In Watch Dogs, the city is your weapon, but its citizens have their own opinions on how you use that weapon. Those opinions can be monitored via the game’s reputation meter, which is based directly on your actions. If you are more reckless – harming innocents, driving like a madman – the people of Chicago won’t look upon you favorably. Nor will the media; they’ll start running Aiden’s face more, referring to him as a menace. On the other hand, a more conscientious Aiden will be received with cautious optimism.
“The media will still report on you, but maybe not in such a negative tone,” Lead Writer Kevin Shortt explains. “It will be more questioning. Is he a good guy? Is he a hero? Is he a terrorist? They are going to start raising these kinds of questions.”
Let’s say you want to steal a car. This is obviously not a very nice thing to do, but if you have a better reputation, rather than calling the cops on you, a citizen might decide to look the other way. In other words, you don’t really lose access to anything if you choose to play it bad. Your friends and allies won’t treat you any differently – after all, they know you better than the citizens, who just get a small glimpse of your actions. Shops won’t shut you out or refuse to sell to you (though, as we’ve seen before, they may call the cops if your face pops up all over the news). There won’t be any areas of the game that are unavailable to you, should you choose to be a “shoot first, ask questions never” kind of player.
Shortt made it very clear that this isn’t like many other in-game morality meters. “The reputation system isn’t really a good-versus-bad kind of system. We really wanted it to just be the citizens reflecting back on you and what you’re doing so that you think about it more. The game doesn’t suddenly tilt one way if you get a bad reputation. It doesn’t make it exponentially harder. It should just make you consider your actions and what you’re doing.”
So You Had a Bad Day
What if you’re typically a pretty good guy and you just have a really terrible day and decide to take it out on the virtual citizens? That’s okay to do, too. It will affect your reputation, but unlike some meters, there is redemption. You will never find yourself in a scenario where you can’t undo the “harm” you’ve done. Although Lead Gameplay Designer Danny Belanger stressed that like actual people, the citizens will need a little coaxing before they fully forgive you again.
“If you’re seen as a really good guy and you start shooting cops, the meter is going to go down pretty fast. If you do the crime detection a lot and you save people to redeem yourself, your reputation will go back up, but you have to work for it. It will take some time and good deeds.”
You are always given the freedom to make your own choices, but if the world doesn’t react to those choices everything begins to feel false. The meter acts as a gauge for you to see how the city feels about you and how the citizens will respond when you act.
No One Is Looking
There are moral choices even beyond the reputation meter. Sometimes you’ll make decisions that no citizen could possibly notice you doing. In a recent lengthy hands-on session, I found myself faced with a lot of these choices. I could see someone with an unsecure bank account walking down the street. That’s basically free money, I thought. I should just take it. But it belongs to a teacher who does charity work and makes only a small pittance in a year. The guilt is overwhelming and I let her go on her way. While I’m sure I won’t be alone in making this choice in this kind of situation, Shortt explained that some people he’s talked to take her money anyway because – as they rationalize – she’s probably insured and the bank will get her money back. I just couldn’t take that risk, even in a videogame.
Shortt described multiple scenarios in which this moral ambiguity will play a role. What will you do when no one is looking? When your actions don’t have an immediate consequence, can you still justify them? These choices have no impact on your reputation in the game, but the goal is to make you ask these kinds of questions. What you do is entirely up to you.
“With the profiler system we have – and the voices you can hear and hack into – we’re making everything more grounded in reality. We’re making you feel a living city around you. We’re making you realize there are consequences to these sorts of things. It’s up to the player what they want to do in that regard.”
The team worried if they added reputation values to things like hacking people’s phones, then it would detract from the realism of the living city. “It will affect people differently. We didn’t put reputation points on that because if we did, then you would not be making the choice based on information,” Belanger says. “We chose to not assign points and just give you enough information to get a sense of who that person is so you can decide what to do. Only you will know what you’ve done.”
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