Diecast #322: Watch Dogs Legion!

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 16, 2020

Filed under: Diecast 37 comments

This week I talked to Ross Zevenhuizen, a friend, collaborator on Good Robot, and one of the developers of Watch Dogs Legion. We didn’t make it clear at the top of the show, but Ross is under some annoying NDA restrictions that prevents him from speaking freely about the development process. We were able to talk openly about our mistakes and regrets in Good Robot, but this is an Ubisoft game and we’re obliged to play by Ubisoft’s rules.

Hosts: Ross, Shamus, and secretly also Paul. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:00 Welcome Ross

I do think we need to have Ross back to talk about his other projects and Unity development in general.

02:31 Ross is credited as “Level designer”

Not sure why they don’t just create the job title “Mission Designer”.

08:45 The Three Pillars

Combat, stealth, and hacking. There’s also car driving, some multiplayer stuff, and eighty metric tons of collectibles on the map, but combat, stealth, and hacking are the meat of the game.

13:56 Why was the Daybreak storyline the only one to end with a choice?

The best (and most vividly Cyberpunk) story in the game was the shortest, and the only one to end with a choice. It kinda felt like a classic BioWare-style RPG for a few minutes.

28:59 Working on indie scale vs AAA.

33:05 Are these characters randomly generated, or pulled from a prefab list?

They’re random. Ross talks a bit about how they’re generated.

36:07 Amazing recruits

There's no one around and he's facing a brick wall, but Howard is giving this beatboxing session everything he's got.
There's no one around and he's facing a brick wall, but Howard is giving this beatboxing session everything he's got.

This guy has a dedicated costume and powers that you don't find on randos. I haven't found anyone else like this. I meant to ask Ross about novelty agents like this one. How common are these guys, and how many are there?
This guy has a dedicated costume and powers that you don't find on randos. I haven't found anyone else like this. I meant to ask Ross about novelty agents like this one. How common are these guys, and how many are there?

40:01 Recruits wear their default clothes around the base. Was that a technical limitation, or a design choice?

It really is disappointing and confusing.

41:56 The problems of repeating missions.

Not so much a problem for me, but some people report doing the same mission several times. Have I been lucky or were they unlucky?

46:41 The problems / challenges with trying to make London “Cyberpunk”.

C’mon, Ubi! The premise is Cyberpunk. Embrace it. This “real world” looking stuff is for those squares a Rockstar. Make up a fake city and go crazy!

54:40 The tone

I’ve always wondered about this. Ross gives some hints about how AAA games can sometimes feel a little disjointed. It turns out this studio has WAY less top-down structure than I ever would have guessed.


From The Archives:

37 thoughts on “Diecast #322: Watch Dogs Legion!

  1. Gautsu says:

    I wish I could say you put the whole thing on the front page but I am denied that on one of my early postings

  2. WaveofKittens says:

    Ah good, there it is finally, I’m happy that you have figured out your troubles with the tech. Very much looking forward to giving it a listen :)

    1. trevalyan says:

      I lost two of the recruits I had carried from beginning to storyline ending in mandatory combat on one of the random recruitment missions. Absolutely irritating and pulled me out of the entire experience. What’s the point of stealth and hacking, never mind the “everyone is different” gameplay if a horde of spawning, faceless goons are constantly charging you? They’re just about begging to be mowed down with an assault rifle!
      Though the mandatory combat did cause me to massacre Clan Kelley and break my pacifist run when they discovered and killed the traitor I had painstakingly recruited. So working as intended, I guess.

      The stealth gameplay is pleasant, though the cloaking device can make it too easy, and the hacking gameplay is acceptable if not on Uplink/ NITE Team level. The concept of interchangeable recruits is excellent, which is marred by mediocre implementation that I find more annoying and involved than recruiting orcs in the Shadow of Mordor series. If the Albion guard sounds different from the street performer primarily based on ethnicity, that’s incredibly reductive. My infiltrators should sound like they liked being part of their factions, and should either refuse to use lethal force on them OR lose their clearance if detected. The story is absolutely dreadful and cliched, frequently descending into dull self parody. There is no weight to the one “moral choice” you are asked to make, and for all else you’re firmly on the railroad tracks.

      It wasn’t worth $60 USD, but not the worst preorder decision I’ve ever made. Got me back into Ubisoft and AAA in general, but will not get me to stay. I am glad people enjoyed it, though, and pleased that we heard from a developer about it.

  3. Joe says:

    Sounds like Homeless Jimmy is in the game! https://www.cagematch.net//?id=2&nr=933&name=Homeless+Jimmy . Yep, there’s a gimmick for everything.

    I agree that London doesn’t feel very cyberpunk. I associate cyberpunk with new buildings. Towers of glass and steel, not stone or brick. OTOH, I hear the sky *is* grey a lot of the time. That fits.

