Ubisoft’s ‘Watch Dogs’ already in development as movie before its PS4 debut

I can’t wait to get my hands on a PS4. I’m dying to play many of the games I’ve seen teased for this fall, and just the other day, I started updating my GameFly queue to make sure I had PS4 titles on there as well.

I don’t get to play games as much as I’d like. I’ll frequently go three or four weeks at a time without putting a single game into the PS3, which is primarily a Blu-ray player in my house. Even so, I’m excited for “inFamous: Second Son” based on how much fun those first two games were, and “Killzone: Shadow Fall” will hopefully be a big jump forward from the three games Sony’s released in that series so far.

There is no other title this fall, though, not even “Grand Theft Auto V,” that has me as excited as “Watch Dogs.” Ubisoft is a great developer in general, but there’s something about the mechanics of this title that just plain does it for me. When they showed the very first gameplay video, I was hooked at that point. If you haven’t see anything about the game yet, you play the character Aiden Pearce, a hacker who snaps when his family is taken from him by a violent crime. He decides to exact his own form of justice by taking over Chicago’s ctOS, the operating system that runs pretty much every major function in the city. It allows Aiden to control everything, from cameras to mass transit to the traffic lights in the streets.

The moment that grabbed me when I saw the first demo had Aiden running from pursuers, and as a cop car came racing towards him, he changed the traffic lights, leading to another car racing in and crashing into the cop. It was one of those moments I love in gaming where you realize how a particular game’s mechanic opens up all sorts of new ways to solve a puzzle or deal with a situation. It’s the exact sort of thing that I play games for in the first place.

I’m not surprised to hear that Sony is looking to make a movie based on “Watch Dogs,” but I am surprised to hear that them announce those plans before the game is even in stores. At GamesCom today, Ubisoft announced that they’re working with Sony and New Regency to develop the property. Right now, Ubisoft is making a big push into film, and I’m curious to see how things unfold for them. They’ve got their own in-house development team, and Ubisoft Motion Pictures is staying very hands-on with each of the films. They’re developing two different Tom Clancy properties, “Ghost Recon” and “Splinter Cell,” as movies, and Scott Frank is currently rewriting their “Assassin’s Creed” film, which I think is the first real test of how well Ubisoft’s material makes the jump from game to film. 

Like “Assassin’s Creed,” it feels like “Watch Dogs” has strong gaming elements that are part of the DNA of the story being told. As with any adaptation, I think the ultimate measure of success comes from successfully translating the spirit of something from one media to another without losing whatever it is that makes the thing special in the first place. I don’t think slavish adherence to the original is the key. Instead, it’s more important that you identify what it is that makes the work special, and then preserve that, even if you are doing a major overhaul.

I’m excited to see how things play out with this one, but first, I really want to play the game. Immediately. Or sooner, if possible.

“Watch Dogs” will be in stores November 15, 2013.