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June 23, 2014

Watch Dogs, Revised

I would ask “what’s wrong with Ubisoft”, but that would imply that A) there was nothing wrong with them to begin with, and B) that their problems were all that different -- i.e. inlaid -- with the triple-A industry at large.

I almost feel bad about piling on the hate.  I mean, I’m pretty sure that by now you all know how I feel about Watch Dogs, and that’s a strike against the company if there ever was one.  And plenty of others have felt a similar sting, what with THE “first step into the next generation of gaming” being more like a drunken shamble across an oiled-up floor covered in marbles. 

That’s bad enough in its own right, but then people discover that the PC version has what’s effectively a switch to change the game back into its E3 super-mega-graphics mode because…hey, it’s not like people have ever poked around game data before, right?  And beyond that, there’s still the whole fiasco where nobody knows what’s going on with Ubi, the newest Assassin’s Creed, and its refusal to portray women in games.  (I’m staying out of the conversation, but I will say that “adding female characters” should have been part of the plan the SECOND they said “Okay, let’s start the new game”.)

But I’m not here to rail on Ubisoft, because people have done that elsewhere, and done it better.  This is Cross-Up, and as long as the subject isn’t Final Fantasy 13, it’s a happy place.  So let’s keep it that way.

Let’s do something constructive.  But first…

I don’t remember what movie it was where this happened, but my gut instinct tells me that it was after seeing Man of Steel.  I can’t say that I cared for it -- like, at all -- but that should be obvious to anyone who’s familiar with this blog and my ideaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalz.  What’s important is that after Man of Steel (or whatever terrible movie it was), I tried to explain to my brother and buddy why I felt the way I did. 

They didn’t exactly buy into it, because it being just minutes after leaving the theater I couldn’t fully articulate my thoughts, much less sum up everything I wanted to in a few choice lines.  (It probably would have helped if they didn’t like the movie.)  And as if to shut down my argument, my dissent, and the audacity to not like whatever came my way, my brother asked me a question:

“Well, where’s your movie, then?”

The answer to that is that I don’t have one.  And I probably never will.  (In a perfect world, one of my stories would get a loving and high-quality adaption.)  So no, I can’t say I’m THE authority on making movies, especially since so much of the process is lost on me.  But here’s the thing: I don’t have to have made a movie to know the difference between a good one and a bad one. 

That goes for all of us.  We might not always be able to articulate in four thousand words to others exactly what makes a movie good or bad, but whether it’s collectively or individually, we’ve experienced enough to make pretty thorough judgments.  Giving creators pardon from scrutiny is one of THE biggest crimes an audience can commit -- because if we don’t call them out, the worst among them win that much more.  And they’ll get to win again, and again, and again.

That in mind, my brother had a point.  Say what you will about the quality of Man of Steel, but at the very least, Zack Snyder and his team actually put something out.  For better or worse, they gave us a movie that changed the way we look at Superman -- and beyond that, a litmus test that tells you what kind of person you might be (do you sympathize with the new Supes’ identity crisis?  OR do you see him as a mindless killing machine and a puppet to his two daddies?).  That’s something to be happy about, even if the end result and the discussions therein weren’t exactly intentional.   

So yes.  Complaining about the works of others can be useful, but that’s not the only thing someone should do -- least of all those who want to be legendary creators in their own right.  There’s a certain level of futility in trying to compare to a multimillion-dollar production, but it’s a suite of strong ideas that can be the key difference between a good story and a bad one.  (Gee, hasn’t that been proven at least a thousand times in the past decade?)  So you know what?  I’ve done enough whining about Watch Dogs.  I’m the kind of guy who sees things for what they should be -- and aren’t, on occasion -- and not what they are.

Time to go all in.  Here’s MY version of Watch Dogs.

And there you have it.  Post’s over.  Thank you, and good night.

…Okay, seriously?  Let’s get started, yes?

