At E3 2019, Ubisoft unveiled its ambitious plan to allow players a chance at experiencing Watch Dogs Legion from the perspective of any NPC in the game. It’s clear that whatever system powers such a possibility is beyond complex. After all, there are supposedly about 20 versions of the script. What keeps everything moving seamlessly, though, how are an incredible number of characters generated at once and then instantly made playable? The answer is Census, the name for Ubisoft’s “massive relational database.”
Though the database itself may be overwhelmingly complex, the way Creative Director Clint Hocking explains it makes the system seem rather simple. In an interview with Gamasutra, Hocking noted that everyone on the development team had to take part in Census’ creation. Sound teams, art directors, engine architects, writers, and so on were all hands on deck. If “all of the pieces” were going to be covered, everyone had to lend a helping hand in some way. According to Hocking,
The most important thing about census is that it allows us to spawn NPCs in the world just like you do in many other games, but then when you profile those NPCs the relational database is able to fill in the blanks on who they are and sort of generate them in real time and then make them persistent and keep them in the world.
Hocking used an NPC that’s a groundskeeper as an example of how the relational database functions. When players spot a groundskeeper working in the park, he’ll have a preset ethnicity. Profiling him will result in players seeing a name that matches his ethnicity. Because he’s obviously a groundskeeper, he’ll be profiled as such and will have an income befitting that of a groundskeeper. Thus, he’ll reside in a certain neighborhood. Based on his ethnicity, he’ll live in a specific area of said neighborhood. “Then he’s going to have certain friends and activities maybe he’s an outdoorsy guy,” Hocking added. “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.”
“All of these things are internally in sync and coherent so that every NPC feels real and credible,” the Creative Director continued. Of course, it goes deeper than the profile, though. Upon being recruited by the player, each NPC will get their own voice, personality, animations, narrative, etc. If the Census system works as advertised, everything listed above should perfectly correlate to the aforementioned NPC’s role as a groundskeeper.
Watch Dogs Legion is set to launch early next year for the PlayStation 4, PC, and Xbox One on March 6, 2020.