Ubisoft Explains Why Watch Dogs On PC Had Hidden Graphics Files

Ubisoft Explains Why Watch Dogs On PC Had Hidden Graphics Files

Earlier this week, Watch Dogs made headlines after modders discovered hidden graphical files that transformed the game to something that more closely resembered the dazzling E3 demo presented in 2012. Today, Ubisoft took the time to explain why these files weren't used — and responded directly to accusations that they "downgraded" the game.

From the official Watch Dogs website:

The dev team is completely dedicated to getting the most out of each platform, so the notion that we would actively downgrade quality is contrary to everything we've set out to achieve. We test and optimise our games for each platform on which they're released, striving for the best possible quality. The PC version does indeed contain some old, unused render settings that were deactivated for a variety of reasons, including possible impacts on visual fidelity, stability, performance and overall gameplay quality. Modders are usually creative and passionate players, and while we appreciate their enthusiasm, the mod in question (which uses those old settings) subjectively enhances the game's visual fidelity in certain situations but also can have various negative impacts. Those could range from performance issues, to difficulty in reading the environment in order to appreciate the gameplay, to potentially making the game less enjoyable or even unstable.

Thanks for playing Watch Dogs and stay safe on the mean streets of Chicago.

-The Watch Dogs Team

As we previously detailed, some users did report that they had performance issues when they tried out the mod in question — but in general, most people seem to agree that it objectively improved the graphics thanks to a variety of tweaks that changed stuff like shaders and camera angles.


    If it has issues,fix the issues. Don't strip them out.
    That's terrible.

      And what if fixing the issues involves pushing the game back by another few weeks? Or costs them tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more to fix?

      There's always tradeoffs in development.

        Kind of like how Watch Dogs was pushed back 6 months for...... some reason?

          Mostly because it was originally scheduled at the same time as GTA. And launching it at the same time would have been plain stupid. :P

            Wasn't it a launch title?

              Yeah it was meant to be, but that was too close to GTA (I exaggerated when I said the same time).

              If I was an exec at Ubisoft, there's no way I'd have launched it in under 6 months of GTA.

                Not to mention this would've cannibalised Assassins Creed IV sales as well

                No, it was the one game everybody wanted for their next console generation leap. While GTA was the biggest seller of last year, everybody was also looking forward to a new console. Delaying the game did nothing but hurt peoples interest in the franchise and possible their interest in a new console at launch.

            So use that time to optimise it, not neuter it.

              This isn't the first time a game has been nerfed graphically by Ubisoft for what really just seems like keeping the game looking uniform between all platforms, the first one to come to memory is Vegas 2, which during the closed beta looked a lot prettier than it did post release and there were mods in the early release of the full game that increased model detail and texture sizes... funny how they were not able to be updated after the first few patches came out (and Ubisoft stole a crack from a third party to remedy an error they had with the DVD copies at the time).

                Ghost Recon Future soldier. It wasn't as hyped as Watch Dogs so some may not even remember it. However not only were the graphics reduced from what was shown at the E3 proceeding the launch, the entire focus and feel of the game had changed. I preordered it after seeing the E3 presentation (my mistake), and ended up with a -very- different game when it came out. That's twice, maybe three times now. I am starting to lose faith in Ubisoft.

                This is what it was 'supposed' to look like... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFVG65kt61c

                  That's your fault that video was released in 2010 they released numerous video of Ghost Recon Future Soldier after that which featured obvious changes from that video. Ghost Recon Future Soldier was a very fun game and they didn't really change the feel of the game because you were able to go invisible and the game play was pretty much the same between the E3 demo and the Release

          Watch Dogs was delayed because at the time of development, Next-Gen wasn't announced. They wanted to bring Watch Dogs to the Next-Gen consoles, therefore delaying the entire release. I don't agree with it, but I spoke with the lead story designer on it, and he confirmed that.

        True but they already posted back the game, they have so much money, so many devs, they could have done something

        It's like making a movie... every scene doesn't get included in the theatrical release... but it doesn't get thrown away either.

          That's a pretty bad analogy.

          Let me fix it for you.

          It's like making a movie in 4k, then advertising it to everyone as a 4k movie. See how our beautiful 4k movie looks? It looks STUNNING! And it's got amazing features, that noone else has. Our beautiful 4k movie...

          ...That will only be available to all in 720p.

            I think you're too greedy with your comparison. For one, downgrading 4k to 720p skips 1080p. A lot of people aren't too fussed with a small quality jump. I get it though.

