The development team behind The Division 2 might have been literally and figuratively Massive, but the riddles sprinkled into the game for players to solve were concocted by just four people, according to creative director Julian Gerighty.
Those riddles have been the most prominent example of a batch of mysteries woven into a game that is correctly viewed as a shooter but that sometimes can be played as a puzzle. Eight riddles, all coded in a cipher text, appear in works of graffiti spread around The Division 2’s vast Washington, DC. They’ve all been cracked by now, but the community had some fun figuring them out.
“We worked on these with a very small group of people on the language and riddles, and very few people on the project had any idea that we were adding these,” Gerighty said in an email interview with Kotaku. “For creating the alphabet and riddles, we really only had four people involved.”
Gerighty and his team expected the puzzles to be tricky. “They were built to be obscure and rely on multiple parts to solve. To solve them alone is possible, but very hard.”
Here’s an example of a riddle that appears near the game’s version of the Air & Space museum. It appears in coded text, but once the code is translated into English, it reads:
THOSE WHO SERVE THE GOOD FIGHT
SHOW REVERENCE AT NIGHT
DISABLED VETERANS IMMEMORIAL
SIX SECOND SALUTE
TO REPLENISH HONOUR
To fully solve it, players need to find the memorial in question and salute a flagpole.
Gerighty thought players approaching the riddles would find the graffiti as they played, try to crack the messages in the wall art with the help of some in-game clues, solve the cipher code and use it to descramble the riddles, ponder the meaning of the riddles, figure out what the riddles were telling them to go and do, then do it, which would trigger the appearance of an elite Hunter enemy for players to kill.
That’s mostly how it worked, except for the fact that the cipher for all the graffiti riddles was cracked really fast, back when the game was in beta in February — weeks before launch. That’s when a gamer who goes by the name Zinfinion noticed some of the graffiti messages and got to work on the cipher. “I guessed a three letter word to be THE and a two letter word to be TO, that led to two different instances of ?O?TH and ?O?TH which quickly became SOUTH and NORTH and then the rest of the letters just started to become obvious,” he told me via private message in a Discord group dedicated to cracking The Division 2’s secrets.
Zinfinion’s method wouldn’t have worked had Gerighty and team known what they know now, Gerighty says. “What we learned from it is to make our secret language harder to decipher,” he said. “We used spaces between words, which made it much easier for players to solve.”
Even once Zinfinion cracked the 25-symbol code, the riddles themselves still posed challenges. The most vexing was this:
AGRARIAN TRUCKS SIGNAL THE RIGHT PLACE
A WRONG TURN THEYLL PUMP THE BREAKS
ONE F(OR?) ONE AIM WELL BREAK THE GLASS
A GREAT REWARD AWAITS YOUR ARSE
That one took 12 days to solve and turned out to involve shooting certain windows on a certain building in a certain sequence. The solution took far longer to discover than all the others (other than the one that is bugged until Friday’s patch, of course). “We always expect players to be rather quick,” Gerighty said. “The trucks one is probably one of the tougher ones.”
Puzzles like these might seem strange to include in a shooter, but players do tend to like tough in-game problems to solve. Bungie has excited its community of Destiny players with in-game puzzles that crop up between gunfire-filled missions. For Gerighty, the puzzles allowed his team to present a tonal shift in how people could play the game.
“We just wanted to create something that teases the player, something that feels off that gives them the urge to investigate more, and when they follow the path set before them, rewards them in more than one way,” Gerighty said. “A puzzle, a riddle to solve, cool street art to look at, gameplay challenges and ultimately an in-game item.”
Gerighty acknowledged that The Division 2 usually tells you what to do by doling out mission objectives and articulating your available tasks, often with prompting from the fictional in-game guidance gadget ISAC, or Intelligent System Analytic Computer. “With the riddles, Contaminated Areas and even the SHD Caches, we wanted to prompt players to stop, take a breath, and look at the space with their own eyes instead of ISAC’s,” he said referring to the more exploration-related aspects of the game. Contaminated Area are areas that require some ingenuity for the player’s character to reach and are sprinkled with audio logs. SHD Caches are collectibles that are marked on the map but also require some detective work to figure out how to reach.
“Our world is at its best when you can look at it and try to ‘solve’ what is happening in it,” Gerighty said. “By using these big, obvious cues to draw players away from just chasing objectives, we hoped to open their eyes to the hidden treasures and stories throughout the game world.”