We’ve chatted with Sean Crooks
, a senior producer for Watch Dogs Legion
, in a lengthy conversation about the inner workings of the latest instalment of the open-world hacking-heavy romp. We’ve split this chat up into two parts as we managed to pool some serious information on the recruitment side of the game from Sean, who was infectiously excitable about what the team is giving punters this October. Read on for the first part of our interview, and keep an eye out for Part Two: Coming Soon
Thanks for joining us today, Sean.
It's a pleasure. Good to meet you.
I've obviously played the latest version of the game that was available to journalists. I think the thing that I walked away with most was how polished it was. On top of looking absolutely beautiful and sort of retaining a lot of that open-world feel of the last… game more specifically -- but the series overall. The polish just really jumped out at me and it's a clear indication that that extra time in development helped…
What we did in the last 12 months. First thing we wanted to do, we got a lot of feedback, [that] we wanted to address. One of the things that we heard from our players was that people were a little disappointed that when they played [as the main character], they would lose their job -- that they would quit their job and join DedSec. [So] one of the things we wanted to do is make sure that we could use that more.
"That's why we kind of switched from using RPG stats, and decided to make more action-adventure abilities. For example, let's take a street artist. Before, the street artist maybe would have had RPG stats, but now they have paintball guns, they have paint grenades that can splatter paint over guards and distract them and confuse them..."
[So] we have this complicated sensor system that models all of this and simulates the life of the people [in the game]. We wanted to embrace that. We added things such as uniformed access. Now, say I'm a construction worker, I can wear my construction outfit and infiltrate a construction site. What that does is it allows me to walk around and attract less suspicion. As long as I’m not performing any suspicious actions [and if I do] it cools down the time in which people detect me, and allows me to move a lot freer around those locations.
The other thing we added as well was we wanted to make sure that the player got more reward and got a more meaningful difference between the character and their recruit. That's why we kind of switched from using RPG stats, and decided to make more action-adventure abilities. For example, let's take a street artist. Before, the street artist maybe would have had RPG stats, but now they have paintball guns, they have paint grenades that can splatter paint over guards and distract them and confuse them. They have protection against gas or they have gas masks. That's a huge improvement.
One of the things we wanted to focus on is when you walk around London and look at a character and recruit them, the fantasy that you would think of if you look at them as, "oh, that's a construction worker. I wonder if they have..." -- the game says yes they do. They have a nail gun, they have a wrench, a uniform and access to building sites. That's what we really wanted to focus on in the time that we had since the last E3.
And we think we did a great job of representing lots of different fantasies, lots of different abilities that make London real, but also give a crazy variety of options and play styles and approaches to play that they never had before.
One of the fun things that I've found was I got arrested and the game suggested that we might need to recruit a barrister, which I thought was hilarious. But then equally I was, like, "Actually, that makes a lot of sense". If you're going to build an army, or a Legion, as it were, you're going to need people with all these different tools. And you just spoke about sort of being able to chameleon yourself throughout the city with all of these different job archetypes… can you talk a little bit about how deep that goes? Because you've just mentioned everything that's been revealed in the trailer, and I know you can't speak too much more beyond that, or in the hands-on as well. But you know, like being able to hire, well not hire, but recruit a barrister... can you recruit, say, a chef to make sure everybody's well fed?
For example, you could also recruit doctors and EMTs and that can also... If you don't get arrested when you get injured, it will also speed up your medical treatment. Your guys can get out of hospital faster if they're on your team. That's another angle that we approached.
"You can run around the corner, pretend to be a human statue, Albion will run past and you emote -- [this] allows you to hide in plain sight..."
But also, if you dig deeply and profile everyone that you see, you can find so many different personalities. For example, if you see a human statute, right? [Well], Human Statue as an emote, that you can use. [And] actually that emote also [allows] you hide from Albion, if you're chased. You can run around the corner, pretend to be a human statue, Albion will run past and you emote -- [this] allows you to hide in plain sight, and Albion runs past. There's actually a lot of cool stuff, even hidden in the emotes that are actually really cool [that] you can use.
Like for example, we have a hooligan or a thug who likes to drink and if you find them, they'll be in bars. And usually if you check their properties you can find things like ‘Deals more damage when they're drunk, cause more damage resistance when they're drunk’. [So] you have to get them drunk at a bar and then they'll start to build more melee damage and stuff like that. There's tonnes and tonnes of options like that. If you take the time to profile and check the world, you can find people with hiccups and flatulence. It's crazy fun -- nothing short of [gameplay] options.
