Exclusive Interview: Ubisoft tells us about Watch Dogs
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Exclusive Interview: Ubisoft tells us about Watch Dogs

What does it take to make a game like Watch Dogs? Find out in this exclusive interview with the creative team behind the game.

Anirudh Regidi  | Published 29 May 2014 17:03 IST

Watch Dogs, the latest title from Ubisoft, has stirred up the gaming world a bit with its unique and engaging design and gameplay. Do give the game a shot if you haven't tried it already, but in the meanwhile, we managed to corral the developers long enough to get them to tell us (and you), the story behind one of the best games to be released this year.

Here's what they had to say:

We’ve heard and seen a lot about Watch Dogs over these last few months, but can we learn about the game from the horse’s mouth, so to speak? In your own words, what is Watch Dogs?

Answered by: Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

WATCH_DOGS is a contemporary action-adventure game that explores the impact of technology on our society. The game is set in Chicago, where everyone and everything is connected. You will embark on a personal mission, using the city as your main weapon to inflict your own brand of justice.

You are Aiden Pearce, a man shaped by violence and obsessed with surveillance, who monitors his family 24/7 in secret to protect them from something that happened in the past. Unfortunately, his family will get endangered once again. Pushed to his limits, he will take justice into his own hands and confront a corrupt system using every weapon available to him. Aiden will become a modern Vigilante Hero – not a hero from the 70’s with a cape, but a real human being that will deal with all the repercussions of his actions.Just think about everything that is controlled by a computer in a city: a phone, infrastructures, and now you can control them all. WATCH_DOGS is all about that: interactivity to the next level.

How did you come up with the concept for Watch Dogs? Any interesting anecdotes related to the ideation/development that you can share?

Answered by: Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

Our primary source of inspiration comes from the real-life intersection of technology and security where our citizens, our government and the infrastructure of our cities are increasingly networked. Now imagine that someone can hack those networks and manipulate both the layers of data buried inside and the real world systems dependent on that data. This is the world of WATCH_DOGS.

We also had to imagine the kind of morally ambiguous figure that would do such things. Who would use this technology for their own gain, even if it means hurting their fellow citizens? We live in a time where people are more open to anti-hero protagonists. Recent TV shows have brought more shades of grey into our popular culture and we believe it is important to be as relevant in video games. There’s no such thing as a black and white society. Everything is grey around us and we are glad that entertainment in general recognizes this more and more.

WATCH_DOGS is more grounded and plausible than science fiction or fantasy. The team draws their inspiration from who they are as individuals and what their society represents. I believe this is why it is so hard to clearly depict what WATCH_DOGS is exactly.  I feel this large amount of inspiration and the teams’ strong desire to make something relevant is what makes this game so special. We are working really hard to ensure we provide a believable world that supports a very visceral experience.

The game is being released on just about every platform there is. What has the development process been like? Barring graphics and a few console-specific features, are all the games the same, i.e., can one expect to play the same game regardless of platform? Essentially, can an Xbox One player invade, say a PS4 player’s game?

Answered by: Dominic Guay, Senior Producer 

Working on a game that spans multiple hardware generations is obviously a challenge! 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.

Can you walk us through a typical Watch Dogs mission from a game designer’s perspective? We’d like to understand the thought processes behind the level design.

Answered by: Danny Belanger, Lead Game Designer

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 take down 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...

Could you explain how hacking works in the game? Is it as simple as the press of a button (as demoed in various gameplay videos)?

Answered by: Danny Belanger, Lead Game Designer

Hacking is based on multiple factors depending on its strength. Some hacks are easy and have no cost at all, invading security cameras would be a good example of this. The ones that have a stronger impact on the world will drain Aiden’s battery, like causing mayhem with a traffic light accident. These hacks can cause serious damage and are not infinite. The depleted battery will recharge over time so the player will be able to reuse his abilities soon after. Some others will require special “components” that must be found in the world. Generally, these effects are the most potent, like creating a city Blackout, so the player needs to use them with care.

As for leveling up, all of these will require gaining access to the CTOS system and require being unlocked; much like in an RPG game.

