Ubisoft Talks Watch_Dogs Disrupt Engine, Physics, Global Illumination, City Size, Modding Scene

Watch Dogs v3

A couple of days ago, we had the pleasure to interview Dominic Guay, Senior Producer of Watch_Dogs, Jonathan Morin, Creative Director of Watch_Dogs, and Francis Boivin, 3D Programming Team Lead, of Watch_Dogs about Ubisoft’s upcoming sandbox title. Dominic, Jonathan and Francis shared some new tech details about the Disrupt engine, its global illumination solution, its physics and the game’s city size. Enjoy the interview after the jump!

DSOGaming: Before we begin, please introduce yourselves to our readers.

Dominic Guay, Senior Producer: My name is Dominic Guay and I am Senior Producer on WATCH_DOGS. My role is to assemble the group of talented developers working on the project and give them the context they need to make a great game. I manage the team and make sure they have all they need to create WATCH_DOGS.

Jonathan Morin, Creative Director: My name is Jonathan Morin and I am the Creative Director on WATCH_DOGS. The Creative Director is the one who must provide the overall game’s vision in collaboration with the team. My job is to define a clear and appealing direction for our game experience. I work closely with every department in order to assure the execution will serve this direction elegantly and consistently. And of course I overlook the overall quality of the game. But on this task I’m not alone; the entire team is making sure the quality meets player’s high expectations.

Francis Boivin, 3D Programming Team Lead: My name is Francis Boivin and I am 3D Programming Team Lead on WATCH_DOGS. I oversee a group of passionate programmers and makes sure the technological decisions that are made are in line with the game’s artistic direction, cutting edge and as flexible as possible to cover the wide spectrum of configuration the game supports.

DSOGaming: Can you share more tech details (number of simultaneous light sources, Parallax Occlusion Mapping and Screen Space Reflections support, whether it will have a full dynamic shadowing system, etc.) about the Disrupt engine?

FB: The Disrupt engine uses an aggressively multithreaded renderer, running on fully deferred physically based rendering pipeline with some technological twists to allow for more advanced effects. We support hundreds of dynamic lights, dozens of high resolution shadow casters, dynamic environment reflections and global illumination in a fully dynamic time of day environment. Our setup also allows for screen space effects that are usually not compatible with deferred rendering such as skin subsurface scattering, anisotropic specular highlights and hair shading. We also combine several camera based and post-production post effects to add to the realism of the final scene.

DSOGaming: Why did you decide to create the Disrupt engine specifically for Watch Dogs instead of licensing one, and what’s your opinion about other engines like CRYENGINE, Frostbite 3 and Unreal Engine 4?

DG: We built the Disrupt Engine alongside the project, since the beginning. We knew what we wanted to achieve required us to build new tech. This was caused by the density of a modern day city, the staggering amount of details, the ability to cross this world at speeds of 150 miles an hour while preserving all the details, our intention to push the player immersion and the high fidelity of the world. But beyond that, we wanted to have a dynamic game world that reacted to the players actions. Our game direction did not allow for a static world that only played carefully pre-designed scenarios. In WATCH_DOGS, players have the freedom to choose their own plan using a large array of approaches and the game needs to respond to them. This required us to increase the interactivity of our game engine affecting all areas: physics, graphics, animation, AI…

Furthermore, our desire to allow the whole WATCH_DOGS universe to be connected also required us to build online support in every parts of the engine. This foundation allows us to use online in new ways and create new forms of gameplay.

Finally, the staggering amount of content we set forth to produce required new tools, new ways of creating a game world.

Now, on the subject of third party technologies, there are no solutions that we know of that matches those criteria available. The engines you refer to are very much driven toward serialized content that you generally traverse through “levels”, not a fully open world game without choke points and loadings. They also manage online in a traditional manner, having you go through lobbies and menus, separating multiplayer and single player. There is also a considerable strength in having full ownership on one technology. It empowers the developers and favours innovation in every areas. It guarantees that no area of the technology is a black box, that the team can adapt and extend the game’s engine to answer all of its needs

DSOGaming: Will Watch Dogs support Global Illumination? If so, what kind of Global Illumination effects can we expect and have you experimented with Sparse Voxel Octree Global Illumination?

