How a Snowdrop Made Tom Clancy’s The Division

On 8th March, 2016

After a two-and-a-half-year wait and two heart-breaking delays, Tom Clancy’s The Division was finally released on PS4, XBox One and PC on 8th March. One of the most anticipated games of the year also happens to be one of the most incredible looking games of all time. But how did they do it?

Seriously. We’ve seen some lovely graphics recently, like Star Wars Battlefront and the Uncharted 4 trailer. But now The Division has arrived, any lingering doubts about PS4 and XBO’s potential for new gaming experiences should finally be laid to rest.

The Division recreates New York City – or at least, a fictional, disaster-hit version of it – with jaw-dropping realism. Burning buildings are engulfed in flames. Snow drifts in the wind. And perhaps best of all, human faces are brilliantly modelled. Yes, we may have finally left the Uncanny Valley.

So how did Ubisoft do it? With the help of the help of its new studio Massive and their incredible game engine, Snowdrop. We saw the Snowdrop Engine in action, at the Game Developer Conference 2014 and The Division really does get the most out of it.

What is Snowdrop?

Pretty impressive stuff eh? No wonder Ubisoft was so keen to acquire Massive Entertainment, the Swedish studio that created Snowdrop and developed The Division, back in 2008. The studio is now known as Ubisoft Massive.

When Ubisoft bought them, Massive was already working on a new game engine that suited their way of working. Massive’s Rodrigo Cortes told MakingGames.biz last year:

“We wanted our game to be extremely detailed even though we were creating a larger game world.

“Snowdrop Engine allows us to access everything at once, which is unique… The entire engine was written in 64-bit… [and] everything was built to be able to access individual threads… The GPU of the new console generation can [also] be programmed very easily and has a lot more features than previously.”

He makes it sound so easy, doesn’t he?

How does Snowdrop make a game look better, exactly?

The Ubisoft blog shared these interesting comments from Massive which gives us some indication as to what sets Snowdrop apart from the rest.

“We built Snowdrop in a way so that the game is always playable during development. Each thing the creators develop need to be instant and in-game, so that they know exactly if it will work, with no baking time.”

It’s also a “fun” game engine.

“If the tool is not fun, you kill individual creativity. We get all kinds of crazy, fun and unexpected results from an intuitive and powerful tool like Snowdrop. That’s exactly what an innovative gameplay experience is about.”

Snowdrop will make future games look amazing, too

Now the engine has proved its worth, can we all look forward to more incredible-looking PS4, Xbox One and PC games built with Snowdrop?

Ubisoft’s Martin Hultberg recently said:

“We developed the Snowdrop Engine from the ground-up because we needed middleware that could run on the new consoles and PC, while doing everything we wanted to do with the open world, the weather, time of day and such features. Now we’ve made that engine available to other studios, and not just the Clancy teams. Any Ubisoft team can use Snowdrop now.”

So, do you fancy a new Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Prince of Persia or even a Just Dance with visuals as lovely as The Division? It might just happen soon!

Neil Wheatley

Copywriter, NUFC fan, dad to Wolfie and lifelong gamer. Sheffield and Manchester, UK.