            A big question is the reasoning for the difference though. I still stand by my theatrical release having missing parts to trim the movie to make it more digestible. If a game is "nerfed" to 1080p, what is the reason for doing it? Dead Rising 3 apparently had slowdown in some areas on Xbone, and having a consistent experience across platforms is probably desirable. Kind of like if one Nandos franchise does better chicken than another one... it's good chicken anyway and you don't want to not go to a Nandos because it's worse than another one. Also, there still might be slowdown issues/bugs when running the game at "max" settings on PC. If the untested(costs time/money to test) higher end graphics of a game is approved on max and it fries someone's video card, who is responsible?

            I'm still interested to see how this plays out. It can be very interesting, like the 10% of power devoted to Kinect discovery.

              If you were talking missions missing from the game etc, it would be an apt comparison, but you're talking an actual visual element that degrades the visual quality of the product. At that point you have to talk about the reduction of clarity. The 720p comparison is apt. The PC version has gone down from super clear textures with fantastic bloom elements and such, to what we have now, it was a tremendous nerfing.

                Yes, it's a nerfing ... for performance, stability, and visual clarity.
                They tried them, found issues with them, and went with other settings.

                People seem to be complaining that activating these shaders reduce performance, increase instability, etc - that's exactly why they weren't enabled.
                Could they have fixed them? Maybe, but would that mean some other more important feature would have to go?
                Is it even worth trying to hunt down why some shader effect causes framerate drops or crashes?

                I think people need to stop thinking that they were removed for nefarious reasons when there are plenty of more obvious explanation available. (Perhaps these are only more obvious to people in the software industry.)

                  Alternatively build a game that pushes PC performance. I'm sorry but I'm not a Ubi apologist, I don't see how other features 'would have to go', when you're dealing with a PC, not a console?

                  Could they have fixed them? Maybe, but would that mean some other more important feature would have to go?
                  Is it even worth trying to hunt down why some shader effect causes framerate drops or crashes?

                  Should they then not have come out and said that they cannot reach the graphical level that they were showing of in the initial demo before the game releases and then say they will continue to work on the game post launch and patch in the graphical updates at a later time?

                  There is no mention of them doing anything like that and this kind of behavior is starting to become a trend with game devs, make the game look outstanding when you show it off for the first time, then deliver a lackluster looking game.

      Funny thing is, that's how a lot of people respond to many problems in a game. Hell, just look into the Halo forums sometime and you'll see many people demanding that features they don't like be removed without any attempt to fix them.

      There's even a Blade videogame where jumping caused the game to crash. With the deadline due they looked over the game and realised aside from the tutorial, there was no point where jumping was required, so they just removed it.

        Not enough people seem to be understanding what you said. To me it's obvious - time and budgets have limits, and sometimes things get the cut.
        It's not (always) nefarious like a lot of other comments on here seem to think.

      But IMO, the issue wasn't that the features didn't run, but that they were inconsistent. It would have taken more time/ money to polish the rest of the game/ graphics/ features to the quality of what we saw at E3. So instead of having the E3 street look great ant the rest of the game look less polished, they stripped out polygons/features.

      Other than that, the removal of DoF etc was predictable. DoF looks fantastic in screens and gameplay videos but many people don't like to play with it enabled in 3rd person games because it can look weird. Which explains this part of the quote, if I add my own intro to the quote for clarity:

      DoF and other camera effects can introduce:
      difficulty in reading the environment in order to appreciate the gameplay
      because of the less predictable nature of using DoF in a 3rd person game and weather the camera will be focusing on what you in fact want to look at or just what is in front of you.

      IMHO of course.

        I understand completely, but I think options like DoF should at least be optional, in the settings menu or something.

        Just saying

          Of course, but it's Ubisoft.

          Last edited 20/06/14 4:59 pm

          Well, they didn't completely lock it out like other games sometimes do. It took some modding, but I think that's the right way to do it.

    The hidden unused render files were in the game to fill the empty space that was left after they cut all the female models and animations.

      Cutting implied they existed in the first place. They obviously don't have the money to make female models.

    My personal experience with the mod in question was almost entirely negative.

    No stability issues, but it borked the framerate, blurred everything more than 30 metres away, and didn't make anything look nice.

      Same here. Makes my game drop to 40-50 fps constant and that depth of field is a little bit too extreme. It's nice for screenshot and graphical presentation purpose but not really for gameplay.

