Today Watch Dogs launches not just as a game — but as a technothriller. Inspired by the world making of the game’s developers, author John Shirley developed a stand alone novel that takes readers inside a futuristic world where one hacker can control a city.
John Shirley answered some of our questions about the story behind the book’s development.
Q: Storytelling takes so many forms, and this novel derives its setting from the game Watch Dogs. What was your process for writing the book and how did the original story’s format inform your writing?
A: I started by discussing my ideas for where “Watch Dogs™ //n/Dark Clouds” would lead by speaking with Ubisoft, the developers of Watch Dogs. When I hit on some story concepts that resonated with them, I created a detailed outline of where I wanted the story to go, the plot, characters, use of settings and technology from the Watch Dogs world and so on. The central character in the novel is not Aiden Pearce, the main character from the game, but Aiden is a part of the novel so I had to make sure I understood his motivations, background and the important people in his life as well as how he fit in with the story I wanted to tell.
In the game and in the novel, the city of Chicago and how it is controlled by a Central Operating System (ctOS) shapes every aspect of the characters and the warring factions, from the dark hacker underworld to the corporate agenda. In order to make sure I conveyed the world of Watch Dogs correctly, I had to make sure that the story and characters I created fit in the world that already exists in the game. From the organized crime to street gangs, the Chicago Police Department and powerful corporations, Ubisoft and I worked in sync to seamlessly tie the novel and game together.
Q: You’ve written many books and short stories. What about this project did you find unique and exciting? How did your previous novels influence this thriller?
A: The Watch Dogs novel is a synthesis of the technothriller, something I’ve not written before, at least not exactly, and some futuristics—as Watch Dogs is set in the near future. Though I’ve written suspense and action novels, I hadn’t gotten to evoke that distinctive technothriller excitement before. Much of this novel takes place on the “street level”, however, unlike most technothrillers, this book is not about Presidents and Generals (though we do come across some military officers). It’s about someone who finds themselves on the streets of Chicago, trying to get the justice that was ripped from him when he was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s using the stunning interfaces, the empowering connectivity of remote hacking and other kinds of high tech, to forcibly tell truth to power. The vision of empowering the man on the street has something in common with my “A Song Called Youth” cyberpunk trilogy—and it’s creatively thrilling for me.
Q: Can someone read this book and not know about the game?
A: Yes, I always write novels that can be read independently. While this can be tricky to do without a lot of exposition, I have techniques for filling people in on the background and the world that’s part of the game. Even if people have played the game—and most readers will have played it, or plan to—there is a lot more to learn about the world and characters of Watch Dogs and futuristic city of Chicago that players and readers will immerse themselves in.
Further explore the world of Watch Dogs with a new story, an entirely digital novel project created inside Ubisoft in collaboration with John Shirley, prolific author and pioneer of the cyberpunk movement
John Shirley naturally transcribed Watch Dogs’ atmosphere, the world of hacking and of a not that fictional Chicago, into a thriller combining high-tech crimes and a bunch of known and new characters.
The novel introduces Mick Wolfe, a veteran, who get caught in a dangerous game in Chicago’s hyper connected and violent underground.