Blizzard's Jeff Kaplan has worked on World of Warcraft and other Blizzard classics, but Overwatch might be his most ambitious project yet.
Following up on our in-depth, 3-part video series, The Story of Overwatch, here's our complete interview with Blizzard game designer Jeff Kaplan. While the series goes in-depth with the origins of Overwatch and includes stories from a wide range of Blizzard developers, we've included the full interview below.
For more, check out our complete interview with Blizzard's Chris Metzen here.
GameSpot: How long have you been at Blizzard?
Jeff Kaplan: Since May of 2002. That was the time period when they were just finishing up Warcraft III, so it was a really exciting time. That game shipped in July of 2002, and I ended up getting an additional testing credit on the game, which was the coolest thing ever. I just got to come in and play the game at the very end and give feedback.
Were you a fan of Blizzard before you joined here?
I didn't know much about Blizzard before I joined, which is super bizarre. I was more into the FPS community. I had known a lot about Id, and Quake, and Doom; I followed all those games, and I was very into mod-making for Half-Life and games like that. And then I was super into EverQuest as well, and sort of stumbled into learning about Blizzard. It was weird coming to Blizzard and not having been previously a Blizzard guy.
Yeah, almost the opposite side of the PC spectrum was the first-person action stuff, especially back in 2002. Pre-WoW, Blizzard was very strategy focused.
Yeah, definitely. This was the era for me where I had to make tough choices in the store--you'd go and you'd buy it by the box of the game. You'd hold up one copy of this game vs that game, and I literally remember holding a copy of Starcraft 1, and I'm like, "Oh, wow, this looks awesome. I really want to play this...Don't have enough money for it right now, so I think I'll play this other thing." I just missed the train; I really missed this golden era of Blizzard games.
You said you worked as a modder on Half-Life 1 stuff?
Yeah, I wasn't making mods per se, I was making maps. Half-Life 1 shipped with the map editor on the disc, and ironically the name of the map editor was "world craft," just to add confusion to it all. But it was an amazing program, and there was a really thriving modding community and mapping community going on. I had previously made maps for games like Duke Nukem, which had also shipped with a map editor on the disc, but it was really in Half-Life 1 that I got a feel for what it takes to make a map and have it run well and have other people playtest it. I
t was super exciting; I made a couple maps for that. Loved the community; there was this website called Rusted where people would explain how to make maps and how to get them to run better, and somebody would make their own compiler that would compile the map better. It was a big learning process for me that making games was not just the creative process but a very technical one as well.
So did you make maps for Half-Life 1 proper? Did you ever do any Counter-Strike stuff or any of the the other mods? Because the Half-Life 1 deathmatch community was passionate, but it wasn't really that big, right?
No, it was tiny. And I joke about the Half-Life 1 deathmatch scene because everybody has their pinnacle--if you look at your own personal history of gaming expertise, everybody has that moment where it's like, "This is where I peaked. I could have been a pro." For me, it was Half-Life 1 deathmatch. Any competitive FPS players is rolling their eyes right now. Like, "Really, dude? You could have said Quake 3 or Counter-Strike or something." But I swear I was god-like in Half-Life 1 Deathmatch. I could literally kill entire maps with the crowbar alone.
It was it was a super fun deathmatch mode, I really loved it, and that's what inspired me to make maps. In terms of Counter-Strike, I never made maps for that, but I was around in the scene. There was a mod for Quake 2 called Action Quake, and some of the guys who worked on Action Quake went on to work on Counter-Strike. There was a split: it was Action Half-Life and Counter-Strike were what was going to become of the Action Quake community.
And Action Quake was one of the greatest mods of all time. I was following those guys from the get-go, and I was around Counter-Strike back in the day when you could cycle weapons back to your spawn. So if your team was winning, you would kill most of the enemy team, and let's say there is one terrorist left. You didn't kill him, you took all the weapons on the map and you just cycled them all the way back to your spawn. Then you ran, you killed the guy, and now all the good weapons are waiting at your spawn. I was around in the pretty early days of those things.
So presumably, after Warcraft III, you started working on World of Warcraft?
