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Watch Dogs draws on AI tech from original, beardy version of Splinter Cell: Conviction

Ubisoft to refine pioneering crowd code for latest new IP

The announcement of Ubisoft's rain-slicked, data-mining Watch Dogs was one of E3 2012's nicer surprises. Perhaps it shouldn't have been. Speaking to OXM as part of issue 92's "Development Hell" feature on games with traumatic backstories, animator Richard Arroyo has revealed that AI tech developed for the earlier, hairier version of Splinter Cell: Conviction is being refined for use in Watch Dogs.

Besides "a tale of survival where Sam Fisher would stop at nothing to achieve his goals", Conviction was originally supposed to be a game about using the crowd. "The idea was to make him rely more on instincts and have him adapt to an active world where there wasn't the classic hiding in the shadow gameplay," explained Arroy, who now teaches animation at iAnimate.net.

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"This version of Sam would need to blend and use the environment around him, and he would need to 'mingle' with the everyday civilian," he went on. "This is where the idea of the jacket and backpack came from because they would enable him to carry and hide weapons.

"Fisher was going to be fully rogue - no rules, no restrictions, and no moral code - using an assortment of 'shady' characters to get his weapons and intelligence. I wanted Sam to be as ruthless as possible by making his takedown and interrogation moves malicious, giving the player a shock factor you would normally see in the God of War series."

To support all this, the Conviction team threw together a set of AI systems which, by the sounds of things, rival what you'll encounter in the Assassin's Creed series. "We had large amounts of characters on screen with different personality states," Arroyo explained. "Within that, crowds were able to portray many types of people such as law enforcement officers, enemy forces and innocent civilians.

"Managing characters that are on a cell phone, ordering food, scouting the premise, all with different body structures, takes a lot of work and multiple animations. Our AI was seriously evolving - to the point where we talked about couples holding hands, handing out items like drinks or other relative objects."

Fearful of stealing Assassin's Creed's thunder, Ubisoft ultimately settled on a new Conviction pitch that's more in line with the Splinter Cells of old - dark is good, light is bad and silence is golden. According to Arroyo, a fair whack of the discarded AI know-how has been appropriated by animation director Colin Graham, one of the minds behind the forthcoming Watch Dogs.

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For more on the latter and why it's so very, very interesting, check out Mike's whopping Watch Dogs write-up. And don't forget your copy of issue 92 - other games featured in "Development Hell" include Prey, Bioshock and Sleeping Dogs.

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