Step 1: Plot
Let it be known that I don’t really have a problem with WD’s general plot.  Far from it; I think there’s a LOT of potential in a story like that, both in terms of a narrative worth exploring and in terms of executing that via game mechanics.  It just takes a steady hand and a clear mind -- and the will to explore those possibilities.  As-is, WD didn’t.  For me, that’s just one of several disappointments the game served on a silver platter -- by which I mean a paper plate spray-painted silver.   

WD immediately cripples itself by saddling players with a double-whammy of “get revenge for a dead relative” and “rescue your family, because we spent ten minutes proving how precious and innocent and important they are” clichés.  That just doesn’t fly, especially in the face of a game where you’re effectively the villain AND getting drunk off the power fantasy wired into each line of code.

One of those elements needs to get thrown out, and the other needs to get toned down significantly.  So here’s what I’m thinking: give the family subplot the axe.  That should put the focus back on the hacking, at least a little bit.  But let’s take it a step further.  Let’s make Chicago a hacking battleground -- a place where they rule, and the plebs are at their mercy.  Imagine, if you will, a city where collections of them -- be they good, evil, or somewhere in between -- make their presence known constantly in their wired future, but are nigh-invisible to all but rival hacker cadres.  They’re at once an urban legend and on the news every other day.  To be a hacker of their caliber means being one of the elite.  Someone who earns respect, fear, or both.  Someone with the power to dish out either harmless pranks, or crimes on a horrific scale.

The semi-recent Clueless Gamer segment on the game shot down the game’s central premise -- a connected world -- in the time it takes to yawn.   It’s the kind of system designed to be solely exploitable…but thinking back, it’s not unsalvageable.  What if, instead of some nebulous corporation/the government agreeing to install ctOS in everything (gotta get those coin-operated horses linked up, yo), it’s the hackers who make the wired world even MORE wired?  It could be part of their master plan -- their push to make Chicago, and the world at large, definitively theirs.  Their playground, their property, whatever.    Cue hacker wars, and boom.  You’ve got yourself an overarching plot...albeit with a different spin than before.  

Step 2: Characters
Aiden Pearce is a dead-end of a character.  That much should be obvious by now.

Even if you’re the sort that likes Aiden, you have to admit that more could have been done with him.  I’m not saying that he had to be some squeaky-clean agent of justice -- as much as I would have loved that, as a Captain America fanboy -- but he needed some pizzazz to his name.  He needed charisma; good or evil, he needed more to him than just a hat and duster alongside a gravelly voice.  Giving him a “family” to “care about” doesn’t make him any less of a shitbag.

So you know what?  Why not make the main character Travis Touchdown 2.0?

I’m surprised that so few devs have tried to recreate the formula.  Travis is a good character because his an anti-hero outside of the modern-day, Nolanified sense of the term; he’s a bad guy in the sense that his morals are suspect, but bad in the sense that he’s painted as a loser nearly every step of the way.  That juxtaposition of elements -- being a cat-loving, oddjob-taking, tossed-around otaku along with being a nightmarishly-skilled assassin -- made him a lot more memorable, even if he was a scumbag of a rogue.  He had character, and gave his game character as well. 

Put that in Watch Dogs: Hypothetical Edition.  Give us some kind of neo-Travis, and play with that juxtaposition of weakness and strength, insolence and competence -- or even play it up.  Make him look completely incapable of getting anything accomplished -- either as a rail-thin dweeb, or a guy who has yet to shed his baby fat.  Or just make him look like Jonah Hill.  That’ll do.  No matter how he looks, the suite of gameplay mechanics (more on those in a bit) will compensate, and strengthen both by highlighting the disparity.

On top of all that, I have a proposal: why not make him a mama’s boy?

I’m not even joking.  Make neo-Aiden -- let’s just call him Jonah for now -- care deeply about his mom, to the point where he can’t imagine doing a thing out of line with her wishes.  It could be something played for laughs, as well as for drama; inevitably he’ll end up getting pulled into not-so-legal conflicts, so it’s only natural that he starts worrying about what his mom (a sort of symbol for his conscience) would think if she found out. 

