Ubisoft unveiled their new, open-world action-adventure game Watch Dogs at last year’s E3. Watch Dogs blends cutting-edge technologies and sophisticated game design into a realistic and living open world where players must use any means at their disposal to take down a corrupt system.
In Watch Dogs, players enter the dangerous world of Aiden Pearce, a new class of antihero whose ability to hack into any connected system could be his most powerful weapon. Whether it’s triggering a 30-car pileup by manipulating traffic-lights to trap an enemy during a downtown shootout or tapping into the city’s omnipresent security cameras to access anyone’s personal information, Pearce is capable of coercing and controlling almost every element of the world around him.
“Watch Dogs goes beyond the limits of today’s open-world games by giving players the ability to control an entire city,” said Jonathan Morin, creative director, Ubisoft. “In Watch Dogs, anything connected to the city’s Central Operating System becomes a weapon. By pushing the boundaries, we can provide players with action and access to information on a scale that’s never been seen in a video game before.”
Ubisoft has released some internal Q&A featuring Morin – read on and learn everything you could ever want to know about Watch Dogs.
1. What is Watch Dogs?
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.
2. What would be a short introduction to the game story and its main character?
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.
3. Why call the game Watch Dogs?
The name refers directly to protection, surveillance and monitoring. It hints at our main character’s overprotective nature as well as the cosmogony of our hyper connected world. The ‘S’ at the end is also crucial since everyone is watching or being watched. It even explains key online elements of our experience but these will not be revealed just yet…
4. What makes Watch Dogs different from other games in the genre?
Watch Dogs will redefine how you interact with an open world. For the very first time, the city will become your weapon and to support that, our simulation of Chicago will offer unprecedented dynamism. This will have real impact on your experience.
First, you will have real-time control over the city’s infrastructure: traffic lights, drawbridges, communications, L-Train and more. Using these will create ripples throughout the city that will impact the people around you and how you reach your goal. The media will talk about your actions affecting your relationship with the game world. It will bring city simulation to an all new level.
Secondly, you will have access to every mobile device, laptop and computer. Invading everyone’s privacy will organically lead you to all sorts of stories and gameplay experiences. Players are used to following the icons in open world games because they define where the action takes place. In our game, the action will shape itself as you discover it. This system gives us brand new ways to deliver content to the player. It feels far more real and offers way more possibilities. In the end, the world will be full of surprises which will bring improvisational play to the next level.
For example in our open world demo, if Aiden had chosen to focus on another person, the gameplay experience would have been completely different. Aiden Pearce is a man who lives by his wits. So the player will have to use his wits too, not only to choose the best approach to a challenge but also to improvise when he faces the unexpected. I think what set us apart is the level of control the player will have on his surroundings and how it will help him face an unprecedented amount of emergent gameplay situations.
5. Why did you choose Chicago as a setting?
Chicago is one of the world’s great cities. From its inception to today, it symbolizes modernity and progress alongside crime and corruption; great wealth and high culture alongside abject poverty and brutal violence. Those contradictions make Chicago the perfect location for our contemporary open-world game.
Furthermore, the city perfectly illustrates our theme: “Everything Is Connected.” In 2006, Chicago implemented “Operation Virtual Shield”, an initiative that created the most extensive video surveillance network in the United States by linking more than 10,000 security cameras to a centralized monitoring system that captures and processes video feeds in real time. These surveillance programs are part of the backdrop against which Watch Dogs takes place.
6. How does the Chicago of Watch Dogs compare to real-world Chicago? How important was it for the studio to accurately depict Chicago in the game?
While we took liberties with our version of Chicago to better serve gameplay, it was fundamental for the team to deliver a credible reflection of this fascinating city. The atmosphere of Chicago is something we took very seriously. We went there several times to take pictures, record our citizens’ dialogues and chat with the Chicago Police Department to better understand the place. In the end, people on the streets will talk like real Chicago people, the city sound ambiance is literally source material from the real places, the music will respect the rich history of the city… Even the weather is a real representation of the place!
