Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs is an open world action game where you play as Aiden Pierce, a hacker and vigilante out on a mission for personal vengeance. The game's main themes revolve around the state of surveillance and big brother in modern day society.

Position

Level Designer

Genre

Open World Action

Engine

Disrupt

Release

May 27th, 2014

Developer

Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher

Ubisoft

Platform

PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Key Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented a portion of the critical path, including final level/boss fight.
  • Conceived, prototyped and implemented multiple game ingredients and mission beat types.
  • Iterated content based on playtest and director feedback to bring owned missions to target quality.
  • Point of contact for auditing and refactoring released junior level designer’s work.
  • “Power User" of proprietary level design tools.

Foresight

This was a fairly straight forward tutorial early on in the game. As were playsteing we found that it was common for players to stick with the same weapons throughout the game, and found out they didn't even know there were gun shops. Nothing super cool about this except since it was near the end of production and strong with the tools, I managed to fully create this mini-mission within a single day.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented the mission based on playtest results
  • Scripted the mission using Domino, Disrupt's visual scripting editor
  • Implemented the entire mission in a single day

Hold On, Kiddo

This was an existing mission I took over that needed love. It was too short, and without compelling gameplay. Your old rival alludes to that your nephew is going to be kidnapped, Aidan rushes to the train station where Jackson, his nephew, was running to and must protect him from some fixers kidnapping him.

I worked alongside of Sean Noonan to design a new flow for the mission to resolve these issues. It was a tough one due to narrative constraints. We not only had to work around the existing cutscenes and script, but also had very tight restrictions around seeing Jackson in the map, as we couldn't have a child in a gameplay space were he could be shot or blown up.

Sean ended up getting sick and I took over implementation. The result was fairly well received, and I developed a new technique to showcase time of day change at mission start that we ended up using a few other places. It's also the single most complex script I've ever done, as having a combat group exist within multiple vehicles and persist through ground/vehicle combat while moving through spaces wasn't really common.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed a new flow for an existing lowly rated mission alongside another designer
  • Implemented the new design using Disrupt's level editor and scripting tools
  • Mission appreciate increased above the quality target after taking ownership
  • Developed a timelapse technique that was used for other missions that required a certain time of day
  • Worked under very tight narrative restrictions to create a compelling gameplay experience

A Blank Spot There-ish

Aidan and Claire work together to power up a secret CtOS bunker so that they may locate Damien, the game's antagonist. When they arrive the bunker has been abandoned and is unpowered. Before being able to enter, the player must power up some generators scattered around the bunker. However, getting to the genetaros is fairly tricky, and the player must use non-combat tools to solve the problems.

This mission was intended to be a down beat between some high intensity missions. It was one of the few main story missions without enemies or combat. Instead the focus was on environmental puzzle solving, spatial understanding and player locomotion.

With an initial concern for engagement, as this type of gameplay isn't the focus of the game - I set out to make each generated themed around non-combat pillars of gameplay; one was centered around remote hacking, another about navigation and spatial awareness, and the last was a combination of the two.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented the mission from concept to final
  • Worked with world art and design to acommodate the mission's needs
  • Worked closely with the playtest team to ensure the unique puzzle-eqse aspects remained accessible

Not A Job For Tyrone

Bedbug is a member of Iraq's gang that Aidan wants to infiltrate. Aiden decides to gather increminating evidence on Bedbug by tailing him while he makes his rounds through a run down area of south Chicago. This leads Aiden to an conversation where Bedbug encounters Rabbit, a snitch who informs Bedbug that a hit is out on his life. Aiden uses this chance to protect Rabbit and guide him out safely.

The high level goal of this mission was to stealth tail Bedbug. This was a gameplay type I was really interested in trying to design as I believe tailing missions are quite bland and boring typically in open world games. I set out to make a challenging linear stealth path, where the player must deal with several AI patterns in order to keep pace with the target.

