San Francisco has long been the go-to location for the entertainment industry’s finest sequels. Herbie Rides Again (1974), Another 48 Hours (1990), Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), Dr. Doolittle 2 (2001), Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010). This year, a new name will be added to that storied list: “Watch_dogs 2”.
Goodbye Windy City, hello ‘Frisco
Watch_dogs 2 moves the action from the rain-slicked, flappy-trenchcoated streets of Chicago to the sun-baked shorts-and-flip-flopped hills of San Francisco. An area that Creative Director Jonathan Morin describes as representing the birthplace of the tech revolution – a “hacker paradise with a specific state of mind.”
“Artistically, the San Francisco Bay area is filled with beautiful locations, amazing vistas and an extremely rich culture. It’s influential for trends in art, music and architecture. The Bay Area’s neighborhoods and its people are as diverse as they are fascinating.”
Art Director Mathieu Leduc weighs in on how the area was recreated for the game. “We’ve captured the soul of the San Francisco Bay Area by dividing it into six regions: Downtown, Civic, Coast, Oakland, Marin and Silicon Valley. This means 46 neighborhoods with unique artistic signatures and distinctive aesthetic flavours. For example, Downtown is business oriented with a booming, vibrant accent also defined by some construction landscapes. Silicon Valley is home of giant tech companies, large campus and wealthy neighbourhoods – an area populated by techies, students and lots of logos.”
The location also ties into the narrative. The first Watch_dogs told a story about mass surveillance, so was set in the most surveilled city in the US: Chicago. For Watch_dogs 2, the Silicon Valley location and story add up to something fresh and contemporary. Morin says, “it’s less about surveillance and more about the new economy of information, data mining and advance analytics.”
“We are seeing the advent of predictive algorithms shaping our very own views of the world,” adds Thomas Geffroyd, Brand Content Director for Watch_dogs, “algorithms that carry bias and possible real life consequences.”
And that’s where Marcus Holloway comes in.
Adios Aiden, buenos dias Marcus
New protagonist Marcus Holloway knows all about iffy algorithms: the big-data-fuelled ctOS 2.0 (“City Operating System”) ran its formulas and rules over Marcus’ digital footprint and wrongly decided he was a wanted criminal. This pushes him towards international hacker group DEDSEC, where he works to clear his name and expose the truth. Despite finding himself in such an awkward situation, Marcus still manages to be a little less brooding than the first games gravel-voiced, neckerchief-wearing vigilante Aiden Pearce.
Marcus is a young, fearless, charismatic, and brilliant hacker. Senior Writer Lucien Soulban explains that, after his run in with ctOS, “he knows people’s rights and privacy are being trampled. At first it’s personal… he wants to stop the surveillance and collection of data, but after a while, it’s not just about what happened to him but about what’s happening to everyone. It’s about what comes next.”
Being a younger and more athletic fellow, Marcus can move fluidly through the city – vaulting fences like a gazelle, flowing through combat and clambering up objects including cranes and construction sites.
His hacking abilities are more impressive too, with the developers looking to give the players more freedom to express their creativity. As in the first game, players can hack the city infrastructure of traffic lights, cameras and junction boxes – but there are plenty more options this time around. Game Director Danny Bélanger explains that Marcus “has the ability to hack the AI characters, play with the city systems, send cops to arrest people, or hack any remote controllable device in the environment like forklifts and cranes to access vantage points.” These remote control opportunities are split between single button “quick-hacks” the player can use in a tight spot, and a deeper remote control system for more planned action. See a forklift, for example, and rather than just raising and lowering the forks, you can take full control.
Marcus also has an RC Jumper – a two wheeled remote control car with a robot arm that can be used to perform tasks such as removing screws and interacting with electrical gadgets in the environment – and a quad-copter drone. These can be used in conjunction with other hacks to perform more complex series of actions and solve problems in more creative ways.
Morin suggests that hacking-focused players will have the chance to complete some missions without even moving from the spot – just by using the tools and gadgets at their disposal.
Tapping into “maker culture”, Marcus and DEDSEC can now 3D print a wide variety of weapons to suit the players’ style. From the non-lethal taser (this time it’s possible to finish the game without killing anyone), to more gung-ho options like a grenade launcher.
Hacking Silicon Valley
While the Blume Corporation (the creators of ctOS) from the first game return, the Silicon Valley setting brings in new players. Search giant nudle, social network !nvite and tech company Tidis all have their HQs in the bay area – and all appear to have nefarious motives. Nudle in particular has a giant tech campus that DEDSEC will need to investigate.
All this additional technology, both in the environment and in DEDSEC’s arsenal, gives the player more freedom in how they approach the game. Says Morin, “they can invest on the skills and tools they want to become either the aggressor, the ghost or the trickster hacker. If they want to play without killing people they have Taser weapons and drone tools to do so. If they want to turn people against each other to avoid doing the dirty work themselves they can to that too. They can also use cops to get people arrested instead of neutralizing them. Regardless of how they play, the game will not judge them, letting them decide how far DEDSEC is willing to go to take back control. When they seamlessly encounter other players they can continue their fun experiments alongside them. This freedom of action is what characterizes a systemic open world.”
Morin continues, “we’re building a world that has many different stories to tell. A world that players can interact with at many different levels. Discovering stories in the world and deciding which kind of missions to take on in order to progress. These choices will define what kind of debates are active in the world. Each DEDSEC operation players chose to take on will expose issues surrounding our hyper-connected way of living. As players discover these operations and expose their secrets to the world, DEDSEC will get more followers increasing the amount of people talking about them on the streets. So our world narrative responds to what the player does.”
A few weeks ago, the UbBlog US team popped up to Montreal to speak with the Watch_dogs 2 team – here’s their video report:
And if you have an insatiable lust for information, check out the full announcement stream here:
Watch_dogs 2 is set to launch on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC Digital Download on November 15th. Stay tuned to the blog for more updates!