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“Connection is power”: Ubi Reflections talks Watch Dogs

Thursday, 9 May 2013 07:33 GMT By Dave Cook

VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with Ubisoft Reflections managing director Pauline Jacquey about the studio’s role in this next-gen collaboration.

Watch Dogs

Releasing on November 19 across North America and November 22 across Europe, Watch Dogs has been confirmed for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U.

It’s a sandbox game in near-future Chicago, where hacker Aiden Pearce is out for revenge using his control over technology to manipulate anything or anyone in his path.

Ubisoft Montreal recently discussed the team’s experience with coding Watch Dogs on PS4. Get your fill of next-gen banter by watching the video here.

VG247′s own Sam Clay recently spoke with Ubisoft Montreal boss Yannis Mallat about Watch Dogs in great detail. Find out what he told us in our video interview here.

As the cost of triple-a game development spins out of control, and team sizes balloon to anywhere between 200-500 employees at a time, there is a real danger that game companies will no longer exist as studios fuelled by free-thinking creative types.

They will become factories pumping out content in the same manner a production line manned by robots might produce a car.

The schematics never change, deviation from the formula is forbidden and open discussion is binned in favour of a never-ending crunch.

That’s the fear of Pauline Jacquey, managing director at Ubisoft Reflections – one half of the Watch Dogs development team.

Released in 1999, Jacquey’s first project under the Ubisoft banner was the Nintendo 64 port of Rayman 2, and since then she has spent time at various sites around the world to make sure they don’t become hives full of mindless worker bees.

Chances are that Ubisoft is bigger than you think, with sites as far and wide as India, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo, Sweden and right here in the UK under the guise of Ubisoft Reflections.

Jacquey manages the Reflections team, and right now – in collaboration with Ubisoft Montreal – it’s putting the finishing touches to the publisher’s first next-gen release Watch Dogs.

“When two sides of a project such as Watch Dogs are learning how to collaborate, it’s not easy,” Jacquey advised. “You need to design the collaboration so the set of features that are being developed in another country, are fully ‘atomic’, so they don’t have dependencies on the rest of the game.

“You should not have an influence on the design of the game, but it’s harder for a game that’s fully online with an open world, and one core systemic gameplay. It’s much harder to do than, say, a party game with ten mini-games where it’s easier to split the content with one team on something, then another on something else.

“That’s two limits of the spectrum but it’s the same logic – if your team scales you need to still be able to give ownership, responsibility and accountability – even if it’s a team of ten to 15 guys. So that what they do, they have full responsibility similar to a small team say, ten years ago.”

In Jacquey’s experience this concept of giving sub-teams within Reflections ownership and full responsibility over their designated tasks and specific areas of Watch Dogs development is the key to avoiding the pitfalls of factory development.

Seeing as the game is one of the first third-party PS4 games to market, it has to have innovation, excitement and most important of all, it has to have heart. The best way to nurture these virtues – Jacquey explained in an earlier conference discussion is to manage her team effectively and to treat them with respect.

But creating a game as vast and as technologically advanced as Watch Dogs across Ubisoft Reflections and the publisher’s Montreal base poses its own unique challenges. “There’s a lot of issues with build process, data management and it’s very technical,” Jacquey explained.

“You take the risk of completely breaking something the other team is doing, and if you break something locally, you can shout to the team and say, ‘Hey this isn’t working’. But if it’s an international problem you have the time difference, where Ubisoft Montreal works during our night.

“We come in the next morning and our port is broken, but they might not start work for another three or four hours. It’s hard, but the thing is that these are not new difficulties, as they’re the same problems you have locally, except every single issue is amplified to the level of drama.

“Because if something breaks within a team of 20 it’s acceptable because you know the guys, and you fix it. But when it’s a team of 200 and it’s blocked because the problem is something that Montreal did, it can be really bad”.

Regardless Watch Dogs is almost with us, and it won’t be long until we’re tearing across the streets of Chicago, smartphone in hand as we raise hell with Aiden Pearce’s expert hacking skills. Like any good sandbox game, the plot spans a wide cityscape littered with mini-games, side quests and scope for using tech to exploit civilians.