It could characterize him, but also show how and why he does what he does.  He wants her safe, and cuts all ties IMMEDIATELY after things start getting even the slightest bit dicey.  He has to put distance between himself and his family, and friends, and everyone else, but he doesn’t have a choice.  He’s chosen his path, and has long since decided to stick with it -- even if it means walling himself off from others.

That doesn’t mean he never gets lonely, though.  And who knows?  Maybe he’ll be able to use that fancy technology to reconnect with them -- however indirectly.  Maybe he’ll use VR to create holodeck-style recreations of good times with his old friends (or get revenge on bitter enemies who once tormented him).  Basically, the people in his life can matter to him besides being fodder for another “IMMA PROTECT MUH FAMLAY!” plot.  You just have to be willing to explore.

One would think that Ubisoft would have understood that, given that they published No More Heroes once upon a time.  Alas…

Step 3: World
Working with a real-world location can be a real drag.  Take any creative liberties with a place, and people will call you out for adding in an inexplicable mountain range.  But the tradeoff is that you don’t have the freedom that a 100% original area allows -- especially if the story’s set in the present (or near-future).  So while it’s nice that WD has a 3D Chicago to its name -- itself a proof of “how far we’ve come” in terms of rendering our worlds, since now we can pretty much just insert ours -- the problem is that you don’t get to play around.  You’re locked in, and people will cry foul if, say, gyrocopters become the normal means of travel.    

I say this because I’ve run into the same problem in my personal writing adventures (writeventures, if you will).  A “city of adventure” is a good place to start, but it’s got plenty of limits.  I tweaked my story to work around that; the city’s the basic layer, but over time it falls pretty to space-time warps that distort areas -- and eventually the city at large -- into places where damn near anything can happen.  That, of course, is in addition to the pocket dimensions littered throughout -- and the corruption that weaves between them.  Those layers make the mundane a bit more interesting.

So why not give Hypothetical Edition the same treatment?

Okay, maybe not like that.

The devs can have their big, almost-photorealistic city.  But remember, in WD Aiden is supposed to be a criminal on the run, even if it didn’t come into play the way it should have.  In HT Edition, Jonah IS going to have the police on him, and he IS going to have to be conscious about where and when he goes into the public eye.  Sounds like a pain in the ass, right?  Well, it would be -- because a wanted criminal shouldn’t be able to walk through the streets like he’s making a trip to the bakery.

But fear not.  Remember, this is a game with layers -- the byproduct of making its setting a wired world.  So at a base level, you’d have the city of adventure -- a place you’d have to be very careful about maneuvering through, but would inevitably have to so you could meet fellow hackers (some of whom would want to test your trustworthiness by making you come out in the open). 

Below that, you’d have the virtual part of the game; let’s call it Gigs for now.  That’s where people go when they’re interacting with technology -- not unlike Futurama’s version of the internet.  It’s kind of a middle ground, where things take on a more digital bent, but it’s not so far-fetched that you see flying tacos or whatever.  That’s for the THIRD layer, “DeRez”.  It’s a lawless virtual realm where only those with superior technical knowledge roam -- and as such, where the wildest events transpire.  It’s a world of chaos, and Jonah’s quest for a quality life will take him there time and time again.      

Step 4: Gameplay
This battle is about to explode.

WD’s primary conceit is -- or was supposed to be -- using your hacking ability to affect the world around you, and give you the advantage you’re looking for to turn the tide against dangerous enemies.  It didn’t pan out; the option is there in the actual game to use hacking, but it never made a compelling argument as to why I should use hacking instead of doing what so many others have done and buy a grenade launcher from the outset.  You can’t even use the excuse of a “pacifist run”, because nearly all the hacks you make will kill whatever poor guy you target.  (And in the case of driving-based hacks, your target AND innocent pedestrians.)

