If E3 were a ship then it would be one filled with holes, try as they might most developers and publishers cannot keep a secret leaking out in the days or hours before their press conferences, no matter how hard they try. At E3 in 2012 though Ubisoft managed to surprise everyone when out of nowhere they announced Watch Dogs.
In the roughly 16 months then since then Watch Dogs has generated a buzz that has grown and grown so much so that in the build up to this year’s Eurogamer Expo it was voted the most anticipated game of the year.
I sat down to interview Jonathan Morin, Watch Dogs Creative Director, to talk about this upcoming title, and the things we can expect, and how the past year and a half has been.
“It’s been fun to work on something that isn’t a secret.” He says laughing. “I mean it was great to have a secret, but now it’s out it’s been great for the team to get that feedback, and it’s stimulating to see people’s reactions to what we are doing.”
Watching the game go from E3 to one of the biggest releases this year must have placed a lot of pressure on the team.
“There is definitely pressure to it, but it’s a positive one. It’s much better to have people who are expecting your game positively than to not care about it. For the team, they have a lot of experience so they can appreciate this opportunity, how rare it is so they don’t want to mess it up.”
Watch Dogs was originally announced for this generation, but since the game first appeared we now that it will also be coming to Next Gen consoles. For those who are unsure which version to buy, Morin pointed out they never focussed on the tech, just the game.
“We have pushed new features for the next gen, simulating wind in real time, water and rain, and the effects on things like peoples clothing and the general visuals so it creates a nice atmosphere which we’re used to seeing in real life. But that’s where we stopped. We don’t build a game for the tech we build it for an idea, and we didn’t want to cannibalise this idea simply because there was new tech.
“The other reason is if you’re starting to differentiate significantly between next and current gen then you start to split your intentions between two games, and I’m pretty sure that players would be the one to suffer. We wanted to be careful, use the power, there’s some cool stuff with the connectivity side so it’s seamless in the next gen, there are some elements of using the PlayStation 4 trackpad to control the maps, but that is where we stopped.”
Watch Dogs, unlike Ubisofts other big franchise Assassin’s Creed, is a very contemporary title. More so considering the recent real world focus on technology, hacking and privacy. Did the creative team foresee these events in their influences for the game?
“The biggest influence is reality. The idea came from the team, we’d talk over beers about what we liked and it was obvious we were talking about things like Social Media, conspiracies, our phones, new apps; so the impact of technology on society became the theme and then hacking came afterwards. It was a collective discussion which ended up resulting in the basis for Watch Dogs.
“Very early on we knew we wanted to do a contemporary society, we knew we needed to tackle the phones, it became natural to us to pay a lot of attention to the rise of the Smartphone so it would be accurate. It’s a part of what people like, they can relate to the city and its people.”
One element of gaming that is really being pushed is Second Screen/Companion apps. Ubisoft has announced that Watch Dogs will have a companion app in the form of the free cTOS app. The app will run using Ubisofts platform UPlay and will allow players using the app to play against console players in “fast paced challenges” and try to thwart their attempts at completing missions by controlling things like traffic lights, raising traffic poles, and even controlling a helicopter.
As Morin says for a game about technology, not to use real world technology would be a missed opportunity.
“If you have someone playing Watch Dogs on their console, then they close their console and walk off with their Smartphone and you end the interaction there, that would be a missed opportunity for a game that is based around connectivity and as you say it reinforces the thematic.
“I’m not a big fan of companion apps as at the moment I find them very static so I wanted something else. The idea for a player to control something in the game using their mobile phone when they’re not playing is certainly something we wanted, it’s a very unique thing that adds a lot of the experience, but it needs to be as good as the main game.”
We all know that Ubisoft loves a sequel, so I couldn’t leave without asking.
Morin laughs, while telling me he has been asked this question ever since the game was announced.
“We’re focussing on Watch Dogs. To me WD is a game, it’ll become a brand once it’s out. My focus is on getting the game out and making sure it’s as good as it can be. After that, we’ll see.”