PC Gamer contributor Jeremy Peel (opens in new tab) has an excellent feature over at VG247 (opens in new tab), all about how the game that would become Watch Dogs began life as an ambitious reboot of Ubisoft's much-missed Driver series (opens in new tab). The last entry was 2011's Driver: San Francisco (seen in the header image), which I thought was a great laugh but sadly failed to sell in any great numbers. Since then Driver's engine has been dormant.
The Driver project that would become Watch Dogs was in development at Ubisoft Montreal at around the same time that Driver: San Francisco was being completed at Ubisoft Reflections. Reflections was the longtime developer of the series, while for Montreal this was a first shot, and the ambition was to give Driver a new and ambitious form.
"It was always modern day," a Ubisoft source told Peel (opens in new tab). "It had on-foot, parkour, combat as well as driving, all set in a large open-world city, and the main hook was always modern technology and hacking. After a while trying to make this concept fit into the Driver franchise, the decision was made to turn it into its own, new IP.”
This embryonic Driver was apparently so early that the cars didn't have textures, but the problem was not so much how the driving and city was shaping up so much as how far the technology and hacking elements were moving it away from the Driver concept. Such a shift is hardly unusual in big-budget development of course, with perhaps the most infamous example being Ubisoft's golden goose Assassin's Creed, which began life as a Prince of Persia reboot.
Though the timeline of exactly when this Driver became Watch Dogs is unclear, the commercial failure of San Francisco was perhaps the final nail in the coffin. Peel's Ubisoft source sums up the change in the project's nature thus: "[Ubisoft Montreal] just did their own thing and convinced Yves [Guillemot, CEO] he could have ‘his own GTA’ instead of the low selling Driver."
The full article (opens in new tab) contains more details and is well worth a look, if you still pine for Tanner and the days of '70s car-chases. It's especially sad that, of all the series that might have suited that transition to a GTA-style open world, Driver's concept and setup would have been such a good fit. C'est la vie.
Funnily enough, it was only last year we lamented that Legion's easter eggs are nice, but Ubisoft should make a new Driver. (opens in new tab)