Yes, and actually when I first joined Blizzard, I joined to work on World of Warcraft. The first order of business was getting World of Warcraft ready for E3, which was in the month that I had joined the company. So we did E3, and then it was all-hands on Warcraft III after that. As soon as Warcraft 3 launched, it was back to World of Warcraft, and it felt much more comfortable. I was really terrible at our RTS...I shouldn't say "was." I am really terrible at RTS games. But I love playing them. I'm one of those guys who just bull-headedly bashes his head against the wall and keeps trying, but I felt much more comfortable in the MMO space. So when we started working on WoW, it was a lot more natural for me.
What was your role on the WoW team?
They hired two quest designers to start at the exact same time. It was me and a gentleman named named Pat Nagle. And Pat has become kind of legendary at this point because there's a character called Nat Pagle in other Blizzard games. A lot of people tease Pat that he's named after Nat Pagle, but it's in fact the other way around.
Pat and I started literally on the same day and shared an office. Together we designed the quest system along with guys like Eric Dodds and Allen Adham; Allen's one of the founders of Blizzard, Eric is the game director on Hearthstone. So our little group designed the quest system on World of Warcraft, and in the early days, when we first started, we split up. Pat did Elwynn Forest, and I did Westfall. We were both experimenting; nobody really knew how to make a WoW zone or how to do WoW questing. Pat and I sat back-to-back in the office, and we'd always lean over and say, "Hey, I'm trying this out. What do you think about that?" It was really together that we came up with the questing system in World of Warcraft.
...it's gone down in history as the worst WoW quest ever made that I will never live down
You guys were back-to-back just like Westfall and the Elwynn Forest, separated by a bridge.
Yeah, exactly. And then there was the scary Duskwood river outside of our office that we would rarely cross.
There was Stitches in the other seat over there.
Pat made Stitches too. That was his quest. [laughs]
What was your favorite quest?
My favorite quest I ever made was probably the Green Hills of Stranglethorn, because it's gone down in history as the worst WoW quest ever made that I will never live down. I would say that at least once a week somebody at Blizzard brings it up to me, and points out how horrifically bad that quest was. And it's sort of become a talking point in Blizzard history--it was a quest with good intentions--the goal there was to get players to interact socially with one another. I think it's the type of quest that a very junior designer with high aspirations tends to make. I'm just imagining a zone where strangers are meeting each other for the first time, exchanging and trading pages so they can all complete their epic quest. But I really didn't take into account the inventory systems in the game, and the other headaches that it would entail. It was a very good learning lesson for me, and even though I think it's one of the worst quests--I believe it's since been removed from the game--it's sort of become legendary at Blizzard of, "Here's what not to do in the game."
How many pages were there again?
I think there were around 15. It was actually a short story. Usually, the week between Christmas and New Year's is very quiet around the studio; a lot of people go and travel and see family. These days the studio actually shuts down for that week, but back in the time when I made that quest in 2003, we were a very small company and I didn't go anywhere. I stuck around, and there was nobody in the office. So I just sat there writing this short story in the voice of Hemet Nesingwary, who's named after Ernest Hemingway. It's all super pretentious, but I thought, "Here's this great story, and somebody's gonna really love reading it. I'll do all these great pages, and I'll socially engineer this great moment." But it's just kind of a joke how bad it all is, looking back.
Yeah, I wouldn't change it for anything.
It must be very strange looking back at what Blizzard was back then. Presumably it's very different to the company that exists now in 2016. Take us back, what kind of scale are we talking about in terms of the people who were working here?
When I first joined Blizzard, there were 200 people in the entire company, and at the time that also included Blizzard North, which was up in San Mateo. At a later time North came down and moved into the Irvine office. These days we're north of four thousand people worldwide, and that number shocks a lot of people, but it includes offices in Seoul. We've got a partnership in Shanghai. We've got an amazing European office in Versailles. An amazing European Support Center in Cork, Ireland. A really talented group that's here in Austin, Texas. We've got a small group up in San Francisco so it's a big, global company now.
