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Watch Dogs

Unveiling The Mystery Of Ubisoft's New Franchise

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 environs.

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 it."

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."

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Comments
  • This was my favorite game at E3 bar none. Ubisoft really hit it out of the park with this one.
  • which platforms is the game going to be on ?
  • ubisoft has the most amazing track record its created franchises that i love and this better come out next year so that i can recover my cash from farcry 3 dawnguard and splinter cell blacklist head exploding boom!

  • I think the first year I was able to actually watch the press conferences was the year Microsoft announced FF13 for the 360 and this is the first time since then that I have been not only blind sided but completely blown away by a game.

    I missed Ubi's press conference and tuned in just as he shut down the traffic lights and was hooked immediately. This is the best of show. by far. Bravo Ubisoft. Bravo.
  • How awesome would it be to use SmartGlass to look down at your iPhone and use those hacking abilities, instead of using the ability wheel like they did in the demo? I think it would be amazing, possibly enough to make me get it for my 360, instead of my gaming rig. Of course, if SmartGlass comes to windows in any way... =D
  • everything about that demo was impressive. I think this and The Last of Us were the highlights of E3. I'll buy this for my PS3/4 no questions asked. I'm on board already with what's been shown.

  • It looks great, but they talk about realism too much in a game where you drop kick a guy in a gun battle before speeding over a bridge you just hacked to open from 100 feet away in said vehicle.
  • I like that it's open world, and that it's in 2012. Great job Ubisoft....Great job

  • Person of Interest looks like a point of inspiration for this game, looking forward to it.
  • Ubisoft - "definetly on xbox 360 , ps3 " . Stupid consoles can't offer the graphical fidelity the game has to offer. No mention of PC release. Play demo on PC with optimal graphics. GENIUS derp Ubisoft.
  • Maybe the Watchdogs are the faithful companions to the Watchmen?  This definitely looks good.  I've been hooked on Future Soldier for the past couple weeks, so I'm on a bit of a Ubisoft high and will willingly throw money at them for anything that looks remotely interesting.

  • Man, this is one of the best new ips ive seen all year
  • Aside from Beyond and The Last of Us, this was the only game that really got me interested to find out more details. I'm looking forward to hearing more, particularly the multiplayer they teased.

  • Hopefully it comes out in 2013. I really can't wait to try this game out. GOTY anyone?

  • Hope it comes soon, because this has the makings of a GOTY!

  • Looks like its going to be a great game.

  • Can't wait.
  • Awesome ideas. Hopefully coming to Wii U.

  • Absolutely amazing concept, ubisoft.  Can't wait to hear more about this game.

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