Hacking Into République and Watch Dogs with Ryan Payton

Watch Dogs has been met with incredible success over the last few weeks, breaking records for Ubisoft and sending waves across the industry. Whether this owes more to pre-release hype or the actual quality of the game is debatable, but it does show interest in the ideas behind the game. Government oversight in the digital age is at the forefront of our collective consciousness, especially with the NSA scandal and the death of net neutrality in the headlines. But Watch_Dogs isn’t the first game to examine these subjects, nor is it – in my opinion – the best.

Camouflaj + Logan’s République is a tense, intriguing second-person stealth game set in a fascinating dystopian world. It touches on many of the same themes as Ubisoft’s latest open world money printer, although as a smaller game, it’s much more focused on its core ideas of surveillance states, hacking, and the many faces of censorship. The game is the brainchild of Ryan Payton, a former producer at Kojima Productions and the creative director of Halo 5. The game’s seen a lot of success in its own right, consistently sitting near the top of the iTunes app charts and raising five hundred and fifty five thousand dollars on Kickstarter.

I sat down with Ryan to discuss his career in games, the development of République, and what’s next for the game. We also talked about surveillance states, movies, and the global future of video games.

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[Hardcore Gamer] I looked up your work history, and I knew you worked at Kojima productions, but I didn’t know prior to this that you worked on Halo 4. Keep this between you and me, but Halo 4’s my favorite Halo campaign.

It’s a weird one for me ‘cause I was on it for three years, and the vast majority of that time was in the director role, but I left a year before it shipped, so playing the game as a retail game was a very strange experience for me. I think they had some really good highs, and there’s some lows, but overall I think it’s impressive for a new studio built from the ground up.

The story about Cortana going rampant was really interesting. You seem to like stories about computers and AI.

Yeah, I guess I’m just a big nerd.

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That’s not surprising considering you worked for the biggest nerd on the planet – is [Hideo] Kojima as big a nerd as he seems? Because he seems like a pretty huge nerd.

Just as a fan, looking at his work, I’d say he was more nerdy before, and he’s becoming less nerdy as time goes on. I think he’s become more enamored by Hollywood. I feel like, back in the day, there was a nerd parade of mechs, and anime girls, and bladerunner, and anything and everything that gets anime nerds excited. He incorporated all that into metal gear somehow. But if you look at ground zeroes, for example, most of the content in there is pretty ludicrous, but it’s still, on a relative scale, much more toned down.

He still does come out with those crazy character designs though, like, uh-

Quiet?

Yeah, she’s always the first to jump to mind on account of her being so naked.

But again, you gotta think this is tame compared to previous efforts of, say, a Native American guy with a Gatling gun, in a tank, in Alaska.

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Or some old-ass cowboy who runs around shooting at you in a room full of C-4.

Yeah, taken straight out of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or any spaghetti western. And that’s just the sort of typical nerdy crosscultural references that he was really into.

Quiet’s gotten a lot of flak as a female character, and it seems like you’ve put a lot of effort into designing a strong female lead in Hope.

Yeah, Hope’s a really tough character to write for and design around, because we’ve got a huge backstory written for her. Every day we struggle with how much we should reveal with each episode. We want players to feel empowered, and I think they oftentimes take the role that normally she would play as a hero. But I often tell my team that the player is the hero, that hope is actually not the hero. That’s a tough concept for me and my team to wrap our heads around, and also the player at times too.

People get really confused and the wonder who they are in the world. I don’t like to talk about the story of the game and I don’t like to reveal anything outside what we put out in each episode, but I do say very explicitly that the player is not any character in the world. The player is the player and that’s that.

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I found myself wondering if there’d be some huge twist on the player’s identity.

No, I guess that what I’m saying is the player is Geoff, the player is Ryan, the player is a mirror of whoever you are. You just happen to be the random number she called at the beginning of the game. That’s the whole fantasy of it.

So she’s calling out of this fictional republic into our real world?

Exactly. It’s a really tricky thing, because what I wanted to do – and this came out of work I was doing on Halo – I spent months thinking about  the connections between players and the heroes in games, and all I could see was barriers to players’ connections in games. For instance, in third person games, with Solid Snake or Nathan Drake, I oftentimes don’t feel a connection to these characters because they’re doing things I don’t agree with, and I’m something of a puppetmaster, but I’m not them.

And then when you go into first person, you have, like, Master Chief, and he has his own motivations. I’m not Master Chief, but because I can’t see him through the first person lens, maybe I feel more like it’s me in that suit than it’s John 117. But what I wanted to do is I wanted to move the pendulum all the way over to there being no delineation. You are you, it’s you in this world, and I think that’s the purest form of first-person gaming, but it’s a tough concept for people to wrap their heads around.

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I feel like the complex in République is as much a character as hope, and you discover them at a similar pace. What were the inspirations behind Metamorphosis?

I have close to a hundred pages of notes on things I’ve highlighted in books and pulled from film or music, and any reference I could take I put into a master doc. I think the fun thing is to take a very Otaku approach and make a mashup of things you like out of pop culture, but everything I do I try to drive through the lens of theme. So when we get to thinking about the designs of Metamorphosis, the architecture was very deliberate, and when you get into the confinement areas – the more metallic spaces – they’re all tied together with the theme. Obviously Brave New World, 1984 and We are all significantly represented in the game, but I also wanted us to have our own take on it. You can see the influences from those novels, but also from the games that we like. I think Steve Gaynor described Metamorphosis as “Rapture meets the Big Shell”. I couldn’t deny that as some of my favourite game franchises, be it consciously or subconsciously, those games kind of manifested themselves as we started to develop the world.

Now that you say that I’m waiting for an effeminate vampire to show up.

You’ll have to wait a little bit longer.

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