All versions of Watch Dogs, except the one coming to Wii U, will arrive on May 27, Ubisoft announced at an event in Montreal earlier this week.
Standing in a meeting room at Ubisoft's Montreal offices earlier this week, Watch Dogs senior producer Dominic Guay ran the small gathering of press through the short public history of the open-world stealth action game.
"In 2012 at E3, we announced a game and it was quite an exciting moment," he said. "But as some of you might remember we didn't announce a hard date. The reason was that we couldn't. We knew from the mandate we had we couldn't lock a date. We didn't have a date-driven project, we had a goal-driven project.
"The goal was for us to ship our intentions for the game, so we needed flexibility in that launch window."
Despite that, the team was already hoping for a holiday 2013 launch date, he said.
"In 2013, some things started to converge to that date," he said. "We felt we were in a good position to do it, so that's when we felt comfortable to announce the date."
He said the game was playable from front to back as of last spring, but as they got closer to that November launch, the team realized that they were going to have to cut corners to make the date.
"To be honest we could have," he said. "We could have cut corners to save time. We didn't want to and neither did Ubisoft, which was kind of a blessing. Everyone stuck by the original mandate."
So Ubisoft gave them time, time to polish, to work on the connection between the game's many systems and time to make sure the game was what they wanted it to be when it released.
Now, with the full team in final debug mode, the developers are positive they'll hit their new ship date.
And the game will be shipping on five platforms at the same time: The Windows PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
In an interview later that day, Guay told me that the titles are very similar across platforms, even, in some ways, across generations. When I asked Guay to explain the differences he said it was easier to start with what's the same.
"So it's the same storyline," he said. "It's done by the same team, so it's not a separate team in another continent that was (making one of the versions). So, same storyline, same gameplay, all the same mechanics, innovations. All the same missions, if you want, the same world.
"Obviously what's different, is that we're scaling the dynamism and the detail of the city and the gameplay. So it's stuff like the amount of civilians in the street, the amount of cars in the street, the detail in the animation, or how sophisticated some reactions are to some of your actions. So some of those things are scaled down. Obviously the graphics, but that one's obvious."
Guay said he's very happy with what the team has been able to do on the PS3 and Xbox 360, especially in the past six months.
"There were some of our features where it was a challenge to be sure that we had feature parity, especially some of the things that we're doing online," he said. "But at the end of the day we're able to hit that on all the core animations that we're doing in Watch Dogs."
In terms of PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One versions of the game, Guay says they're so similar that he sometimes has to check the controller or the UI to figure out which platform is running the game.
"It pretty much looks alike," he said. "You know, I get fooled. You can't really tell just from the image."
And the PC version scales based on the sort of computer you're running it on, though the team made the decision "not to scale down too much," Guay said.
"I mean you can always say we support a 10-year-old PC and then it's barely playable, but that's ugly," he said. "It's not really what people want to play. We didn't do that. We didn't go there. We said, ‘OK, we advertise that at the recommended setting it's going to be a good experience. It's going to look good, it's not going to look like a 10-year-old game.' So we're not going to support very old PCs. If you have very powerful PCs, then it'll scale up, and it scale up to even higher resolution, obviously, than you can have on PS4 or Xbox One. So you can have, in theory, a version that will look spectacular if you have that big screen, that high resolution capability. The game looks great on PC."
One of the reasons that's true is because development on Watch Dogs actually started for the PC first.
"When we started developing, the PS3 existed, the Xbox 360 existed, and we kind of suspected, maybe, there might be other platforms eventually," he said. "So, because we thought that would happen we chose the PC as our first target to have when we started developing Watch Dogs so that we have the flexibility to adapt to a different platform. So we were able to support 360 and PS3, but we could scale up with other platforms and to other video in the meantime, which we now know is the case. So PC has always been around for us. Sometimes it's a last-minute port of sorts. For us, it's been around since we started."
Development shifted to the next-gen consoles once the PS4 and Xbox One were announced, and then in the last eight months or so a dedicated team returned to the PC to hammer out the final details of that platform's version of the game, he said.
"So we end up having the best of both worlds basically," he said. "We're able to have good usability on PC and on console."
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