Category Archives: ubisoft

Watch Dogs’ timeliness: is it luck or genius?


Tuesday is a big day for video gamers as the long-awaited hacker thriller Watch Dogs finally hits stores. If the record pre-sale orders are anything to go by, the latest blockbuster from Ubisoft Montreal will doubtlessly be one of the biggest global releases of the year. Oh, it also might be helped by the fact that it’s an excellent game - check out my full review over at

As I mention there, Watch Dogs captures the zeitgeist of our era perhaps better than any other video game in recent memory. At a time when angst over security and government spying on civilians is at an all-time high, a game about the perils of having everything interconnected hits perfectly. It’s an amazing sign of prescience by Ubisoft developers, who started working on Watch Dogs six years ago, well before anyone had heard of Edward Snowden.

The protagonist is Aiden Pearce, a street thug turned hacker who is betrayed by his underworld colleagues. As a master hacker, Pearce can do just about anything with his smartphone - he can empty out innocent bystanders’ bank accounts, control the trains and traffic lights of the city and eavesdrop on conversations happening in private residences. He can enrich himself or set his enemies up for big falls, all with just a couple of apps on his phone.

Over the course of the past year, I interviewed some of the core developers behind the game on several occasions. It was interesting to see how their thinking and confidence levels about Watch Dogs‘ subject matter evolved, especially as the Snowden revelations unfolded starting last summer.

“We were looking at where the world was going,” lead writer Kevin Shortt told me a year ago, recalling the first creative meetings on the game back in 2008. “We were all in a room having a meeting and we all put our phones down on the table. We were all very aware of how connected we are. That was what interested us: how far are we going with all this connectivity?”

There was angst at the time about the promise and peril of uber-connectivity, but it still existed as something of an abstract concept.

“I don’t think we want to come away saying it’s a bad thing, we want to come away saying what does that mean for us?” Shortt said of the game.

Senior producer Dominic Guay also said at the time that the team’s confidence in what they were doing grew steadily as many of the topics they were covering became more and more commonplace in the real world.

“We saw it through development as confirmed, where every day I’m getting new emails from researchers about how technology being comprised or hacked somewhere else,” he said.

The first Snowden revelations broke just a few weeks after those conversations. I talked to Guay a few months later and his demeanour had changed. At the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, he found that he had to explain how interconnected everything was and why that might be a problem. A year later at the same event, the team was almost jubilant that they had been on the right path.

“[Snowden] made it a lot easier. We don’t have to explain what we’re talking about anymore,” he told me in March. “Most people have an opinion about it, which is awesome. That’s even better. It made our game more relevant.”

Call it luck or call it smarts - either way, Watch Dogs may turn out to be the most talked about game of the year since it turns the spotlight on a very real-world issue, which is unusual for a genre that often deals in space aliens and dragons.

The funny thing is, even though Guay and his colleagues have been knee-deep in creating a world where the downside of current technology is readily exploited by bad guys, he’s still optimistic about it in the end.

“The promise is outweighing the peril, otherwise we wouldn’t all be using those devices. We wouldn’t all be so ready to jump on our PC to simplify our lives,” he said. “But we need to talk about the flaws too. I’d be a lot more worried if no one was talking about the flaws. It’s the best way we have to keep our shield up and find our balance.”

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Posted by on May 27, 2014 in privacy, ubisoft, video games


Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts linear games on notice

Grim_and_Sam_abroad_PaladinIt’s a big week for Ubisoft Toronto, the French video game company’s newest studio, as it’s releasing its first game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist. The game has been under development for more than three years and, by most accounts, it’s been worth it - it’s got an 82 (out of 100) rating on review aggregator Metacritic.

Over at the Globe and Mail, we gave the game - a highly polished and thoroughly engrossing action adventure - a nine out of ten. I was most impressed with how new Blacklist feels, even though it’s the sixth core entry in the franchise. Having had a further week to digest it, I’m also thinking it will end up being an influential game over time.

As I explained in my review, I very much liked how the developers made a relatively linear game - one that requires the player to move from point A to point B - feel like anything but. They did so by taking the traditional menu system found in many games, where players typically select between solo campaigns, multiplayer modes and co-operative missions, and incorporating it into the story itself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in ubisoft, video games


Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs already thought provoking

watch-dogsI had the chance last week to see a preview of Ubisoft Montreal’s newest big-budget game franchise, Watch_Dogs, and boy is it looking good. The game, scheduled for a November release, appears to mix all the best parts of Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Splinter Cell, which should be no surprise given that those last three are all Montreal creations.

Watch_Dogs stole the show at the last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, where it was unveiled, not just because it’s an entirely new property, but mainly because it looks like it’s going to capture the zeitgeist of the super-connected era in which we live. Protagonist Aiden Pearce is a vigilante who can hack into the central operating system that runs near-future Chicago, and in doing so can control much of the city itself and access information on its inhabitants.

The idea, according to the game’s designers, is to have players think about how far they want connectivity to go. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 14, 2013 in ubisoft, video games


Who’s going to make Ubisoft Toronto’s five projects?

Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher is going to have lots of company at Ubisoft Toronto soon.

Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher is going to have lots of company at Ubisoft Toronto soon.

Last week, I paid a visit to Ubisoft Toronto to get a look at how the studio’s first big game, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, is coming along. The game, which is looking excellent so far, will not only represent the new operation’s coming-out when it launches in August, it’ll also be the biggest profile release yet to come out of Toronto, and possibly Ontario.

Despite developers crunching to get Blacklist done, attention at the studio is already starting to shift to future projects. With a mandate to create 800 jobs by 2020 in exchange for more than $260 million in tax credits, Ubisoft Toronto can ill afford any down time.

In that vein, I sat down to chat with studio director Jade Raymond about the studio’s future. I haven’t been paying attention to dedicated gaming sites for the past little while, so the conversation took a turn for the surprising in short order. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on May 8, 2013 in ubisoft, video games


Is mainstream media treating games any better?

History shows most Native assassins were actually left handed.

History shows most Native assassins were actually left handed, which means AC is horribly inaccurate.

The Globe and Mail ran a sizable feature over the weekend on Assassin’s Creed III, the latest in Ubisoft’s historical action-adventure series. The timing of the story was a little odd given that the game was released back in October, although it does coincide (most likely coincidentally) with the announcement of the upcoming next game in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The article, which asks whether AC3 is rewriting history, seems to be a follow-up to the Globe’s ill-conceived editorial back in November, which asserted that yes indeed, the game does distort what really happened.

It’s always something of a curiosity when the mainstream media takes an interest in video games. Usually, the focus is on violence and whether games are brainwashing kids into shooting up their schools. Fortunately, that’s not the case here, although the medium’s potential negative effects are still at the core of the story.

Assassin’s Creed is proving to be a particularly poignant topic for the Globe, Canada’s national newspaper, for several reasons. The franchise is Paris-based Ubisoft’s flagship, yet it is been born and bred in Montreal, at the company’s biggest and most important studio. Assassin’s Creed III, meanwhile, is set during the American revolution with a half-British, half-Mohawk protagonist. As such, it’s a Canadian-made product with some Canadian-relevant history in it.

The article makes a better-than-average effort at balance, with writer Ian Brown talking not just to developers at Ubisoft, but also to history professors who have actually played the game. Still, there are things about it that are off. As someone who writes for a living - and who writes a lot about games - I’m fairly cognizant of how language can be used to convey a particular slant, or at least how it can betray such a position. And boy, is this story ever full of the sorts of anti-gaming hallmarks that the mainstream media has been perpetuating for years. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in ubisoft, video games


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