Another key element for us was to have an accurate depiction of landmarks and architecture. If you’ve been to Chicago, you will have many déjà-vu moments. And not only it will look and feel the same, but you will be able to access historical facts on the places. We also made a lot of research on news facts about Chicago and its inhabitants. The stories the player will be able to tap into as he monitors everything and everyone will also be a reflection of the real Chicago of today. For our team, everything is in the details and we believe the addition of such little things is part of the reason why the response to our game is so strong. In the end, players care as much as we do about details within their experiences. So it is extremely important for us to make sure we deliver on their expectations.
7. Ubisoft announced that Montreal will be working with other studios on this project, which studios will it be and how will they work together?
Ubisoft Montreal is the lead studio for Watch Dogs. It is where the project takes its roots. However, Watch Dogs is a massive game and having the opportunity to work with other talented teams to achieve our goals is a great opportunity. As such, Watch Dogs is a co-production between Montreal and the studios in Paris, Newcastle, Bucharest and Quebec. This allows us to build a game that allies a large scope with attention to details. Each studio has its focus and all the developers are dedicated to create a cohesive experience. Ubisoft has developed an expertise in such cooperation in its past major releases.
8. How long has the project been in development?
Watch Dogs has been in development for close to 4 years now. In order to create a great game, especially a new IP, you need two things: a talented team and time. We have been spoiled in having both. This allowed us to build a new technology, to craft a rich universe and to leverage the know-how from the other games built by Ubisoft Montreal in the past years.
9. How important is realism in the game?
Realism is core to our game experience. Many games have car accidents, gunplay and explosions, but most of time I feel that the essential part is missing. For me, every real life incident comes with real human drama. So in Watch Dogs, you will feel the gravity of each situation you play. This goes beyond realistic graphics, weather and mood. It means everyone involved in any event should matter. Everything you do as a player will have consequences on people’s lives. The media will talk about your approach to these events and it will have gameplay consequences. So when you play the game, you will have to consider people around you before you make a choice. In the end, it all depends on how you see things and why you play games. You won’t be judged, but your actions will not be ignored. So for all of this to be right, we are working really hard to make sure our game feels real in its graphics, mood, AI, sound, animation, simulation and story. What matters to us is to deliver the serious tone we are aiming for because we believe it is part of what makes our game relevant.
10. Who’s the team behind the game? Their background, previous games?
In order to create an entirely new experience in the open-world category, we needed to put together a diverse team of experts from a variety of genres. Fortunately, Ubisoft Montreal has expertise in a wide range of games enabling us to draw from the best. In particular, we have a lot of experience in open world games.
From Assassin’s Creed, we have leveraged the scope, diversity, depth and quality of animation that made it such a great success. From Far Cry and Splinter Cell franchises, we have the ability to deliver great shooting, physics and stealth. From the Driver series, we have state of the art vehicle physics and handling. And to all of this, we have added veterans from outside of Ubisoft who have worked on some of the biggest brands in our industry. The result is an inspired, experienced team that is focused on establishing a new benchmark that will define the future of open-world gaming. Frankly, it’s only through the addition of those past experiences that Watch Dogs is made possible.
11. Did the studio consult with any type of experts such as technology or cyber-terrorism experts on Watch Dogs?
The hacking and security communities thrive on sharing information. The Watch Dogs team began by doing a lot of research obtaining an amazing amount of information and doomsday scenarios. As we progress in the production of the game and start being more focused on realization, the need for consultants has grown, not only to make sure we were still within the boundaries of “possible” but also to be as precise and authentic regarding the use of technology and the people using it. We have started relationships with world class specialists, and we’ll be talking more about that in the months to come.
12. What inspired the team to make Watch Dogs?
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 his own gain, even if it means hurting his fellow citizens? Fortunately, 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.
13. What are the main pillars of Watch Dogs?
Context is everything so it was natural to have our first pillar focusing on this aspect. We wanted to make sure the player would have a rich and privileged amount of interaction with the game world, and to do so, vigilantism was the perfect direction for us. Having a man with a personal mission who monitors an entire city offers a great deal of drama in every aspect of the game and that’s what we were looking for.
