Watch Dogs Legion — Civil Aviation Building

Civil Aviation Traffic Office (CATO) as it appears in the game.

Origins

Civil Aviation Building, or CATO as we used to call it, initially was born out of a need for an authority based building in the district of Southwark.

The discussions revolved around the downtrodden nature of the area and how a corrupt institution could exist in the world of Watch Dogs Legion.

We went through a lot of iterations until we found the perfect fit.

These iterations were informed by the needs that we felt like we had for the district of Southwark.

We wanted to have a location in the borough that belonged to the authority faction in some form or another.

We had a few other locations, like the City Hall, The NEXUS, Tidis, Tidis Advanced Technologies, that had to more or less fall into the Albion faction for some reason or another. Still, we didn't have a pure Albion building to reflect the Authority status.

We wanted a building that would impose authority over the borough.

We settled on what initially was supposed to be a police station.

Southwark has a few of those in real life.

323 Borough High St

323 Borough High St, London SE1 1JL, United Kingdom

The 323 boroughs high building was attractive because it offered what we were looking for in in-city outpost design.

We wanted:

  • Not to be able to see what is happening inside the area
  • It would follow world logic
  • It would contain many dynamic gameplay elements that would not conflict with the world's logic.
  • Multiple ways in and out
  • A large building structure could serve as that building with a cool interior.
  • Layered rooftop setup, both good for parkour and fitting within the London city rooftop logic.
Another good looking spot at Hodgkin Bldg, Newcomen St, London SE1 1UL, United Kingdom

These layouts would then get easily translated into some blockout that could easily be "played" and "read". Good readability often went hand in hand with good playability.

Watch Dogs is a stealth game to large extents so having good readability early clears up a lot of worries for many people involved in the process.

Sketchup was beneficial since it allowed for specific measurements and constructing elements that we could easily import into the editor.

Since we were operating with a rigorous set o metrics, born out some very heavy duty RDL, I realized having a standardized method of building that things based on dimensions somewhat preserved the gameplay while minimizing unnecessary iterations on useless things.

A lot of time gets wasted on figuring out dimensions and changing geometry shapes instead of designing for function.

This led to the idea that developing a visual language early for the dev team leads to a precise 1 to 1 translation to the player.

In games like these, with a lot of player agency, readability translates to agency and decision making for the player.

More about it here: https://iuliu-cosmin-oniscu.medium.com/how-to-articulate-a-visual-language-system-in-a-level-design-environment-17fecbcbede9

So in a perfect world where everyone knows what that language is, a layout could look like this:

2 Hot Zone Layout with a parkour path splitting it straight down the middle.

Or like this:

And there would be no ambiguity about what this layout is about or what the intended gameplay should be. The contrast between the shapes, simple colour coding, the simple visual language used, familiarity with the game mechanics would allow anyone to understand what is happening here.

It would also fit within world logic without causing too much confusion.

Another factor that drove the development was the position of the landmark in the world.

Since our world is significantly smaller than the actual London, we had the building next to the Bricklayer Arms roundabout. (A story for another time, however).

We were building spaces like city planners, so the building felt straight between two large roads springing out of the roundabout.

This gave the building a bit of a diamond footprint.

We decided we wanted the main entrance straight in the middle of the intersection since it would make the building more visible from multiple angles.

This, coupled with a bright facade, made the building very distinct and recognizable without sacrificing world logic.

Side entrances demanded a little more discretion, so we ended up facing the side streets.

The main entrance is red; the side entrances are in yellow.
Side entrances

For gating reasons, we decided to lock these entrances and add some additional entry points in the vicinity to facilitate a more infiltration theme kind of approach.

Hidden behind the fractured facade, an entrance is revealed.

The point of this was to put the player immediately in a clear and prominent vantage position within the layout.

Ground floor vs upper floor drawing.

The ground floor main gates were locked to make the retrieval of a vehicle objective more difficult.

The upper floor implied more stealth opportunities and kept the player under pressure with the risk of being discovered by the drone patrolling the courtyard.

Molecular design of intended flow

As described in the attached diagram, players have:

  • Full access to the second floor using the secret side entrances
  • A red box in the courtyard locks the courtyard exits
  • The roof is locked from a red box inside the control room (also locked by switches). Access is unlocked by hack via line of sight, but since you can't physically be inside the control room to unlock access to the control room, you either have to use the cameras or fly a highjacked drone inside the room.

Once access to the upper floors is unlocked, getting updates is more a matter of opportunity than a challenge since the path is peppered with opportunities for building traps, turrets, drones, and patrols.

A word on cover placement

I know a lot of level designers, specifically those raised in the FPS community, detest box cover placement under the pretext that cover "should" be structural instead of prop based.

I tend to disagree after working on the Watch Dogs franchise for so long. I think the box cover brings character to a space and offers a lot of opportunity and agency, especially when working on stealth/third-person shooters, so CATO has a lot of it, and I love it.

I do admit. However, that cover should be contextual instead of forced; otherwise, it would break the credibility of the space.

Ground Floor

The ground floor entrance was designed to serve as a fast past aggressive entry point with great difficulty of approach.

It was harder to penetrate in early iterations, but that detracted from having the aggressive approach as a meaningful choice.

All ground entrances lead towards the central courtyard, where a small platform blocks LOS.

Only the side entrances are locked. To open them, you need to perform a physical interaction on a red box positioned inside the.

Performing this interaction is a matter of conjecture since the interaction can be done can do it in multiple ways.

Either way doing this might be the only way to get the vehicle inside one of the objectives out of the courtyard.

Just fly-in

Of course, the location can be reached by flying in via drone, and such an opportunity is available.

The risk, however, is higher due to patroling counter-terror drones flying around the area.

You also get a fantastic view of the city.

Some thoughts on the 360 approach and the freedom of choice.

I feel like a lot of the discussions around 360 approaches these days get bogged down into difficulty and repetitive actions.

I feel like this is a very self-defeating discussion since, in my mind, the agency is increased as the difficulty of execution decreases and the number of opportunities available increases.

The moment difficulty spikes up, the gameplay turns, based on how many options are available, into either a test (if there are no other options) or a blocker that makes all other solutions shine (if there are any).

Sandbox interactions shine best when the players control the action, and sometimes that implies that difficulty is low (for ease of entry). The activities are clear to the player (perhaps somewhat repetitively)… Repetitions are, after all, the mother of all knowledge.

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Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu

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As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.