I left the EB Expo in Sydney last year with five interviews under my belt, two more than I’d intended to do. One of those interviews was with Kevin Shortt, the story designer for the much anticipated Watch Dogs.
Like most gamers, Watch Dogs was on my day one next-gen console game list. It was shock to hear, a little over a week after my interview with Kevin, that the game had been pushed back definitely. With more than my share of interviews to transcribe, my Watch Dogs interview was put on the bottom of the pile.
But with Watch Dogs finally about to make it’s entrance, I’ve got off my arse and written up what is an interesting and slightly prophetic interview with the game’s story designer, Kevin Shortt.
Hi Kevin, can you tell me a bit about yourself and what Watch Dogs is all about?
My Name is Kevin Shortt and I’m the lead story designer on Watch Dogs. I’ve been on the project pretty much right from the beginning. We’ve been going on for about five years.
It’s a new IP and it’s a brand new game, so it takes a long time to develop. What is great about Ubisoft is that they give us that time. They don’t rush us, they know that we are coming up with something new and fresh and that was always important for us.
We wanted to come up with something that was not just better graphics and new environment, but something that was new. So we created this city that you can hack at will. You can control the city and use it as weapon against your enemies.
I think that that is something that players won’t have seen before. They are going to be excited to see how they can combine elements – different types of hacking – with the driving, the shooting and the stuff on foot. I’m excited to see that kind of stuff; to see how players end up blending that all together on their own.
“What is great about Ubisoft is that they give us that time. They don’t rush us, they know that we are coming up with something new and fresh and that was always important for us.”
So what is it about? It’s about Aiden Pearce. He’s a modern-day vigilante and a former fixer. Now a fixer is a freelance mercenary who takes jobs contracts for hire by anybody could be any government could be a corporation could be individuals. Fixers are good combat, hand to hand and hacking.
Pearce was doing that, but then a tragedy happened against his family. Someone took a hit out on him – tried to get him – and it ended up hurting his family severely. So now he’s on more of a personal vengeance quest. He wants to find the people responsible and he will use any means necessary to get at those people.
I’ve already heard comparisons between Watch Dogs and Grand Theft Auto. What makes the game more than a high-tech version of Grand Theft Auto?
It goes back to what I was saying before. The great thing about Watch Dogs, what makes Watch Dogs unique from any other game is that you have an entire city that you can roam at will. You can go anywhere in the city, you can go outside the city limits. But what makes it different than any other game is you can use the city- it becomes a weapon for you.
You can hack into the city at any time. Any bridge you see, you can hack. You can use it however you want. You can hack traffic lights, power grids and you can even hack water. We have steam pipes running under the city and you can back up pressure on those to create an eruption which can throw off your enemies.
You can hack any phone conversation that you want to in the city. Every one of those phone conversations is unique. You hear it once and that’s it, you are going to hear a new conversation next time.
So I think that’s the main difference. You can control the city and use it as your weapon. You can also use it to help a friend and it can go both ways. That’s our unique offering that I think our players are going to embrace.
The game looks like it borrows from other Ubisoft games. I see Assassin’s Creed-style free-running and a bit of Splinter Cell’s stealth. Was this deliberate or did it just turn out like that?
We’re from Ubisoft Montreal; the lead studio that built Watch Dogs, and that’s where Assassin’s Creed comes from as well. It’s also where Splinter Cell used to be, but that game is now developed in Toronto. Far Cry 3 came from the Montreal studio as well.
So, you are right, we learn from each other. We borrow ideas from each other and I think that’s what makes Montreal a strong studio. We aren’t shy about it. We are happy to show off our game to others. They give us tips.
We had people on our team that ended up working on Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. We try to bring all our expertise together and combine them in the best way possible.
I’ve seen a few of Watch Dogs free roaming sequences, but nothing of the actual missions. Can you give me a hint at what to expect?
The main thing that you get from missions that you don’t from free-roam is Aiden Pearce’s story, the personal quest that he is on. You also end up meeting different characters in the missions that are going to help him in that regard.
