Though the delay for Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Legion was indirectly influenced by the disappointing Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, it’s still good to see the title getting more polish. That’s because the sheer scale of the game – which allows for recruiting any NPC from the futuristic city of London – could use a bit more time in the oven. And if you’re not convinced that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, creative director Clint Hocking breaks down some of it.
When questioned by PCGamesN as to how each NPC could be so uniquely generated, Hocking said, “There’s a lot of content, and there are a lot of procedural systems. And those things are working together to give us really well-curated characters and an enormous amount of diversity.
“At the core of everything is a relational database called Census. You see a bin man on the street – he’s nothing. He’s just like a bin man in any other game, except when you profile him we’re able to look into that database and go, ‘well, he’s wearing the clothes of a bin man, so that’s his job. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, so he works between noon and 8pm. And as he’s a bin man he makes a certain amount of money, so he can afford to live in these particular areas.
“From that, we pick one of the neighbourhoods he could afford. We already decided his ethnicity when we spawned him, but he’ll be more likely to have certain kinds of hobbies depending on where he lives. Then there’s some random procedural stuff in there that figures out what kind of education he has, what interests…and we just build it out from there. That’s how we generate a character.”
There are also “narrative personas” on top of all this. For instance, the above mentioned bin man might want to rescue his father from imprisonment. Completing this mission will see him recruited into DedSec but it’s equally likely that a different character will want your help on the same mission. Except that mission could be different depending on their own characters.
“Maybe the same mission is the politician telling you that the field agent who’s been secretly working for him has been detained, and you need to go rescue her. Maybe the bin man is talking about how his brother has gotten in trouble with a crime family and is being held here. The persona allows us to change, to some extent, the context of the mission, and dynamic casting allows it to take place in different locations in the world.”
It’s worth noting that the script has been recorded several times by a variety of different actors. How much dialogue are we talking? Hocking said, “I don’t want to give hard numbers, because they’re really subjective. There are hard numbers – the number of actors we recorded, for example – but what you have to understand is that you could have that bin man asking you to rescue his brother, and those two characters could have the same actor, but then we use voice modulation at run time and if you were to hear them talk to each other you wouldn’t know it’s the same person.
“So really, while there are limited numbers everywhere, the meaningful differences approach the infinite.”
Watch Dogs Legion isn’t coming in March 2020 but you can still expect it sometime next year. It’s also coming to PS5 and Xbox Scarlett and aims to take “full advantage” of all their new features. Stay tuned for more details in the meantime.