E3: Watch Dogs is ready for LA expo

Christopher Dring
E3: Watch Dogs is ready for LA expo

Violent shooter followed by violent shooter. A Wii U reveal that failed to hit the mark. No next generation consoles. E3 2012 will be remembered for many things, and not any of them good.

Well, except one thing.

The day before E3 opened its doors, Ubisoft held its usual pre-event press conference. It was filled with big brands, from Just Dance to Assassin’s Creed. But the moment that would be remembered for months to come was the reveal of a new IP. A new IP for consoles that weren’t even announced yet.

Watch Dogs – a visually stunning open-world stealth game – took E3 by storm. An E3 that was otherwise bereft of anything particularly ‘new’.

“The bold move was to show a brand new IP at such a time,” recalls Jonthan Morin, the creative director behind Watch Dogs.

“It was bold but also quite logical. We knew most companies would play it safe while gamers and the industry overall would want new experiences. And in the end, I think Ubisoft knew what they had in their hands. They believed in it and it has surely paid off so far.”

Ubisoft clearly knew it had something special. Not only did Watch Dogs end its E3 press conference, it ended it with a ten minute gameplay demo. This was no teasing trailer or pre-rendered video.

But the reaction went beyond even Ubisoft’s expectations. Critics lauded it. Twitter almost collapsed. Its reveal is even talked about today. When we asked E3 organisers ESA what they’re most looking forward to from this year’s show, they said “that Watch Dogs moment”.

“From Assassin’s Creed, we have leveraged the scope,
diversity and quality of animation that made it such a
great success. From Far Cry and Splinter Cell, we have
the ability to deliver great shooting, physics and stealth.
From the Driver series, we have state of the art vehicle
physics and handling. And to all of this, we have added
veterans from outside of Ubisoft who have worked on
some of the biggest brands in games. The result is an
experienced team that is focused on establishing a new
benchmark that will define the future of open-world
gaming. Frankly, it’s only through the addition of
those past experiences that Watch Dogs
is made possible.”

Dominic Guay - senior producer, Ubisoft


The response didn’t go unnoticed by Sony, either, with Ubisoft invited to demonstrate more of the game at the global reveal of PlayStation 4 in February.

“E3 was a great revelation for Watch Dogs,” Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told us at the time.

“It gave us a chance to increase the whole project and give the studio the chance to have bigger teams to help them achieve this goal they have.

“You always have great ideas, but you need enough people to bring it to life. After E3, we really made sure the developers had all the teams they needed and all the capacity they wanted to fulfil their dream.”

So does that mean the game has changed significantly since its E3 debut last year?

“What we demonstrated at E3 was a lot to show for a reveal,” says Watch Dogs senior producer Dominic Guay.

“But in reality it was only a fraction of our ambitions for Watch Dogs. Since then, we have maintained the same vision and scope for the project, reinforced by the feedback we got. This does not mean that the project has not evolve. Every day we take decisions to improve the game and to adjust our scope to the feedback we get.”

Watch Dogs may be a new IP but the people behind it are experts. Developed in multiple studios – from Montreal to Newcastle – the game is being built by men and women who have worked on Far Cry Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell and Driver – some of the best selling franchises in Ubisoft’s arsenal.

And the essence of all these games can be found in Watch Dogs, says Guay.

“In order to create a new experience in the open-world category, we needed a diverse team of experts from a variety of genres. Ubisoft Montreal has expertise in a wide range of games enabling us to draw from the best. In particular, we have a lot of experience in open world games.

“From Assassin’s Creed, we have leveraged the scope, diversity and quality of animation that made it such a great success. From Far Cry and Splinter Cell, we have the ability to deliver great shooting, physics and stealth. From the Driver series, we have state of the art vehicle physics and handling. And to all of this, we have added veterans from outside of Ubisoft who have worked on some of the biggest brands in games. The result is an experienced team that is focused on establishing a new benchmark that will define the future of open-world gaming. Frankly, it’s only through the addition of those past experiences that Watch Dogs is made possible.”

As we’ve seen time and time again, a strong E3 showing, an impressive demo and a spectacular trailer doesn’t always equal a successful game. But the talent Ubisoft has attracted to Watch Dogs gives the confidence that this is a game that could really deliver on its bold promises.

And Ubisoft as a publisher has given the team everything it needs to achieve its mission.

“We’ve been granted from the beginning two luxuries – time and no tech constraints,” says Guay. 

“So, instead of restraining ourselves, our mindset has always been to innovate. When you have the privilege to build a new IP, you need to push the envelope, to create a game experience that will surprise players.”

And so Watch Dogs heads to its second E3. Last year it was an unknown quantity, a surprise. This year it has the weight of expectation to contend with. And with it coming to every games console available – even Wii U – it has a large audience to try and excite.

Is the team feeling the pressure?

“As we are approaching the last months of our
production, E3 is overlapping many other on-going
priorities. Last year, we were nervous to show our
creation, which is a normal reaction to unveiling
something that has been in the works for years.
You never know what the reaction will be. And
we are still in that mindset. We have many more
aspects of Watch Dogs to present, many core
features to demonstrate. We take nothing for
granted and push as hard as we can.”

Dominic Guay - senior producer, Ubisoft


“Everyone in the team is aware of the rare opportunity we have with Watch Dogs and wants to make sure that we deliver on the game’s promises,” admits Guay.

“As we are approaching the last months of our production, E3 is overlapping many other on-going priorities. Last year, we were nervous to show our creation, which is a normal reaction to unveiling something that has been in the works for years. You never know what the reaction will be. And we are still in that mindset. We have many more aspects of Watch Dogs to present, many core features to demonstrate. We take nothing for granted and push as hard as we can.”

But Watch Dogs’ challenge is not to just live up to its own ambitions. The game arrives during a Christmas crammed with blockbusters. A Q4 headlined by new consoles, new games from Sony and Microsoft, and of course Battlefield 4 vs Call of Duty: Ghosts.

It also marks Ubisoft’s movement into the modern-day, open-world action genre. A genre dominated by a franchise that launches its fifth game just a few months before Watch Dogs – Grand Theft Auto.

 “For the sake of every player out there, I like to believe that there is space for more than one great game in this world,” defends Morin.

“Watch Dogs is created by a very talented group of people who desire nothing more than to create something new and relevant for today’s players. Controlling an entire city and invading its population  offers unprecedented dynamism. For us, it’s about creating a unique experience that feels so natural and immersive it’ll seem impossible to achieve. With Watch Dogs, we want to push gaming forward in our own way. We do play open world games and it surely influenced us in some way. But creating an experience is never about adding elements your neighbours have. It is all about delivering the fantasy and experience you are seeking.”

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Tags: Ubisoft , e3 , E3 2013 , watch dogs

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