What’s the solution, then?  Well, the first thing is that the game needs to make the hacking a central mechanic instead of an auxiliary one.  Jonah shouldn’t be able to do everything, at least not in the real world.  He can use guns, but not well, and certainly can’t get access to some of the heavier stuff just by hitting the store.  If he’s forced into a firefight, he has to be a very hit-and-run type of gunner.  He’d be more like Joel from The Last of Us (in theory, at least).  No regenerating health, limited resources, the works; the intent is to tell the player that if they’re in a firefight -- or if they screw up and end up in a firefight -- then they messed up, and there are going to be consequences.

Now here’s where things get interesting.  How your hacking works in HT Edition depends, however slightly, on which layer of the world you’re in.  Jonah’s at his most vulnerable when he’s out in the real world, so it follows that he should have the hacking tools to compensate.  His Profiler has a limited range and tends to require a line of sight to vulnerable items, but pull one of the triggers and you’ll effectively stop time.

 You’ll get an overhead view of the area, a la Factory Mode from Rogue Galaxy, mixed with the strategic applications of Transistor; you’ll only be able to take a certain number of actions before entering a cooldown state, but in exchange you can set up a Rube Goldberg-style string of traps and calamities to distract, debilitate, or even dispatch your opponents.  Admittedly, what I have in mind would require some expansion of the game world’s technology, but I think that would be for the best.  By sticking so close to real-world tech, WD couldn’t do nearly as much as it could have to make a case for the hacking.  Again, that’s something that needs to change.  And I think I have an idea of what to use as inspiration.

Imagine this scenario.  Jonah’s been set up by a rival hacker, and some very bad men have zeroed in on his location.  What to do?  Well, you can even the odds with any number of tools.  Like the actual game, you can distract them with phone calls and messages  But it goes further than that; sure, you can interrupt their communications, but you can mess with your pursuers by playing their boss and giving them conflicting orders -- maybe call them off entirely, if you’re skilled enough.  Open, shut, and lock doors to confuse or even trap the baddies.  Switch off lights to really turn the game into Splinter Cell.    Throw them off their game by having speakers -- from intercoms, from cars, whatever -- play some creepy music.  The list goes on.

But for brevity’s sake (ha), let’s move on.  The action in Gigs (accessed via Jonah’s heavily-equipped van, or whenever another character offers access to their tech) takes on a different bent, because you’re effectively inside the wired world -- as are plenty of other tech-using people, malicious or otherwise.  It’s only natural, then, that your tool set expands. 

The powers you wield manifest more directly; you’ll still be able to hack as you would in the real world (but with added twists, like being able to create holographic decoys or electric barriers), but you’ll have access to some unique properties.  For example, the range on the Profiler gets vastly expanded, as do the number of actions you can execute at once.  Pulling off those big combos can net you more money and data from others, especially since there’s a much thinner barrier between you and a target’s private info. 

On top of that, you and Jonah gain access to some enhanced movement abilities -- well beyond the simple parkour of the actual game.  Think of it like the Video power from Infamous: Second Son -- you and others can broadcast your way across streets, up buildings, and through the air as needed…or you can use some of your offensive abilities to do some big damage.  I wouldn’t recommend it, because there are others who can do the same to you -- up to and including cyber-police that will not only pursue you, but draw closer to finding Jonah in the real world.  You DON’T want that.

But while Gigs is just an augmented version of Chicago, and the real world is…just Chicago, DeRez throws out all pretenses of being logical and turns the world, and the game, into a virtual playground.  It’s a lawless wasteland, but it’s rife with sights and sounds, colors and creations that are impossible anywhere else -- which means that only the strongest and smartest hackers can hope to survive there.  It’s while he’s in DeRez that Jonah’s at his most powerful (keeping up with the Infamous comparison, he’s got Karma Bombs as well as access to even STRONGER hacks), and there’s no police to haunt you.  In a sense, it kind of turns into Crackdown or Saints Row 4 -- even if that’s counterbalanced by others having the same general tool set.

