Okay, so something you may not know about me is that I am a big video game geek. My husband and I love playing video games together, passing the controller back and forth, backseat sniping, commenting on the story. I don’t play every type of video game – some just hold no interest for me. I tend to gravitate towards RPGs, but the line between RPG and non-RPG (at least in the sense of the Western RPG) has become a lot blurrier. So I try a lot of games. We have PS4 now, too, so we’re very anxious to get games for it.
Anyway, all of this is just to say that we’ve been playing Watch Dogs. Honestly, if you want a pretty solid review of it, just check out the one on Kotaku. I agree with it almost entirely – except for the “Don’t buy it” verdict. Yeah, the game is flawed – seriously seriously flawed. But I like potential. And this game has a lot of it. So much so, in fact, that I found myself inspired to write this post, in which I’m going to pretty much just tell Ubisoft what I think Watch Dogs 2 should be like. I’m not delusional, I know Ubisoft ain’t gonna listen to a barely known (if well reviewed) author. But, if someone from Ubisoft is reading, please, use these ideas. They are free. You can send me a copy of the game, maybe put me in the special thanks. Just make a better game.
So, one thing I always tell my students about writing is that every detail you put in has to further the story in some way – show a new side of a character, or advance the plot. All those little details that are just in there cause you could put them in? They distract. So one of the first things I think ubisoft should rethink is how the hacking works. The one-sentence descriptions of people and the ability to hack them was cute, but it didn’t add anything. Hacking into peoples houses to watch those little skits – cool, but the only one that really interested me was when we hacked into Jordi’s place. That was seeing something new (well, not that new) about the character. It made sense. It gave me something. None of those other hack-ins did anything. They were interesting, but empty. I don’t want that aspect of gameplay to go away, I just think that they need to relate back to the story at large. Give you information you didn’t have before. Show a new perspective on the greater unified whole of the story. It’s great to have a fully fleshed out world (although I saw the same text message over and over so maybe more fleshed out?), but there’s nothing unified about this world.
I also want to say I loved the hacking gameplay – the video camera jumping, the blowing up bad guys without them knowing where I was. Also the online stuff is genius. I hate playing with strangers online. This made it fun. That’s the stuff to emphasize. Cause the gunplay and car chasing wasn’t that great. But here I am giving a review when I said I was going to give ideas. So let me get to the ideas.
I thought it was amazing that the studio that gave us Aveline in Assassin’s Creed could also produce a story like this, which was, at best, incredibly lacking in nuance regarding race and gender. So one of the first things I think you should do is have a female protagonist of color. I even have a name for you: Sunaya Preeti. She goes by “Sonny.” I think the game should take place in a fictionalized London, too. Diverse neighborhoods, good mix of government power and rebellion, modern and old. Just a good place, I think. Using a woman of color in a anglo-city also lets you get an insider/outsider perspective. That is, not only should the protagonist be a woman of color because we need more of those, but because it can lead to an interesting storytelling perspective. Anyway, Sonny, by day works in the IT department for a large private security firm which I’m just going to call Security for now. Sonny is mid-20s and has a puckish sense of humor – mischievous, sarcastic, flirty. And a very minimal punk rock vibe, if at all (Seriously, why do female hackers always have to be coated in tattoos and piercings in video games. It feels so dated). At work, she’s professional, of course, but outside of work, she’s getting involved with Faceless (like DedSec, a vaguely Anonymous-inspired group of hackers – you can keep it as DedSec, if you really want to keep that going, but they felt a bit dated as well). She’s not in it for money or power. Her underlying goal is to expose hypocrisy in the government and major figures – things that don’t really hurt anyone (in her opinion), but which expose the inherent unfairness of the system in amusing ways. She’s still a noob in Faceless, though. Technically not even a member, just being introduced to the organization and it’s world by her friend Ezra, who is a full fledged member. Ezra is gay and equally mischievous, but perhaps a little more sinister. His goals seem less to be about exposing hypocrisy and more about blackmailing figures to create major social change – he’s not violent, but he’s less concerned about the consequences of his actions on innocents. That said, he should also be fun and charming and funny. I picture him a lot like Felix from Orphan Black (which is a good show, go watch it – be warned, the pilot is meh). The big thing is that these characters are funny and quick-witted. Watch Dogs is so burdened by its D-List Batman of a protagonist and his quest for vengeance. There’s no joy in the game because of its plotline. A story can be dark and still have joy in it. But this was just gravelly voice and sadness. So definitely more humor in the next one.
