Watch Dogs: Legion is the next big entry in the third-person, hacking franchise from Ubisoft and is going across the pond over to London. The game takes place in a post-Brexit London and interestingly enough, you will be able to play as any NPC in the open world, and by any, we mean any.
With Watch Dogs 2, Ubisoft went with a more whimsical route that put the player in the shoes of a young hipster hacker and proved to be a great change compared to the slightly disappointing tone of the original Watch Dogs.
During E3 2019, Twinfinite got the chance to sit down and talk to the creative director behind Watch Dogs: Legion, Clint Hocking, and learn a little bit more about the newest entry in the Ubisoft franchise.
Greysun: Going from Chicago and San Francisco to now London, how did the team decide on the setting of Legion?
Clint Hocking: There was a couple of major reasons for that. We wanted to make DedSec in WDL feel more like a global movement and so we wanted to pick a city that was outside of the U.S. just to help us create that more global feeling.
So we started looking at places all around the world but we didn’t want to go like super foreign like Far Cry usually does. We wanted to pick a major city that was super well-known internationally.
There were a few choices but London boiled down to being the best one. It’s super iconic globally, a big tax sector, and it has all of the Watch Dogs themes built right into it with all of the surveillance in London.
I think the other thing was because of the fact that we’re talking about playing as anyone, London is also one of the most diverse cities in the world; there’s 200 languages spoken there and people from all around the world so playing as anyone actually gives you a ton of diversity because of the city.
Greysun: I’m sure there was tons of extensive research done for this to make sure that you guys got this right, correct?
Hocking: Yeah, we started with a list of 20 (cities) and then went down to seven and then we went down to three and then from three it took us weeks of like research putting together mood boards trying to figure out which one and then we eventually got it.
Greysun: Was it hard developing a video game set in a country like the U.K. compared to making a game set in America? When I was playing the demo, it took me a minute to realize that I was driving on the wrong side of the road once I hijacked somebody’s vehicle.
Hocking: Because it’s farther away and harder to get to… you know we send a lot of people over there to research and I myself spent about 18 days on a research trip. We also had behind closed doors access to locations like the Bank of England and all of these places and it was amazing.
We learned a ton of stuff but it is hard because you have to watch all of the television shows and read the books. We have our own culture in NA, right? So, going there and also having to understand the culture of London and their sense of humor and all that kind of stuff.
Greysun: And in terms of the titling of Watch Dogs: Legion, why did you guys decide on dropping the “3” and going with Legion instead?
Hocking: I think we really wanted to underscore the theme. Like, of course, we could have called it WD3 but I think that the idea of playing as anyone and the resistance movement just made the name “Legion” make a lot of sense.
Greysun: When it comes to being able to play as anyone, that is a huge undertaking that video games usually don’t tackle. You usually have the main protagonist or two and that’s it, but your team is making every single NPC playable in WDL and that’s incredible. During development, was this idea planned from the get-go for Legion?
Hocking: It’s funny; in the beginning, it was like WD1 had you play as Aiden, and DedSec is this shadowy organization that you’re working with indirectly.
But then in WD2 there are five-six of you in San Francisco and then we were like, let’s have a bigger team and maybe we should be able to have people in and out, but at that point we were just like, “maybe you should be able to play as anyone.”
Greysun: *Mind blown*
Hocking: Yeah and we were attracted to that idea, not really knowing why. But we started to think more about it and talk more about London and the diversity and that stuff (play as anyone) started to come into play and we just thought, “how do we do it?”
We started to break down the problem and figured out how to do it and then got the right people to do it and we eventually did it.
Greysun: Was there any point throughout the development where you all thought that this feature would be too much of a task? Like a point where you guys thought it might not work out as you planned?
Hocking: Yeah for sure. It was a really challenging innovation and we had to take a lot of risks and there were a lot of experiments…tons of iterations and experiments; some things are succeeding and some things are more difficult.
I think it was a good couple of years before we were like definite about making the gameplay element work… it was tough, just really tough.
Greysun: When I was playing the game, I noticed that every NPC had their own bio, stats, life story, and a specific role to play in the world. Since every single character has their own facial animations, movements, voice, and dialogue, that must’ve been so hard to accomplish.
Hocking: I think the thing that was really magical was since it impacts audio and voice and animation and the A.I. programmers are deep in there and the writers are deep in there.
So many different people are so required to be involved in that innovation that once we got the right people that were really driven to carry it, it almost became a self-propagating thing where they really wanted to do it cause it was so innovative for all of them so it was fun problems to have –hard problems are fun problems.
Greysun: Since there are so many characters with different voices, did you have to hire a lot of voice talent?
Hocking: So for every version of the script and for every narrative persona, there’s one actor who reads the script and every possible line that you could say except there’s another type of voice modulation technology which can take any voice and make it into five or six different voices at one time.
We didn’t want to record the script a whole bunch of times with a whole bunch of actors and then have to modulate those voices to make different sounding ones and then have all of that data on the disk –it would’ve blown the hard drive away.
With the voice modulation tech, you can hear the actor playing me talking to another character who doesn’t look like me who has the same voice as me talking together and you wouldn’t know that it’s the same person because the voices are so different.
Greysun: When it comes to the non-lethal methods of taking down enemies, is there a way to “complete” the game without killing a single person?
Hocking: We really focused on non-lethal weapons so half of the weapons are non-lethal and then we focused on making on a pretty robust melee system so if you don’t pull out guns, the enemies won’t pull out guns –in most cases.
We really wanted to make sure that non-lethal was an option in any combat encounter.
I’m not going to say it was a goal for us to say that players can beat the game without killing anyone –maybe you can, I actually don’t know. It’s not a goal for us; the goal was to make sure we have robust non-lethal options for players.
Because of the different classes, like the Infiltrator, one of the goals was to make it easy for the player to switch up their choice of gameplay whenever they mess up. Because in a lot of other games, once you start shooting and break stealth, now you have to start shooting and kill everyone.
Greysun: I understand that because when your character “dies” in WDL, you can bring in another recruit and try out a different method of attack (or just play stealthily).
Hocking: Yeah especially since there are permadeaths and no checkpoints, it’s like you’re playing the level and if you fail, you can’t reload and try again; you either have to duck out or recover back to stealth.
Greysun: So if permadeath exists, what would happen if I manage to somehow successfully kill all members of my team?
Hocking: When you recruit people, their relatives and friends are also positively impacted so if you run out of people you’ll have the option to let people join your team automatically if you run out of recruits.
That’s all for our Q&A with Clint Hocking. For more E3 2019 coverage check out our impressions of Final Fantasy VII Remake, Bleeding Edge, and our interview with the creative director for Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
Watch Dogs: Legion launches on Mar 6, 2020, for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia.