Run and gun: travelling 892 miles to play The Division for 4 hours

By Matt Martin, Tuesday, 19 January 2016 14:28 GMT

Full disclosure.

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Monday Jan 11, 3:30pm, Flint, Wales.

Off down to Gatwick for an 8am flight tomorrow to Copenhagen, then over the sea to Malmo, home of Massive Entertainment. I went to Massive six years ago and got a tour of its studio testing lab. Mostly I remember the one-way mirror where they observed players in action. I’ve also met CEO David Poltfeldt when I asked him to speak at GameHorizon about the creation of Watch Dogs.

Malmo is a very hip Swedish city. And it’s also damn cold this time of year. I’ve packed thermal t-shirts and my new shoes have a fleece lining. Because I’m at the age where I buy footwear for comfort over style. I’m your dad.

Tuesday Jan 12, 6:45am, Gatwick Airport.

Meet Ubisoft PR and marketing manager for The Division, as well as seven other journalists. I don’t recognise anybody. We have coffee and there’s stilted small talk of previous press trips that have ended badly. The journalist who was left behind in France, and other disasters. I know that story because I was there, but this is not the version I recognise. It’s been passed around so often it’s morphed. I could tell you worse, all true; sex, drugs, beer, fights, police. All the cliches. I keep my mouth shut and hang back.

Tuesday Jan 12, 12:45pm, Malmo, Sweden.

“You’ll like the game, the numbers go up. Whatever, fuck you.”

After taking a train from Copenhagen and passing border patrol, we’re in Malmo trying to find the venue. We wander around in a circle and end up almost back where we started. The venue is an old converted slaughterhouse. We eat and cross paths with a bunch of journalists who I do recognise this time, just before they head to the airport. Eurogamer, GameSpot, Xbox Achievements. It’s all very polite. I ask what they think of the game so far. “You’ll like the game, the numbers go up.” Not sure if that’s a dig at our target goals or I’m being paranoid. Whatever, fuck you.

Tuesday Jan 12, 2pm, Slagthuset, Malmo.

After a short five minute briefing we’re playing The Division. We have two and a half hours to play with a level four character. We’re in teams of three; two journalists and a developer from Massive to help guide us through the game. Our developer is a nice chap and when the game freezes up I feel for him. It’s not a huge problem but we have to reboot a couple of times during a crucial encounter before dropping back into the game. It seems it’s one mission in particular affecting everyone playing, not just our group. We’re reassured this will all be fixed, it’s incomplete code. These things happen. I once flew to Seattle to see a game that was unplayable when we got there. I would imagine Massive are freaking out about it internally but they remain professional throughout. Looking back on it now it’s not in the top 10 things I remember about playing the game. It only hurts because we’re having a lot of fun. You know when you can tell a game is good after only half an hour? This game is good.

Tuesday Jan 12, 4:45pm, Slagthuset, Malmo.

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After a short break we’ve got another hour to play, this time with level 20 characters and gear. The bar is open so I get to work on a couple of beers now I feel much more confident with the game. I go a little more reckless, a little less team player, a little light headed. I wouldn’t normally sit and play any game for this length of time in one sitting, it’s a luxury for a parent and even in my full-time job there’s constant distractions. I’m making the most of it while it lasts. It’s guilt-free gaming.

This is one of the good press events. Although it’s a controlled environment it doesn’t feel like much is off limits. Developers are openly chatting about the game without PR reps present. It’s easier to pick up tips, advice and general info. No one is guarded. I’m sure they’ve been media trained but the Massive team is happy to talk openly about the game. They’re rightfully proud of it so far.

Tuesday Jan 12, 7:00pm, The Renaissance Hotel, Malmo.

At the hotel I drop my bag off, get fresh and head to the bar. I open a tab and go for a couple of beers and an Old Fashioned. I get talking to a journo from another site and we’re both pretty pumped by what we’ve seen before. Journalists talking positively about a game? It does happen, usually away from social media.

The rest of the group joins us. We’re basically nine white men and a woman. We have a few more drinks and head to a restaurant called Mandos (“let’s have a cheeky Mandos!” etc) which is like a 70s Berni Inn steakhouse. It’s retro in an outdated way, not a cool way. But the food tastes good after a long day (even though my onion ring flies off the plate and skids across the floor before the plate gets to me) and we put down a few more beers. The general consensus seems to be it’s time to “get on it” which I approve of. I like drinking in foreign countries. Travelling is one of the best parts of this job and I’m still not tired of it after ten-plus years.

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We wander to an Irish bar that’s about as Irish as I am. It’s dead, completely lacking atmosphere. Things get a little hazy from here. I remember making one particular uncouth joke that doesn’t seem to go down too well with the crowd. Never mind. Let’s move on.

“The skinniest bouncer you’ve ever seen is managing the door. He’s wearing an ill-fitting uniform that looks like it survived a 60s military coup in a country that’s since been renamed.”

We head over to a bar recommended by someone, I’m not sure who. It’s playing 90s RnB so I’m happy, but it’s pretty weird. The skinniest bouncer you’ve ever seen is managing the door. He’s wearing an ill-fitting uniform that looks like it survived a 60s military coup in a country that’s since been renamed. There’s a small blackjack table against one wall with a couple of blonde croupiers hanging off it. It’s not in any way glamourous. There also seems to be a lot of middle-aged men outnumbering a small amount of ladies, stacking up the drinks. “Is this is knocking shop?” I’m too busy laughing at the phrase “knocking shop” to give a shit to be honest.

A couple more hours into this, a few more shots down, and I’m done. I’m not as young as these newjacks and I’m first in line for interviews tomorrow, then home on an earlier flight than everyone else. I’m calling it, staggering off to a hotel that’s thankfully only around the next corner.

Wednesday Jan 13, 8am, The Renaissance Hotel & Slagthuset, Malmo.

I wake a mess, pangs of guilt and regret. The price you pay for drinking. I’m all over the place trying to get my bag together, washing my balls, charging a phone, trying to hold down a gurgling stomach and get to the venue for my 9am interview. I’m late, but so is everyone else so I grab cheese, ham and coffee in a glass. I like the way the Nords do breakfast.

About 10am I get into an interview with Magnus Jansen and throw a bunch of questions around. I openly admit there’s little structure to them. We get about 30 minutes which is a lot for this type of event. But there’s a lot to explain that you won’t get from playing the game for four hours. I was busy playing yesterday and conscious of letting my team down, so I only took five pages of scribbled notes. Now I have a good opportunity to catch up on the intricacies of The Division and Massive’s vision for an online shooter RPG thing. Again, this is with another developer who’s happy to talk fairly candidly about his project. There’s a PR rep here but no interference or pressure to steer questions any particular way.

Straight after that I need to run to the train station and catch a flight from Copenhagen. As I get to the station I panic when I realise I’ve left my phone. An amateur mistake. I run back and grab it before getting on the iron horse to the airport.

A passenger here has a young toddler laughing and it’s infectious. It makes me want to get back and see my children and I get this deep-gut guilt for being away from home. Tomorrow I get to spend two hours transcribing and then write my features, but there’s always that sense of urgency in case some other site breaks the NDA and we need to go early. Plus, I have to write it up in a day because on Friday I’m flying off to Amsterdam for the opening of Hotel Arcade.

No, I don’t know how I’ve been getting away with this for so long, either.

Matt played The Division in Malmo, Sweden. Accommodation and flight were paid for by Ubisoft.

You can read his hands-on impressions of the gunplay here, and the full interview with Magnus Jansen here.

Remember, if you’re looking for a group to play The Division, our partners at The100.io have the perfect LFG solution.

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