Exclusive interview with Watch Dogs creative director: what next-gen connectivity means for you
Aiden Pearce and PS4 share a deep philosophical bond. No, it’s not that they’d both like to secretly spyon you while you’re sprawled out on the couch, DualShock in hand. Rather, both Ubisoft Montreal’s hack happy vigilante and Sony’s developer-friendly super machine are both squarely focused on connection – whether that’s harnessing the peeping power of an entire city’s surveillance system or a Share button that will open up the possibilities of socially driven console gaming like never before.
Watch Dogs on PS4 – everything is connected
With Watch Dogs on PS4, you really will be able to go everywhere and see everything any time you desire. “The biggest thing when we started is that we knew the evolution of gaming would definitely involve
connectivity and online in different ways,” creative director Jonathan Morin reveals during an exclusive
“It was also becoming obvious that people in the streets were connected and that players were changing their relationships with what it means to be online all the time.” This is the ideology powering Watch Dogs’ second-screen support, a feature that will enable you to connect to Pearce’s Big Brother-aping
Chicago wherever you go… well, provided you’re not hunkered down a well with nothing but the EDGE network accessible on your phone, that is.
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While the Gamescom demo focused on revealing more of Watch Dogs’ systemic gameplay (more on
that shortly), the studio chose June’s E3 show to debut the game’s second-screen functionality. During
yet another headline-stealing presentation, we saw a developer hacking a helicopter via a tablet app,
helping Pearce to peg it away from the fuzz.
“In many ways, Sony’s new console is the perfect platform to unlock Watch Dogs’ constantly connected potential”
But as Morin explains to us, this feature is even more ambitious than we’d first predicted. “The idea has always been to allow players to take their phones or tablets anywhere in the world, use the Watch Dogs application, and then be able to play in real time with people on any console, or else we aren’t doing our jobs,” he says. Like PSN masterpiece Journey, Ubisoft’s open-world espionage tale is pushing the online envelope, and being able to interact with other players while slouched on that number 37 to work
is merely the hotdog-stuffed pizza crust on this deliciously vigilant Chicago deep-dish pie.
Thatgamecompany’s disquieting desert pilgrimage blurred the lines between single and multiplayer when
another hooded figure silently dropped in on your trek. In Watch Dogs, these barriers will be similarly
smeared, with Seamless Invasion mode giving other players the opportunity to silently mess with your
hacking efforts by trying to complete tasks, such as covertly uploading a virus into your city.
“The big goal is to make sure that when you play an open world, the fun of it is the unpredictability of what can happen,” says Morin. With other PS4 players sneakily infiltrating your play session, Pearce will not only have to look out for the Chicago PD, but also wannabe hackers on PSN. In a smart move, these multiplayer elements can be accessed through a single-player contacts menu, furthering the notion that all parts of the game really are interlinked.
“Having other players able to hack into your game, and come and watch you, is a unique experience. That includes those people who have tablets, who can show up and challenge you, fight against you, and do all sorts of things to control the city – like controlling the choppers that are flying around.” Of course, if you don’t want prying eyes peeking into your adventure, you can always switch these online features off,
something Morin elaborates on: “When a companion challenges you, it’s a contract that you’ll accept or
not – it won’t happen if you say no. You can turn it off.”
With the way these constantly connected games of subversion are shaping up, though, we think you’d be mad to hit the off switch. Random occurrences are the lifeblood of a good sandbox – something anyone who’s been saved from pirates by a komodo dragon at the last second in Far Cry 3 will attest to. And the prospect of having to stay ever watchful against both AI and humans perfectly taps into the game’s DNA.
“A player on PS4 can wander around in a street and suddenly get challenged by someone, and get a perspective that’s unique. That’s what we’re most interested about with the companion elements,” states Morin. None of these interactions feel meaningless, either, as players will always be given objectives when hacking into someone else’s game. “The way we designed it is so that players don’t come in to do nothing: they always have some sort of motivation to subvert you.”
In many ways, Sony’s new console is the perfect platform to unlock Watch Dogs’ constantly connected potential. Morin certainly isn’t shy when it comes to expressing his admiration for the social mindset
behind PS4. “Sony understands really well what online can do to gaming today, more so than just the Share button – which I think is a really good idea.
What matched for us with Sony when we started to show the game was that it was pitching its console
like we are pitching our game: it’s a pretty great fit.” As exciting as Watch Dogs’ online potential is, it would mean very little if the underpinning experience couldn’t reach those same lofty standards. Fortunately, as our exclusive first play on page 66 shows, this still looks like the open-world
prospect to beat on PS4 (unless GTA V gets a next-gen release).