You’ve got Clara who is a hacker and she brings a special set of skills she can help Aidan with. We’ve got Jordi, who is a fixer. He’s a pretty colourful guy. I like Jordi because he’s got a kind of dark quirky sense of humour. He sees no problem in anything. Everything is manageable but he is also very dark. He gets things done. He’s a scary guy you’ve got to be careful around him.
You also get to progress your skills. You are going to get to improve your hacking skills playing through the missions.
What can you tell me about the game’s rather interesting multiplayer element?
I love our Multiplayer. What happens with multiplayer in Watch Dogs is that in the game we have this thing called the grid. The grid is how you pick up data information throughout the city in single-player. One of the options you’ll see is a chance to hack into other player’s games.
So you are at home just playing away and I’m back in Canada. I see an alert come up saying “do I want to hack this player?” I get offered a contract basically, to hack into your game and try and drop a virus into your system.
So I try to do that. What’s cool is it is seamless. Our multiplayer is seamlessly integrated into the single-player game. Our two games blend into the same Chicago, the same world. To myself I look like Aiden Pearce, but if you see me I look like a regular civilian wandering the streets and you can’t identify me. If I walk carefully you’ll have no way of knowing I’m in your game until I decide to drop my virus in.
So what happens is I drop my virus in and you suddenly get an alert. If I reach 100% I’ve successfully installed a virus into you. So you are trying to find me and stop me. It becomes a nice little cat and mouse game.
Now, what does that mean dropping a virus in? It’s not like I’ve literally messed with your game there’s nothing that’s going to happen to your game. Your game isn’t going to start acting funny. You don’t lose anything or any of your skills. We are playing with bragging rights. I have successfully hacked into you and I get to benefit from the network of people that you’ve hacked into. So I become the better hacker.
Now, what’s cool is because when I’ve hacked you, I’m now on your radar; so you can easily bring up your grid and decide that you’re going to find me and try to hack into my game. I don’t know when it’ll happen again, I’ll go back to my game and at some point, suddenly, you could end up back in my game. It’s the kind of thing that I think players are going to have a lot of fun with.
What’s cool is that the system recognises how much you like it. So if you are hacking a lot of people the system says “hah, you like this feature. We’re going to send more guys to hack you”. Maybe you don’t like it so much you try it once and that’s the last time you use it well the system is going to send you a couple of guys into your game and eventually it’ll do it very rarely. Maybe you don’t like it at all, so you go into the game settings and turn it off.
We want to make sure that Watch Dogs is catering to players’ styles. We want to make sure that players are enjoying the game. Our credo is “everything is connected and connection is power”, so we believe in the online aspect of it. We believe that that’s the best way to experience Watch Dogs. But if you are not into it multiplayer, you are not into it, and we address that for those players as well.
How do you develop a game for two different generations of console?
Here’s how I look at it. Let’s imagine that you and I are going to a movie together. You want to go see the 3D version I want to see the 2D version. We go we watch our movies we come out and we can talk about it. I can talk about exactly what happened, the details and everything. But the difference is you got a little richer experience. Basically it’s the same content.
The core experience is the same, just some of the details are richer. That’s what it is for use comparing current gen to next gen. There’s more NPCs and more civilians in the next-gen which helps really bring a city to life. In a big city like Chicago you feel the extra civilians. The graphics are better, but the core game is the same experience.
To finish, can you tell me something about the game that you’ve not told anyone else.
That’s a good question, I’m going to have to think about that that one. What have I not told anyone else about the game, that I can tell you? That’s the key.
I know: Jordi was the very first character that we created when we put Watch Dogs together.
When we were coming up with the idea Aiden wasn’t our first character. We didn’t invent him first. We were coming up with the story and the first guy we came up with was Jordi, this fixer, this kind of dark fixer.
We knew Jordi wasn’t going to be the hero. He was a support character, but he was our first test case to see what we could do with the graphics, how we could boost the cinematics and make them like nothing that we’ve ever seen at Ubisoft before.
I think for that reason I’ve always got a soft spot for Jordi.
Thank you for your time, Kevin. I’m really looking forward to playing the game.
Watch Dogs is out in Australia and New Zealand on 27 May for Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The Nintendo Wii U version will be released later this year.