When Ubisoft Montreal first showcased Watch_Dogs at E3 2012, there was genuine curiosity and buzz about the game. Over the years, it’s been built up and broken down with delays, rumours, additional console generations, talks of visual downgrades. It’ll finally be out on May 27th and will either silence or embolden critics. Either way, Watch_Dogs marks a significant step forward for the open world genre.
GamingBolt spoke to various members of the development team namely senior producer Dominic Guay, team lead programmer Francis Boivin, creative director Jonathan Morin and lead PC engineer Paul Vlasie about various aspects of the game. This includes accusations of the game’s visual downgrades, the importance of frame rate to the gameplay, the motion capture process and much more.
Ravi Sinha: Watch Dogs has faced criticisms regarding its visuals being downgraded, but there have been certain comparisons between the current PS4 version and the one shown in September 2013 which debunked this. Keeping in mind that we’ll wait and see about the full version, how difficult has it been to maintain the current visual design in keeping with the creative vision? How do you balance between the two?
Dominic Guay: The game content has been iteratively polished through the months. This said, we’ve been consistent in our creative and artistic vision through the years. Both feed from each other, so it is less a question of balance between visual and creative, than having them both reinforce each other.
When we chose Chicago, when we chose Fall as the season during which the game took place, they were decisions linked to the core creative direction. Likewise, we have always focused on dynamism as a core pillar of what we wished to achieve visually: wind, water, density of citizen, etc. Immersion relies on many aspects and the team has done a great job at pushing them within our virtual Chicago.
Ravi Sinha: Rumours have been circulating about the resolution for the Xbox One and PS4 versions with only the latter having a 1080p resolution. Can you confirm the resolutions and frame rates for all versions of the game?
Dominic Guay: The precise resolutions have yet to be locked. We will confirm as soon as they are finalized.
Ravi Sinha: We’re more curious about the frame rate. While many other titles have an issue with an inconsistent frame rate on the Xbox One, especially at 30 FPS, Ubisoft Montreal has managed relatively strong results. Is this the case with Watch Dogs, and in your opinion, which has a stronger chance of affecting one’s gameplay experience – the resolution or the frame rate?
Dominic Guay: Frame rate is very important to the gameplay, to the controls. It’s not something you want to compromise on.
Ravi Sinha: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag saw a custom post-process anti-aliasing solution on the PS4 and PC version. What kind of anti-aliasing solution does each of the next gen versions [PS4, Xbox One and Wii U] of Watch Dogs have and how does it improve the overall visual experience?
Francis Boivin: Watch_Dogs uses the same post-process anti-aliasing solution on both Xbox One and PS4. Each frame, a custom SMAA filter is applied on the image. On top of that, we smooth the image even more by using a temporal solution; that is, by re-projecting each pixel to its position in the previous frame and by letting each go through a set of heuristics tailored for the game, we’re able to further reduce visible aliasing.
Ravi Sinha: We’re extremely curious about the motion capture process behind Watch Dogs. How many custom animations does Aiden Pearce have, and how many unique animations are there for the pedestrians?
Colin Graham: Watch_Dogs has an unprecedented amount of animation to build both Aiden Pearce and The living city of Chicago. Over the past 5 years we’ve shot over 100 days of Motion capture for the game play team alone. This is spread between the Main Character of Aiden Pearce, the Living city civilians and the enemy AI.
Aiden Pearce’s Animation were built from the ground up for Watch_Dogs. Aiden has approximately 4000 animation files in game. Aiden has approximately 2300 navigation and interaction, and driving related animation files and about 1700 combat related files.
Our AI enemy NPCs have a wide combat system, with several distinct mental states and in depth reactions to hacking ingredients . The enemy AI has almost 4000 animation clips.
The biggest difference between Watch_Dogs and previous games in the genre is how much animation is dedicated to the living city. Civilians of Watch_Dogs Chicago have the greatest number of animations in our production. They can have occupational animations, conversations, interactions with the world and reactions to dynamic ingredients, a variety of reaction to various threats, and they come in a variety of sizes, attitudes with different clothing and props.
There are over 5000 unique animation clips required for the living city civilian simulation in Watch_Dogs. Overall there are more than 13,000 animation clips needed to bring Watch_Dogs to life, mainly because the game is a systemic open world game that has to cover a massive amount of contexts with many random elements. Watch_Dogs has more animation than any Ubisoft Production to date.
Ravi Sinha: There have been comparisons to inFamous: Second Son in terms of visuals and open world crafting. Even though Watch Dogs is a multiplatform title, what does the game do to take advantage of its respective platforms? Will we see any unique implementations for the DualShock 4’s Touchpad or the Xbox One’s Kinect?
Dominic Guay: We have the chance to dedicate experts to the various platforms. So for example, we can push our tech into a specific direction to support the architecture of a given platform. Since each has its own strengths, that’s allowing us to push the envelope for our game world. As far as the DualShock 4 is concerned we support the touchpad. We think it brings something interesting to console controls. As of now we have no plans for the Kinect.
Ravi Sinha: Can you tell us more about the Notoriety that players gain from hacking into your game? What kind of rewards are on offer for entering into some one’s game and interfering (or helping) with their progress?
Jonathan Morin: In the game, there will be a Reputation System that will focus on the player’s attitude towards collateral damages. Is he causing a lot of havoc that injures or kills citizens? Is he acting heroically or like a criminal? Each action will have Positive and Negative effects.
The player will choose how he wants to play and the game will not judge him. Our system will simply recognize the shades of greys our society is made of and reflect it back on the player. We are not building one of those yin and yang systems that always end up feeling gamey and out of place. Our Reputation System will focus more on how people in our society tend to forge their opinion and this is yet another fascinating subject in relation with our main theme: “the influence of technology within our society.”
Ravi Sinha: What can you tell us about the PC version of Watch Dogs? Will it implement some of the newer Nvidia-exclusive features that we saw in ACIV such as HBAO+, soft shadows, and a choice of different anti-aliasing solutions?
Paul Vlasie: We implement TXAA, an Nvidia exclusive anti-aliasing technique and HBAO+, an ambient occlusion technique that adds richer, more detailed and realistic shadows around objects that occlude rays of light.
Ravi Sinha: Talk us through the challenges you faced during the development of the Xbox One version. It’s no secret now that eSRAM is the cause of all the resolution drama. How did you approach this situation when planning for the Xbox One version of the game?
Dominic Guay: Anytime you develop a multi-platform game you need to approach each platform individually, considering their own specificities. While Watch_Dogs offers the same game experience across platforms, we needed to scale some specific elements on each hardware. Our tech was built with this in mind from the start.
Ravi Sinha: Can you tell us about the kind of post launch support you guys have planned for Watch_Dogs?
Dominic Guay: We will communicate on post launch soon.
Ravi Sinha: How is the Wii U version shaping up? Many fans are worried that it will be cancelled post release of other versions.
Dominic Guay: We will have much more to share on the Wii U version closer to release, but be assured it’s currently being worked on and it hasn’t been cancelled.
Ravi Sinha: What is the single coolest feature of Watch_Dogs that you haven’t revealed but would like to do so via this interview?
Dominic Guay: Well, that would be telling, so I will have to decline this time. But rest assured, we do still have a few more surprises in store for gamers.