Release the Dogs - Watch Dogs Developer Interview with Lead Story Designer Kevin Shortt
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 05:13pm 14/10/13 | Comments
AusGamers recently caught up with Watch Dogs Lead Story Designer Kevin Shortt to talk about life as a vigilante in the Windy City. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: So this is a bit of an obvious question, and I realise you’ve probably been on the road a bit, but have you had a chance to play GTA V yet? And if so, has anything in it made you guys rush back to the drawing board with any part of your game?
Kevin Shortt [Laughs] Just barely, we’ve had it long enough to just take a peek at it. But we’re at the point now where we’re not trying to… what’s great about Watch Dogs is it has it’s own unique offering. So there’s no need for us to go back and rethink anything [and] I think the cool thing about Watch Dogs is that we’ve given you a whole city that you can use and control whenever and wherever you want, so no, I wouldn’t say there’s any sort of need to go back to the drawing board or rethink anything at all.
AusGamers: One more parallel with that series: one of the main problems a lot of people tend to have with GTA is that the characters are always pretty bad people -- they’re not very loveable in any capacity and I’m not sure if you’ve ever read or heard of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”, and it’s called that because the author suggests that writing any sort of lead character requires them, usually in the first 10-minutes or so, to have a “save the cat” moment so that no matter how bad they become throughout the journey, we have that good deed to relate back to -- it’s a redeeming quality. Can you talk about how you’ve approached this with Aiden?
Kevin: That’s a good question. We’ve always looked at Aiden as an anti-hero, he’s definitely… I think some of his choices are questionable [and] it’s worth people thinking about what methods he uses, but his goals are noble. He has a family tragedy that has happened, he’s trying to protect his family and it’s a big thing that he’s doing [in fact] he’s a bit obsessed with protecting his family -- that’s what drives him. We try hard to establish that at the beginning [of the game] so you understand what that relationship is; you understand what he’s fighting for and hopefully you connect with that, that’s what we’re hoping for -- we want players to be able to connect with that.
And we tried to make sure we did that with everybody in the game, even the villains -- villains don’t think they’re villains in their own story, right? They think that what they’re doing is right and just and so we had to really look at that and go “let’s look at that angle and make sure that we believe it as well”, but again maybe their choices are wrong, maybe they’re ignoring some things to achieve their goals, but deep down they believe in what they’re doing. So we tried to do that with all the characters; make sure they’ve got their own stories. Even the characters that are on-side with [Aiden] Pearce, they’re not there just in service to him -- they’ve got their own goals that they’re after that may collide or mesh nicely with Pearce.
AusGamers: The game appears to be at odds with itself -- you can hack anything, but there’s an economy, you’re a vigilante, but you’re sporting a stylised look that is very recognisable and you move about in an open-world freely… how have you approached the balance to maintain these juxtapositions all the way through?
Kevin: It’s a good question… I’m trying to think of a way to… I think with Pearce’s look, we certainly wanted a nice, stylised look for him -- something you can identify with and go “okay he’s a fun, cool character to portray”, but we also didn’t want his outfit to be ‘out there’, and I don’t think it’s out there in the sense that he can’t entirely blend in right, certainly when he has his weapon out and stuff, he’s going to stand out but things like the ball cap gives him a low profile but also kind of fits within the world, everything he does in that respect I think is low key, hacking, I think, is very low key -- he can hack all these things but nobody necessarily knows he’s the one who’s done it.
AusGamers: And how does the economy work? In the demo you purchased weapons, for example, and Aiden had savings, so how do you earn money and what can you spend it on?
Kevin: So there’re a couple of ways you can do that. I think you saw, but you can hack people’s bank accounts, but then there’s also [the fact that] Pearce used to be a Fixer, right, he starts the game and you learn that he was a Fixer beforehand and now he’s kind of an ex-Fixer and a Fixer is basically a mercenary for hire and they take on jobs [but] what makes them a little different from regular mercenaries is they understand hacking very well. So the player in the game is going to get opportunities to take on Fixer contracts [and] with those you can take on a driving job, or you can take on a job to maybe take somebody out or be a decoy while somebody else is doing a job. So there are various jobs like that and you are earning money from those jobs.
AusGamers: And I guess another “at odds” thing that happens quite a lot in many open-world games is systemic design versus narrative and player-choice, and whether that choice affects the narrative dynamically, or whether it’s a fixed outcome regardless. So, do the missions in Watch Dogs feature hard-fail outcomes (outside of death) with a Restart, or do you have branching options based on the player’s choices or abilities? So, for example, if you go into a mission and accidentally kill someone you shouldn’t have, will the narrative and game reactively reflect that, or is that hard-fail?