    1. Liessa says:

      There are actually quite a few glass and steel towers in London these days, but it does feel weird (and hilarious, to a British person) to see Albion setting up shop in places like the Tower of London when they could just use, say, the ExCel conference centre. I mean there are parts of the Tower that date from Norman times. Just installing the necessary Internet and telecoms infrastructure would probably cost the annual budget of a small country.

      As for the grey skies: can confirm, sadly. And in winter it gets dark around 4-5pm.

      1. Geebs says:

        when they could just use, say, the ExCel conference centre

        Albion probably didn’t want to have to deal with the Docklands Light Railway. Can’t say I blame them, to be honest.

      2. Joe says:

        “it does feel weird (and hilarious, to a British person) to see Albion setting up shop in places like the Tower of London”

        True. However, that might be a symbolism thing. They’re above you both literally and figuratively. What’s the point of being evil overlords if you just hang around in a conference centre?

        1. Liessa says:

          The Tower is not actually all that tall – it’s dwarfed by some of the nearby modern buildings – nor symbolic of anything much these days except as a tourist attraction. To be fair, Albion did take over real skyscrapers like the Shard as well.

  4. Thomas says:

    My personal worst escort quest is that Twilek in KOTOR2 who just has to walk down a straight hallway but can’t even down that.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think the worst escort quest for me was some annoying civilians in Red Alert. Weak, easily killed units, in an old RTS, with no way to heal them. So bad! XD

    2. Rariow says:

      I must’ve played through KotOR II at least fifteen times and I only realized that twi’lek quest was actually completable earlier this year when I saw a couple Let’s Players do it. I’ve never had the guy follow me more than a couple corridors down, and I assumed he was just there to show that the base was in trouble and written in a misleading way that implied an escort mission by accident.

    3. Henson says:

      I think my worst escort mission is Natalia in Goldeneye.

  5. Martin Belanger says:

    This discussion/interview was really interesting. It would be great to have more content like that, but I know it might be difficult to have access to developer and people from the game industry.

    1. Lino says:

      I think it would actually be very easy to get devs to come on the show – they love talking about their work (especially on a site with a regular, and quite large reader base). I think the bigger reason we don’t see it is because Shamus hasn’t had a dev the he has wanted to interview. Unlike most sites, he can talk about whatever he wants, rather than chase trends and news cycles. It just so happens that this dev:
      a) Is a friend of Shamus
      b) Has worked on something Shamus is veeery interested in – procedural generation and cyberpunk.

  6. Lino says:

    Hey, I’ve played Twinsen’s Odyssey! I played it with my mom when I like… 7 or 8 years old? Unfortunately, I don’t remember much – my English back then wasn’t very good, and I couldn’t really follow the story. My mom helped me where she could, but we got stuck on a puzzle, and we eventually had to abandon it.

    My most vivid memory of the game was me entering a school, where I proceeded to beat up every sinlge kid in class, because I had tried every thing I could think of to solve the puzzle (which was in some sort of cave?). But after you beat up each kid, they got really sad, which made me feel absolutely awful about what a horrible human being I am. Fortunately, each of the kids they got their dads that I had beaten them up. So when I exited the school, I was greeted by a line of dads, who tool turns hitting me in the face… Good times!

    Also, I’d love a podcast where the two (or even three) of you talk about game design!

    1. Naota says:

      Hey, I remember that! The fact that each dad dealt damage to you in order and you couldn’t escape the sequence meant you were actually at a non-trivial risk of being “oh yeah well my dad could beat you up”-ed to death if you socked enough toddlers before trying to leave.

      Good times.

    2. Groboclown says:

      Oh, yeah. The Little Big Adventure series (Relentless and Twinsen’s Odyssey in the U.S.) is still my favorite game series. Great characters, great story, and for the time really nice graphics (they still seem good to me). I’m always happy to see people still talking about it.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      I also played Twinsen’s Oddysey. I can’t remember anything other than the blowdart, but I at least played it! :)

  7. Pax says:

    Man, it’s so cool to here a dev talk like a regular person about a game and the stuff they’re excited about in it. Legion has been a weird boon in this regard, as I think another Ubisoft employee has been posting on a forum I’m a part of a little. (Not really spilling secrets or anything, but talking about like how Ross has here.)

    He mentioned the Revenge missions, which I think I’ve done three of now. And I’m curious, because other than them being different people doing it, and different locations where the kidnappee is kept (I assume that’s what we’re talking about, when they kidnap one of your operatives), I’m not seeing a great deal of variety. Of course, it could just be the randomness randomly being not random, as happens. I even had the location of the revenge-taker be the same place twice (on top of narrow residential building downtown, in a shopping district).

    1. Biggus Rickus says:

      I haven’t and probably won’t play it, but the reviews I’ve seen all ding it for being repetitive.

