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Developer Chat: Watch_Dogs Lead Story Designer Kevin Shortt

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Posted on September 12, 2013 AT 03:07pm

Hack to the future

A lot of attention has been paid to the unique hacking gameplay Watch_Dogs is going to be bringing to current and next gen consoles in November. But there’s still a story behind Aiden Pearce and his uber-connected world of the near future. With this in mind, we were able to sit down for a few minutes with Kevin Shortt, one of the writers and Lead Story Designer for Watch_Dogs and pick his brain a little.

EGM: Watch_Dogs has been in development for more than four years now and a lot can change in that time. How has the story changed, at all, from the original vision you guys started with?

KS: I think the core idea has always been there. We wanted a bit of an anti-hero whose making questionable choices towards a noble cause. The story itself, for sure, it’s shifted a lot. And that’s going to happen. As you’re working with the game developers and designers and creative director, we all get in a room and we start realizing what the best flow is both for gameplay and for story.

And so as a result, you end up having to shift the story quite a bit to make sure it hits all the right beats and has the right energy. Four years, for sure, you start thinking to yourself “that idea was kind of crap, but this idea is f***ing amazing and we’re going to go with this.”

So, we finally landed on that amazing idea that we’re really happy about it and we think is a story that’s going to resonate with people. They’re going to get pulled into it. What’s cool about the story is it’s really reflective of how the player’s going to play. The player will find it easy to live Aiden’s life because he’s a guy who can’t stand by and just watch people get hurt and I think the way the game is you find you can’t just walk away from these situations. You have to step in.

EGM: Has it been difficult crafting an anti-hero as your main protagonist?

KS: Yeah, well I think any story can be difficult. They can all be quite difficult to make. The easy thing would be to make him a black and white hero, and off you go. But, we wanted him to be three-dimensional, and that means you have to really think about what are the human choices you would make that aren’t necessarily the right choice. We all make these mistakes and I think that’s what we were after, to make sure he was very human.

The people around him, as well; that was an important part. The characters—we’ve mentioned Clara and Jordi, two characters that you meet in the game—they have their own stories as well. And their stories don’t mesh perfectly. They are not crafted to strictly help Aiden Pearce. They’ve got more than that going on. They’ve got their own ups and downs and their own goals that they’re trying to achieve while Pearce is trying to achieve his goals. And that makes for a great collision between the characters and makes for an exciting story.

EGM: What went into the decision to set the game in Chicago?

KS: We loved the character of the city, the landmarks, the history. I think another thing is we looked at it from a gameplay perspective. It’s a great city for that. Look at all those bridges. And we knew this would just translate into a fun city both visually and gameplay-wise to explore and have fun in and that as well was a big reason why we went with Chiacgo.

EGM: What are you most proud of with the story?

KS: That’s hard to say. I guess I’m most proud of the depth of the characters we have. We’ve got a rich cast of characters who all have their own goals and they end up blending well together without serving each other too obviously.

So, overall I’m pleased with how well we crafted the story and integrated it with gameplay. What was different about this game from other games that I’ve worked on is from day one, I was sitting there in the room with the game designers, the creative director, the level designers, and we worked out together how’s the gameplay and how’s the story going to work. That doesn’t always happen in games at all.

Story quite often can come much later. And you’re wrestling to fit your story into the gameplay. For us, we worked on it right from the beginning.

I’d say that’s what I’m most proud of. We’ve gotten to a point where the gameplay and the story mesh so well that I think it all just flows really beautifully together. We’re able to adapt quite easily on the fly. If gameplay has a problem that they need to solve, because we’ve worked together already so well, it’s easy for us to adjust it this way to make it work and still hold everything together.

Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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