GamesBeat: One of the missions in Watch Dogs 2 references the Church of Scientology. I can mention that. I’m not sure what you can say.
Morin: [laughs] There are certainly explorations related to things that happened in reality, to a certain degree. The way I see it, hackers are part of computer science. More and more, we’re using sophisticated technology in our daily lives, but we understand it less and less.
A lot of people often say that Watch Dogs glorifies hacking, glorifies these people who are perceived as criminals. I say, “Hackers aren’t criminal by definition. People can be criminals. A hacker is just someone who’s good at breaking systems. Most of them live productive lives and help society out, making sure what we use is as secure as possible.” The truth is that because of how they’re portrayed in the media, they don’t talk very much. They don’t voice their opinions. Yet they’re probably the best-placed people to educate society about the risks of technology and how we should be interacting with computers.
The truth is, if my parents want to buy a device for their house, they’re clueless about what they should buy and what’s secure. There’s not much they can do about that. There aren’t services or collective understandings. Our game is about a group of hackers trying to find truth and expose it. They gain a following for that, because they’re giving back to society. They provide an awareness. They’re not trying to push technology and innovation away. They offer a fresh understanding of what we’re doing.
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I feel like, too often, we talk about a problem, but we don’t let people who fully understand these things work talk about it. Other times they’re just not the best at talking about it. They’re very good at understanding what they’re doing, but they don’t have a talent for voicing what they think. Games are one way of doing that, but there’s more that could be done.
GamesBeat: Are there any subjects that you’d personally like to steer into in our last few minutes? I was curious about whether there are some technologies in Deus Ex that are totally outlandish, or that you think might be outlandish, but actually have a kernel of reality in them.
Vu: We have rules about the DNA of the series that we have to respect. That’s the number one thing. We rely on real facts. After that, we can extrapolate.
GamesBeat: Then you’re going to tell me that invisibility, which is in the game, is possible?
Vu: It is!
Alvarado: It’s not my specialty, but my understanding is that it comes from the idea that you can bend light around a new type of surface.
Vu: It’s not exactly invisibility, but it’s how the cloak works.
Alvarado: I wanted to interject earlier about the wire-in-the-head thing. There’s a Brazilian researcher named Miguel Nicolelis who’s already made—maybe you’ve seen this, the chimp that plugs multi-electrode arrays into its brain and can pick up a ball and feed itself and things like that. It’s all there.
Here’s the important thing to make clear. We’re only allowed to do this on animal models. I am not allowed to drag you guys out of this room and open up your brain and do these things. That’s the one thing stopping a lot of what seems fantastical. Not all of it. But a good amount of what people are talking about here, I can do that to animals. I just can’t do it to you.
GamesBeat: What about on the Watch Dogs 2 side? Do you have anything that’s more fiction than reality?
Morin: Like we said before, it’s mostly just the speed at which you can execute it. You can hack into streetlights. I saw someone do it. Maybe the most fictional ideas are the combinations of reality. In the game you can point at someone, hack a database, change the facial recognition with your camera, and link his face to someone else. You can turn someone into a criminal. A cop shows up and you can start messing around with them, create a distraction, things like that.
The act of changing a photo in a database is the simplest hack on the planet. There’s nothing sophisticated about that. What’s probably more pushing it is—we’re not yet at a point where cities have a full database of every person in it. It would be more realistic if there were maybe a 75 percent chance that the database recognizes a person. But that’s it. There are many cities that are already pretty good at knowing who’s walking around on the street.
GamesBeat: You can use drones in this game to do a lot of hacking for you — fly into windows, sneak through grates, get to places where the hacker can’t physically go.
Morin: This one is more a metaphor. In the end, you’re still on your computer and you can access all these things. The one part where it’s close to reality is when the drone is doing the physical act. It’s a means to give the player access to something without the risk of physically going there. In real life, many types of hacks require a physical modification. Often the same bypass can be used for hundreds of devices, though. That’s the extent of the fiction. In the end, there’s not much I can think of that isn’t possible.
GamesBeat: Is Watch Dogs 3 going to have Russian hackers influencing an election?
Morin: [laughs] Yeah, Watch Dogs 2 came out too late. Another term you hear about in biotechnology is bio-hacking. There’s a movement behind it, studies about it. Hacking is just the act of reverse-engineering and repurposing something to do something else. It’s everywhere.
Alvarado: There’s a guy in the bay area doing personal fecal transplants with himself. He has Crohn’s disease, a defective gut, so he wanted to give himself fecal transplants to affect the microbiota in his colon. Because that’s something you can do. It’s very easy, if you think about it, although I won’t go into the details. He’s doing that to himself, and he’s selling these kits on his website, because nobody’s told him he can’t yet.
