The development team talk us through their hugely ambitious open world action epic
Knowledge is power – and that rings especially true in Ubisoft‘s eagerly awaited open world adventure, Watch_Dogs. So it’s not surprising that everyone was dying to find out the release date of this spectacular PS3 and PS4 title last week. What’s more surprising however, are these titbits we discovered on a recent visit to Ubisoft’s studio in Montreal…
1. Chicago is your cyber playground
From playing chess and drinking games, to taking down gangs. Watch_Dogs is all about letting you treat Chicago as your playground. “We support all styles of play,” says Animation Director Colin Graham. “Explore the game, as the more you do the more you’ll have fun with it.”
So if you love stealth, go ahead and use those Assassin’s Creed skills. Got an itchy trigger finger? Then blast your way through the missions – you won’t be punished for it. Maybe you just like driving through the city? So boost the many different-handling vehicles and take them for a spin (don’t forget to press the O button to duck your head beneath the dashboard when hiding from the cops, though).
But hacking enhances all of that to create new twists on familiar territory. In Watch_Dogs, stealth is sending a guard a distracting SMS that lets you sneak by him. Shooting turns explosive when you set off an enemy’s belt-grenade, his panicked cries drawing all his friends nearby before you watch them all get taken down by the resulting explosion. And driving evolves into a roadster action movie when you hack the traffic light system and raise parking blockers to evade the fuzz.
2. You’re the cause and the effect
Passers-by aren’t just roaming dummies in Watch_Dogs – each possesses background information that you can bring up with your handy Profiler tool. Some have phone conversations and text messages you can hack, and every single one is different. These random people react differently to your actions, too.
“We’ve created a system for their mental state,” explains Colin. “So attacking one person in the street won’t necessarily result in the same response. If you smash their mobile phone before they call the cops, they may run, they may fight back and so on.
“And panic can spread. If someone runs down a street screaming from what you did, others will become curious. Eventually those people will look for the source of that threat and it creates different reactions.”
3. Everyone is your puppet
Getting under the skin of non-player characters and enemies is all part of the fun, especially as you can really toy with their emotions. For example, if you hack a garage door to go up and down several times, a watching person could get spooked and eventually fly into a rage against the door itself. Equipment can be tampered with to similar effect. And unless you’re being obvious about your intentions they won’t necessarily know it’s you playing games with them.
“Be a demon for the game’s AI”, suggests Creative Director Jonathan Morin. “You can blow stuff up without them knowing you’re there and really mess with their heads. It becomes a little god game where you try to strategise their movements.”
4. It’s the little things…
Everything around you in Watch_Dogs feels alive. From the tourists asking city-goers to take pictures of them, to Aiden’s contextual animations that have him casually sliding his mask up in preparation for action, or putting his hands up in surrender if you don’t move under pursuit of the police.
Even the incidental voices of people in the streets were given a lot of attention. “We went to Chicago and made sure we got the accent right,” reveals Lead Writer Kevin Short.
“We had to capture how they say things. And also make sure the jobs of each non-player character were realistic for the area.”
5. Become judge, jury and executioner
You can make assumptions of a non-player character based on their profile – and sometimes that guess can be right. Take our poor security guard with the belt-grenade. If he’s a highly trained, ex-military guy, chances are he’ll be able to release his belt before the grenade blows up. But if he’s a coffee addicted compulsive gambler, he’s probably toast.
“The Profiler lets you make these kind of judgment calls,” says Colin. “But bear in mind that a character’s equipment can randomly change from game to game, so you still have to think on your feet and adapt.”
6. Watch your back…
Watch_Dogs lets you invade other players’ games, but don’t think that you’ll instantly know who they are. If you hack a Blume agent and you don’t get to them before they report you, another player can be alerted to find you down, stalk you, hack your phone or even kill you – so keep your wits about you for anything suspicious.
“One guy playtesting was just walking down a street, then he suddenly took out his gun and killed someone driving in their car, without even profiling him,” laughs Colin. “We asked why he did that, and he said that there’s no way a person would be driving a branded sports car in this poverty stricken area, so he must have been another player stalking him.”
It’s a story Jonathan found hilarious, but exactly the sort of experiences the team wants you to have with Watch_Dogs. “I love the systemic gameplay and that people are already creating their own anecdotes. That’s what makes the game special to me.”
We’re only scratching the surface of what Watch_Dogs has to offer – take a look at the new trailer below and keep an eye out for more features coming soon.