Then, we wanted to make sure our game would have a very serious tone. Tapping into every people’s lives is a serious thing. That is especially true in the context of a modern vigilante hero. I have two mantras I use all the time with every Director in the team to make sure we deliver our serious tone. The first one is “Do you feel the gravity of this situation when you play it?” The second one is “Make it more Michael Mann and less MichaelBay.” These kind of statements always help reminds ourselves who we are and what we are aspiring to achieve.
Hyper-connectivity is obviously a core subject in our game. It is everywhere, from the innovative tool you use in the game to our entire online experience. The entire game structure is based on the idea that everyone is watching whether it’s in single player, multiplayer or everything in between. It is within the game and also outside of it…
Delivering a serious vigilante experience when you can control everything that is connected around you is definitely a challenge. This leads us to our last pillar. In order for all of this to work, we needed unprecedented dynamism within our city simulation. Every system talks to each other in the game. It is this set of systems that creates the magic. For example, everything that happens in our open world demo is emergent. If the player had focused on someone other than the woman at the magazine stand, everything would have been very different. This is how organic Watch Dogs is.
In the end all of these pillars have been carefully chosen in order to make sure we would deliver a relevant open world game with an unprecedented level of interactivity. After all, that’s what games are all about.
14. Will Aiden be driven only by personal purposes or will he be fighting for a greater cause?
Aiden Pearce has his own reasons to be over-protective towards his family. But when he will push his obsession to monitor an entire city, he might confuse his own drama with those of everyone around him. This is the narrative canvas the player will explore all through the gameplay experience.
15. What is the symbol on Aiden’s mask? What does it symbolize?
The symbol means “connectivity”, which represents him really well. This kind of attention to detail is true for every character in the game. We worked really hard to define the essence for each and every one, both from a narrative and artistic level. We look forward to introducing each character’s identity and design.
16. Watch Dogs seems to be about hacking. How does this translate into actual gameplay?
Hacking influences the entire game experience. In order to really offer the fantasy of controlling and monitoring an entire city, we have to make sure it is true within every aspect of the game. So everything from the open world progression to the player’s skill tree will reinforce this concept.
Throughout the game, your access to ctOS and your surroundings will progressively grow. It will define how you find gameplay around you. By monitoring people’s lives, you will find various types of mission activities that will happen organically as you discover them. Depending on how you play, this may escalate to pretty serious situations.
When those situations occur, you will appreciate the opportunity to hack everything around you to deal with them. The city will become your playground. You will be able to hide, escape or fight your way through each problem by using tools such as communication shutdown, the L-Train, traffic lights, security cameras, drawbridges, and a lot more we have yet to communicate on. All of these are accessible in any situation you can think of.
Those tools will cause chain reactions which will also affect the game world and how the media talks about Aiden Pearce. So expect long term gameplay impacts in the simulation as well. After all, playing with these tools within a city comes with a great deal of consequences. Put simply, with so much access to your surroundings, no driving, shooting, navigation or hiding will feel the same again.
17. How is this open world demo different from what you showed at E3 2012?
Last year, we showed you one the game’s mission. You saw how everything is connected. This year we wanted to show you how open our game world is, filled with interactions and opportunities. What we demoed you is not a mission, it is a player exploring the city and pursuing a thread of information out of his own curiosity and free will. Everything you saw happened as a consequence of the player’s choices, not some elaborate scenario. This should have illustrated to you how in Watch Dogs, everyone is connected.
18. What do you mean by “the city as a weapon”? What is ctOS?
We all live in a hyper-connected world. Everything that has been invented surrounding the Internet these past 20 years has slowly redefined the way we live our day to day lives. Today, all major cities are increasingly networked. Urban infrastructures are monitored and controlled by complex operating systems. It is something that is happening in real life. In Watch Dogs, we call this system the CenTral Operating System, or ctOS. Mobile phones allow ordinary citizens to be tracked from their bedrooms to their workplaces. All of these electronic devices form a complex, powerful network upon which we have become increasingly dependent.
Now imagine one man taking control of that network.
