Watch Dogs: how Ubisoft's cramming Chicago into Xbox One

A chat about hackers, Assassin's Creed and cyber-terrorism

Ubisoft's Eric Baillargeon and Lars Bonde are preoccupied with very different sides of the same puzzle. As lead gameplay programmer, Baillargeon is responsible for the environmental systems that, we're told, make the bubbling, shifting world of Watch Dogs such a fun place to be - the crowds, the wind, the car physics, how and where exactly the game's missions emerge from its incidental distractions.

As cinematic animation lead, meanwhile, Bonde is responsible for the game's body language, the tricks of posture and gesture that separate its brooding lead, Aiden Pearce, from the rest of Chicago. During my time with the game in Paris last month, I had the chance to speak to both.

Watch Dogs was the highlight of last year's E3 - a real standout. Were you taken aback by the reaction?

LB: I've said it before actually - E3 last year, we knew we had something special, and it was really exciting, but you never really know. It kind of happened that everyone on the team was just like 'yes, finally we can communicate about it', and that's a good reward.

EB: Yeah, we knew we had something special on our hands. You can tell when you develop something that's so different, with the gameplay mechanics we put in. The reaction? We didn't know, but it was really appreciated by the team - it gave us the will to push further.

This has been in development since 2010. You've been working towards estimated next generation console specs for some time. Has that been difficult?

EB: Like we said before, when we built the new game engine we tried to make it scalable. And it's up to us, when we're putting things in the game, to make them scale so that we can support a new generation of consoles.

One example I always give is the living city, that's something we can play with depending on the consoles we're playing with. We've worked with what we can potentially synch up with future hardware, but we're not magicians, we can't read the future. So when we built the different tech inside the engine, we tried to make sure that it would fit current gen, next gen, maybe even next-next gen. Because we want it to be scalable enough to use for years to come.

Is it as easy as unticking a box, when you disable and enable features to suit the platform's technical capabilities?

LB: In essence, it is.

EB: It's up to developers to decide what parameters we can expose, to make things easier on different platforms, because for us it's really important that it's the same gameplay. The game will be the same. What will change will be the richness of the simulation, the graphics for instance will be better, the simulation of the city will be different, but the essence of the gameplay, the core of it will be the same.


LB: Ubisoft is great at telling us 'just go - go as far as you can'. Especially from my point of view - create the best you can. You prepare the rigs, we make sure we can adapt along the way.

Have you fiddled with the core ideas much during development, then?

EB: The entire team has been very focused, really since the origin of the project. The core mechanics and essence of what is now Watch Dogs were our goals from the beginning. Some might have failed, some will change, but in the end we've been very dedicated, we've focused on the right things.

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