Built on a well-integrated blend of chaotic action and thoughtful stealth, this observant hound appears set to pull away from the rest of the sandbox pack by rooting its core mechanics in systemic gameplay. To further clarify, ‘systemic’ is the buzzword Morin and his team can’t help but fall back on when describing the unpredictable elements that influence every action in the game. Everything from the Assassin’s Creed-influenced parkour, to car chase sections and shootouts, right through to sneaky infiltrations of the city’s CtOS bases falls under the remit of a system that looks to make each mission as excitingly freeform and light on pre-programmed scripting as possible.
“A player on PS4 can wander around in a street and suddenly get challenged by someone, and get a perspective that’s unique. That’s what we’re most interested about with the companion elements”
“The strength of Watch Dogs from a gameplay standpoint is that over time you’ll never experience the same thing [twice],” says Morin. “When you add in that Aiden can hack everything in his surroundings, you give the player an unprecedented level of control.” These constantly fluctuating factors will also affect enemy AI, furthering the idea of an adaptable world built around Pearce’s Rowdy Roddy Peeper sensibilities.
“Say you’re chasing someone in a car,” explains Morin. “That character is able to make decisions based on everything in his surroundings to create an unprecedented amount of possibilities [for] what can happen in a single situation.” Whether it’s using your smartphone to obtain personal info on civilians or tampering with bollards during a high-speed chase, electronic tinkering informs every aspect of the game: “You can use traffic, citizens or infrastructures as tools.”
Hacking also provides you with a tremendous amount of freedom while exploring the Windy City, a point Morin is eager to stress. “We tend to give players action sequences, but there’s a lot of other stuff you can do in our open world. You can profile citizens, or even look into certain places by remotely hacking their webcams.”
After generations of in-game security cameras proving the scourge of stealthy escapades (poor Snake still has night terrors about those dastards on Shadow Moses), Watch Dogs is finally transforming that trend. “For the first time, cameras are your friend. You can hack them to attract enemies and start messing around with them to bring people to where you want,” says Morin. “The first layer of freedom we have is giving the right pacing for you to think about everything using those cameras. Then the second layer comes during free-roaming.”
Like sending pigeons to the great Trafalgar Square in the sky during a Liberty City wander, straying off the beaten track in Watch Dogs will reveal hidden charms. “If you like to watch and understand things, you can tap into phone calls and text conversations,” Morin reveals. “It gives you little peeks into the lives of people, and all of those can provide you with rewards, feed your curiosity or give you more understanding of the narrative.”
Ah yes, Pearce’s closely guarded plotline. While Morin isn’t overly forthcoming with story specifics, he
at least provides more background into the paranoid trenchcoat-lover’s motivations. “Something backfired on his family and he’s always felt responsible. So now he’s obsessed with surveillance in order to protect
them. He’s overprotective – which you feel in the game, as the relationship with his family is pretty tense.”
Although the rest of Aiden’s clan may not have been shown off yet, it’s clear GTA V’s Michael isn’t going to be the only put-upon PlayStation pappy this Christmas. “He’s monitoring his family 24/7 without them knowing. When something backfires on them again, it explodes Pearce’s idea of surveillance into something much grander. The story is very well anchored in everything that you do.”
Morin paints what would appear to be a dark picture of the narrative, but there will be some laughs smuggled in there, too. One of the key areas where Grand Theft Auto has always stayed ahead of its competition lies in Rockstar’s scathing, genuinely chuckle-worthy humour. From radio stations peddling designer underwear aimed at infants, to working for a garage owner obsessed with bull shark hormones, the series remains one of the only franchises in games that can properly do funny.
Watch Dogs’ creative director assures us his title will also provide laughs depending on how you play.
“There is a lot of humour in the game,” he confirms. “We want to paint a picture that makes sense for a
human being when they’re watching an entire city unfold in front of them. Monitoring a citizen’s privacy is a great way to show some of this humour, and you can expect a lot more.”
We’ve already had a glimpse of Aiden using a webcam to spy on a man with a sex doll, but the
supporting players will also deliver on the funny. “T-Bone and Jordi are very serious about what they do, but their personality brings a lighter tone to situations, as well. It’s important when you play a game that you’re not always in that grey or dark area.”
As our time with Morin winds down he also lets us in on how the progression system works. “You’ll start with a certain toolkit where you can access quite a few things. There is a skilltree where you can unlock your tools, with an entire chunk of it dedicated to hacking. Then there are also perks for shooting and driving, so you can advance all of the different playstyles that you want.” Upgrades are also tied into a points system, as he explains: “Points are given and built into the main path during dedicated activities, but also in free-roaming, as well.”
Hardwired into that shared philosophy with PlayStation 4, Watch Dogs is pushing the system in ways unlike any other next-gen title, and our hands-on has assured us the core mechanics can match its ambitious online plans. If it can hack through the hype and realise its almighty potential in November, then this is one game you’ll feel connected to like never before.