How Watch Dogs: Legion generates characters you’ll care about

Watch Dogs Legion characters
Watch Dogs Legion characters

The big promise of Watch Dogs: Legion is that you’re able to play as anyone living in its dystopian vision of London. There are literally thousands of characters roaming the streets and occupying the buildings so it’s easy to be sceptical about this.

But Ubisoft’s response to any doubts has been to up the stakes even more. The developers say that not only can you recruit anyone to your team of hackers but that you’ll care about every single one of them too.

Watch Dogs Legions logo

The big promise of Watch Dogs: Legion is that you’re able to play as anyone living in its dystopian vision of London. There are literally thousands of characters roaming the streets and occupying the buildings so it’s easy to be sceptical about this.

But Ubisoft’s response to any doubts has been to up the stakes even more. The developers say that not only can you recruit anyone to your team of hackers but that you’ll care about every single one of them too.

“Watch Dogs: Legion is a really fresh experience,” creative director Clint Hocking tells us, “because you recruit the characters you want, and you invest in them over time, so you grow a real, strong attachment to them.”

Spending time with a character over the course of a game does bring you closer to them. We know that from games like Tomb Raider and The Witcher which slowly unravel the personality of a single character. But Hocking is talking about a game that lets you play as multiple people who are are randomly generated. How do you instill every London rando with as much personality as Lara Croft or Geralt of Rivia?

One way the team at Ubisoft injects the Watch Dogs: Legion cast with character traits is through the in-game Profiler. It’s been expanded since Watch Dogs 2 so that the facts it reveals about the people it’s pointed to are full simulated in the game world.

“In Watch Dogs: Legion, the stuff you see in the Profiler is real; where someone lives and works, who their relationships are with, what their problems are, and what their unique gameplay benefits would be are all simulated and internally consistent,” Hocking says.

This goes some way to make every person in the game feel like a real person. They have fully simulated lives that play out in full. They go to work every day, interact with loved ones, and have skills that suit their lifestyles. The latter is what you’ll care most about when scanning for potential recruits but each individual’s characteristics make them more than tools at your disposal.

After playing a character’s origin mission and bringing them onto your team you can start playing as them. This is where Ubisoft’s team really had its work cut out to maintain the diversity of its cast.

“Getting all these characters to have their own unique personas in terms of how they talk, move, and animate meant writing the script many times for many different personalities,” Hocking says.

It wasn’t just the writers that were challenged in this regard. Sound designers used modulation technology to “dynamically alter people’s voices” while animators had to create different types of movement so a character’s performance matches “their attitude, style, training, fitness, and age.”

All of this means you can see, hear, and feel the differences between playing as a retired granny and a hotshot lawyer. Combine that with the life simulation revealed by the Profiler and Watch Dogs: Legion is able to generate characters that feel true to life. With that established, all that’s left is for you to recruit the character you want and start creating stories with them.

Hocking hopes that the range of available characters also means that you can choose someone who you identify with and that by itself may make you care about them. He hopes that the diversity of the cast has “the ability to challenge people’s expectations about who could be a hero.” It could turn out that you find someone who is basically you running around London. And let’s be honest, who do you care more about than yourself?

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