Pearce can raise automated bollards to wreck cars and – as you’ve no doubt seen already – fiddle with traffic lights to cause intersection pile-ups. He can extract personal data from a person’s phone, use EMP-like blasts to disarm electronics and when things heat up – batter people silly with his trusty nightstick.

“You’ll see most of our work at E3,” Jacquey said when I asked what segments of Watch Dogs are handled by Reflections specifically. “When you enter a building within the game – we’ve created it – so like a shop, pharmacy or any building you can enter.

“When you have a driving mission, we created those. All the art of the cars is ours, and we have 60 licensed cars so that was very important. There’s a lot of side missions and side-games that you can play on top of the main story.

“We did those, and they can evolve across online jobs or contracts, so we’re not in charge of the core of the game but lots of what you can do on top of it. We also populated the world with life and activities.”

Given the fact that Watch Dogs seems to take place in a fairly realistic depiction of the near-future, I then asked Jacquey if both studios felt duty-bound to avoid GTA-levels of parody and humour within the game’s sandbox setting. Was realism a necessary ingredient in this ambitious melting pot of ideas?

“Believability is important, so our physics simulation has to be absolutely perfect. The quality of the capture and the performance of the actors cannot be exaggerated so we have much less room for exaggeration. You can’t play around too much with what you do in making it too abstract, but we do come across many challenges.

“But for me the biggest innovation in the game is the interaction we have with the world, tied into the meaning of the game, which is ‘connection is power’ and ‘everything is connected’. We’re probably under some form of surveillance right now, so while you can take control of your situation you’re being observed sometimes.

“This concept – from a story-telling perspective – is really interesting from a gameplay standpoint. It means you can control the world, so there’s a lot of empowerment as a player, and it has been both a design and technical challenge for us.”

Watch Dogs does look set to be an ambitious, innovative project full of new ideas within the sandbox archetype we’re already familiar with. I closed our discussion by asking Jacquey how it felt to work on one of the first games to launch PS4, and to discuss Ubisoft’s ‘early adopter’ approach to new consoles over the years.

“It’s a clear strategic move from the top management at Ubisoft,” Jacquey replied. We’ve gone early on consoles in the past since 15 years ago on the Jaguar, when Rayman was the top game on the format, which was a very big success.

“We take the right steps so that we’ve worked with current-gen tech a lot, which helps us when we need a team to work on next-gen. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are very proactive in offering us support, but what happens is the first generation of games released on next-gen consoles are not as great at mastering all the hardware, compared to what will come in the second or third generation of games”.

Jacquey added “It’s a transition, and I think it was very different when we went from 2D to 3D. I was there at Ubisoft at that time”, and concluded, “There’s a lot of pressure, but it’s exciting to be one of the first to work on a new format and to be working on such a brilliant game with a talented team”.

Watch Dogs will launch November 19 across North America and November 22 across Europe on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U. We’ll have more on the game at E3 2013.

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5 Comments

  1. 2-K

    Nice write up dave,Game is looking good so far

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 thank you :) It does look great.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Edo

    “You should not have an influence on the design of the game, but it’s harder for a game that’s fully online with an open world, and one core systemic gameplay.”So…am I missing something here or did she basically confirmed my worst fear for this game?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 fully online as in leaderboards and tickers for challenge I’d imagine. Not an MMO or Guild Wars style thing.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Edo

    @4 I sure hope you are right Dave.

    #5 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is just a “couple of weeks out from beta,” according to development studio The Chinese Room, and a release date will be announced “shortly.” To give you an idea of how development has been coming along since it was announced at gamescom 2013, the team has released a new trailer […]

  • GTA 5 on PC looks incredible, but I can’t recommend it to console players

    As much as Matt Martin loves GTA 5, he can’t recommend upgrading from console to PC just for a slick editing suite and even prettier graphics. “This is the third time in as many years that I’ve bought GTA 5.” I have a Grand Theft Auto 5 obsession, as I’m sure you know if you’ve […]

  • The Forest engine updated to Unity 5, major graphical and gameplay improvements made

    The Forest’s latest patch added substantial improvements to the game. The Forest version 0.16 is now live on Steam with plenty of new additions. The game has been ported over to Unity engine version 5. The plant and skin shaders have been replaced or rewritten. Many other visual tweaks have been made, such as model […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront banner leaks from Star Wars Convention

