The game is set in the months after a deadly pandemic has swept the country and transformed the area around the Tidal Basin into a flooded wasteland, the National Air and Space Museum into a heavily guarded armory and the Lincoln Memorial into the smoke-blackened, kudzu-shrouded headquarters of a paramilitary group.
On the plus side, rush hour traffic is pretty light.
The challenge facing anyone designing a video game set in an actual place is making it realistic. The purpose of this junket — events were spread over two days, with a shuttle bus squiring the group from site to site — was to explain that process.
Beginning in 2016, teams from Ubisoft and its partners made multiple trips to D.C. to sketch out a sequel to the original “Division,” which is set in New York City and has attracted 22 million players.
They met with first responders. They studied evacuation routes. They pored over the city’s history and took in its culture. Their game designers placed structures on the Mall reminiscent of World War II-era temporary buildings. The soundtrack includes go-go music wafting from the settlements where civilians have gathered to try to survive.
It must be interesting to visit a city with the aim of imagining it in a desperate, dystopian state.
Yes, said Chadi El-Zibaoui, associate creative director at Ubisoft, but, he insisted, “The story that we’re telling in ‘Division 2’ is more focused on hope and rebuilding and civilians banding together in this crisis.”
Perhaps, but the game is what they call a “multiplayer, first-person shooter.” That means the designers weren’t here just to see the cherry blossoms.
“The first thing I was looking for was places that are big enough to host a mission,” said El-Zibaoui. “We need big spaces for missions to play comfortably.”
He nodded up the Mall, a big space, indeed.
“We are asking one question: That place, does it feel like Washington?” he continued. “We don’t want to do those main pieces of content in a warehouse or a car park. Washington is very rich with icons, of course.”
Icons like the White House, the base of operations for the good guys.
There were some things that couldn’t be included. Copyright concerns nixed the World War II Memorial, though there is a similar monument in its stead. There’s no Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, either. The gamemakers thought it would be disrespectful to have players shooting at each other around the statue of the famous pacifist. The subway stations have different names.
As we stood near the Reflecting Pool, a mounted Park Police officer clopped by on a horse. I asked El-Zibaoui if there are any horses in “Division 2.”
He gave me a rueful smile, then said: “Not alive, let’s say.”
The apocalypse is hard on horses, apparently.
“We gather Washington has some overpopulation of deer,” El-Zibaoui said. “If there is no one left to take care of that, they claim back the city.”
And so “Division 2” has a lot pesky deer. That does sound like Washington.
Remembering Skip Groff
Liverpool had the Beatles. Liverpool also had Brian Epstein. Without the latter, you might not have heard the former.
What I mean is, sometimes it’s the people who don’t actually make music who are the ones who make sure the music gets heard.
Skip Groff was one of those people.
Skip owned Yesterday & Today, a record store in Rockville, Md., that specialized in hard-to-find vinyl from the U.K. A lot of people who bought the records he sold were inspired to make their own music. Skip helped with that, too, by producing their 45s and LPs.
And he released them on Washington’s answer to England’s famed Stiff Records: Limp Records.
Skip died Feb. 18. He will be remembered Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on the WOWD-LP (94.3 FM) show hosted by Robbie White and Weasel.
Among the guests will be Slickee Boy Kim Kane, Steve Lorber (a fellow record dealer), Kevin Rowe (who worked at Yesterday & Today) and Ted Niceley (bassist for the Razz and Tommy Keene), calling in from New Mexico.
Then from 10:30 a.m. to noon, NBC4’s Mark Segraves will talk about his father, Evening Star music columnist
John Segraves, and the After Dark Fund shows he helps organize in support of local musicians.