That’s the point. Nobody can tell you that you can’t yet. With a lot of these advanced technologies, there are no policies to stop you from experimenting on yourself. There are for stem cells. But you can just go somewhere else where you can.
Vu: We’re only just getting around to drone legislation.
Alvarado: Congresses and parliaments, they don’t understand any of these things. Science has gone way beyond the comprehension of what politicians can decide policy on. How can you trust anything to anyone? I don’t know enough scientists doing policy to make a reasonable recommendation.
Morin: We’re focusing on what’s real today. An example of bio-hacking that fascinated us—we didn’t put this in the game, but for getting past security cameras, there are already people tattooing their faces in certain patterns that make it impossible for cameras to know who you area. Many people will probably end up combining aesthetics with that.
Alvarado: Bio-hacking the eye is something people don’t—the original therapies and drugs that usually come out in phase one trials of any new type of technology always target the eye, because the eye is the easiest thing to target for genetic therapies and things like that. All you have to do is drop an eyedrop in there. It’s self-contained. It can’t get past that. If you ever want to bio-hack the eye, talk to me. [laughter] But if you think about anything an animal can do in the wild, we all have a genetic makeup that usually allows us to do these things.
People have worked on how the pit viper can see in the dark by detecting infrared radiation from animals nearby. They do that because their eyes are built that way. If you want to bio-hack your eye, why not build your eye that way? There are lots of things you can do. Certain parts of your body are much easier to access and fiddle with. Realistically, in today’s world, it’s hard to hack the brain. You can try. It’s still very hard to do. But the bio-hacking movement is probably going to focus on things like that.
Morin: It starts somewhere, right? And then technology gets easier to use, more widely understood. The brain is barely understood today. We’re starting to monitor the brain completely. Once we start really figuring that out—
Alvarado: The next time we have this panel the lights will be off and I’ll be seeing all of you in infrared.
GamesBeat: Westworld is very popular on TV now. The producers went to Silicon Valley and talked to a lot of people when they were working on this story. They talked about playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto, thinking about all the things you can do in that game. Would you do them to androids, machines that look and feel like real people? It seems like we should see some interplay here, some inspiration.
Morin: It’s already happening. We’re already talking about that a lot, actually. I haven’t seen the show, but just reading about it — doing video game simulation is kind of working the other way around to what the show is doing. We’re trying to make players more related to a robot on the sidewalk. They’re exploring the reverse of that.
Vu: There’s a game like this made by the guys at Quantic Dream.
GamesBeat: Yeah, Detroit: Become Human.
Alvarado: The thing that’s wonderful about Westworld, again, it’s a human story. It’s about what it is to be human. I feel like the themes, despite having this science fiction backdrop, are incredibly personal. That’s what sells it. It’s not the science fiction.
Morin: It’s going to become a ridiculously relevant question.
GamesBeat: What happens when the NPCs in games become real enough that people fall in love with them?
Morin: It’s already happened!
Alvarado: My father judged me so much when we started playing games together. He’d say, “How can you just go killing people?” I’d say, “I’m testing the system. It’s just a game.” But with things like VR, you put that headset on and it becomes much more difficult to shoot someone. For me at least. A lot of VR developers find themselves saying, “We can’t just do humans. We have to do zombies or robots or something else.”
Bullet Train, right? That had people, these SWAT guys, and they swapped that out for their new game, which has robots. They’re less relatable. You want to create that distance, because you’re too close to the simulation. You realize that you have agency, and that you can be a terrible, terrible person in this world.
Morin: I can have a terrible impact. It’s going to be a challenge. The leap is so big in VR. You could end up having a real trauma from a horror experience.
Alvarado: I mean, tell me the difference between shooting somebody on a two-dimensional screen, and then shooting them and actually seeing them grab their wound and slowly fall to the ground. I don’t like doing that.
Morin: It’s one of the problems with VR right now for game creators. We’ll slowly get to understand the barrier. It’s the same thing as any creepy video that people share without warning in your email. You watch it and some people will laugh. Some people will be pissed off, because you saw something that you weren’t ready to see. In VR, a lot of mundane things you do in typical games will cross that threshold.
We’ll have to re-evaluate everything, in a good way. Killing will become more of a big deal. Certain ways we treat people will become more of a big deal. We’ll be creating new kinds of game mechanics, but it’ll also push us in the right direction in other ways.
Disclosure: The organizers of MIGS 2016 paid my way to Montreal. Our coverage remains objective.
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