Watch Dogs: Legion Designer Explains How NPC System Works

Watch Dogs: Legion's impressive NPC system relies on equally impressive technology.

Watch Dogs Legion NPC

For those who don’t know, Watch Dogs: Legion is being directed by Clint Hocking; the same man who directed the brilliant Far Cry 2. This is Hocking’s first major Ubisoft project since he rejoined Ubisoft in 2015, and in an interview with Gamasutra, he explained how the game’s “play as any NPC” feature works and why the team decided to utilize it. 

“When we first had the idea that you’d be able to play as anyone in the game, we had to of course bring in a bunch of major stakeholders, you know the lead animators, the lead programmers, the lead sort of engine architects…the lead audio guys, sound guys, and the lead writers and start talking about you know, breaking the problem down,” says Hocking. “Like, how are we gonna cover all the pieces that we need to cover and make them all work together? I think the most important thing that we started working on pretty early was something we call ‘census,’ which is a massive relational database that lives at the heart of the simulation.

Hocking explains that the census system generates NPCs like in many other games, but it also automatically fills in certain profile blanks that expand the character’s personality and ensure that they behave in certain ways that are realistic to their character. Hocking uses the example of a groundskeeper to explain how it all works. 

“If you see a groundskeeper trimming hedges in a park, and he has a certain ethnicity, when you lock on to that person and profile them, he’s going to have a name that reflects the ethnicity that you saw and he’s going to have an animation set based on how he was animating,” says Hocking. “Because he’s a groundskeeper, he’s going to make a certain amount of money which means he’s gonna be allowed to live in certain neighborhoods, and because of his ethnicity will navigate to a different part of those neighborhoods depending on where the different communities live within London. Then he’s going to have certain friends and activities maybe he’s an outdoorsy guy. He has an outdoor job so he may be more fit and have a gameplay trait that reflects higher health or higher agility or something like that.”

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While that all sounds pretty advanced, Hocking suggests that it’s really just an expansion of the concepts that made Far Cry 2 a revolutionary cult classic. 

“I worked on Far Cry and Far Cry 2 and uh…the kinds of emergent behaviors and actions that you see tend to be in the moment to moment,” says Hocking. “We have that as well, but now we’re seeing emergent behaviors happening across the timeline of like a story of a character arc of someone’s life…People come out of these demos all day every day and they tell us amazing stories about what happened to the person they were demoing to.”

Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014