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Use the GDC 2021 Session Viewer to browse and sort the ever-growing list of sessions by day, time, pass type, topic, and format. All registered attendees will be able to build their personal schedule directly within the event platform, once live early July 2021. All times are listed in Pacific Time.

Census: The Systemic Backbone Behind Play As Anyone in 'Watch Dogs: Legion'

Christopher Dragert, Ph.D.  (Team Lead Programmer & Game Systems, Ubisoft Toronto)

Date: Thursday, July 22

Time: 2:30pm - 3:30pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass

Topic: Programming

Format: Session

Vault Recording: Video

Audience Level: N/A: I would like to deliver a virtual presentation only

Watch Dogs: Legion's highly systemic "Play as Anyone" feature allows players to recruit any character and make them the star of the game. This talk is a technical deep-dive into Census, the backbone procedural system which generates characters, simulates their lives, and inserts them into gameplay.

Census generates highly realized individuals with detailed demographics and social profiles. These profiles form the basis of dynamically-generated schedules that span the entire open world, including meetings with friends, relations, and adversaries. With this strong foundation, it becomes possible to add functionality such as character memories and recasting, along with the highly systemic recruitment process found in Watch Dogs: Legion.

Highlighted topics will include how consistency was maintained with assets such as character models, optimizing the runtime performance of the relational database, core generation algorithms, and the challenges of large-scale tagging and data integration across content teams.


This talk provides technical guidance on how to create procedural systems in the context of a AAA game. Attendees will learn about the major programming and integration challenges presented by the Census system, and how they were solved during the development of Watch Dogs: Legion.

Intended Audience

This talk is aimed primarily at intermediate to advanced programmers, and will be of interest to technically-minded people involved with procedural generation in the AAA space.