The other day, we received something improbable in the mail—a beautiful vinyl record … and a tape recorder, complete with cassette.
We set the audio rolling—though we won't mention which we used, for fear of ageing ourselves—and were plunged into a desperate apocalyptic universe, brought to life by a bunch of kids.
This is how we learned about DDB Paris's promotion for The Division 2, a Tom Clancy-inspired game about the collapse of our world, and what happens next. The promotion is composed of six podcast episodes under the name "Green Dawn." And the episodes themselves are actually easter eggs in another game—Ghost Recon Wildlands.
This marks the first official occurrence of a shared universe between Ubisoft games and licenses, and the first time Ubisoft has used one game's community to promote another experience entirely.
"Green Dawn" situates itself between the events of the first and second Division games, and follows seven kids trying to make it to safety. Each episode lasts between two and four minutes.
Users discovered the podcasts in an exclusive Ghost Recon Wildlands mission, part of a software update that issued mysterious GPS coordinates to players through an in-game car radio. Those coordinates were for the first podcast episode, kicking off a scavenger hunt for the rest.
"Green Dawn" was based on the insight that gamers are some of the toughest audiences to grasp in the traditional ad model. They've got their own social networks outside of Facebook and Twitter, don't watch TV, and use ad blockers. But as part of their overall immersion into the games they're playing, they're listening to stuff like in-game radio for about two hours a day, according to DDB Paris.
It stood to reason: Why not create an immersive, in-game audio promotion for one game within the universe of another?
Below is an interview we had with co-creative directors Pierre Mathonat and Alexis Benbehe, who talked to us about the drop, why they did it, and what it's like to work with child voice actors.
Muse: Why a podcast drop?
Alexis Benbehe: We didn't want to make a huge film. Weirdly, we wanted to be very intimate.
Pierre Mathonat: When I was 13 or 14, I came across a series of one-hour episodes of Lord of the Rings—by the BBC, I think. It was the whole story, told with actors that played the roles, including dragons. And it was just the voices of characters that created transitions between scenes. But it was like a film in your mind, without images. Ian Holm was Frodo; that's why Peter Jackson used him as Bilbo in his movies.
What was it about that series that captured your imagination?
Pierre Mathonat: I just thought it was amazing that you could tell these rich stories, and it's not like an audiobook, where there's just one narrator. You can make action scenes, where you hear the sounds of swords clanging, or the sound of walking.
That's what we wanted to do. It's not a single voice telling a story, like an audiobook. In "Green Dawn," we hear them walking, doing everything they do; everything is illustrated by the sound design.
Tell us a little bit about "Green Dawn," without spoiling the story itself.
Pierre Mathonat: We made a podcast series that tells the story of a group of children in this universe that, after the crisis, are trying to rebuild. They're virgins of the past with no preconceived notions, and can judge the world that ended, truly, while turning toward the future and asking what world they want to build. That's why we wanted to tell the story of children.
What was production like?
Alexis Benbehe: We wrote the story and recorded it within DDB, and worked with a young actress from London. We even did the action scenes here.
Pierre Mathonat: We wrote the scenes, the dialogue; most of it was written by us. You can't just take the original text and make it live. For a podcast, there's less narrative voice, more dialogue; it was written like a film script.
Alexis Benbehe: For six episodes, it was 40 pages of dialogue!
What about working with kids? Was it like trying to project manage Lord of the Flies?
Pierre Mathonat: Actually, they're way less trouble than adults! With adults, you have to explain everything—like, "You're this person, and there's this virus that killed everything, so you're living like this, etc."
But kids? They understand in two seconds. "OK, it's the end of the world." And right away they can imagine the stuff we had to spend time thinking about in our script—like, at the end of the world, maybe you don't know where you are, maybe you lost your parents, there's panic everywhere. For them, all of that is obvious.
Alexis Benbehe: Kids of just 13 years old ... it gave us a hit of maturity.
Pierre Mathonat: Yes, they're between 10 and 13 years old. Maybe it's because they've been nourished by manga … but they have this emotional maturity that's larger than adults when they try to project themselves into these kinds of fictions. It was a big lesson for us.
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"Green Dawn" is available now within the Ghost Recon Wildlands universe.
The Division 2 will also be supported with an execution that tries to take this same end-of-the-world premise and extend it into reality. The "ECHOs" project, launched in early March, combines a Messenger bot, geolocation and an augmented reality-rendering engine to give users 50 stories to kind of "live" through, even as they're going about their everyday business.
Created alongside digital production studio makemepulse, "ECHOs" will be available in Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania, and will enable players to collect rewards that they can redeem within Division 2.