DeRez is supposed to be the game’s embodiment of high risk, high reward.  Completing missions, finding data packets, and thwarting rival hackers in DeRez gives Jonah more experience points -- and with it, BETTER experience points.  It’s the only way to unlock some special abilities that can really give you an advantage in the other layers.  Or if not that, then it’ll at least give you some wealth and items to use as you go.  Make the right moves, and you’ll give yourself a huge advantage throughout the rest of the game. 

The tradeoff -- besides areas that are a lot more hazardous to you, least of all because of their unpredictability -- is that the hackers are at the top of their game, and can potentially use hacks that are catastrophic in scale.  You’re a (relative) newcomer there, and they want to keep you down.  And if they succeed in beating you, you’ll lose more than a little progress; they’ll hack you, and make you level down.  From stealing EXP, to sealing off abilities, to slapping you with debuffs, all the way to removing some of the branches on your upgrade tree -- they’re not playing around.  And they want to make it so that you can’t, either.

The idea is to make each layer -- and more than a few aspects of gameplay -- full of risks and rewards.  In Chicago, you have to be mindful of what you do, where you go, and how you look, BUT it gives you the chance to use the clues you find to confront hackers when they’re at their weakest.  Gigs gives you a bigger tool set for your acts of subterfuge, BUT you have to be just as careful (maybe more so) about who you hack, both in terms of attracting the eyes of the law and the ire of enemy hackers and syndicates.  DeRez is a virtual power fantasy brimming with promise like the Californian frontier, BUT it’s a fantasy that’s not just yours…even though it’s not really yours at all.  Knowing what to do and how to act in each layer (along with when to go where) is the key to victory.

I’m making it sound a lot harder than it is, though.  What’s important is that there are consequences -- points to consider before and after taking each action that’ll either lead Jonah to an early grave, or Victory Town, South Dakota.  Being able to take decisive action is what’ll make this game sing -- and something distinctly missing from the actual game.  Without that pressure and tension -- without the looming threat of danger, penalties, and outright failure -- WD faltered in a way that a game of its caliber (relatively speaking) shouldn’t.  That’s what made it such a damn disappointment to me.  And that’s what the HT Edition is set to fix.

Along with the driving.  Ubisoft, what the hell were you doing with that?      

Step 5: Sound Design
You know, if we’re being completely honest, then I’ll admit that I don’t have any problems with the soundtrack to WD.  I’d say that that’s a compliment, but I can’t remember a single song from it, or even a piece of a melody.  I want to say that I thought to myself “Man, I should try and find that song on YouTube”, but it doesn’t say good things about an OST when you’re hard-pressed to remember any of the songs.  And regrettably, that includes the radio songs you find along the way.  When it rains, it pours.

The one thing that stuck out to me (and to a lesser extent, the GTA games) was invoking some soundtrack dissonance by having some cool, calm jazz or classical music playing in the midst of my thirty-car pileups.  So I say that the HT Edition should put that at the forefront; when you’re on the road or traversing the streets (assuming you’re being stealthy and indiscrete, as you should be), the music will be calm and stylish.  The closer you get to being detected, the terser -- or even silent -- the tracks get, complete with a heartbeat that helps add a measure.  Get detected or thrown into some heavy action, and the jazz will go absolutely wild.  Kinda like this:

But that’s how things are in the real world.  Cross over into Gigs, and the music will take on a composite form.  It’s a fusion of the real world and the cyber-world, so it’s only natural that there’s a fusion between jazz and techno -- smooth rhythms combined with instruments born from ages ago as well as from the inside of a computer.  And the same “music signals danger” rule would apply as well…though there would be another permutation if/when the player gets a string of hacker combos going.  That’s real style; if I had to guess, it’d make for some more memorable songs than the usual “epic orchestra” filler that pops in so often in media these days.

But DeRez, fittingly, would drop all the pretenses of being smooth or pleasant or jazzy.  I imagine a rock/techno hybrid, where the songs have more weight to them.  That weight would only increase alongside the danger, and the guitars would really get fired up -- especially if you’re engaging in a furious hacker duel with a rival (which I imagine would have no shortage of counter hacking…and H-H-H-H-HACKING BREAKER(s)!)  A chaotic world needs more chaotic sounds, after all.  And indeed, it would be designed to leave a strong impression on the player.  You know, the way it should be.

