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The Future is Always-Online, to Ubisoft

by William Schwartz

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Far Cry 3, The Crew, Watchdogs, Tom Clancy’s The Division and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. All these games have two things in common. They are developed and published by Ubisosft. And they are all open-world games. This is not a coincidence, if we are to believe Julian Gerighty, creative director of The Crew and a former editorial department member of Ubisoft. In an interview with Polygon, Gerighty said, “When the 360 and PS3 came out, I still had a cathode ray tube TV at home. I upgraded to an HD TV for that generation. This generation for me is always going to be about this seamless online and what better way to make that live than open world games. It’s one of those things where the online aspect, the seamless aspect, the living, breathing world aspect, that is provided by the online adds so much to the experience that it’s a shame to be able to say, ‘OK, you can play the game, but you can’t have that part of it.’ It’s a really key part of it, much like World of Warcraft. I genuinely think the open world game without the seamless aspect to it is going to feel a little artificial, a little forced in a few years time. Today it can still work.”

It’s one of those things where the online aspect, the seamless aspect, the living, breathing world aspect, that is provided by the online adds so much to the experience…

According to Gerighty, the decision to go open-world really took fire after the release of Far Cry 3, with it being an example of gamers embracing the concept of open-world and that developers can tell multiple, varying experiences instead of one, authored one. This has lead to Ubisoft dedicating its resources to not just open-world games, but games where other gamers can pepper in and out of other players’ experiences, like Journey, Demon Souls, and Destiny. As Gerighty puts it, “Imagine [Far Cry 3] now with people populating that too and not just a simulation, an artificial simulation working around you, but something that’s more natural and humanistic.” This has lead their decision-making in three games currently coming up: The CrewWatchdogs and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.

 

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The Crew

The Crew is an open-world, always-online racing game scheduled to be released February 26, 2014 for the Xbox One, Play Station 4, and PC.  According to Gerighty, “That’s where you’re going to get the most surprising living world around you. The aim is to have all of the adventure of driving, all of these adventures you could possibly have from street racing in New York to a smugglers run in Nevada. What does [always online] bring? It brings something that’s alive and extremely varied.” While there is AI, used for vehicle movement and city pedestrians, the meat of the game is competing with your friends in real-time, all-the-time.

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Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is an open-world action adventure game set in both present day and Havana, Kingston and Nassau. It is scheduled to be released October 31 for the PC, Xbox 360, Play Station 3, Play Station 4, Wii U, and Xbox One.  According to Ashraf Ismail, game director for Black Flag, most of the concepts and design for AC4 were already in place, until the team saw Far Cry 3. This prompted them to bring many of the developers of Far Cry 3 to help along with Black Flag, which Ismail believes has made a better game.

We don’t want people to ever get rid of our game.We set out to make a game that you felt always had value for you.

“We know how to build cities. This is our bread and butter, but to build something that is much more sandboxy, much more systems out in a huge world, was a big stretch for us,” Ismail said. “We had to push ourselves. We got help from the Far Cry guys who are now part of our team…We love the idea that you want to go to a mission, you start heading there, in Nassau, and then 45 minutes pass and you’re nowhere near Nassau in the world. This is immersion. This is being sucked into the game. We want this. We love this…So having a connected experience is very important, this is something that next-gen consoles are pushing. We had to make sure it was part of the game, not just an add-on…We don’t want people to ever get rid of our game.We set out to make a game that you felt always had value for you, that there is always new stuff to find and new stuff to see. As a company that develops a lot of open world games, we’re always trying to push the boundary and see how we can improve our open world. So, yes I think  you’ll see a lot more sandboxiness going forward in the future.”

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Watch Dogs

Watch Dogs is a dystopian, open-world game set in the near-present with the player under constant watch by the government. It is scheduled to be released November 19 for the PC, the Xbox 360, the Play Station 3, the Wii U, the Xbox One and the Play Station 4. One of the most touted features of Watch Dogs is its seamless multiplayer, where players can drop in and out and disrupt or aide other players’ experiences. According to Colin Graham, animation director for Watch Dogsthis had always been a plan for Watch Dogs.

“We’ve been working on the game for about four and a half years, but from the very beginning we knew the game would be about hacking,” he said. “Our first prototypes, our first demos were really about trying to create an experience where players would be hacking each other. We tried to weave that right into the gameplay from the beginning. We figured if that gameplay loop would be fun, we’d have something to base our game on. I think moving forward, players are looking for more space to play with, they’re looking for more experiences. They don’t just want to play a story, they also want to explore a world. For us building all of Chicago kind of makes sense and it fits in with the type of game Ubisoft wants to build right now. You make your own movie when you play a sandbox versus a systemic game.”

Today it’s risk taking, in three year’s time it’s going to be a standard feature.

All of these games have been guided under the principle by what Ubisoft calls “tailored experiences” according to Gerighty.  “It’s this combination of freedom and adapting to the way people play a game. It’s the tailored experience for people and the mesh of both is something that’s truly going to be remarkable and surprising for people playing games… This is an issue today, three years down the line it’s not going to be an issue, or much less of an issue. Today it’s risk taking, in three year’s time it’s going to be a standard feature.”

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