FB: WATCH_DOGS does support Global Illumination. We prioritized developing our Global Illumination technique since we believe that’s one of the key feature that differentiates between current-generation and next-generation games running in a fully dynamic world (i.e.: no pre-rendering possible). Our technique is custom made to fit all the requirements of our environment (urban city, vast exteriors, detailed interiors). At its core, it uses light probes that are baked at the highest quality using a vast cloud of computers.

DSOGaming: We’ve seen lately a lot of games taking advantage of only three CPU cores (though they scale fine on four and up CPU cores, there are no performance differences between a six-core and a tri-core system). Will Watch Dogs’ Disrupt Engine put to good use more than three CPU cores, and will there be performance differences between tri-cores and quad-cores?

DG: Scalability is important for DISRUPT and WATCH_DOGS. We want gamers to be able to enjoy the game on their platforms. We do have strong support for multiple cores. While we do not wish to expose our threading and jobbing architecture, I can confirm that the approach scales with the amount of available cores.

DSOGaming: What details can you give us about Watch Dogs’ map and how big can we expect it to be in comparison with the real Chicago city or GTA V?

JM: One thing I will say in regards to the scale of our in-game world is that we are very passionate about the density of our experience. So not only do we have a big city to play with, but everyone in it has something to offer. To us, the scale of the world is something that needs to be considered at every level. Adding space is one thing, but what we really want is to offer new simulation layers gamers have never experienced before.

DG: In WATCH_DOGS, players will have many opportunities to explore Chicago. Actually, we considered the various dimensions of the city when we built it: the street level, interiors, but also how Aiden can explore remote areas, back alleys, even the building’s rooftops. Also, Chicago has a large underground city that we are leveraging. Finally, remember: players can explore the physical side of the city of Chicago, but also its entire digital layer, invading the privacy of its citizens. As such, Aiden can get into interiors physically, but also by tapping into his ability to access and control any computer in the city…

DSOGaming: What is the one tech feature of Watch Dogs that you are really proud of?

DG: Of all the things we wanted to achieve with Disrupt, it is the increase dynamism that was the most exciting. When you connect systems together, when you make the game more a simulation and less a script, you end up with immeasurable richness for gameplay. It is more work to set things up, but afterward it becomes a game you can play again and again and where things are never exactly the same.

DSOGaming: What level of world interactivity and destructibility can we expect? Will players be able to cause chaos by destroying buildings and such? Are you using PhysX, Havok, or your own physics engine?

DG: DISRUPT makes use of Havok for its low level physics. The engine also has many custom physics services, including a driving engine, cloth simulation, water simulation, wind simulation, etc.

Danny Belanger, Lead Game Designer: We are working very hard at pushing our technology to the maximum for destructible objects. We want objects to be destroyed realistically when fired upon with weapons or crashed in with vehicles. These will have an impact on gameplay and the player can take advantage of this feature to expose enemies by destroying their covers.

DSOGaming: What’s your opinion about the modding scene and will Watch Dogs support mods? If not, will you include higher resolution textures for the PC version?

DG: Modding embraces the creativity of the community. This said our engine will not support moding natively.

DSOGaming: Thank you very much for the interview, any last words you want to share with our fans?

JM: The main way a game can make you feel it’s really new is when you consider options you never could before every few seconds. Only then will you feel that your experience is fresh and innovative. Hacking everything around you at any moment is an amazing experience. It’s a completely new way of expression, and we can’t wait to see how players will express themselves in WATCH_DOGS.

John Papadopoulos

John is the founder and editor in chief of DSOGaming. He is a PC gaming fan and highly supports the modding and indie community, although his gaming roots can be found on consoles. Basically he is the one you can blame for everything you read at DSOGaming so go ahead and bash him. Contact: Email