We should get to see Sonny getting introduced to the world of Faceless (tutorial in the form of proving her hacking skills, I’m sure), and then also at work. It’s at work that she gets a phone call from a modified voice telling her she needs to get out of the building now. Obviously, she is skeptical, thinks maybe its Ezra playing a joke, and doesn’t listen fast enough. Security guards are on her really fast. She has no idea why, but they accuse her of hacking, which she was sort of doing with Ezra, so she stays quiet. As the guards escort her to the main office, the elevator shuts down and it goes dark, the guards all start to writhe in pain as their comms unit malfunction. The doors open and when the phone rings, Sonny is already running out. The voice tells her where to go and when as various malfunctions happen around her. Once she’s out and safe, the voice introduces himself as Winter, a man who was, until just this morning, a very high ranking member of the Security Contractor Sonny works for. He has turned whistleblower, though, and stolen lots of information about the corrupt practices of the organization, how they control the government, how they control a lot of people since they oversaw the setup of the citywide network, etc. He’s gone whistleblower, and he thought it would be fine because he erased himself from the system, so no one would suspect him… but Sonny is a person who works for Security and has been seen going to known Faceless hangouts and associating with suspected members, so now she’s suspect number one, and Security doesn’t politely interview people. Winter feels guilty, so he helped Sonny escaped and can set her up with a new identity so she can leave town and hide. He’s going to another country before releasing all the information he stole so he can’t be brought home for treason. He also gives Sonny the electronic key to the city, giving her the power to change things in the city – lights, hacking, etc etc.
Sonny, though, isn’t one to run and hide. Instead she goes to Ezra, who of course wants to share the key with Faceless, but Sonny says no to that. Instead, she wants to find out if Winter was telling the truth about the corruption. So she starts by spying on her boss. This is where the missions start. The way the game will play out from here-out is that Sonny will investigate various high-ranking figures involved with the conspiracy; members of Security, politicians, celebrities. There will be layers of people – “part 1” has her investigating 3 people; her boss and 2 other security people. To investigate them, she first has to hack their personal keycode so she can get into their correspondence – this reveals names in the next rank. Once she’s gotten the key code, though, there are three options – blackmail, expose or kill. In part one, there won’t be options; each of the three security people has one way to be dealt with so that the player can get a sense of what these three choices do. First, she’ll blackmail her boss (at Ezra’s urging) into giving her the two other names. Then she’ll expose the second. This attracts the attention of Winter again, who contacts her and says she seems to be doing his job. He puts her in touch with American Ex-Pat Amanda Foster, former military, former Security. She can provide weapons and the like and teaches Sonny how to shoot. For her protection at first, but then, when Amanda finds out who the 3rd name on the list is, she tells Sonny she has to kill the target. Blackmail will just make him want to kill Sonny, and exposure will result in his sending people after her from prison. Eventually, Sonny consents, and kills for the first time, which should be fairly traumatizing.
Once those 3 are down, the web of conspiracy opens up and more conspirators are revealed. First she’ll have to find a steady base of operations, but then Sonny can go after the conspirators in any order she wants and choose to kill, blackmail or expose them. Obviously, each of the side characters who is now on her team has a particular view: Amanda says kill, Ezra says blackmail, Winter says expose. Each of these options has consequences, and those consequences vary depending on the target. But in each case, she first has to get their personal key and unlock their correspondence. Once she’s done that with every target from one “rung” of the conspiracy, the next “rung” opens up. (or layer, or branch – however you want to think of it. I think of it as a gradually expanding spiderweb).
The consequences of Sonny’s actions, though, determine how the rest of the game plays out. Killing targets means that people in the conspiracy know that someone is after them and hire more security, so there’s tougher guys in future missions. Also, the police go on higher and higher alert, so their response time and force goes up the more people die. Blackmail means that Sonny has an uneasy alliance. Depending on the target, this can go different ways – people involved in the conspiracy who feel bad about it may genuinely want to help her, the blackmail almost giving them permission to be good people. They’ll give her additional missions to gain benefits in future missions or new tech or weapons. But those she blackmails who aren’t so great will also give her new missions – which are traps. High risk, no-reward scenarios she has to fight her way out of. And which need to be completed to move on in the game. Finally, the exposure option results in either the target being arrested or fleeing the country. In either case, Sonny gains support from the public for taking down a corrupt person. But, the exposed person may have the contacts (not all will) to send teams of mercenaries after Sonny in revenge. They’ll show up randomly and inconveniently. This is why its so important to do research on the target beforehand – and research can come from all kinds of things – like hacking text messages or watching skits in peoples homes. That way Sonny will know how to best deal with the target. It may seem as simple as blackmail the good ones, kill the really dangerous ones and expose the ones in between, but looks can be deceiving. Eventually, Sonny is going to have a huge web of her own design, pulling in favors and avoiding retribution. It’ll feel really dynamic and personal.
Also, I think her base of operations should be a big boat. I think that’d be cool. On the boat will be Amanda and Ezra, and Winter will videochat (he’s still trying to get out of the country). They can hack in from anywhere with a big ol’ wireless.
Also, of course, Ezra, Amanda and Winter each have their own agendas. Ezra wants the key to the city for Faceless. Amanda, it turns out, wants to take out all of Security for having killed her husband when she reveals confidential information to him. And Winter still wants to expose everyone. So you need to maintain those relationships. They’ll ask you to take on personal missions as well, and give you their take on the various targets.
Plus opening up the city via towers (my favorite part of Watch Dogs), researching targets, and gaining new powers. I think it could be an amazing game with a great story. And I know Ubisoft won’t see this. But I thought maybe putting it out into the world could make my dreams more likely to come true. Fingers crossed. I know this was a weird post, but like I said, really trying to blog more. If you read this far, thanks! If not, it was fun to write.