      Same here. Framerate didn't suffer much, but made everything beyond about 30m away look like a blurry mess. Driving a supercar with those settings meant you'd crash into something before you could tell what it looked like...
      Besides this, it seems that the devs had enough trouble getting the PC version running anywhere close to good. The game had already been pushed back 6 months, which no doubt made the publisher (and its investors/shareholders) reticent to push it back even further. Surely the best answer they could give is "Ubi Montreal didn't have time to properly optimise the PC version, given the restrictions put on them by Ubi Publishing, so they went with the best configurations they had at the time of release"? But I guess they can't say that, because it could be interpreted as finger-pointing.
      Or it could even be down to the nVidia GameWorks thing making it difficult to optimise... I doubt anyone at Ubi Montreal would speak out with specifics, regardless of which it actually is, as it's hardly a topic worth losing your job over.

    Surely there is a list of possible instabilities that could be released so we know the impact of these downgraded **cough** optimized graphics?

    I always laugh at developers generic responses to critics and concerns.
    Ubisoft. . . we all know why theres unused graphic settings left in the game. There's no need to lie to us. We know you're back peddling.
    What, you think we're all going to be like "Oh, that's why? Thanks Ubisoft. That's completely reasonable."

      I don't get why people think this, as a programmer the Ubisoft response sounds 100% reasonable and is the most likely scenario. You try to push the boundaries, but as the release date approaches the stuff that is broken gets pulled out of the final version. It is pretty typical.
      I tried the mod that enabled this, and it makes the game pretty much unplayable in places, I wouldn't have released the game with these enabled as options.

    Too bad the mod didn't make those wretched drinking games any easier

    Whats the problem here, most PC titles have a heap of settings that you can activate through config files

      the problem is that mod not only brings the game back to the e32012 trailer level of graphical fedelity, but for most people also makes the game stutter upto 95% less and increase the frame rate for many people as well

    Unfortunately in the real world, businesses sometimes need to make decisions about these things. I'm sure most game devs create their games to look fabulous and run flawlessly on high powered dev rigs but then at some stage they need to make compromises to get the thing running on all their chosen platforms.

    The graphics aren't a bug to be fixed.

    I don't quite get the backlash some games get like this... its not a Colonial Marines situation where its so much different the game is nothing like advertised. Sure its got some slight downgrades, but its hardly deserving of such chastising.

    If its such a huge deal to people they should just not buy the game...

      Yeah that one was a clear cut case of downgrading. I'm not too impressed with my collector's edition :\

        I think collector's edition is the only good one... just for the power loader statue. =)

    Oh i just love how poor ole ubisoft sounds offened at the notion that they downgraded the PC version on purpose when its clear as day that they did. like many ive used the mod and ive seen most of of the stuttering and preformance issues removed while the game looks a crap load better.

    They fact that they are lying even in this statement is just too easy to see through. the PC version without the mod is fucking terrible when it comes to preformance and stability. Hmm lets see, one issue someone posted with the mod was that clara was invisible during a cutscene but still talking making it look like Aiden was talking to himself with a case of split personality disorder... which makes Aiden a hellva lot more interesting

    Wait, so they disabled access to graphics settings because they felt it was going to affect performance and stability??

    We've had a variety of graphics setting sin games for years. Most of us can't turn everything to max. Doesn't mean you just don't bother coding the option in...Here's a thought, you took out the settings because it affected console performance. You then couldn't be bothered to put it back in for PC because you were lazy

    What a crock of shit.

    They were making the game with the highest possible visual fidelity possible, the initial demo of the game showed that.

    They should have worked from there and added options to downscale the game to fit peoples machines who could not play it at the highest settings.

    The fact that it was released and looked the same as the Xbox One and PS4 version and had none of what they showed of in the initial demo speaks volumes about how UBI Soft develop games.

    If you like there games and own a PC and a current gen console i would not bother buying any PC versions of there up and coming games because (graphically) they will be no different to there console counterparts.

    Wow, it seems like gamers that have never worked at a game studio need to chill out a bit. These are not evil people trying to deceive you and hold back presents. They are people that love games that are trying to make a good game that works as best it can for most people. Just because some setting for a graphical aspect is technically possible does not justify it belonging in the final game. Think of it like making a car. Some aspect of the exhaust design that didn't make it into the production model might have enabled the car to have 20 more horsepower, but it would have affected the emissions, the suspension setup, the tyre options, the handling.. its all a balancing act. PC modders are tinkerers, if you can get in there and boost performance go for it, but don't say the production model wasn't extremely well thought through to give the optimal experience for the vast majority of non-modding players :)

      It's called an Options Menu, and it's a common practice in PC gaming...unless it's a crappy console port.

    For a start, it's not a mod.

    Then also, there's reports of many people with positive performance impacts when they make the changes.