But at the time we were just two hundred people. We didn't even take up an entire building in Irvine. I remember we were in this corporate center that was somehow attached to UC Irvine, and we only took up three quarters of the building. We were like those weird nerds playing hacky sack and skateboarding out in front of the building while these guys in Dockers and and button-down shirts were kind of annoyed, like "Who let the college kids on the campus?"
The types of games that would be made at Blizzard, sometimes you get this feeling of "I couldn't make this anywhere else in the world."
It was very different in terms of scale. You knew everybody, but even though we're bigger now, it's kind of cool. It's really retained the same spirit and culture. If you go and look at the Orc that's out in the courtyard, one of the plaques there says "Embrace your inner geek." That geek culture, the fact that pretty much everybody here loves video games, loves what we do, we're all kind of into the same movies and comics and pop culture, there's a real spirit to Blizzard that, even though the company's grown, that hasn't really changed in the 14 years that I've been here.
Talking about stuff that happened as far back as Warcraft III, a lot of the people who you're talking about are now in different positions here. But what is it about a company like Blizzard that retains people? Why isn't there the same turnover we see in other companies?
There's a lot of reasons. They take very good care of us, and I mean the leadership of the company, Mike Morhaime, he's absolutely a gamer and a game developer first. But here he is, the CEO of this successful company. He cares about our games as much as any of our players or any of the developers making the games. That's not lost on anybody who's here, you really feel the spirit of the leadership of the company believing in what we make. We're making it because we love it and we wanted to be great, and not for any other reason. So I think that's one thing.
It's a really fun place to work. We attract very talented, energetic people who believe in the same things that we do. Also, when it comes to making video games we understand that there are certain types of games that will be made at Blizzard and wouldn't be made at Blizzard. The types of games that would be made at Blizzard, sometimes you get this feeling of "I couldn't make this anywhere else in the world." So if I wanted to leave here to go make games elsewhere, I could never make this type of game. A World of Warcraft isn't gonna get made anywhere else. An Overwatch isn't gonna be made anywhere else. And the group of people that you get to make it with is so special and unique that there's not this desire to go and explore and see what else is out there.
I was at a press event at Blizzcon 2014 where yourself and Chris Metzen briefly talked about the fallout from the Titan project that we never really got to see much of, and the passion that came from Titan not working out was funneled into Overwatch. Can you talk about that sort of timeframe, obviously you can't talk about the Titan project much, but where Overwatch existed in that? Was it split off from Titan, or was it like its own separate project where everyone went, "OK, we're working on this now."
It was a little bit of both. Overwatch is its own separate thing, but the team that was working on Titan, which was a very large team and a very large project, basically we shrunk down. When Titan was canceled, we decided to take a smaller group of people and rethink what we could do. "Let's think about doing something very different."
The thing that was super special about that is you had a really amazing group that was working on Titan, really talented individuals, but we failed horrifically in every way. We failed in every way a project can fail. And it was devastating, you had these people who either came from other companies or from within Blizzard, and were used to working on games that were very successful like a World of Warcraft, for example. To go through such a complete and utter failure is very hard for people who are used to experiencing success. Having that level of confidence just be shattered is kind of shocking.
But in a weird way, it was the most bonding moment for this group. It was a crisis of confidence and identity, where you start to ask yourselves, "Did we lose it? Do we not know who we are anymore? Are we not capable of making a great game anymore?" So when we took that smaller group and said, "Hey, what do you guys wanna do you? What do you guys really believe in?" We saw it as a last chance. We use the phrase often that, "You're only as good as your last game," so you don't get big-headed. For me, back in 2008, I worked on World of Warcraft. But guess what? That was in 2008. My most recent game was an utter failure called Titan that got canceled. What can I do next to prove that that's not who I am?
I think a lot of us were asking ourselves, on an individual basis, that question. So when it came time to move on to Overwatch, there was an extremely tight bond on the team and a ravenous hunger to show the world that we're not failures and we can make something really fun and we think that you're gonna like.
Presumably a lot of pressure as well, considering you just came off this project you'd been working on for years that never appeared.
