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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
  • I love that this game is about prevalent issues in our society, rather than just shooting people. As technology grows, privacy will become a bigger and bigger issue, and I love that a game is tackling that.

  • The demo for this game totally blew me away. I was NOT expecting the gameplay I witnessed there, and it was all intriguing.

  • This looks awesome, and Chicago is a great place to base this game in. This and The Last of Us are my most anticipated games so far.

  • It's incredibly cool to witness games like this during their unveiling. Projects somehow kept secret for years, then shown to the public in a nearly finished state. Provided the idea/mechanics are solid (and they most certainly appear to be for Watch Dogs), the public reaction is always exceptionally positive. Who can blame em?

  • I'm super stoked for this game. It was BOTS by far.

  • Inspired by Breaking Bad and Dexter?... Sounds awesome to me Ubi! Best conference at E3 IMO, even when they have all the stupid bells and whistles they always bring on. I love Aisha Tyler but c'mon Ubi, not the right choice. Hire a PR person for jebus' sake! Two years in a row of painful presentations. If is wasn't for the games it'd be chaos. I'll do it for $150,000 a year. Pennies Ubi, pennies! That other kid did not have one iota of comedy in his body. Get out of my world, kid
  • I'm excited to see how this turns out.

  • This looks like it will be a game worth getting. Can't wait to here more on this, it might be worth preordering. Excited about this.

  • I think it's fantastic that this game was a complete surprise - thanks to leaks and teases, there are very few games that come completely out of the blue these days. This is a refreshing return the days of old when the information was harder to get.

    Also, this looks like a fantastic game, I think Ubisoft are really pushing impressive gameplay and important issues. Definitely one to watch, and a definite contender for Best of Show.

  • My lord this is beautiful.

  • I absolutely loved Deus Ex HR and this game looks like it is tackling some of the same points and themes as that game. The gameplay looks even more interesting though, the graphics (I know this is PC) look amazing, and the story seems just as- if not more- deep and complex. Really looking forward to this game.

  • Watch Dogs looks like its going to have a lot to interact with and with the world. The idea of using all the technology in your area to interact with your target seems like it will make me do more play through's after i'm done.

  • this game looks fantastic. ubisoft does it again.

  • I like how the topical issues they are touching upon do not have an approaching due date, unlike Rainbow Six Patriots, which despite the unfortunate exodus of talent, will only be relevant in the next few years, since it is so intrinsically tied to the recent economic collapse.  The issues of technology and privacy are ones that have truly come alive over the last few years, but will only continue to grow as time goes by.

    As for the rest of the game, this is close to the top of my most wanted list no matter what platform it launches on, as I love open-world games, and the element of choice (whether it extends to the story or not) is incredible, and with that smart bit of dialogue between Aiden & his Asian associate in the demo, it ticks alot of boxes for me.  Also, its not set in New York! :)    

  • This makes perfect sense for Wii U. Using the face buttons to control the game and the game pad screen to control the world around you seems like a fine way to use the U.

  • I'm probably going to sound like a hardcore fanboy, but because I love Ubisoft, and because they are one of the most talented companies in the industry, I'm gonna say this game will do well in sales, and I know I'll be buying it!
  • The graphics are looking good.

  • This impressed me alot when i saw the video on E3.

  • I'm gonna like this, not just because it seems like a cool concept, but because its from Ubisoft.