Clever game dev tech is at the core of Watch Dogs Legion's London

A recent story from The Washington Post dives into how Ubisoft approached developing a game where the concept of a non-player character doesn't really exist.

"We ended up having these meetings [...] where it’s just a bunch of programmers sitting in a room saying, ‘How the heck are we going to do any of this stuff?' But at the same time, it’s great. We’re the kinds of people who like a challenge and the open-ended nature of it."

-  Lead programmer Chris Dragert talks Watch Dogs Legion tech with The Washington Post.

Watch Dogs Legion is built around the idea that any character in the game could become a playable protagonist, a concept that comes with a set of development challenges just as unique as the premise.

The Washington Post aims to demystify some of the technology that makes such an undertaking even possible through an extensive interview with key developers, offering fellow game makers a look at how Ubisoft tackles narrative, cutscenes, and more in the upcoming game.

One of the many examples shared in the full Washington Post story tackles how Ubisoft gave unique voices to an entire city through the use of some clever tech. At the core, there’s a single generic script that covers the general idea of what each line of dialog should be. From there, Ubisoft set up persona-specific writing teams to define each and every line in a way that reflects that persona’s individual features.

Once that script makes it to the voice acting stage, voice director Natalia Hinds tells The Washington Post that a diverse cast of between 50 and 100 voice actors contributed lines to create a vocal sampling of London’s many different inhabitants. From there, many of the recordings were put through a voice modulation system to add further variance into the voices of so many different characters.

“Essentially it’s a physical simulation of a throat and vocal cords—everything that goes on inside your neck when you talk,” Ubisoft Toronto creative director Clint Hocking tells The Washington Post. “We record an actor, have them say all of their lines and then we can use that at runtime. As the line is being said, the sound file goes through this physical simulation of vocal cords and produces a different voice.”

The full story is a great read for game developers curious about what else makes the game tick, but the additional perspective The Washington Post offers about Ubisoft’s recent controversies adds another level of importance to this particular story.

In it, Hocking and game director Kent Hudson discuss how their corners of Ubisoft reacted to this summer’s string of sexual harassment and workplace hostility accusations and say how their teams have endeavored to push for “real, structural, and functional changes” since.

“I believe the survivors, I stand with them and I can really only speak for myself on some of the stuff,” Hudson tells The Washington Post. “But I think that the most important thing after dealing decisively with abusers within the company is that we see meaningful, lasting changes to these ingrained problems."

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