I did not want to close the year without adding something to this website, and to keep with the theme of the blog post series I might never finish, here is another post about Watch Dogs… but this one is more of an audiovisual experience.
That’s right: for comedic purposes, I used Watch Dogs to make an high-effort recreation of the first trailer of GTA VI. Despite still being just a trailer, a bunch of rumors, and a vaster-than-usual collection of leaks, that trailer may have hyped and warmed some people’s hearts more than whatever “game of the year” had – and we are talking about a year which had a bunch of very good games releasing. You can tell that piece of media from Rockstar Games tickled something in me too, or I wouldn’t have spent probably over fifty hours carefully recreating it using a game from a different series.
Soon after the trailer dropped, I got the feeling that I wanted to parody it in some way. The avalanche of trailer reaction content that came immediately after its release – including from respectable channels like Digital Foundry, who probably spent as much time analyzing the trailer from a technical perspective, than they spend looking into some actually released games – had me entertain the idea of making a “Which GTA VI trailer analysis is right for you?” sort of meta-analysis meme video. But I realized that making it properly would require actually watching a large portion of that reaction content, and I was definitely not feeling like it. It would also require making a lot of quips about channels and content creators I am not familiar with. Overall, I don’t think it would have been a good use anyone’s time: I wouldn’t have had as much fun making it, and it wouldn’t be that fun to watch.
The idea of recreating the trailer in other games is hardly original, after all, I have heard about at least two recreations of the trailer in GTA V, there’s at least one in GTA San Andreas as well, I hope some have made in Vice City because it just makes sense, and in the same vein as mine, there are also recreations in different game series, including in Red Dead Redemption and in Saints Row. As far as I know, mine is the first one made in Watch Dogs.
I did not intentionally mean anything with the use of a game whose reception was controversial because of trailers/vertical slice demos that hyped people up for something that, according to many, was not really delivered in the final game (hence the nod to E3 2013 at the start – RIP E3, by the way). Nor is the idea here to say that Watch Dogs, a 2014 game, looks as good as what’s pictured in the trailer for GTA VI, a game set to release eleven years later. Largely, I chose this game because, for one, I like Watch Dogs even if I am not the most die-hard fan you’ll find; because it is the only game other than GTA V where I have some modding experience; and because nobody had done it using Watch Dogs.
This was everything but easy to pull off: the game doesn’t even have a conventional photo mode, let alone anything like the Rockstar Editor or Director Mode in GTA V. There aren’t many mods for the games in the Watch Dogs series, especially not the two most recent ones, and the majority of these mods aren’t focused on helping people make machinima. One big exception is the camera tools that I am using, and even that was primarily built for taking screenshots – keep in mind I had to ask the author for a yet-to-be-released version that supported automatic camera interpolation between two points.
I started by recreating just a few shots from the beginning of the trailer. I liked those brief seconds of video so much, and they sparked enough interest in the modding community, that I slowly went through recreating the rest. This required bringing more mods into the equation – including a WIP in-game world editor that was released with light protection measures (probably to avoid people bringing it into online modes or adding it into shitty mod merge packs?) which I had to strip, so I could make it play along the rest of the tools I was using, including some bespoke ones.
Lots of Lua code was injected into the game in the making of this video, and as I said, this is more for comedy and that sense of pride and accomplishment, rather than any sort of game/mod showcase… but I’m happy to report that besides some minor retiming, color grading and artificial camera shake and pan effects, all shots were achieved in-engine with minor visual effects, other than the two shots involving multiple bikes on screen, that required more trickery.
Then there was the careful recreation of every 2D element in Rockstar’s video, including avatars, icons, text placement, and a hours-long search for fonts whose results I am still not 100% happy with. One of the fonts Rockstar used is definitely Arial, but with a custom lowercase Y… I no longer have those notes, but at one point I could even tell you which font foundry was most likely to have supplied the one in question. And did I mention how I also recreated the song cut Rockstar used, so I wouldn’t have to rely on AI separation with all its artifacts?
I think it was while working on the “mud club” shot that I realized I just wouldn’t be able to recreate everything as precisely as I would like. One idea that crossed my mind was to use the infamous spider tank in place of the monster truck in that shot, but I just wasn’t find an easy way to have the spider tank there with the proper look, while still being able to control my mods. Sure, there were multiple technical solutions for it, but that would have meant spending days/weeks just on those two or so seconds of video. I also wouldn’t have been able to find matching animations for the characters. So I decided to take some shots in a different direction that alludes to the setting of Watch Dogs.
Eventually, I let that creative freedom permeate other points of the video. For example, the original “High Rollerz Lifestyle” shot would have been somewhat easy to recreate (the animations for the main character in it notwithstanding) but I felt I had already proven I could recreate easy shots, so I decided to have some fun with it and instead we ended up with “High Hackerz.” Similarly, the final shot features three protagonists instead of two, because I couldn’t decide which one was the most relevant “second character” in the world of Watch Dogs.
The end result seems to have been received to great acclaim, judging by all the public and private praise I’ve been receiving. There are people asking me to continue making this sort of thing, too, which I am not sure is something I want to pursue, especially not on a regular basis – I think a large portion of the fun I had making this, was precisely because this has a sufficiently closed scope and was sufficiently distinct from what I usually do, and I suspect I would have a worse time making more open-scoped machinima, particularly in this game where the tooling is only “limited but functional.”
There are also people asking for this sort of thing done in Watch Dogs 2 rather than in the first game – but there are even fewer mods for that game, and I have even less knowledge of its internals. Judging by the title of Rockstar’s trailer, it’s likely there will be at least a second trailer, so maybe I can combine the wishes of both sets of people by then. It’s probably not something I’ll feel the drive to do, though – it will also depend on how busy I am with life by the time that second trailer releases.
As I was taking care of the last shots and editing tweaks, I was definitely feeling a bit tired of this project, and subconsciously I probably started taking some shortcuts. Looking back on the published result, there are definitely aspects I wish I would have spent some more time on. There is an entire monologue section missing from the trailer which I can pass off as an artistic decision, but the truth is that I only realized I hadn’t recreated/found a replacement for it after the video was up on YouTube. Similarly, for the effort this took, I wish I had captured the game at a resolution higher than 1080p (my monitor’s vertical resolution), because after going through editing (having to apply cropping, zooming, etc.) the quality of the video really suffers in some aspects. But the relevancy of this meme was definitely dropping by the day as time went on, and if I had spent much more time on it, not only would I have been sick and tired of the entire thing, the internet would also have moved on. It is what it is, and once again similarities are found between art and engineering: compromises had to be made.
One thing is for sure, the next video I publish on my YouTube channel is unlikely to live up to these newfound expectations, and I like to think that I have learned enough to deal with that. Meanwhile, and on the opposite note, I hope that 2024 lives up to all of your expectations. Have a great new year!