With many games designed for mass consumption growing increasingly more scripted, it's good to know some developers are striving to keep emergent, non-linear gameplay alive. Ubisoft has a good track record in this regard, with franchises such as Assassin's Creed and Far Cry and the upcoming Watch Dogs looks to be heading in the same direction.
An interview with a number of the game's developers over at GamingBolt, including lead game designer Danny Belanger and lead programmer Francis Boivin, covers ground on various parts of the game, but the bits that stuck out for me were Belanger's comments on Watch Dogs' "systemic" gameplay and Boivin's description of the graphical treats that awaits gamers, thanks to the bespoke engine tech.
First off we have Belanger:
Ravi Sinha: What we’ve seen of Watch_Dogs is incredible however. But we've been tempted by stellar game footage before. How much of what was shown reflects in the actual game? Danny Belanger: There are many questions about the systemic or scripted nature of the game. Many people have doubts that we've scripted everything we shown. This is truly a systemic game — A good example is our E3 2012 demo with the car accident done by hacking the traffic lights, it depends on the amount of vehicles present at the intersection when it is triggered. The gravity of the accident will totally depend on the speed and amount of cars at that instant. Our goal is to give a lot of interesting tools to the player to modify, affect the simulation and let him be creative in using them to achieve his goals!
A bit further in, Boivin expands on the game's engine — called Disrupt — and the visual fidelity it's capable of:
[The engine] was developed to have state of the art visuals on all its quality levels. We needed to have AO [ambient occlusion], massive dynamic light support, HDR [high-dynamic range], GI [global illumination], depth of field, etc. to fully realize the ambition of art direction. We improved on techniques that we worked on in the past and surveyed what was available for the highest level of quality we wanted to achieve. We didn't just integrate the technique of the moment, but spent quite some time turning stuff around and mixing algorithms so they fit our requirements.
In the context of the question Boivin was answering, which asks what PC gamers can expect in particular, it sounds to me like the team is paying attention to what effects work best on what hardware and optimising / improving as necessary, rather than cranking out code that works everywhere, but doesn't take advantage of what each platform offers.
Well, fingers crossed anyway.