There was one scene that really resonated with the team from a Jason Bourne movie where Bourne guides someone through a hostile environment over the phone. I really wanted to emulate the same feeling of having control of someone by simply being on the phone with them. So by utilizing our AI and camera systems, I designed and prototyped a new type of gameplay where the player is guiding an AI through a hostile layout from the perspective of security cameras.

Another huge inspiration for team was the HBO show The Wire. The tones and themes of this mission were heavily taken from when Omar is doing rounds in the projects.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented the mission from concept to final
  • Designed and iterated upon the level geometry
  • Designed and prototyped a new gameplay type, NPC guiding
  • Worked closely with playtesting data to ensure stealth patterns were not frustrating or too difficult
  • Worked closely with game design on proving out stealth features for vehicle gameplay

Uninvited

In this mission, Aidan is going to preemptively ambush a death squad that would otherwise be going for Bedbug, Aidan's soon to be informant. He first meets up with his associate Jordi, another fixer, to acquire some remote IEDs to help in the ambush. The ambush takes place in a brick warehouse with lots of hackable ingredients that the player can use to set up a perfect trap. After the ambush and the threat for Bedbug has been cleared, Aidan goes to Bedbug to show the evidence he's previously gathered to incriminate and blackmail him into helping be an informant.

The real driving force behind this mission was based on an earlier prototype of ambush. It turned out to be really core to the experience and DNA of what really made a Watch Dogs level. For example, we found that a really compelling combat layout was an equal mix of static cover, hackable cover and destructible cover. This really made the core mechanics and abilities shine, as the player can bend the environment to their will and evolves over time via explosions.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented the mission from concept to final
  • Designed and iterated upon the level geometry
  • Responsible for introducting and tutorializingthe IED (remote bomb) player tool
  • Utilized the setup/ambush gameplay pattern
  • Managed to get CREAM by Wu Tang into the game
  • One of the highest rated missions in the game from playtesting feedback

Sometimes You Still Lose

This is the big finale mission. Aidan wants to shut CtOS by uploading a virus to certain areas. All the while Damien hacks the city around Aidan to try and disrupt him. Aidan is successful in shutting down CtOS and causing all of Chicago to lose power. He then finds Damien in a lighthouse for a final confrontation.

One of the inspirations of this mission was a mission near the end on San Andreas where the entire city is in chaos. Because of this, I scripted some systems together in a fashion that made the city feel like it was in a state of disorder and panic. Civilians would be running around in panic, cars were hyper aggressive, and the police system was in a constant state of pursuit on the player.

Having a realistic humanoid boss fight was out of the question, so instead of thinking as a person as the boss, I thought it would be more interesting if that character turned the entire city against you. Damien hacks into CtOS and uses the abilities that the player has been using throughout the game to disrupt their progress, such as hacking streetlights, rupturing pipes and moving bridges. I think this part worked really effectively.

Upon release, the mission was met with some serious backlash for being too difficult. It wasn't a major problem in playtests, and it's pretty apparent why after the fact. I did want to make this the climax in terms of difficulty in the game, but the pacing is unrelenting. Looking back, I would decrease the difficulty of the custom police spawn waves to make it more managable.

One fun easter egg is that the player can skip the entirety of the mission by hacking an impossibly hard puzzle at the very beginning.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented the mission from concept to final
  • Utilized the core city systems to create a climactic boss fight against the city and main antogonist
  • Worked with programmers on new features to simulate PVP encounters in a mission

Guys Like Us

This was the epilogue after the final mission. Aidan has finally learned that it was Maurice who was responsible for his neices death and has him tied up to a chair in a remote garage. It's up to the player whether execute Maurice in a final act of vengeance or to walk away and turn him into the authorities.

Originally we planned to have even more options for the player based on what we thought their judgements would be and how they've been playing for the game. But having so many choices muddied the decision making, and some vague options poluted the outcome. So we narrowed it down to two that felt the most impactful; executing vengeance or demonstrating forgiveness.

Responsibilities:

  • Designed and implemented the mission from concept to final
  • Worked closely with the narrative and UXR teams to wrap up the main campaign
  • Scripted custom interogation functionality of this final campaign sequence