So you're kind of the queen of the Legion, if you will? Everyone else is sort of like your worker bees? I'm trying to come up with silly analogies here, sorry. But everybody sort of offers a passive and an active ability, but then you can kind of find all these different types of playable characters that allow you to have all of these different skill sets, similar to a skill tree in an RPG?
[That’s] not completely true. I know that one of the main focuses that we had was to say, "Well, it's actually around that fantasy bubble". It's when I look at someone and I think about what I believe that character could do. Can they do that? Right? And some of it can be completely cosmetic. Imagine a character that just... not even cosmetic but, say, the bus driver, right? If I see a bus driver, if you
recruit a bus driver, he's going to actually be able to summon a bus, right? It's not the type of thing that you would put in a skill tree, but it does fulfil the fantasy of a bus driver. If that makes sense.
We focused a lot more on the fantasy of characters, and people wondering if they found a bus driver, would that bus driver come with a bus? And the answer is yes to that. That's what we really wanted to do. It's not just gameplay ability. Some of it's passive and active abilities, like you said. But other things are just fun. You wouldn't unlock flatulence in the skill tree. This is just fun fantasy elements that we layer on top of a population of people that just feels real to the player.
Okay. On that then, and this sort of speaks to how ambitious the project is. How hard was it to pare back the fantasy concept? Because if you start thinking about, "Well, a bus driver comes with a bus", that's fairly natural. But does a butcher come with a cleaver? Of course he does. And then you start to roll down a hill because there are millions of jobs and there are millions of different types of people, right? How did you pare that back? Because you could go down a very dangerous development rabbit hole there…
Actually, the way we think about it is we try and think of a range, right? At the very end of that scale is... the street artist is a great example -- we can take the street artist with his gas mask, with his paintball gun etc. And they have a full range of abilities. They're populated very well. But then at the other end of the scale you have a nail manicurist, right? What [do they] have? Well, you know, he or she could have a paint grenade, right? Because why? Well, [they have] paint in their bag, they have nail polish. That makes sense on that scale, right?
"In the example of the spy, a spy can score a spy car. Just the ability to score a car is very different from a bus driver to a spy. Because the spy can have a car that shoots rockets..."
What we do is, we look at all the abilities. We say, "you know what, that's a great ability". First off, it has to be fun to play and will genuinely change the place by selling them the options in the way they approach combat, layers, and stuff like that.
But also at the same time, we can use it to fulfil a whole bunch of fantasies to just... for example, if we take the bus driver -- it's a great example because you [can] score a bus. But in the example of the spy, a spy can score
a spy car. Just the ability to score a car is very different from a bus driver to a spy. Because the spy can have a car that shoots rockets, and is bulletproof.
We can create this very wide range of abilities. An LV officer can score an LV vehicle. And he can score an ambulance and he can turn the siren on and can get you quickly through traffic. You know, all of these little things nicely overlap and create all this variety that it gives the player just crazy amounts of options [to play with].
It's been spoken about that everyone is recruitable in the world; if you see them, they're recruitable. Is that true of every enemy archetype as well?
Yeah, it obviously doesn't include the cinematic villains, but everyone that you see around you in the open-world is recruitable, and every enemy is recruitable. One challenge [the game] might give you if you play it a certain way, is you can actually clear an entire lab just by recruiting every bad guy in there. It takes a while, but you can do it. You can literally say, "I'm not going to kill them, but I'm going to add everyone in that layout to my team. And that's how I'm going to clean that lab out". It's possible. So basically, yeah, you can do that.
And the cool thing that we did add, a couple of the units that we call ‘elite’ have exotic abilities. And in those exotic abilities they cloak; they have kamikaze drones that follow you [and] explode at your feet. And if you recruit those people, you get those abilities as well. You know? What you see is also what you get when you recruit.
Stay tuned for Part Two: Coming Soon
®©™ where we learn more about recruitment, how the world handles recruitable NPCs and how the team decided to forego RPG rules in place of those of the real-world and common sense design. Here's a teaser:
"The world is constructed kind of from the bottom up," says Sean. "For example, let's take the area of Shoreditch
. It's very quirky, has lots of, like, body-modders and counter-culture and street artists and that kind of stuff. Right? If I want a likelihood of finding a street artist, I would head to Shoreditch because in real life Shoreditch is like that. And in the game Shoreditch is also like that."