…Well, that seems like a good enough excuse for me to use F-Zero GX music as a point of reference. 

Step 6: Aesthetics
I’m not going to pretend like graphics don’t matter, because if they didn’t, gamers from all over wouldn’t have raised a stink about the drop in quality from the E3 showing, or the number of Ps on the Xbox One versus the PS4, or any of that.  It may not matter to me, but it matters to others.  Better graphics have been THE measure of “the next-gen step” for ages, and that’s probably not going to stop, even now.

That in mind, there is a pretty big distinction.  It’s one thing to render something with perfect quality, but what’s really important is WHAT gets rendered, and how. If photorealism was the be-all and end-all, then art as we know it would have hit its peak the second we started taking pictures.  Speaking solely of video games, they’re a medium with just as much potential  and as many possibilities as any other -- and yet it seems like this past half-decade or so has been a little too eager to bank on urban wastelands, urban decay, something something war, or something something battlefield.

It’s pretty much a given that even the HT Edition would have to include some form of city.  It’s unavoidable.  But what can help set it apart is by giving it (and the rest of the game, up to and including the character models) a spiffy art style.  So here’s what I’m thinking: use Jet Set Radio as a starting point.  Give the game the general style, but adjust accordingly for each layer.  That is, the real world keeps the cel-shaded look, but looks much dingier and washed-out.  Not to the point where it becomes boring or blasé, but enough to make the player feel a little down…and to highlight the disparity between the other two layers.

Gigs is the in-between, so it gets to look like what you’d expect from a cel-shaded game.  To be more precise, it’d be a sort of marriage between Jet Set’s visuals and Mirror’s Edge -- lots of clean, straight lines, but with the Assassin’s Creed/Animus techno-accents for good measure.  One glance around should be all it takes to prove that you’re not in the real world.  And DeRez goes even further.  A palette just-below-searing.  Impossible buildings towering and stretching every-which-way, with freerunning hackers effectively (And sometimes literally) taking flight.  Avatars of all shapes and sizes, sharing streets with creatures straight out of an hour-long session with Pokémon Fusion.  City districts that, you soon find, are decahedrons floating in cyber-space.

How feasible are my demands?  Hard to say.  But I’ll tell you one thing: a company that can do it will have proven conclusively that next-gen is here -- which is what they should have done more than half a year ago.

Step 7: Lasting Appeal
Let’s be real here.  Is my HT Edition better than the actual game?  There’s absolutely no way to know for sure -- but I’m inclined to say “probably not”.

Setting aside matters of practicality and execution, I have to wonder how effectively the “full” game would keep a consistent tone -- and with it, discuss some of the societal matters that are inherent with the concept.  I know myself pretty well, and I know that a woodpecker is more conscious of sociopolitical affairs.  That’s why I’d prefer to avoid talking about that, if I possibly can.  It’s a situation where any statement you make has a good chance of being wrong…that, or just falling on deaf (and angry) ears. 

My intent with the HT Edition is to have it be a more personal tale, showing off the consequences of Jonah’s actions (and others’ as well) and how they can do great harm or good, in line with a world transformed by technology.  The far-reaching stuff is out of my grasp.  I’d argue that’s partly because the story of privacy rights, technological hyper-surveillance, and cyber-crime is a story that hasn’t ended yet.  We don’t know what’s coming, and while there are events we can draw inspiration and lessons from, it’s hardly as conclusive as, say, picking up an encyclopedia and reading up on World War II.

So in that regard, I guess I can’t fault the actual WD for stumbling on saying something distinct -- because it’s a VERY difficult subject.  It takes real effort, and real skill to say anything definitive about a story that’s being written as we speak.  That all said, I’m not about to let Ubisoft off the hook just yet.  Three reasons for that: first off, if they were going to make a game so heavily focused on current events and controversies, they needed to put up a stronger effort.  Second, no one forced them to bank solely on a concept they themselves only thought about for five seconds, from implementation to execution. 

