Watch Dogs: Legion surprised us all at E3 with a showcase of the best granny in video games, and the game’s stunning change: there isn’t a set protagonist, you can be pretty much anyone that you see in the game. I say pretty much anyone because surely there are some baddies that don’t want to rise up, and if you could play the big bad boss, surely you could end the tyranny with a few calls? Regardless, I digress.
Gamasutra got to speak with creative director Clint Hocking about the game’s systems and what was required to make it all work. It took all teams working together from a central point.
“When we first had the idea that you’d be able to play as anyone in the game, we had to of course bring in a bunch of major stakeholders, you know the lead animators, the lead programmers, the lead sort of engine architects…the lead audio guys, sound guys, and the lead writers and start talking about you know, breaking the problem down.”
“Like how are we gonna cover all the pieces that we need to cover and make them all work together. I think the most important think that we started working on pretty early was something we call ‘census’, which is a massive relational database that lives at the heart of the simulation.”
“The most important thing about census is that it allows us to spawn NPCs in the world just like you do in many other games, but then when you profile those NPCs the relational database is able to fill in the blanks on who they are and sort of generate them in real time and then make them persistent and keep them in the world.”
Often the word emergent gets thrown around when talking about games, without showing something truly emergent. Thanks to everyone using census and the many rules that the system uses, even in the demonstrations at E3, the demo attendants had many stories to tell of completely different scenarios playing out during the demo. Hocking describes a moment from his playthrough of the game so far:
“We have that as well, but now we’re seeing emergent behaviours happening across the timeline of like a story of a character arc of someone’s life. You’ll see— just a really great example you know, one of my favourite operatives in the build that I’m currently playing the last 30-40 hours, is named Lionel Galant.
“I made him an infiltrator, he’s really cool, but I recruited him by rescuing his dad where he was being held by Albion in a cage somewhere and they were gonna disappear. I rescued his dad, and then you know Lionel levelled up and he’s one of my favourite guys and have done a bunch of great missions with him and I love him.
“And then 12 hours later I was playing a different character walking down the street and I see two people in the street that are lit up and I know them and I go “that’s Lionel, who’s that that he’s with? Oh that’s Andrew Galant, Lionel’s father. Shopping with his son, Lionel. That’s Lionel shopping with his dad, Andrew Galant.”
You can read the full interview over here, which includes more anecdotes of behaviour and detail on developing a game.