Pressure came from all directions. Pressure came from the community. I think we felt pressure from the company; not that anybody was outwardly putting pressure on us, but because you're used to doing well and succeeding, having a moment where you didn't do well, it was almost like an embarrassment. Here you have these great projects like Starcraft, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft...and then you're sitting on the smoking pile of a canceled project. Nobody said a word, everyone was super supportive to us, but I think there was this inward embarrassment of like, "No, we need to prove that we're worthy of being at Blizzard too. We can make something that makes the company proud as well." It was a trying period of time, and there was a lot of pressure. But I think the team is used to pressure, never quite at that magnitude, but it helped forge us in a lot of ways.
Blizzard you could argue, at least from the outside looking in, looks like it has a higher quality watermark than a lot of other studios. Obviously there's an inherent pressure with that as well. Do you feel like that exists? is that something that you guys think about a lot? Perhaps at another studio, a project doesn't get canceled; it gets put out and that's actually detrimental to the studio. Canceling a project is a big decision to be made for lots of reasons.
I think that speaks to the quality of leadership at the top level of the company. I look to guys like Mike Morhaime, who's our CEO, and Frank Pearce, who's our chief development officer. They're not only the founders of Blizzard, along with Allen Adham, but they're also former developers, they were programmers. These guys really understand what makes a game great and also what makes a game take weird, sideways paths to not being great. I was talking to Mike recently, and he pointed out to me, we have about a 50% success rate in actually launching a project that we start development. Throughout Mike and Frank's career, they've basically shut down an equal number of projects to what they've launched.
...a really amazing group that was working on Titan, really talented individuals, but we failed horrifically in every way. We failed in every way a project can fail.
I think, again, those values that are out there around the orc, one of them is "commit to quality," and that comes from guys like Frank and Mike and their willingness to either give a game the time it needs to become great. Or even more difficult and more challenging, to take something that's struggling and say, "This thing isn't where it needs to be. It's not gonna be Blizzard quality, and we're not gonna put our logo and our brand out there in a way where people now question, 'Should I buy it?' because that last thing wasn't really good." I think that commitment to quality has always come from the top down and that really speaks to the type of people that Mike and Frank are.
How did you end up on Overwatch? Were you always going to try and make a first-person game with your love of Half-Life 1 deathmatch maps?
I think a lot of us were FPS fans our whole lives. So there's always been this dream to work on an FPS, and, unlike a lot of other genres, the FPS is very explored. There is such a diversity in what people do with FPS games, and there's also a mastery in the genre. There are some genres that you look at and you can see as fertile ground where there are cool ideas but nobody's ever done the "great game" in the genre. Whereas with the FPS, there are many great games; there are many all-time, put-them-on-the-wall, Hall of Fame type games. Behind my desk over there I actually have the boxes for Doom 1 and Doom 2, just sitting there in honor of their greatness. It's a daunting genre to step into. The fans know exactly what they want out of the genre and are very particular. Your stepping into something that is hallowed ground, and you have to be very careful to respect what has been done there for 20 years before you.
Presumably, though, you guys thought there was something that people hadn't nailed yet. That there was something you could do that nobody had done before?
Absolutely. I think it was a mix of things. FPS games in the past decade have been trending towards realism and modern military, which is fantastic. One of my favorite games in that genre was Modern Warfare 2. There was Call of Duty 4, which was amazing, and then Modern Warfare 2 was almost like the more realized version of Call of Duty 4. They were perfect and awesome in every way, and we just loved it. But very much you've been seeing a trend further and further towards modern military, gritty realism. Guns that you could go and see in a gun catalog--real-life guns, you can go and wiki them. There was just a trend towards realism. Or if they stepped outside of realism, it was towards gritty near-future, and sort of barely near future. Like, here's what an AK47 would look like five years from now. So we felt like there was a space to explore that went beyond that.
The other thing that we didn't see a lot happening was cool, over-the-top abilities and new, unique movement. Having come from the Quake modding community, I remember segueing from Quake 1 to Quake 2, there was almost a race in the modding community--who could make the grapple hook the fastest? But it was all about rocket jumping and grapple hooks, and there was even grenade jumping. How could you move around the map quickly and in these really fluid, elegant ways? One of the things that we wanted to bring back to the FPS was abilities and movement and fluidity and how you move. Widowmaker, whose our Sniper for example, a lot of people use her grapple not just to get up to a higher vantage point but to actually launch themselves and snipe while in air. So we wanted to get into some of that really high skill, epic, fluid, really fun-to-watch type of gameplay.
