Rock, Paper, Shotgun has an interview up today about the game that sheds some more light on things. In it, we find out that there will be some cool multiplayer stuff in the game, which I didn’t know from the videos, and we get some hints about the main character, Pearce, and his motivations.
We also essentially get confirmation that there will be no intentional message to the game, that the hacking/security/surveillance stuff is just flavor for Pearce’s magic:
RPS: So you had your big spiel rooted in real world events at the beginning of the demo, but then Pearce waved his hand and took out entire phone networks and stoplight systems like some kind of magical Hollywood hacker Jedi.
Dominic Guay: It’s not. It’s not [like that]. So obviously, the player will build up his abilities. He won’t start out being able to do everything. Obviously, for the purpose of the demo, it was kind of a late game moment. You have a lot of abilities built up. There will be a very realistic reason behind his access to the city – how he can grow his power gradually. It’s going to be the player choosing where they want to put those efforts – on what type of control, how much he wants to invade the privacy of whom, and what he wants to do with that information. It’ll be the player who chooses that.
And really, all the things we’re doing in the game – so you saw hacking radio frequencies, hacking traffic systems, watching people through surveillance cameras – we have concrete references from the real world for all of that. Obviously, he has some pretty good back doors there, but that’ll be explained in the game.
RPS: The demo opened with a big speech about the marginalization of the individual and the idea that we’re all just data points now. It seemed very cautionary in nature – like, “Oh, this is clearly an impersonal, almost inhuman attack on who we are as people.” Which is a bit odd, coming from, well, a giant corporate entity like Ubisoft. Is that dissonance something you’ve been aware of in creating Watch Dogs?
Dominic Guay: We’re not putting judgment on it. We’re not saying it’s either bad or good. It’s just what you do with it, right? Some people have asked us “Are you a good guy or a bad guy?” We’re really going on the gray there. So you choose as a player what you do with that power. It’s either good or bad.
We don’t think technology’s bad, right? We love technology. We’re saying it’s powerful. We’re all dependent. We’re putting our personal lives on cell phones. We’re all dependent on the city that’s run mostly through computers – traffic, communication, electricity grids – and that can become an incredibly powerful weapon in the hands of a single man.
At least this news came fairly soon after the announcement, so the disappointment is minimal. With the original Assassin’s Creed (made at the same studio), it wasn’t managed so well. I like the story in Assassin’s Creed, even the silly sci-fi bits, but it had the potential to make a much more significant statement. And it did seem like the first game was trying to go a little deeper into certain issues, but that was ditched from AC2 on. Based on that, this stance isn’t surprising. Aside: this game looks like it could point the way toward how a modern-day Assassin’s Creed could be done where Desmond stops dreaming about the past and starts doing stuff himself, as the games have been hinting all along will happen eventually.
It seems that mission in the trailer is representative of the direction of the story: a cyber-vigilante uses his powers to kill a bunch of people he believes have it coming. But there are problems with the second answer above. “It’s just what you do with it, right?” Well, not exactly: it’s also what everyone else does with it, and even when it’s you, how do you know you’re right? Inevitably, at some point, even if no one intentionally abuses that power (unlikely), mistakes will be made.
And this is where the post would segue into politics, but I’m going to separate that out into the next post.
At any rate, I think the game may find it impossible to avoid carrying a cautionary message. The things this character will be able to do will likely come as a shock and a warning to people, regardless of Ubisoft’s reluctance to pass judgment. And I think that’s a good thing.