Watch Dogs is the cover star of the next issue of Edge magazine, on sale March 13. In it, we delve deep into Ubisoft’s new open world IP to discover exactly why it was delayed and gain an appreciation of the complexity of the systems at play in the game – ones intended to mesh together in order to make the joins in between invisible. Unfortunately, as Watch Dogs’ original release date approached, it became increasingly clear that they weren’t, says creative director Jonathan Morin.
“There were some areas or missions where the wires connected in the wrong way,” he tells us. “And it’s not really the mission itself, it’s the emergence it can create. So once you have cops showing up in a certain situation with this and with that on top of it, and it starts getting out of control in a good way, it kind of collapsed. In certain combinations, the AI didn’t react at the level of quality we wanted.”
The extra few months’ work on the game is obviously intended to rectify that; it simply won’t do that in a game whose tagline is ‘everything is connected’, players encounter moments when those connections drop out.
“I’m sure in the end we’ll find YouTubers who, you know, find such examples… and it’s arguably all part of the fun to find the limitation of systems,” continues Morin. “But since we’ve sold precisely that [high level of experience to players], there’s a level you need to achieve. If you do a car crash, it needs to feel like a car crash, not a Burnout version of it. You don’t want to cheat so much to make it possible that it becomes cartoony.”
The coherent interplay of Watch Dogs’ systems is vital to its intended success. They’re designed to offer up a more meaningful living city than we’ve seen in open world games before, making NPCs more human and actions have real consequences. Surface-level detail and interaction is easy in videogames, but complex, emergent play is not, says Morin. “We’re really good at the awesome car crash in videogames, but not the “Oh my gosh, is he all right?” afterwards,” he tells us. “We put ‘Combo x2’ next to a car crash and we don’t even think about the poor person behind the wheel. So when we started to define a serious tone as a pillar, it impacted everything. If there’s someone hurt, you can get them out. If there’s a car crash, it means something for the people inside. If you take cover behind their car and they get shot, it’s your fault, because you took cover behind that particular car.”
Morin is also keen to emphasise that Watch Dogs’ solemn tone won’t veer off into moralistic finger-wagging; its star Aiden Pearce will not be ‘judged’ by the game for his actions, but he will certainly feel their consequences. Morin also states that the extra few months’ work on the game could be the difference between implementing Watch Dogs’ myriad systems, and implementing them well. “It’s in the polish phase you can really deliver the full system,’ he adds. “The extra time gave us the luxury of executing it well, which is a lot harder. Back in November, people could have appreciated that we’d tried it, but we didn’t want that. We wanted people to just enjoy the systems without thinking about them.”
Elsewhere in the cover feature, Morin explains why there would be no Watch Dogs without Far Cry 2, the game’s co-art director elaborates on how his team is keeping its alt-Chicago look fresh and contemporary after five years working on the project and its story designer reveals how the game’s narrative and setting has evolved throughout development.