Added to that was team gameplay. I think the masters of team gameplay in the FPS genre is the Team Fortress series, and that started with the Team Fortress the mod for Quake 1, which was amazing. One of my favorites ever. I don't hear a lot of people talk about it, but Team Fortress Classic, which was the update to Half-Life 1, and again as a Half-Life 1 guy, I just lost lost myself in that for so long. I was epically good being the Hunted president with the umbrella. I'd kill a lot of people with that.
Then, Team Fortress 2 in a lot of ways, especially when it launched back in 2007, was as perfect of a design of a team-based shooter as you could ever achieve. Visually, from the gameplay mechanics, from the balance, from the maps and the modes--it was just a brilliant, brilliant game. And what had happened over the years since Team Fortress 2's release is we had this big boom of MOBA games. I think the thing that really spoke to people in MOBAs, more than anything, was how coordinated teams could really be successful. And the Team Fortress competitive community knew that this existed, but that community was really small. The Team Fortress 2 community was huge in terms of who was playing it, but a lot of us were playing it in PUGs, where we would get on the servers that had been modified--I'm playing 12v12, instant respawn. It was just this kind of this chaos meat-grinder. Where I think the TF2 competitive people realized, "No, if you really coordinate and play this in a tight competitive way, it's all about the team play." That's what you saw exploding in MOBAs. And those games were built from the get-go to embrace, in their case, 5v5 gameplay.
I think we saw a refinement take place that said, "Well, what if you had these cool abilities, epic abilities happening, great movement, and then really embraced the team play and objective-based gameplay, and didn't let it get 12v12 meat-grindery, but really focused people on winning or losing as a group? What could you come up with?" Add to that a bright new universe--we had a vision of the future that's not the standard post-apocalypse. Usually when people ask "What would Japan be like in the future?" Immediately we go to, "Well, let's bomb it out," or, "Let's destroy it. Let's have an earthquake ruin it." Our vision was more a future where conflict existed, but we want a bright and aspirational vision of the future--a future that I want to live in someday.
I think all those elements combined are what led to Overwatch becoming Overwatch.
There's also the incredibly daunting issue of having to make this many characters work. How did you guys end up at 21? And I'm assuming that's been quite a struggle in terms of design, to try and make a system in which you have almost two dozen characters and none of them feel necessarily too overpowered, too underpowered--they all complement each other.
I think that the balance of the heroes in the game is really a testament to our lead hero a designer, a guy named Jeff Goodman. Jeff is a really veteran designer. He previously worked on World of Warcraft--if there was an epic raid boss you loved in World of Warcraft, it's likely that either Jeff or Scott from our team were one of the guys involved in making that. They are really talented guys, and they thought a lot about how players approach different problems from a combat mechanics standpoint.
When it came to Overwatch, early on we were talking about games that had classes--what if we had four classes or six classes? And Jeff was the guy in the room who said, "What if we just had as many classes as we could come up with? And make them really specific, unique heroes?" Add to that we have our assistant art director, this guy named Arnold Tsang--literally every character you've seen in Overwatch was drawn by Arnold--and he has this amazing artistic vision for diversity and uniqueness in character, and Jeff is his exact complement on the design side who feels like he always has something new in terms of what he can bring to a character design. In a large way, it's the two of them as visionaries who are driving where the heroes go.
The game is, at its essence, about these amazing heroes and the things that you're able to accomplish with them.
21 wasn't some magical number that we came up with. At different points when we were speccing out what Overwatch could be, we always had these very clean, round, 30, 40, 50, 12-type numbers. It was more organic and it was more through artistic instinct that got us to the 21 number of, "This feels right, right now for launch."
We hope to add more in the future, but the line we never want to cross is, "It feels like we have multiple heroes who just do the same thing." To us, that's the point at which we wouldn't want to add a hero to the game. But we have a lot of ideas; we have more ideas than we have time. So we think it's gonna take a while for us to cross that line. But this 21 for the lineup is a really sweet spot, and it's kind of a gut call.
