The forthcoming Watch_Dogs is undeniably one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2013. Alongside that comes a degree of expectation, and while consumers are keen for to push next-generation hardware as far as they can, Ubisoft themselves are looking to other technologies. Electronic Theatre recently sat down with Phillip Baude, the lead game designer for the ctOS Mobile app for Watch_Dogs, and discussed the whys and wherefores of developing cross-platform gameplay for a AAA title.
The full transcript of our time with Baude follows below, featuring discussions of Watch_Dogs and the ctOS Mobile app, and the line that is drawn between them. The ctOS Mobile app is likely to be the first of many such cross-platform experiences, and Baude is clearly proud to be getting in on the ground level. Electronic Theatre will keep you updated with all the latest details on Watch_Dogs and the ctOS Mobile app.
Electronic Theatre: The Watch_Dogs companion app is compatible with all versions of Watch_Dogs. Is that a difficult thing to get into a single app?
Phillip Baude [PB]: Yes, and it was tricky with the technology because we are, for the first time ever, allowing you to play on the live game through mobile to console. So for the first time ever we can compete and play together. It was really hard to find out how we were going to achieve that; the version itself and what we are running on the other side of the console. It was a question of how are we going to connect and play together.
Electronic Theatre: You can mix friends on Xbox LIVE, on PlayStation Network all through the same app, is there a limit to how many friends you can connect to?
PB: No. Right now you can connect to as many friends as you want because there’s no limitation and I’m pretty sure that all your friends won’t be online at the same time.
Electronic Theatre: So you can presumably play against other people when you don’t have any friends online?
PB: Of course. If your friends are, for example, offline because it’s two o’clock in the morning and you want to play, you can go in a group match and the matchmaking system will find you a player ready to go.
Electronic Theatre: Is that both for the tablet and the console versions? If you are sitting at home and you want to put the single-player down but want to play the multiplayer can you find a random person with the tablet?
Electronic Theatre: It works both ways?
PB: Yeah. It does work most ways, for example on the console if you want to access your XP or to play with a companion you can open the grid – once it’s unlocked – you open the grid and, say I want to play with a companion, then you get bought into a community of mobile players.
Electronic Theatre: Is there any further aspect to the app – anything beyond the immediate multiplayer – are there any stats you can follow or…?
PB: Actually, there’s more you can do with the companion app. You will know soon. I cannot talk about it yet but there will be more than this.
Electronic Theatre: Going back to the gameplay side of it. It works internationally as well presumably; someone in the UK can have a friend in America?
PB: Yeah, totally. It’s worldwide. So as soon as someone is logging in on Watch_Dogs, wherever you are you can compete with him. They could be on the west coast of the US whilst you are in Germany, for example.
Electronic Theatre: So how did the idea of the app come about in the first place? Obviously the digital world is a big deal now, how did you decide that it was going to be a companion app and it was going to have multiplayer in it?
PB: We started working on the app more than a year and a half, so we started in January 2012. And it was the idea of playing together and different modes and different ways to achieve it.
Electronic Theatre: So was it presumably a group decision. You all sat down and said this is the future; this is what we want to do?
PB: Yes, exactly.
Electronic Theatre: How did you narrow it down, because obviously the interaction you’ve got there is perfect for a tablet. The fact that it is a delayed reaction, the fact that it is just single touch, how did you bash out the idea?
PB: We know that latency is something that we can not fight. We know that that will happen anyway, we’ve had several years of knowledge rebooting things like this. So the whole design has been done with this delay in mind. So we always keep that, but the delay is so small it’s working pretty well. It’s really working live the way we want for the duration of the gameplay; we did mini-duration before nailing it [and] we really have worked very, very hard to achieve that and to nail the right balance between spectacle, action, skills, gameplay.
Electronic Theatre: Now obviously many other developers would have gone for a character on-screen per person. This is a very tactical game, why did you decide to steer away from that? Technical limitation or…?
PB: No, no, no. Actually we knew that from the beginning having a similar experience on the tablet or on the phone was the wrong idea. And also offering a similar experience is not the way we should design stuff when we design on different platforms. We need to find a way to connect them together and we found that as soon as people are aware of the gameplay it was much more interesting than trying to simulate exactly the way it is on Watch_Dogs on consoles. And also you need to another experience what you do on the tablet or platform otherwise the difficulty is you have a cheaper version of that game. So you need to make the two very different.
Electronic Theatre: Now as you play the app in multiplayer you say you have an XP currency? Is there a skills system in the app? Will you be able buy new abilities? Have more interaction as the tablet player?
PB: Yes, exactly, the more you play with the app the more you progress. So you start at level one and you’ve got many levels for you to reach, that’s why you gain extra points. Or you complete the situations that gain you XP then you progress through levels and that gets you skill point. A skill point you can use it and buy a lot of upgrades, for your helicopters such as more armour. So you can really push for a while and unlock your helicopter and also with the currency that you win in the game you could buy consumables that you can use in the game.
Electronic Theatre: So beyond the campaign that you’ve got here where do you see the future of digital apps lying?
PB: I definitely see the future of companion app have great creativity and I think what we have achieved on Watch_Dogs is the first step of what we need to achieve with a companion app. So far it was mostly websites; we need to come back, we need to collect literally the mobile player and the console players together, they need to play together. We can not have them in separated communities; this is where we need connectivity more than ever.