Of the several games showcased since E3 2012, Ubisoft Montreal’s Watch_Dogs has commanded the most attention. The aspect of an open world cityscape that can be hacked multiple ways presents an almost infinite amount of possibilities not yet seen in the genre – and we’d be lying if there wasn’t a ton of cool stuff to do. For all the enigma surrounding the protagonist Aiden Pearce, there is still a ton we don’t know about the game. Luckily, we managed to sit down with the team at Ubisoft Montreal who gracefully offered a ton of new details.
So join us as we speak to creative director Jonathan Morin, lead game designer Danny Belanger, lead story designer Kevin Short, senior producer Dominic Guay and team lead programmer Francis Boivin about the differences in the Xbox One and PS4 versions, skill sets and progression and story of Watch_Dogs.
Ravi Sinha: Let’s be honest – when it was first revealed at E3 2012, we thought it to be another Assassin’s Creed-style game. How does it feel to prove us so very wrong?
Jonathan Morin: For us it was just the right time to start talking about WATCH_DOGS. I think the bold move was to show a brand new IP at such a time. It was bold but also quite logic. We knew most companies would play it safe while players and the industry overall would want new experiences.
As players we want new experiences as well you know. And in the end, I think Ubisoft knew what they had in their hands. They believed in it and it surely paid off so far. The excitement around WATCH_DOGS we currently see in the industry generated a lot of buzz in the team and now we want nothing more than to show the world that all this attention is well deserved. We just can’t wait to let people play it.
Ravi Sinha: What we’ve seen of Watch_Dogs is incredible however. But we’ve been tempted by stellar game footage before. How much of what was shown reflects in the actual game?
Danny Belanger: There are many questions about the systemic or scripted nature of the game. Many people have doubts that we’ve scripted everything we shown.
This is truly a systemic game – A good example is our E3 2012 demo with the car accident done by hacking the traffic lights, it depends on the amount of vehicles present at the intersection when it is triggered.
The gravity of the accident will totally depend on the speed and amount of cars at that instant. Our goal is to give a lot of interesting tools to the player to modify, affect the simulation and let him be creative in using them to achieve his goals!
Ravi Sinha: Protagonist Aiden Pearce is still one of the most ambiguous aspects of the game. How is his role related to the “Watch_Dogs” aspect of the game, as indicated by an unknown hacker ordering for his protection? Does his past family tragedy have anything to do with the previous blackouts in the city?
Kevin Short (Lead Story Designer): I don’t want to give specifics on this… Those details will come…For now, I will say that Pearce’s mistakes have directly impacted his family. He is responsible for the trauma his family has suffered. He is a man haunted by past mistakes. He failed his family once before and for Pearce, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Failure is inexcusable for Pearce and he will do everything in his power to rectify that. He takes it on himself to protect his family by any means necessary. He’ll take bold steps to ensure those closest to him are protected in the future. Pearce made some bad choices in the past and he’s paid for those choices…and so has his family. They’ve suffered because of his mistakes.
Ravi Sinha: Of all the aspects revealed thus far, tell us a bit more about other players appearing in one’s single-player campaign. What will be the impact of the same? Can you cooperate with them? Will they provide rewards?
Jonathan Morin: These guys are Fixers: criminals for hire who can exploit/hack the grid in similar ways than Aiden does.
In a way, they represent a new breed of mercenaries who quickly learnt how valuable it was to master the art of cybercrime and hacking in order to remain relevant in today’s underground crime scene.
In this particular situation, the Fixer was incarnated by another player who was contracted to come and hack this player specifically. Anything a Fixer does, he does for money, notoriety and pride.
The more notorious a Fixer becomes, the bigger contracts he gets. Hacking other players out there is one of the ways to progress for them as well as for you…
Ravi Sinha: The PlayStation 4 has enabled not just plenty of visual flourish for the game but also flourishes in the gameplay, such as with the larger crowds and scale. How far will this go in making the PS4 version more recommended over the current-gen versions?
Dominic Guay (Senior Producer): First, it starts with the content itself. WATCH_DOGS strives to innovate technically but also on the front of design. While we think pushing immersion (which includes graphics) is important for our title, we do not think it is enough.
We believe that our efforts to push dynamism in an open world, that our efforts to connect all players together in new ways are fundamentally geared toward fostering game experience innovation.