It feels like there's a ton of diversity. Whether you're the type of person who picks a character because you really like sniping, hit-scan weapons versus bouncing projectile-type weapons; we've got something for you. There's a lot of people who just go, "I want to play a strong, female character. So I'm glad there are characters that speak to me." Or somebody who says, "That guy looks goofy. I need to be him because he just looks goofy, and I love the great voice lines that he has." I think there are different things that attract different people, and the 21 number was, "Do we have enough to speak to enough people for whatever reason?" And is it not so much that it completely overwhelms you? To where you can't even wrap your head around what's going on anymore because there's so many heroes in the game.
The heroes have clearly always been the focus, at least from our perspective in terms of communication, the heroes are very much what this game is about. The game modes themselves are familiar; we've seen them in other games. Is that intentional? Because if you start mixing up game modes and all those different heroes it might, sort of, overcomplicate it for players?
Absolutely. In fact, as you guys are here visiting us in our space, when you walk around, you'll see we have things up on the wall. One of the walls out there is our level design, high-level guiding goals. One of the first ones is, "It's all about the heroes." Which is a funny thing to say about the level designs, that the maps and the levels are "all about the heroes." Every game mode that we ever do, we want to make sure that we don't shift the focus of the players, there's a lot going on when you're playing Overwatch, it's a very fast-paced game. Things are coming at you very quickly and you need an immediate read on what's going on on the battlefield. Also, there are roles and strengths and weaknesses to all the characters--if we try to over-engineer a game mode too much, you're gonna suddenly lose focus on what the core of the game is. And the core of the game should be, "Hey, Steven over there is playing Pharah right now, maybe I should switch to 76 or McCree, because I think I'm really good at countering Pharah with 76 or McCree."
Some of the game modes that we explore get very complicated and gimmicky, and you get in these modes of, "Okay there are two foozles and then there are widgets, and then you need to get the widgets to the foozles. And foozle A has more widgets than foozle B..." Suddenly you're thinking of the interface if you need to do that, and lost in it all is: What happened to Tracer? And what happened to Winston? And what happened to Widowmaker? They don't matter anymore. It's a very deliberate choice for us to pick game modes that, in a lot of ways, fade into the background. The game is not about wacky, crazy game modes. The game is, at its essence, about these amazing heroes and the things that you're able to accomplish with them.
And then on the other side of that sliding scale is, everyone would say, "What? You're making a competitive, first-person game that doesn't have team deathmatch in it?" That causes its own problems for you, presumably.
Yeah, team deathmatch is a really intersting one that comes up. First of all, team deathmatch, in a lot of ways, becomes an oxymoron to me. That's not a fair statement, team deathmatch just means I don't get to kill half the people, but I'm not really coordinating or interacting with the other members of my team. In all the games that I've played team deathmatch, you have these moments where you run around a corner, and you kind of look at the other guy and say, "OK, carry on. Please don't take my kill." Or you're annoyed that the other guy died.
Also, in a hero-based game like Overwatch, if you look at a hero like Mercy, what does she become if we reduce the game down to team deathmatch? I think, in a lot of ways, you break a character like that. Or you break a character like Symmetra, who in a team-based objective game, they're some of the most powerful characters we have. But in a pure deathmatch they suddenly become really questionable choices. We do not design our characters to be this perfectly balanced, 1v1, rock-paper-scissors, "every hero can beat every other hero in a 1v1 situation"--they're absolutely not balanced and tuned that way. It would be a disservice to a lot of our heroes to make the focus of the game team deathmatch.
To that point as well, you've also done something that's almost never occurred to other team-based games--stripping out that kill-death ratio that everyone has, in not having traditional score screens.Can you speak to the ethos behind that decision?
Yeah, it's something I'm really happy to talk about because there's been a misconception in our community that Blizzard doesn't have a traditional scoreboard because they're, "Catering to the casuals," and, "They're a bunch of care bears," and, "It's all about toxicity." I find those conversations really interesting, and I think that there are some valid arguments people have made in terms of toxicity, but that hasn't been the reason at all.