Multiplayer seems to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the game. What can you tell us about it?

Answered by: Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

The seamless approach we have with online help players to access online activities without ever feeling like they are not in their adventure anymore. This helps to render these kinds of “modes” less intimidating and more integrated to the overall experience.

When your console is connected online you are automatically in a “session”.  There could be millions of these occurring at once. What we are able to do is to dynamically merge and unmerge those sessions seamlessly. Players can free roam normally, going about their game and at some point they can either accept a contract or provoke a monitoring scan so that the next thing they know their objective seamlessly involves another player. Once the situation is resolved, we are then able to unmerge both players, and they’re able to go about their game to pursue their objectives as they were. The beauty behind this is that we can control the pacing at which this occurs and we can give you tools to also control its flow. It is such a natural online extension of what WATCH_DOGS is all about in the end. If we say that everything is connected, we have to consider that everyone is connected too…

Considering the way multiplayer’s been implemented, does this mean that the game will require an always-on Internet connection to play (like Diablo III)? What about servers? Can we host our own? Do we connect to Ubisoft servers? If it’s the latter, we certainly hope you’ve not forgotten about India. J

Answered by: Kris Young, Live Producer

If you choose not to play online, you’ll be missing out on all the online activities that make up the full Watch Dogs experience. However, all of the other content will be available to you without an internet connection. On the PC version, you need to connect online at least once to activate the game on PC in Uplay.

Private servers aren’t available, but Ubisoft’s servers are available worldwide.

What would you say is the most exciting/appealing feature of Watch Dogs? What was the most challenging feature to implement?

Answered by: Dominic Guay, Senior Producer

A game is the sum of its parts so it’s hard for me to focus on one part only. That said, since the beginning we have wanted to create a dynamic city. A city where the player could have control and where the world would react to this power. When I play WD, this is my favorite part. It takes roots not only in Aiden’s ability to hack but also in his more physical abilities. It nourishes my creativity as a player, my sense of surprise in dealing with a not fully predictable city. It fosters and rewards my freedom to explore. And it pushes the immersion of the city, making it not just good looking but also lively and active.

How does the game deal with morality? (Killing cops, stealing money from private accounts, rescuing people from potential attackers)

Answered by: Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

In the game, there will be a Reputation System that will focus on the player’s attitude towards collateral damage. 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. This is not a simple “black or white” system; 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”.

Can you tell us about the mobile app, how it affects gameplay. Can we hope to see ARG elements? Something like ingress.

Answered by Philippe Baude, Companion Lead Game Design

We have a mobile app called ctOS Mobile. It has its own progression; you gain XP points each time you play. When you cross a XP threshold, you level up and are rewarded with a Skill Point. Then you can spend your skill points in different family unlock. From Police Units and Patrol Cars to SWAT SUV and Helicopters, there is a wide variety of elements for you to manage and upgrade!

Both Companion and AAA players can send each other requests for race challenges. Only the Companion App player can create his own customized races via the Companion App race editor and then challenge AAA players from all around the world directly from his mobile device.

In the end, this is about winning and your objective is to stop console players from reaching their goal by passing through several check points.  Maintain the pressure on the console/pc player by maintaining your helicopter above his head and Dispatching as many Police Units as you can to stop him.  You can also anticipate his moves and use ctOS to your advantage.  You have the control of a city in the palm of your hand!

Our Companion is 100% free and will be available at launch on iOS and Android.

The game is rumoured to have been nominated for over 170 awards, what makes it so special? Also, where do you keep all those trophies?

Answered by: Jonathan Morin, Creative Director

I would simply say that WATCH_DOGS is created by a very talented group of people who desire nothing more than to create something new, fresh and relevant for today's players. Controlling an entire city and invading its population provides a completely different way of interacting with your surroundings and offers unprecedented dynamism. With WATCH_DOGS, we want to push gaming forward in our own way. For us, it’s about creating a unique experience that feels natural, immersive and delivers the fantasy and experience you are seeking.

When’s the movie coming out?

As soon as all is in place to create a great movie about our universe.

Anirudh Regidi
Anirudh Regidi

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