Of course it also refers to our commitment to developing the game with a mind-set on fully supporting “next gen hardware”. This is true of the PS4 or other next-gen platforms using modern technology, as well as a certain range of PC hardware which offers similar capabilities. But ultimately, our engine DISRUPT has been designed to scale to different platforms.
So as it supports also current gen platforms, you can expect the same game experience we want to offer with WATCH_DOGS, whatever platform you will be playing on.
Ravi Sinha: Given all the hype and hoopla around the PS4, what are your thoughts on the Xbox One? How is the Xbox One version of the game going to be different compared to the PC and the PS4 one?
Dominic Guay: The Xbox One is a powerful platform, as of now we do not foresee a major difference in on screen result between the PS4 and the Xbox One. Obviously since we are still working on pushing the game on these new consoles, we are still doing R&D. This said, the platforms have some specificities that we are leveraging. For example, we are making use of the touchpad on the DualShock4.
Ravi Sinha: What graphical options can players expect from the PC version?
Francis Boivin (Team Lead Programmer): Disrupt was developed to have state of the art visuals on all its quality levels. We needed to have AO, massive dynamic light support, HDR, GI, depth of field, etc. to fully realize the ambition of art direction. We improved on techniques that we worked on in the past and surveyed what was available for the highest level of quality we wanted to achieve. We didn’t just integrate the technique of the moment, but spent quite some time turning stuff around and mixing algorithms so they fit our requirements.
Ravi Sinha: Besides driving cars, will we see any other kinds of vehicles in Watch_Dogs – something along the lines of the GTA series’ boats and planes, or maybe some other form of transport?
Dominic Guay: As teased during one of our demos during this year’s E3, players will also be able to use boats, just like they can use cars or motorcycles; that is to say navigating rivers and lakes across the city or use them within their plans.
Ravi Sinha: The enemies and obstacles right now seem to be a piece of cake for our hero. Will there be rival hackers, military or specialized units taking on Pearce?
Danny Belanger: With WATCH_DOGS, we intend to let the players express themselves. We are building an AI that supports stealth and shooting with the transitions required between the two states. This means that the player can take advantage of not being seen to engage into gunplay when he decides.
With this angle, using technology becomes a core component of our game. The player can, for example, use the camera network to spot the enemies beforehand to set up an ambush from the position he feels is most advantageous. He can also take the time to identify all the technological opportunities to gain an advantage; like modifying cover or spotting vulnerabilities in the electrical system to takedown unsuspecting enemies.
That being said, players who prefer a more direct approach can totally run in and take care of business using a more action-oriented approach. We strongly feel that imposing a style of play on the player is less fun than letting the player explore the game systems and enjoy the game as he wants. This obviously brings many challenges in a game like ours but we feel it is worth it. Luckily, we have a lot of expertise in many genres, be it action or stealth, in the studio and we can profit from this common experience to push the boundaries.
For the fighting itself, we are trying to have a more realistic tone where enemies feel more like real living people than “game ingredients”. Within the WATCH_DOGS universe, we have multiple types of enemies ranging from mobsters to the police force and these allow us to create interesting challenges without feeling too “unrealistic”.
We also have a full range of weapons at the player’s disposal – from basic pistols to grenade launchers, these can be used anywhere the player wants and it can create quite the mess when a fight breaks out in downtown Chicago. It becomes even more interesting when you add the range of city hacks and vehicles the player can use in combination with his arsenal…
Ravi Sinha: There feels like a balance in the game, between the omnipotent power of Pearce’s hacking and fragile physical form. How tough was it managing this balance, so as to not make the protagonist too “over-powered”?
Danny Belanger: Progression is very important to deliver a strong fantasy and to ensure that the player is not overwhelmed with too many mechanics early in the game. Aiden will develop his skills on two axis. One side he will have perks that are unlocked by gaining Experience Points (similar to an RPG).
Perks represent his Physical and Mental traits – For example: he can unlock Perks to make him shoot more accurately or another one to reload his weapons faster. On the other axis, you have his technology, these are unlocked by doing city contracts and gaining more access to the CTOS infrastructure – This is how the player gains access to Traffic Lights and ability to manipulate the Train.
Note: Thanks to Kiran from E-xpress Games for setting this interview up.