In fact, if you go back and look at older versions game, we used to have a scoring system. We iterated endlessly on these scoreboards and scoring systems and, "What's the perfect scoreboard?" The scoreboard that a lot of players want is what I call the spreadsheet--it's just rows and columns of everything and they're like, "Let us figure it out." But that feels like a give-up moment to us. We want players to be able to look at the scoreboard and go, "I know who's performing really well, and I know who's not." If we just make it about kills and deaths, it doesn't tell the complete story of who's doing well and who's doing not.
For example, how does Mercy factor into a kill-death ratio type of scoring system? Conversely, we have tried other scoring systems where people have said, "We'll make it all about the objective. Who's on the payload and whose capturing points? Who not capturing points? Who's killing people on the payload and who's not killing people on the payload?" But we have characters like Tracer and Genji in the game who are really unique in how Overwatch is played, and sometimes the absolute right thing for Tracer to be doing is to be off on her own, completely away from the objective or completely away from the team, harassing other players who are running back from the spawn. And she might not even be killing those players--sometimes she's killing them, sometimes she's not. She's a distracting, ambushing skirmisher. And that doesn't really fit in necessarily with objective time. Sometimes it's about kills with Tracer, but sometimes it's not. You can be the absolute MVP of the match when you're doing some of those things, and there's no way to really score it accurately.
So we we basically stopped displaying any form of scores, kills, deaths because it really wasn't telling the story of who was doing their job properly to win or lose as a team. And really, what it's all about is, "Did you win or lose as a team?" None of that other stuff really matters at the end of the day.
Let's shift pace for just a minute and talk about the console editions. Obviously, Blizzard had great success with Diablo III and getting that on current-gen consoles. Can you talk about some of the design philosophy of a game that you know you're going to launch on PC and on console. Was that part of the decision to go first-person? Was the pace of the game always developed to try and make it make it so that both of those versions weren't necessarily that different at a glance?
The way we handle it at Blizzard, we usually come up with a game idea, and then we ask ourselves what platforms would this be amazing on? We want to make this first-person shooter, we want it to be really action-y. And then we'll explore it from there. PC was obvious and consoles were both obvious. You start to get into things like, "Can we make it work on a mobile phone?" And I scratch my head a little bit and I'm like, "I'm not sure we can make that a great experience." But you take a game like Hearthstone, and absolutely you could do that. Across Blizzard games, you'll see that--where it's about the gameplay first, and the game we want to make, and then exploring the platforms afterwards.
Once we started talking about FPS, console were immediately in the discussion because there's such a thriving FPS community on console--actually, the largest FPS communities are on consoles right now. We knew we could make a fun game that could be on both PC and console. Designing for both platforms at once was actually very helpful. Regardless of the platform, it allowed us to make a lot of smart decisions. It's easy to allow complexity to creep its way in when you're only focused on one platform over the other--like just console or just PC. There's actually a design discipline to showing some restraint--if we were just designing on PC, there would be this instinct of, "Well I don't how many hundred keys are on the keyboard, but we can always add another button if we need to." But that doesn't always make for a better game. Sometimes there's a restraint that can lead to a more elegant design long-term.
Knowing from day one, "Hey, we don't want to blow this thing out. We want to have all the controls work on both mouse and keyboard as well as a console controller." I think that led to a better game overall, regardless of what platform you're you're playing it on.
Do you think people on the console edition are going to end up using different characters? For instance Widowmaker may be less effective on console, but you know there are other characters in the game, like Winston for instance--he has a gun that basically sticks onto anything it's close to. Are you seeing that happening in playtests?
We're actually not. The cool thing about the console edition of the game is we put a lot of effort into shooting controls--how basically does the controller move, what type of acceleration is on there, but also aim-assist. Making sure it doesn't do anything crazy like insta-snap to, there's still a lot of skill involved, but we take things like sniping with a hit-scan weapon very seriously and making that feel as good as it does on PC. Obviously PC has no assists whatsoever, it's just pure raw input that gets there. But on consoles we make sure that it feels great.
