Speaking to DualShockers at E3 2019, Watch Dogs: Legion lead producer Sean Crooks talked about how the characters and setting of the game were created.
We’ve seen a number of dystopian societies in video games—you didn’t even have to look beyond E3 2019 to get a glimpse of them. Still, something about Watch Dogs: Legion strikes more of a chord than many of the other fantastical games vying for our attention. In a time where political unrest permeates every aspect of our lives, whether we admit it or not, there is something intriguing about the pitch of a game set in a theoretical post-Brexit London.
That’s what Ubisoft calls “speculative fiction,” and after playing a closed doors demo of Legion, I asked Sean Crooks, Lead Producer on the game, about how Ubisoft Toronto crafted this fictional world that is very much based on reality. Of course, I felt the need to address the potential inclusion (or lack thereof) for any political statements, given Ubisoft’s recent past in handling that thematic material in games like Far Cry 5 and The Division 2.
And yes, we also talked about the elderly Helen character from that first trailer.
Chris: How many people from the team are actually from London and may have imprinted their own experiences or included their favorite icons and monuments?
Sean Crooks: We have a lot of British people on the team, the team is very diverse, and at the very start when we figured we want to work with London, we did a lot of research. We went to London, we did a lot of behind the scenes checks on local crime guys, local culture, even small things like local businesses and nuances about all the local elements that ordinary people don’t get to see. And then that rolled into a kind of bible that we give to the team. We then arrived on-site, cameras spent weeks in the city looking at every single aspect and evaluating it as an amazing gameplay space.
CC: How would you define the personality of this depiction of London in the near future?
SC: Like you said, it’s based on a near-future London now under an authoritarian regime. The population is oppressed, and you play a resistance movement trying to fight back against that oppressive regime.
CC: You said the “B” word on the E3 stage: “Brexit.” I heard the term “speculative fiction” [in Ubisoft’s press presentation for Watch Dogs: Legion]. Terms like immigration, cryptocurrency, so and so, all of these hot button topics right now. Were there any particular real-life moments that led to this speculative fiction story, or is it just taking the room temperature of the current political world climate?
SC: The focus of Watch Dogs: Legion was to make a statement about people rising up and fighting against oppression. That was the core value we wanted to express. And we took our inspiration about the world state, about society and the causes of that from many different places. The game has been in development for four years, and a lot of things changed over that time. So we were inspired not just through UK events, but from events happening globally. And those events happening globally are kind of the causes and reasons of the B-word. It wasn’t the B-word in of it itself that we inspired ourselves with.
CC: So Watch Dogs: Legion is making a political statement, is what you’re saying?
SC: Well, it’s making a statement about being individuals getting together with common values and fighting towards an important goal. That’s really what we want our fans and our players to take from Watch Dogs: Legion.
CC: I have a really silly question. Is it possible for me to burn through every single character in the game? If there’s permadeath, is there a finite number of characters theoretically?
SC: You will always find new and interesting people in the simulation—that’s a very strong point we wanted to make when you play.
CC: Are they all hand-crafted to the name, to the design, and the personality traits?
SC: That’s actually a very interesting question. So one thing we did very differently on Watch Dogs: Legion from the industry in the brand is that we wanted to focus on the profiler, and this time around, really simulate it. So every single person you meet, you can look at their schedule. Every single thing that says that they do, they will do. They will meet for lunch with this person, and if you check this person in the world, they will also meeting that character for lunch at that time and day. So all of these things, these detailed simulations, stacked to correct the global picture around everyone and how they behave, and it also includes if they work—if they’re working at a cafe, their job is a cafe worker. So actually the simulation, all the jobs and the variety in the world drive the characters and their details and their traits more than any hand-crafting.
CC: There’s the old lady in the demo—
SC: Helen. We have to call her Helen.
CC: Right, excuse me. It seemed like the way she was conducting that mission—she blended in because you wouldn’t expect an elderly woman to be a threat, so it’s almost like they turned a blind eye towards her. I noticed some other distinct traits in the demo, like one person who was a celebrity, so that person would have the opposite effect where news drones would follow him, for example. Are there any other examples like this that you’re willing to share, with people treating you differently depending on who you are?
SC: There’s another type of trait that we call “team traits.” When you recruit a character and put them in your team, they’ll actually connect while you’re playing with your main character and help them. So for example, if I’m in a felony, and I’m getting chased by Albion, that character will trigger and start speaking to me and say, “Hey, do you want me to help you out?” And they’ll start hacking drones and cause an exit out of your way. As you run around through London, your characters will also still interact with you in the world even when you’re playing as a different character. It’s very cool.
In case you missed it, you can check out my E3 2019 preview of Watch Dogs: Legion through this link. The game will launch for PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Google Stadia on March 6, 2020, and is available for pre-order on Amazon here.
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