      1. Liessa says:

        I’m tempted to play it just for the fun of running around my home city and recognising places from real life, but from what I’ve seen I suspect that I’d get bored pretty quickly.

  8. Geebs says:

    The stereotypical face of London is a very warm and welcoming city

    I’m just going to assume you’re talking about London, Ontario?

    1. Lino says:

      I don’t know, when I went there some years ago (think it was the year before Brexit), I actually quite liked it. I didn’t like it as much as Italy, for example, but I would definitely go there again (especially if prices in Britain somehow become cheaper :D).

      Now, there were parts of it that felt a bit depressing. And I don’t know why. At the risk of sounding extremely offensive (sorry in advance), maybe it was how some of the more cramped and dirty residential districts contrasted with the quaint and spacious suburbs, and how that constantly makes you feel like a second-class citizen.

      And on the “feeling welcoming” side of things, again, it’s weird. Although I liked the cosmopolitan feel, it didn’t feel as cozy as some of the other places I’ve visited. While I never felt unwelcome, I definitely got a bit of a… no-one-would-care-if-you-bled-out-on-the-street sort of vibe?

      But then again, my experience is very limited – I only stayed there for a week or so, and just because I was left with that impression, doesn’t mean it’s true. I didn’t see the entire city, so my opinion may be based on a tiny sample size. And there are a lot of things I liked – the museums, the weather, all the kinds of restaurants, the HUUUUUGE amount of tea, MY GOD, THE TEA! Really, the main thing stopping me from going there again is the prices. My travels are usually because of seminars held in the respective country. And usually, if someone makes a Europe tour, London isn’t their only stop. And when you compare it to other EU countries, it just doesn’t make much sense financially (and also, it’s very hard to compete with Italian pizza – I can buy tea online, Milanese pizza – not so much)…

      1. Liessa says:

        London has roughly the same reputation for ‘friendliness’ among British people as New York does among Americans. It’s the classic ‘big-city’ thing of growly, harassed commuters just trying to get from A to B in the shortest time possible – hence the impression that no one would care if you bled out – combined with the English horror of any interaction with strangers that isn’t a business transaction. To be fair to Londoners, they will generally help out if you actually appear to be dying. But don’t even think about making eye contact on public transport, let alone speaking to someone, without a good reason (note for Ubisoft: “Would you like to join my cyber-terrorist group and overthrow the government?” is not a good reason).

        As for the prices, it’s quite true – London is one of the world’s most expensive cities. Though goodness knows what it will be like after the crippling recession that inevitably follows these idiotic lockdowns. I suspect that prices will stay high; somehow they always do.

        1. Geebs says:

          Yeah exactly. If you think London is expensive to visit, try living there!

          @Lino: The business of having grotty estates interspersed between the nice parts is all just part of the texture really.

          If you were bleeding out in the street, the average Londoner would be far too embarrassed to stop and help, but they’d feel really awful about it when they got home.

          Similarly, it’s difficult to take the whole “cyber uprising” plot that seriously. UbiSoft’s patented brand of non-specific rebellion doesn’t really map on to the British psyche.

        2. Blue Painted says:

          As for the prices … there’s a tourist tax (isn’t there everywhere?) so on when I did go down the Smoke, I’d make a point of exaggerating my Essex accent … “I ain’t no tourist, nowhatameen…”

          1. Liessa says:

            The only real ‘tourist tax’ is the outrageous prices charged by shops and restaurants at major tourist attractions. Otherwise it’s the same for everyone. I remember being shocked by the price of takeaway food and alcoholic drinks when I first came to work in central London.

    2. Shamus says:

      Keep in mind that my view of London is shaped almost entirely by BBC comedy programming. So to me, London looks like a spotless city filled with friendly people with a flawless public transit system, no crime, and no real[1] poverty.

      [1] On the BBC shows I’ve watched, “poor” people are just outlandish characters with outrageous accents. Nobody is ever actually miserable or in serious trouble.

      (I’m aware that this is a fiction, but it’s the only version of the city I know.)

      Back on point: I imagine that this pretend image of London is actually pretty common, which makes it harder for the rest of us to buy into the notion of “Cyberpunk London”.

      Also, the weather in this game is WAY too sunny. It’s bright sunshine every day, and rain is usually light and brief. This goes against both the Cyberpunk feel AND it goes against the image of a “ruined London”. Even under the rule of jackboot thugs, the place looks like a great tourist getaway.

      At the very least, they should have made it rain all the time. It would have made the city more dreary, and it’s not like anyone would have called it “unrealistic”.

      Or you could go the SYMBOLISM route and have sunny weather become more common as the player gradually liberates the city.