Kevin: Like if you kill a main character type of scenario?
Kevin: No, those are hard-fails in our game. But, the way you can approach a mission: that’s your choice. But there are certain points that are key… what we decided early on is we have one core story that we want to tell and that’s what we’re going to stick with, but where you get more of the options is in the open-world -- these Fixer jobs, there’s a lot of world narrative that happens around there. Likewise, we’ve got a reputation system and it’s not like if you become evil then you live an evil life, it’s not that [hardcore], you can adjust how the reputation works depending on how you decide to play. But in terms of our core story and our main missions, we’ve got one core story that we’re telling…
AusGamers: Is that one core ending as well, or will we see multiple endings?
Kevin There’s some variance to it, but basically it’s one core ending. The thing we felt about that was from our perspective (different games do different things) what happens when you have these different branching stories is that you chose this path, and now you want to go online and see what this choice did, and what we were more interested in was having this one ending and hopefully that ending in itself is going to generate conversation. You know, put your controller down, call your buddy and ask what they thought of the ending and get a little conversation going.
AusGamers: Obviously you’ve created your own version of Chicago and, you know, it’s a gorgeous representation; Chicago is a big city so, you know, hopefully the game-world is quite big, but another problem that often arises in open-world games is a lack of interiors. So much effort is put into building these wonderful exteriors that are thoroughly inviting, but when you want to interact with areas on the surface in the interior sense, you’re usually locked out. Can you talk about what you guys have done as far as this idea is concerned, and maybe talk about the ratio of interiors versus the exterior you have here?
Kevin: For sure, we don’t have every door that you see that you can go in at random. A lot of the interiors that we have like the gun shop, we always want to make sure that they have a couple of various entries into those things, because you never know how a situation is going to turn on you -- a guy suddenly notices you, cops end up coming so you want to go out the back way kind of thing. So we want to make sure there’re choices in that regard.
When you get to a mission, we want to make sure that those have many choices -- those interiors have lots of choices, [and] that’s what’s great I think, particularly, about the game -- these set-pieces that you can go at countless ways however you want, it’s your choice.
[We also have] Invasion of Privacy where it’s more of a virtual way to get into these [interiors], and those you can just explore on your own in free roam where you basically hack the Wi Fi system and it allows you to get into the cameras built into [say] a game console, or into a SmartTV or somebody’s laptop… or sometimes you’ll hack into an iPad or a tablet that happens to be pointing up to the ceiling, so you kind of get this weird angle, but you can hear what’s going on...
AusGamers: Obviously players will live through Aiden, and I’ve talked about his appearance [but] does he exist solely in the open-world, or does he have, like, a place to go to like a house or a HQ?
Kevin: Yeah, and that’s something you’re going to build as you play the game -- you work towards a kind of headquarters, where he has his monitoring system that helps him get a bigger picture of Chicago [but] he’s also got smaller hideouts that you’re going to be able to access or unlock, which is handy because if your main hideout’s down here and you’re way up in the top quarter of the map, it’s nice to have those smaller hideouts to access armories -- each of those places has an armory or a place where you can change your wardrobe…
AusGamers: So you can change your wardrobe?
AusGamers: And do you have Fast Travel or are you encouraging people to get in vehicles and experience the world?
Kevin: We are definitely encouraging people to get into vehicles and drive around -- we do have some Fast Travel, but we definitely want players to… [I mean] that’s the fun of it, right? Especially because you can hack so many things, we really encourage people to get out there into the free roam. And driving’s great, driving is very good in the game.
AusGamers: How many unique vehicles are there in the game, and do you get to keep them?
Kevin: I don’t have an exact number, but there’s a lot and what happens is [Aiden] also has underground car contacts, so what you can do is any car you get into, you basically send that information to this underground car contact and he adds it to your library of vehicles. Or you can hack somebody and steal their car registration information and pass it onto him [then] he swipes the car and whenever you open up your SmartPhone and go into the Car on Demand feature, pick the car you want and then call him and he contacts you and says “I dropped your car off”.
AusGamers: We’ve seen in a lot of the demos stuff happening at night when it’s raining, and stuff during the day when it’s sunny, but Chicago is a) The Windy City, and b) it also snows there -- will we see variances of those as well?
Kevin: So snow, no. We’re in the fall (autumn), but wind for sure. Wind is definitely a part of the game. What’s cool about this engine (Disrupt) is we have a full wind simulation. Now it doesn’t change the way you play, but what it does is it really brings some extra… like, the wind is dynamic, right, and it just helps to pull you in.
AusGamers: That’s it.
Kevin: Alright, thanks for coming.
AusGamers: No worries, I really appreciate it.