In Watch Dogs, you will use Chicago’s ctOS to your advantage. In our open world demo for instance, you can see how Aiden used the bollards against the cops and how he stopped the L Train in order to flee. These are just a few examples of the unique abilities you will have at your fingertips. And the cool part is that you will have access to these tools in every emergent situation the game has to offer. So every creative player out there should check it out because this sandbox experience offers countless possibilities.
19. What do you mean by there will be real consequences to your actions?
In Watch Dogs, every open world moment needs to be treated seriously. Every action the player takes will have a direct consequence. When you cause chaos, people will be endangered. The media will talk about it. They will influence how the population perceives your actions and it will alter your relationship with the world.
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.”
20. In the demo, Aiden is able to access information on all the people around him. How does he do that? What kind of information is available to him?
Aiden is able to tap into Chicago’s surveillance system. There are over ten thousand security cameras in the city, pointed at its citizen every day, many having the precision to read from a piece of paper. Through this system, Aiden can do facial recognition on citizen and match it with the ctOS populace database, which contains citizens’ personal information: salaries, occupation, criminal record… With this kind of access, he can pry into their secrets and use this information to further his ends.
21. Why does Aiden decide to intervene and stop the imminent crime? Is he some kind of vigilante?
Aiden doesn’t intervene, the player does. As you play Aiden Pearce, you will go from a personal mission to something far more important. Players will progressively live a clash between Aiden’s drama and everybody else’s problems. In the intro from the demo, Aiden says “Once you’ve seen it, all of it… how do you look away?” This question is directed at the player. After all, it is a game we are talking about here. So it is the player that should decide which type of vigilante he wants to be. And being a vigilante is definitely an interesting and deep tragedy to explore through gameplay.
22. Aiden overloads an electrical fuse box which slows down and disorients his target, how did he do that?
Aiden can access and control any computer within our virtual city of Chicago. In our modern cities, power systems are now being controlled by computers. Smart Grids are being put in place to save on energy costs, facilitate and make more reliable electricity distribution. With access to those systems, Aiden is able to overload local power grids. This is just one of many different ways Aiden can make use of his control over the city.
23. What is the slow motion effect that we see during gameplay?
Aiden is very intelligent and street smart. He possesses the ability to think fast – in the game we call it ‘focus’. It’s a skill Aiden can use to analyze his environment to gain a quick advantage. This can be done anytime and is controlled by the player. But it’s not unlimited and needs to be used smartly.
24. At the end of the demo we see a camera showing Aiden on the train. What’s happening there?
If you think you’re alone – think again. Everything and everyone is connected and part of the same network. This camera is yet another tease at our online direction and there is still a massive amount of information that will come your way regarding our plans for this. We just can’t wait to tell you guys more about it.
25. Will Aiden be able to climb buildings?
Yes, Aiden will be able to climb buildings and navigate through the city of Chicago. He will also be able to use this skill on dynamic objects such as cars, which offers great opportunities during foot chases and combat.
26. In the open world demo, we see Aiden chase his target through the interior of a pharmacy. In the game, will players be able to access buildings?
In the game, players will have many opportunities to access interiors. Actually, the way we are building the city, we consider its various dimensions: the street level, interiors, but also how Aiden can explore remote areas, back alleys, even the building’s rooftops. Also, Chicago has a large under city that we are leveraging. Finally, remember: players can explore the physical side of the city of Chicago, but also all of its digital layer, invading the privacy of its citizens. As such, Aiden can get into interiors physically, but also by tapping into his ability to access and control any computer in the city.
27. Can the police or any other entity use ctOS the same way Aiden can?
ctOS is a system that manages entire cities to solve complex problems such as traffic jams, war against crime and power management. Not only can the police use it, but it is now part of their core strategies. In the end, ctOS is the kind of system that made it possible for police forces to be more efficient with less budget and resources. This is the reality in many major cities these days. If you do some search, you will see that some form of ctOS is already out there in key cities. The police are already using such systems and it’s only going to grow in the next few years. ctOS is far more relevant than people might think in 2013.