The lights are on
Ubisoft managed one of the biggest surprises of E3 with its
reveal of Watch Dogs. But what is this strange new franchise? We quizzed the
game's producer to find out the answers.
"We've been working over two years on this in
secret," explains Ubisoft producer Dominic Guay. "So now that we're
finally able to talk about it, we're really happy the reaction has been so
good." In an E3 year that is being noted for its lack of as many major
announcements, Watch Dogs stands out as a fundamentally new IP amid dozens of previously announced sequels. Even so, after an extended demo at the Ubisoft press
conference, most gamers don't completely understand what the game is about.
"It's an open world game," Guay says by way of
introducing the project. "You play Aiden Pierce, and he comes from some
pretty tough neighborhoods, so he's used to violence. But he's also really
smart. He knows he needs a better weapon than those people he's fighting, and
for him, that's the city itself."
Watch Dogs flips the traditional open world mechanic on its
head. While driving, gunplay, melee combat, exploration, and side missions are
in abundance, just like in a game like Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed,
Watch Dogs adds in a whole new layer of information retrieval and surveillance.
"Anything that's tapped into the grid, he can control. Which means he can
invade the privacy of almost anyone in the city."
Unlike traditional game heroes, there's an obsessive edge to
Watch Dogs' main character that sets him apart. "He's a man obsessed with
surveillance and protection," describes Guay. "People close to him have been hurt in the past,
and he wants to make sure it never happens again. Unfortunately, it is
happening again, so he decides to take justice into his own hands. The player
is in a gray area. He's not a good guy, and he's not a bad guy. You will define
where he is in that gray zone. We're more inspired by Breaking Bad or Dexter,
rather than Superman or Darth Vader."
As Aiden confronts the dangers of our new digital age, it's
interesting to note that the game world he lives in isn't being modeled after
some dystopian future or alternate reality. Rather, Watch Dogs is meant to be a
modern day game in a real world city. "The game is set in Chicago around
about 2012," Guay says. "Modern times. It's not near future. All the technologies that Aiden
can tap into are based on real systems. Oftentimes, we find that all of the
hacks Aiden does have actually been done or people are worried it could happen.
For example, in Chicago, there are 10,000 cameras pointing at the population.
They can actually track you from camera to camera, and some would be able to
read the name on your name tag [points to our E3 badge]."
One of the game's most fundamental tools is the Profiler,
which lets Aiden see details about a person without ever talking or interacting
with them. One man may be HIV Positive. Another one is an employee of an
enemy's company. A third could have a criminal record. This information gives
players the tools to interact with the game world, and to establish their own
goals and choices without the game stepping in to present them artificially.
"You could actually start side missions based on this information. You
could find valuable information on a person's laptop. You can follow threads of
information. Steal their bank account," says Guay. "Imagine you're going down the street,
and the Profiler is on, and you see someone convicted of horrible crimes, like
multiple rapes. The guy turns off into an alleyway and begins following a
woman. Now you have a choice. You can continue on your mission and ignore the
danger to the woman, or you could say 'wait, I want to do something about
this.' Will you do violence? How will the city react to that, if you gut a guy in
an alley based on a suspicion?"
While the game embraces the innvative idea of playing around
with surveillance and information technology, it's also an action-focused game
at its core. Guay promises that players will spend much of their time engaging
in combat, navigating the open world, and driving vehicles between its various
As Aiden confronts the challenges of the seedy side of
modern-day Chicago, one of his constant companions and most trusted melee tools
is a baton, or tactical stick. "He's not the biggest guy, like a Gears of
War hero, but he's a smart guy, so the baton is quite efficient. It's his
weapon of choice in close combat," details Guay.
When things get more dangerous, the game also embraces more
traditional combat elements, including extensive (but realistic) gun battles.
"The shooting is third person, cover-based shooting. We're trying to make
it as realistic as possible," describes Guay. "You're not shooting hundreds of bullets at one guy
to make him die."
You'll also hop into cars and drive across the city, but at
realistic speeds, not breakneck inner city racing game style. No matter what
you're doing, you'll never lose the ability to manipulate your surroundings.