    EA has been setting up the Battlefront booth at Star Wars Celebration, and one leaked picture shows what could be the game’s main art. Someone on Reddit posted a picture of the game banner at EA’s booth. Here it is: Lots of things happening here. There’s a Star Destroyer in the distance, TIE Fighters and […]

  • Get GTA 5 working with Oculus Rift using this tool

    There’s a way you can play GTA 5 in VR if you own an Oculus Rift Dev Kit and have a bit of cash to spare. VorpX, the go-to program for adding VR support to games has received an update recently to support GTA 5. This is far from perfect, as it only translates the […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team: week of April 15 team revealed

    This week’s Team of the Week is now available for anyone to challenge in FIFA Ultimate Team. The team members get selected each week based on their performance during the weekend matches. You can fire up FIFA Ultimate Team on any platform and challenge this squad. You’ll also find some Team of the Week items […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will let you stealth all encounters, including bosses

    Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will bring back one of the original game’s major features. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is considered by many to be a great game and worthy of bearing the franchise name. One of its grating issues though was its boss fights. You only had one way to fight them: be confrontational. The […]

  • Project Cars PC specs and supported wheels announced

    The release date of Project Cars is inching ever closer and more details have been revealed to answer all your burning questions. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad Studios has revealed the full list of supported steering wheels on all platforms, as well as the minimum and recommended PC specs. Minimum specs CPU – 2.66 GHz […]

  • GTA 5 gets custom FOV mod on PC

    Those not satisfied with GTA 5′s built-in field of view slider can use a new mod to push the number even further. The PC versions of GTA 5 – just like its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts – lets you switch between third and first-person view in shooting and driving. The game has an FOV […]

  • Win! GTA 5 on PC!

    Want to win a Steam key for Grand Theft Auto 5 on PC? Just enter here. GTA 5 released on PC this week and is going down a storm. We like it a lot, which is why we’re giving away a Steam code for Rockstar’s latest. All you need to do is enter your email […]

  • GTA 5 topples Skyrim’s record for highest concurrent players on Steam

    Not factoring in Valve games, GTA 5 is the new king of concurrent player numbers on Steam. GTA 5 is very popular on PC, even more popular than games like Skyrim in its heyday. The number of concurrent players for GTA 5 has peaked today at 301,246. This makes it the only non-Valve game to […]

  • Mortal Kombat X: what does a modern fighting game look like?

    Mortal Kombat continues to evolve as NetherRealm adds RPG systems and daily challenges to a solid fighting game, says Sherif Saed. “Mortal Kombat X takes many cues from games like Destiny, Call of Duty, and GTA Online with hourly, daily and weekly events.” For as many of its familiar facets, Mortal Kombat X has enough […]

  • J-Stars Victory VS+ coming west in June – new trailer

    J-Stars Victory VS+ will make the jump (see what I did there) to the west after all. J-Stars Victory VS+ is the western title for the fighting game which stars characters from a variety of Shonen Jump-published manga. Bandai Namco has announced the fighter will release in Europe on June 26 and in the Americas […]

  • Codemasters F1 license good through 2016

    Codemasters has at least one more F1 game in it. F1 2015 isn’t out yet, so Codemasters is naturally not talking about what it might get up to in the future. We do know what it can get up to, though; Codemasters’ Steven Embling told Videogamer has the option to continue the series. “We have […]

  • Project Cars has pretty deep graphics options on consoles

    Project Cars offers players a wide variety of ways to customise their graphic settings on PS4 and Xbox One. Project Cars is a graphics showcase and all early indications suggest it’s going to be one of the best-looking games out there. Slightly Mad’s commitment to graphics seems to go deeper than making things pretty, though: […]

  • Super Smash Bros. patch nerfs Diddy Kong – report

    Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U is great but Diddy Kong is a beast and must be stopped. The latest Super Smash Bros. 3Ds and Wii U patch seems to have nerfed Diddy Kong, a character so over-powered that serious tournament players generate controversy by choosing to use him. Nintendo doesn’t publish patch notes, […]

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer shuttered

    Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel developer 2K Australia has been closed down. Kotaku broke the news, and also had word from an anonymous source, who said that all staff have been let go. 2K responded to our request for comment with the following statement: We can confirm we have taken steps to begin the studio closure process […]

