New Division details - how Snowdrop lets Ubisoft overcome "insane" workloads


Staff member
Top TX Brass
Dec 6, 2002
New Division details - how Snowdrop lets Ubisoft overcome "insane" workloads

How much blood and sweat does it take to create a game as fancy as Tom Clancy's The Division, out this year for Xbox One? Well, at the risk of confusing you with my mastery of the jargon, I'd say the answer has to be: lots. An "insane" amount, in fact, according to Anders Holmquist, technical director for the game's Snowdrop Engine. As with other "next gen" engines, Snowdrop's big selling point isn't "power", but efficiency. It's possible for artists and designers to fiddle with aspects of the simulation without asking programmers to build things from scratch, thanks to a process called "asset communication", whereby "all our different systems - levels, props, particles, UI, scripts, etc. - interact with and modify each other".

"By having this power, we can create a unique and dynamic world filled with gameplay without having programmers write new code for every feature," Holmquist observed in a chat over on the Division blog[SUP][1][/SUP].

This is important because the sheer fidelity players now expect of modern blockbusters requires a boatload of additional resources. "Games nowadays are so ambitious and lifelike," said Holmquist. "The amount of work and content that needs to go into them is, frankly, insane.
"Instead of just throwing more people at a problem, you need to look at ways to help everyone that works on the game get more done, be more empowered, and be more creative without increasing their workload. This is very hard, but by having great tools and procedural systems with fast and easy workflows, it becomes much more realistic to create these incredible games."
According to Holmquist, a designer might create a game from scratch using Snowdrop in a relatively short time, with no input from programmers. "At work, we have these days every now and again where you get to work on whatever you want," he said. "Some people take a course in something, some people make prototypes, some people make something fun in one of our games.
"A long time ago, when the engine was very new - long before we had a script system or anything of the sort - we had one of these days. I was on my way to grab something to drink, when I see a lot of people standing around four guys with Xbox controllers each playing something. I walk up and see they're playing some kind of four-player split-screen game where each player has a tank and is trying to kill the other players.
"It turned out that one of the technical artists had made this game with four-player split-screen, scoring, tanks that moved and shoot 'correctly' - it looked really nice. And he had done it in a day, basically without any code support. That's when I knew we were onto something really good with the engine."

Discussing how The Division in particular makes use of the engine, Holmquist commented that "with the building tech for example, we can create a huge, diverse, and detailed city, starting with just a limited amount of building blocks. You will really feel that you're part of this wounded colossus."
Here's a pinch of additional gameplay info, to play us out. A Division video from last week (see above) treated viewers to shots of a breath-taking forest environment - a setting very at odds to the game's torn-up New York. These were included to provide a "technical demonstration" of the engine, it turns out: they aren't actually part of the game. D'oh.
For more Division info, read Jonty's first look preview. Techno-wizardry aside, a key objective is to revive a sense of community between players by subjecting them to material hardships.
Source: OXM
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