Third -- the greatest sin of all -- it was their responsibility as creators to make a game that could leave a player with something to truly digest.  Something to take with them, long after they set down the controller; games may be pieces of entertainment, but they can transcend that and become something truly memorable -- truly affecting -- instead of just being a chance to blow up a few virtual goons.  That, amongst many, many, MANY other things, is the problem with Watch Dogs.

It tried to be everything you could ever want.  But it didn’t bother trying to be something you need.

It wore its agenda on its sleeve.

It’s more than a little pretentious of me to say something like “I’ve got Ubisoft beat!”  And I’m struggling not to do it.  But in a case like this, it’s very possible that I’ve got an edge.  Granted that’s just because I’m one guy typing out a hypothetical game and not swinging around $67 million plus dollars along with an army of employees, but the gulf between my must-haves and theirs is what makes all the difference. 

I said I wanted to make the HT Edition a more personal tale.  I stand by that.  Jonah’s a real character, but his actions -- the player’s actions -- carry with them weight and meaning.  Whether you’re a noble-hearted vigilante or a self-serving criminal, what you do affects others and the world around you.  Whether it’s in moment-to-moment struggles to survive or long-term threats to the very city you dwell in, the game would serve as a way to make the player fear and revere the power of technology. 

The core concept behind the HT Edition isn’t all that different from the actual game.   I don’t mind the idea that “everything is connected.”  But in order for that to work, I need to feel that connection.  I need to be able to connect.

The world has to matter.  The people have to matter.  

When you profile someone in WD, you don’t get the full story.  You just get a snippet -- a little factoid about an NPC you’ll never run into again unless you double back and pull out your gun.  In the grand scheme of things, what does that little factoid matter, besides just giving the player a little laugh or a split-second insight?  For me, it didn’t matter.  It reached a point where I was done with the Profiler fifteen minutes into the game. 

The remedy for this is nowhere near revolutionary.  All they had to do -- all the HT Edition would do -- is add in some NPCs you can talk to.  Side characters, obviously, but some other incidentals you meet across the three layers.  Then you get to learn about them.  You can decide if you want to help them with the missions they toss your way.  You can decide if you want to steal and sell their information.  You can decide to protect them from hackers, or intervene if and when some nasty folks come their way.  You have the power to protect them, or ruin them.  You choose if their story keeps going, or ends right there.

WD couldn’t even be bothered to give the missions you’re given -- random or story-based -- NPCs that could trigger them.  You just get random info from on-screen, or just follow your map to the next objective marker.  The actual game completely cut out the human element, and in doing so stripped the game of even more of its heart -- assuming it ever had one in the first place.  It’s true that the game was built on technology, and centered on technology, but the juxtaposition between that and the everyday -- the humans who give that tech a purpose and use -- could have made for a stronger game.  It didn’t.

Mine would.  If it came down to it, I’d make damn sure of that.  You know why?  Because that’s just one way to signal that we’ve taken the true step into next-gen.  Not by throwing in more diversions.  Not by making slightly better-looking games.  Not by scraping at whatever’s in reach for some distorted sense of legitimacy.  Not by being “everything people love” and being nothing as a result.  You lose sight of that heart, and you lose.  Period.

That’s the problem with Watch Dogs.  That’s why it needed to be revised.  And that’s why I’ve spent one week after another trying to explain all this to you -- because there are some lessons that we need to learn.

Create with a vision.  Create with insight.  Create with passion.  Or don’t create at all.

*mic drop* *exit stage left*


  1. ...This seems like a perfect time to ask.

    Have you read Ubisoft Game: The Review?

  2. I have, actually. It was, at once, the funniest, most depressing, and most infuriating thing I've read in a while. Sooooooooooooooo...yeah. Based on that and these posts of mine, I'd say that the moral of the story is that I need to put some distance between me and Ubisoft.

    Like...a lot of distance. A continent's worth should do it.