  • Samorost 3 trailer shows Amanita still in fine form

    Samorost 3 looks as delicately beautiful as its siblings. Samarost 3 developer Amanita Design has a reputation for gorgeous, slightly surreal world building. This new trailer for its latest adventure looks just as if not more lovely than the previous Samarost games and Botanicula. Samarost 3 is coming to Mac and PC later this year, […]

  • Amnesia dev’s new project SOMA now in beta

    SOMA is nearly here and I am torn between excitement and horrified dread. SOMA is the latest horror project from Frictional, the team behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We’re pretty excited to see what Frictional comes up with next, and we won’t have too long to wait, apparently; the developer has announced that SOMA is […]

  • Steam Guard mobile authenticator now in beta testing

    Steam is now testing its latest security measure. Steam helps you protect your account by offering two-factor authentication, a solution so beautifully elegant and effective that it’s astounding every gaming network doesn’t do the same (looking at you, Sony). Valve’s version is called Steam Guard, and it works via email. This isn’t always super convenient, […]

  • Godzilla battles Mothra in new trailer

    Godzilla lets you stomp around cities and battle classic kaiju. I’m in. Godzilla is coming to PlayStation 3 and PS4 in early July, but we haven’t seen a great deal of it since its December reveal. The new trailer below gives you an idea of just what Natsume has done with one of the biggest […]

  • Tales of Zestiria to launch this year – new trailer

    Tales of Zestiria continues Bandai Namco’s delightful new habit of bringing the popular JRPG series to the west before the shine wears off. Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, the publisher has announced. That’s not a bad turnaround, given it first hit Japan in January, and localisation of text-heavy titles is expensive […]

  • Project Cars release date locked down, new trailer released

    Project Cars finally has a release date. Project Cars will release on May 8, Bandai Namco UK has announced. We haven’t yet had an update from Namco Bandai’s other regional offices, but its probably safe to bet the racer will release around the same time in the Americas, Europe and ANZ region. We can now […]

  • Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains trailer shows combat, online multiplayer

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains has plenty to offer fans of the anime. Previously known as Attack on Titan: The Last Wings of Mankind, the Spike Chunsoft action game is coming west thanks to Atlus. Gematsu reports it’s due in both Europe and North America in May, via the 3DS eShop. The trailer below […]

  • Bloodborne stamina recovery rate affected by equip weight

    Bloodborne players have unearthed an important gameplay detail not mentioned in the game’s menus or manual. In Bloodborne, players need to manage their stamina carefully for best results. A far more aggressively-tuned affair than past Souls games, Bloodborne does away with equip weight limits, and items have no listed weight details. As far as players […]

  • Street Fighter’s Ryu, Fire Emblem’s Roy spotted in Super Smash Bros. patch – rumour

    Street Fighter’s Ryu is rumoured for future Super Smash bros DLC following datamining of the latest patch. Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U were updated recently, and hacker shinyquagsire23 claims to have found some interesting files while poking around in the 3DS patch data. As detailed on Reddit, the audio files included a new […]

  • Suikoden 3 PEGI rating suggests PS2 Classic re-release

    Suikoden. Suikoden 2. And now: Suikoden 3. Suikoden 3 has been rated by PEGI for PlayStation 3, presumably ahead of an upcoming re-release. Gematsu turned up the rating, and although we have no further information at this time, it’s not much a leap to assume the RPG will turn up as a PS2 Classic on […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront gameplay reveal to be streamed live, new Instagram tease

    The Star Wars Battlefront gameplay reveal will be live-streamed during a panel hosted by EA as part of the Star Wars Celebration festivities this Friday. This is according to an announcement from Verizon and Disney courtesy of MP1ST. The main stream for the event kicks off at 10am PDT/1pm EDT on Thursday, April 16. It […]

  • GameStop to launch retro game and console trade-in experiment

    GameStop wants to get into the retro game and console business, providing it’s a worthwhile endeavor. To test the possibility, it will soon allow customers in Birmingham, Alabama and New York City to trade-in classic consoles and games in-store. Speaking with IGN, a spokesperson for the company said the initiative will kick off on April […]