    You're fooling nobody Ubisoft: you showed us the game we all wanted to play at e3 and then didn't deliver.

    The one thing I don't understand about people's backlash about this topic is Ubisoft's supposed motives.

    It's one thing not to believe their official response, but to what end? What are people accusing Ubisoft of? Are they honestly accusing Ubisoft of purposefully making their game look less amazing than it could for no reason other than to be a big evil jerk corporation? Like, do people think some suit came in towards the end of the game's development and said "no, this looks to good! Make it uglier!" Then rubbed his hands together and cackled maniacally.

    What possible benefit could Ubi get from doing this?

      Parity between consoles because of Xbone / PS4 involvement (particularly Sony), most likely for money. Not saying I believe it necessarily, but that is the current thought.

        And people are actually believing this? I ... I, just, wow.

          Yes we are. Aren't you? Wow. Such Sycophant. Much Fanboi.

    To me this is the most ridiculous controversy of the past two years, if you're only interested in games because of the graphics well... You got what you deserved!

    You know what I noticed at the 2012 E3 - a guy in a trench coat spying on people with his phone, preventing a random crime then using the environment of the city to make his escape.

    That was cool - that was something I'd never seen in a game before - I certainly didn't notice depth of field or particle lighting or how much wind or whatever - if those thing matter to you go watch a Pixar film or something!

      THANK YOU!

      Finally someone I can agree with. If people are in it for the graphics then they are in the wrong industry! Sure graphics are important, but Watch Dogs is already such a beautiful looking game I don't see the need for depth of field or particle lighting of wind or whatever.

      Why sacrifice game-play and features for the small percentage or players who would be able to play on such ultra settings? Arguing that Ubisoft could just throw money at is simply wrong. If that is your view you need to go watch a basic business practices video on YouTube.

        Then why have previews with the good graphics? Why create the files? Why get watchdogs on PS4 when you can get it on PS3? Graphics aren't the most important thing, but they are important. Just like how you can tell your girlfriend that you don't just love her for her looks, but don't dare tell her that it's ok that she's not pretty.

      The controversy isn't about the graphics, that was just the catalyst. The controversy is whether Ubisoft intentionally downgraded the PC release of the game to match the much weaker consoles, and if so, why.

      We know that Ubisoft is working with Sony to produce a Watch Dogs movie (among others). If, for example, Sony made a deal with Ubisoft to ensure the PC version didn't look markedly better than the PS4 version (to create the illusion that the PS4 is competitive with PC and try to encourage more people to buy on that platform), this would be a serious case of impropriety and a breach of trust.

        Your theory about Sony and Ubisoft - doesn't hold water - no-one who considers buying a gaming PC is going to think that a console will deliver better graphics - who exactly would they think they were fooling.

        People buy consoles for the experience (ie: gaming on the TV), the exclusives and the ease of use (plug & play, easy MP etc).

        As for people watching a movie for the special effects - well I guess a lot of people saw Avatar so there's that

          Unfortunately, there are more people who have notions of blurred boundaries between the current console generation and PC than you might think. The last generation created the impression for a lot of people that with console as the lead platform, PC games were held back graphically, and that idea has carried across to this generation as well (or then there's people like kingpotato here that think current consoles are capable of better graphics than PCs, period).

          The convenience of consoles is precisely why Sony might make such a move. It neutralises the advantages that PC has (better performance, better graphics, digital purchase convenience) and accentuates the advantages consoles have - they create a situation where people choose between getting an identical game on a platform where they just put the disc in and it works, or a platform where they have to be concerned if their hardware is up to scratch to play it. Without the incentive of better performance and better graphics, that's enough to lure purchases away from PC and onto console.


      If this was a movie trailer with Avatar looking visual effects and then the movie came out with effects that looked like the effects from the mid 90's people would be pissed.

      I don't see how this is any different, what they showed (graphically) was not in the end product.

      This is not something people should let slide because more company's will do it, this topic needs negative media attention to diswade other game devs from doing the same.

      What Ubisoft should have done was show of the game with decent graphics and then pushed from that point to make them better, not start with something unachievable and go backwards from there.

      I mean it's not like Ubisoft just started making games last year, they have a long history of game development, they should know there shit by now.

      Last edited 21/06/14 4:26 pm

    So Ubisoft took all this time (almost a month) to tell us a lie. It's becoming weird these big companies lying on the internet, I mean, we are on the internet, we can find out the truth. EA recently said tha Battlefield 4 bug launch was "Unaccepatble". After 7 months!!!!

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