Senior Producer Dominic Guay, showed a demo of Watch Dogs, Ubisofts new open world action-adventure at a preview event in San Francisco. There were three areas that he and the Watch Dogs development team pointed out that would be area’s of interest to the player; those being voyeurism, surveillance, and systemic AI. The theme of surveillance will be a particularly interesting theme to explore according Guay, with the increasing  numbers of cities using security cameras  to prevent crime, to how everything from traffic lights to entire power grids are connected.

Guay poses this, “The question we asked ourselves was, ‘What if we had control over all these things?  What could we do with it? What are the flaws of having such a connected system? How could it be used?  We’re giving that control to the player and we are letting them answer it for themselves.”

Watch Dogs which is scheduled to launch in North America on Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 in Nov and is set to be released on PlayStation 4 later this years.  The game takes place in a near future Chicago where everything has become much more connected than it is today.  In this Chicago a computer manages the entire functions of the city.

“A computer controls a mayor city, but who controls the computer?” Guay asks the players in the game.

One of the answers is private companies and the collection of personal data and information is a precious commodity. Every single person in Watch Dogs leaves a digital footprint, a set of data that includes: personal information, purchases, medical records, and reading habits.

The games protagonist, Adrian Pearce, can hack smartphones, laptops and the computers that control the city, thus giving the players the ability to invade any in-game characters privacy.

“There is a voyeuristic tendency in all of us, and Watch Dogs plays on that desire to snoop into people’s private lives.”  Guay said.  Polygon was shown a demo  where the player could hack a security camera,  once the camera was hacked the player could see into a person’s apartment, find the residents laptop  and then hack into the laptop to eavesdrop on a conversation.

The player also can while simply walking down the street, scan the information of every passerby they encounter, there will be an overabundance of information on every character. While not usefully immediately, Guay says this information can help the player make certain decisions.

The demo gives an example of this, Adrian Pearce, hacks the cell phone of a bystander that reveals a man plotting to murder a drug dealer who has allegedly raped his wife.  Pearce with this information in hand tracks down the rapist then hacks his data to learn that the drug dealer has a history of sexual assault.  This is the point where the player can choose whether to they want to intervene by killing the man or knocking him out and informing the police  of his plot or just let him go through with  the murder.

Guay states in an article on Polygon,“You’re going to have the tools to act in nuanced ways. So for example, you don’t only have to kill people. You can knock them out and let the cops deal with them.”

Guay goes further into this saying the following, “A lot of games give us extreme answers to many nuanced questions, and that’s easy to do, but we’re trying to give more balanced answers to those situations, which I think is closer to what people actually think.  I think we can relate to a character that is flawed a lot better than we can relate to someone who is either ultimately evil or absolutely good.”

Systemic AI was the third feature of the game shown, according to Guay, this will allow players to be the authors of the “best moments” in the game.  Guay says, that in most games, there’s a balance between a scripted AI and one that has its own brain that can make its own decisions. The AI in Watch Dogs leans heavily toward the latter.

Guay elaborates on this explaining the following, “For example, imagine a car chase, for lots of games, car chases are fully scripted – some games even script the traffic along the way, so it’s always going to be the same. But if we do that in our game, it doesn’t work.  What if the player hacks a traffic light and causes an accident? Then the whole thing would break down. So we need all those cars to have the smarts to try to steer away and the guy we’re trying to chase has to have a new plan of action and changes his course.”

Another example of the unscripted AI in the demo happens when Adrian Pearce attempts to take down a “rat” who  tries to make a getaway in a car. This car chase according to Guay, who has seen the demo multiple times, never played the same way twice. Pearce in one play through had to ram his car into the rats car to knock it over the edge of a bridge.  In another play through Adrian Pearce hacks into some traffic lights, that causes an accident and stops the rat before he can get away.  Then in yet another play through Adrian had to shoot out the tires of the rat’s car to stop him.

Guay states, “One of our hopes is that the best moments players will have in the game won’t be scripted events. My hope is the thing they talk about at the office or with their friends is the thing they created themselves. It’s that scenario where they had a plan and they tried to pull it off, and something wrong happened and they have to improvise. And they know – gamer’s know when that happens; it’s their moment. They made it happen.”

Guay also says, “So that’s what I’m hoping – that the best memorable moments in Watch Dogs are unique to the player.”

These moments, Guay calls them unscripted memorable moments are part of the key elements of the game: dynamism and an ability to have an impact on a living world is tied directly to the games other tenant: connectivity.

Guay and the Watch Dogs team declined to speak on specifics of the multiplayer aspect of the game; they only say that it will merge with the single-player experience.

In an example given by Guay, he explains how another player may be given the task of following the player through the game and trying to install a backdoor on the player’s phone.   Another example Guay gives is that a player may be given the ability to spy on another player.

The experience will be enhanced by a companion app that will according to Guay put, “Chicago in the palm of your hand.” Guay states, “The goal is to connect not only through single-player and multiplayer, but also when a player moves [out] of the living room,” he continues. “This will allow you to literally control the city in the palm of your hand.”

The demo that was shown happened to be only 45 minutes and was not just action sequences; it offered a glimpse into a game filled with many opportunities.

The smartphone in the game just like a real one can be loaded with apps which can expand the experience of the game.  There was one that could be used to listen to and recognize music playing in stores or on in game radios. Once the song is recognized, those songs could be purchased with in-game money and added to the players playlist on their phone.  Pearce even at one point during the demo hacks a speaker outside and replaced the song that was playing with one from his smartphone.

Pearce also at a point in the demo, started playing an augmented – reality shooter.  The app on the smartphone game started and the world around Pearce was filled with neon colored aliens.

Guay pointed out that to the rest of the in-game world Pearce would look crazy running around shooting at things with his hand that only he could see.  Also pointed out were several non-player characters in the game that seemed to have their own versions of same game and started shooting off into space.

“You can acquire many apps,” Guay says.  “Some are illegal, some are legal.”

Lead Story designer and Writer, Kevin Short would later tell Polygon that the game was inspired by a mix of fiction and non-fiction but the game is meant to be about the world we live in today.

“For us it’s really, it’s kind of about the world we live in,” Kevin states.  “We all have our cell phones. We’re all connected.  That was a big reason, a big impetus for this game. Where are we going? What are the repercussions?”

Check out a six minute long video showing off some of Watch Dogs gameplay!

Source: Polygon, Youtube

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