I find that things such as a player's choice, to play something like a Symmetra or Winston where aim is less important, is more about individual players and playstyles and less about what platform they're on. Our executive producer Ray Gresko is an amazing sniper, and we do playtests on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation all the time. Almost every day we're doing a playtest on all three of them. And Ray, no matter what platform he plays on, he's always Widowmaker every time, and he's fantastic with her.
If we've done our jobs right, if you're the type of player who loves playing an assault rifle character, you're going to be a 76 player regardless of what platform. If you're the type who loves a sniper you're going to be playing Hanzo or Widowmaker regardless of what platform.
Microsoft recently announced that they're going to open the doors for cross-network play. Is that something you guys are looking into?
We are not supporting cross-platform play at this time. From a philosophical standpoint, we don't ever want to pit mouse and keyboard against the controller. We don't think it's fair.
Within consoles though?
We're very open to seeing where that goes. At this point, with our launch window rapidly approaching, we don't have the support structure in place to have cross-platform play there for launch. We're taking a wait-and-see approach with it. We're very glad that it's being explored, it's very exciting. And if it's something that's really cool, that we think should be integrated into Overwatch in the future, we will definitely consider it.
Can you talk to the decision to edit Tracer's pose from the game, and the communication that you have with your users on the message boards and stuff like that?
Absolutely. We made a decision, we had a pose called over-the-shoulder for Tracer that we were never really pleased with, just from an artistic standpoint. It was one of those where we always felt it kind of fell outside of the character's personality. Tracer is cute and playful, and she's the type of person who does everything with a wink and a smile. And in the pose, she takes herself very seriously--it's one of those traditional, almost supermodel poses is how I would describe it. There was an interesting discussion that had evolved on our forums talking about issues that one of our posters had--this pose made him feel a little bit uncomfortable because his daughter really looked up to Tracer, and he felt like this was a pose that wasn't entirely appropriate.
It was those two things together--the fact that we were never really happy with the pose and that fact that we felt like it fell out of character--and the fact that some of our community members were saying, "Hey, we think you guys might have crossed a line in terms of appropriateness with this," that helped influence our decision. Hey, you know we have a better pose anyway. A really cool, cute, playful over-the-shoulder pose. So its still an over-the-shoulder pose and one that we should have gone with in the first place. Why don't we just use that pose instead? It felt like a win-win to us.
In the grand scheme of drama and drama that's inevitably going to happen, I guess this is not the worst thing in the world to happen.
I felt like I had communicated the situation pretty poorly on the forums, I like to get into early in the morning, and I like to answer as many forum threads I can very quickly. I go about my day and then come back usually late at night and answer a few more forum threads just so our players know that were listening, that we're interacting with them. And that was one where I really didn't put much thought into my response, and it was wrong of me, on a topic that I should have known was a sensitive one, to explain our reasoning behind the decision more so people had an understanding. The part that upset me was people questioned our artistic integrity and called it censorship.
Censorship to me is when somebody comes to me as as a game director, I have the final creative say on anything that goes into the game, and censorship to me is when somebody comes and tells me I need to remove something from the game. Those moments happen--that's a reality that exists in video games. That's not at all what happened here. What happens here is, as the final creative say over the game, I said, "We have a cooler, better pose. This one's obviously ruffling some feathers. This is an easy, simple decision. But I didn't communicate it that way with our players. So it became a bigger deal than it needed to be. And I'm sorry to our community members on both sides of the argument, whichever way that they felt about it, because I feel like it was this unnecessary drama.
When all's said and done, though, and probably at the time that people are hearing about this it's probably blown over at this point, I feel like if the most controversial thing to come out of the Overwatch beta is a single pose of one of our characters, I'll take that any day over here, "I don't think the game is fun," or, "It's not cool," or, "Blizzard did something really bad." In the grand scheme of drama and drama that's inevitably going to happen, I guess this is not the worst thing in the world to happen.
Last question, who's your favorite character, or at least right now, what is the hero that you're going to?
Right now, my go-to is McCree. I love McCree. I think I mentioned throughout this interview that I'm a Half-Life guy Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2 have the best Magnum ever in the history of video games. And to me, when I'm playing McCree, I'm back in those early Half-Life days with that Magnum.