least.

  15. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    I will say it looks gorgeous, but I’m skeptical as to how well it’s going to run.

  16. Synesthesia says:

    Wow, those tools do look like a joy to work with. The rocks! They position themselves automatically! *tears up*

  17. Shooop says:

    This doesn’t mean anything unless it’s running real-time and not scripted. Ubisoft hasn’t learned a thing from the Watch Dogs bullshot controversy have they?

  18. RegisteredUser says:

    Anything that will get tied to Uplay will automatically become uninteresting to me.

  19. RegisteredUser says:

    On another note: Am I the only one still visually trained enough to spot all the shortcomings?

    This thread and youtube etc are all filled with “wow, these gfx” comments, but if you actually LOOK at what you are seeing, all the ingame footage is nothing new or groundbreaking. Quite the opposite, you can visibly spot low-poly models and “count savers” so as to get these things to actually run on current-gen consoletech, with a lot of cunning workarounds(texturing&mapping, statics and decals etc) to make things SEEM prettier.

    But its like makeup. Put it to the test a bit, look a little closer and you can see that so many times, underneath its all still the old ugly.

    I think a lot of those commentors all haven’t understood that this isn’t about demoing visual fidelity at all, but about workflow optimization and quick-build. Feels a little bit like they misunderstood that they were supposed to see something that wows them, but then ironically enough obliged despite a real lack of evidence..

    • MrUnimport says:

      Yes, laugh at the plebs who saw footage with a bunch of lovely lighting and neat visual tricks! Massive didn’t put the pretty in for them to LOOK at! Being impressed means the developer wins!

      • RegisteredUser says:

        I’m just saying that as with all trailers, you are made to see a special selection which in no way is truly representative of the full thing.
        And a cut and pre-and-post-edited movie is not the same as having the actual game at your mercy to look at interactively and actually scrutinize.

        Even so, I find it visible enough to spot what will happen once you can do all those things(e.g. the realization that it wasn’t any relevation in the visual department at all).

        Also their main talking point was the “building blocks” and workflow, throughout the entire thing, which makes it all the more odd to jump on the(actually not superb) visuals.

        • fish99 says:

          That’s not actually what you said, you were talking about low-poly models and stuff that looked bad when you looked closely at it. You weren’t talking about stuff that was edited out.

          To me this looks a step up in visual quality from anything else I’ve seen in a finished game, and about on par with the other best looking upcoming games from the ‘next generation’ like Destiny or Watch Dogs.

          • RegisteredUser says:

            Sure it is. Point being that just because you think those models aren’t as low poly as they are, doesn’t make them next-gen. That’s the trailer magic and cunning use of tech. Not actual higher detail.

  20. Iskariot says:

    I would so love a single player mode for this game. I detest anything MMO.

    • Megakoresh says:

      As far as I recall The Division is following this new trend of “MMO”, where MMO is just a mode and you can play the game in Single player as well, the other players will just affect stuff like trading or mission spawns, but not the pace of your gameplay. I am not 100% certain on this though, it’s just the impression I got.

      Regardless I think this might be very different the usual MMOs. You can trust Ubisoft to be innovative in a new IP, they may be extremely boring when it comes to Ass Creed, but other than that they seem to be the publisher that gives their studios more freedom than other big two.

      I dislike MMOs as well, but I am willing to give this one a shot, especially if it’s going to be one-time purchase non-linear game (i.e. no static quests and not riddled with “let’s show a cool dude doing some meaningless realistic activities animated with 5 million euros worth of mocap equipment” type of cutscenes). Not pre-ordering, but not writing this off too.

      As for the engine I got the feeling that it’s not so much the graphics but rather the amount of detail that this thing is capable of, if the tech shots are anything to go by. But if the tools are as easy and fast to use as they say (which is almost never the case), this might be a strong competitor for UDK and Unity, given that they distribute it openly for non-commercial and educational use and have a fair licensing model.

      All other engines I have tried so far (Unity, CryEngine, RedEngine, Source Engine <- this one is the biggest pain in the world) have this problem is that their node scripters only extend across a few systems. For example if you wanna do some gameplay scripting, you better learn to code, biatch.

      That's a big issue for gameplay iteration, as it is an aspect that should be tweaked a lot, but ends up being more difficult to tweak than most other features. And you cant just output all variables into ini or whatever, because even if they aren't hard coded, you are exposing too much stuff, which is a security issue in a MP game.

  21. El_MUERkO says:

    They show people hiding behind cars and shooting, windows smash, bodywork crumples, tyres deflate, it all looks very cool, but that all happens in GTAV and then you can get in the car and drive off. Does this look the prettier game, yes, but if the gameplay isn’t up to snuff it doesn’t matter how pretty it looks.

  22. Grey Ganado says:

    Anyone else instantly thinking how great this would be for mods?

  23. foda500 says:

    “It makes sense that unlike Unreal Engine 4 or the CryEngine[…]”

    Increased efficiency is a marketing bullet point for both these engines, especially UE4.

  24. Screamer says:

    Not going to look like that! Nothing to see here.