      1. Thomas says:

        Ghost of Tsushima is quite funny about doing weather transitions. I’m pretty sure they’ve set a particular weather as the ‘mood’ for most missions – a lightning storm during a duel against a callous foe, oppressive fog during a gloomy mission etc…

        But because it’s open world (and you have a flute that can change the weather) they need to transition into the atmospheric weather from whatever weather you had beforehand. So as you start a mission, the clouds begin rolling away at 2x speed and a rain storm will become a bright sunny day in a few seconds

      2. Geebs says:

        Since London is relatively low-rise I reckon you could go the Deus Ex route and slap another entire city on top (with a hole for the Shard), but in general I agree London is probably better suited as a Fantasy setting (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere).

        The weather in London is actually pretty good, sometimes. If you set the game in say, April – August then sunshine + showers is fairly realistic.

        As I mentioned before, though, the combination of the lighting model and the slightly-too-new looking brickwork makes the game look way more like the older bits of Toronto to my eye.

        On the other hand, the Watch Dogs team have done a much better job of England than the AssCreed:Van Halen devs. That game looks nothing like any part of the (former) UK I’ve ever seen.

        1. Benjamin Hilton says:

          Oh man, now I’m picturing a double layer London when the top half has the flawless face of Big Ben at “ground” level in a beautiful park and the lower half just gets the decrepit tower barely held together with ugly patches and stanchions and covered in graffiti.

      3. Liessa says:

        Hoo boy, are you in for a shock if you ever come here ;) OK, I’m being a bit harsh on London – I actually really enjoy living here when it’s not under government-enforced shutdown. But it’s like most other large capital cities, in that there’s a great deal of crime, dirt and poverty and a dearth of friendliness, as well as cripplingly high living costs. People still want to live there because of the jobs, tourist attractions and entertainment opportunities.

        You’re spot-on about the rain, however. I like your SYMBOLISM idea, and it would actually work if the game is set in early spring moving into summer. London summers can get pretty hot, despite frequent rain, because all the concrete and tarmac traps heat in the streets.

      4. Addie says:

        I probably wouldn’t develop too much of an impression of London based on how it appears on the telly. For instance, I find the series ‘Spooks’ (called MI-5 in America, I think) to be immersion-breakingly ludicrous, largely based on how little it has in common with actual London – it’s the Tom Clancy approach to foreign cities, but somehow made locally. I wouldn’t have described it as the dirtiest of places, but it never seems to be portrayed with the right amount of oppressive, inescapable traffic, nor getting stung half a day’s wages when getting a round in. And of course, audiovisual media can’t give you the ‘passing army regiment has taken turns pissing in the bins’ smell that accompanies any trip on the tube.

        I don’t think there’s any problem with the ‘daylight horror’ approach to depicting fascism – Mirror’s Edge does it quite well, and it avoids the complete cliche of having narrative weather. Showing the city changing from a sterile, corporate nightmare into a much more living and varied place would be more interesting than just the sun coming out. Much more work for the art team, too, of course, but I’ve no objection to open-world games which are smaller and more interesting than the current trend for eleventy square miles of dullness.

        1. Radkatsu says:

          “has taken turns pissing in the bins”

          And that’s on the GOOD days.

      5. Kaspar says:

        “Or you could go the SYMBOLISM route and have sunny weather become more common as the player gradually liberates the city.”

        You could even lampshade it. Have a character comment how things are getting brighter and sunnier now that they are kicking Albion’s but. There are even flowers blooming! And the other character condescendingly replay: “That’s just spring, darling. It happens every year.”

  9. Naota says:

    “This guy has a dedicated costume and powers that you don’t find on randos. I haven’t found anyone else like this. I meant to ask Ross about novelty agents like this one. How common are these guys, and how many are there?”

    I’m not sure exactly how many there are in the game total, but these guys with unique perks were one of my favourite things. Some of the ones I know:
    -Construction Workers (nailgun, sledgehammer)
    -Hypnotists (hypnotize ability)
    -Spies (watch, rocket car)
    -Getaway Driver (custom car, perks for driving)
    -Protest Leaders and Anarchists (megaphone, gas grenade, truncheon)
    -Street Artist (paintball gun, paint grenade)
    -Albion and Clan Kelley members (their unique abilities)
    -Football Hooligan (chugs beer for buffs)
    -Black Hat Hackers with special hacks
    -Hitmen (combat roll, executions)
    -I think I’ve seen a Youtube streamer?

    A few others also have less obvious unique aspects, like medics able to use their scrubs to sneak into hospitals and their defibrillator paddles in a takedown, or the living statue street performer who can use his statue emote to hide from police.

  10. Utzel says:

    Thanks for coming on the show Ross, and for answering comments here as well. It was a really interesting episode, would love to have you back for a talk with Shamus and Paul about your own projects. No questions from me, as I haven’t played WD3 yet, maybe next year with a new GPU.

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