"Even when you're driving or shooting, you can mix in your ability to control
the environment," says Guay. "That's important to us. So, even when you're driving, you're
able to open up a drawbridge, or any number of other things."
Another thing that sets Watch Dogs apart from other open
world games is its approach to mission acquisition and interaction with the
other characters in the world. "We want to have a lot of characters in the
game," Guay tells us. "However, you are the one in control, not them. Aiden is obsessed with
control. It wouldn't make sense to have him working for a bunch of people
around the city. He sets his own objectives. If he needs something from a
person he'll take it. He doesn't need to ask for information; he'll steal
The game will have a definitive narrative arc with main
missions and objectives, but it should surprise no one familiar with Ubisoft
Montreal's games to find out that there are multiple additional optional tasks
to explore. "We have what we call side investigations. It's stuff that the
player can discover on their own. Basically, there are activities going on in
our Chicago that are illicit. We have one that is human trafficking. This is
happening while you play, and you might begin to uncover details about what and
who is involved. As you uncover this information, new details will pop up onto
your map, and at any point after that, you can go look into that. At that
location, you might uncover another clue," says Guay.
Ubisoft has remained cagey about the potential release
platforms for Watch Dogs, but Guay admitted to us that the game is definitely
headed at least to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. He's also open about talking about
the possibility of Wii U. The demo at E3 ran off a PC, and he says that the game
definitely won't ship this year. Given that information, it's possible that
Watch Dogs might also be targeting unannounced next-gen systems as well, but
Guay wasn't willing to offer any comment on the subject.
Even so, Guay did hint that given the game's themes and
story content, there will definitely be strong support for mobile integration.
"We don't want mobile to just be a way to look at stats. It needs to be gameplay.
It needs to be growing your control over the city," says Guay. "Growing your ability to monitor
people. You're able to continue to grow your game so it's there for you when you
return to your living room. You're also able to play with people who are in the
living room, and look at the way those people completed certain missions in the
game, and inspire yourself by some of the things they've done." The demo of
the game we saw concluded with what looks like some interesting asyncronous
multiplayer elements; it's unclear at this time whether that's some of the
mobile integration that Guay describes, or something more fundamental within
the core game.
So, what's the deal with the name of the game? As it turns
out, it seems to be a hint of the force that Aiden is up against. "We're a
game about information and the power of information," Guay says. "Aiden is able to tap into
all the networks in this city, and use that information to achieve his goals.
In our game world, Aiden is probably not the only one able to do so." Who
are the watch dogs in the game? Is it an informal description, or an actual
group? The answers remain unrevealed.
More than anything else, Watch Dogs impressed E3 showgoers
because of its timely addressing of some of today's most pressing social
issues. Who is entitled to privacy, and to what degree should the government
step in to protect that privacy or infringe upon it? How much information can a
private citizen glean about another private citizen? What is the responsibility
we have to limit the use of technology, or should it be limited at all?
"We're not trying to pass judgment," says Guay. "We'd be in a
weird position to say that technology is wrong, right? We're not saying it's
good or bad. But we're definitely saying that technology is what people make of
it. Today, we have a lot more access to information, but the issue of privacy
is not a new debate. I think that players will reflect on some of their real
life attitudes. Some players will think that some of the things that Aiden can
do are far-fetched, but they are all things that are possible, and probably happening
in our world."
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.
My best game of E3. I can't wait to hear more about it.
I am delightfully surprised by Watch Dogs, it is at the top of my list in my E3 report that I just completed @ majamaki.com/.../e3-2012
Oh my This game was best of E3 by far, I was only going to watch for Halo, then this game comes out of nowhere. and I was like! WHAT THE!!! HALO WHO?!
i cant wait for this it will be amazing
gonna trade in my hidden blade for a cell phone nice.
this looks amazing!
The teaser trailer for this game scared me; the inter-connectedness of the world and the ease of hacking into private digitalised information is enough to make anyone paranoid, this game could be (no pun intended) one of the game-changers, dealing with socio-political and moral issues in an interesting, innovative way, great stuff.
This game looks amazing!
Person of Interest: The Video Game.