Interview: Jeff Kaplan on Overwatch

We chatted with Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan prior to the release of the second phase of the closed beta to talk about the present and future of Blizzard’s inaugural shooter.

Interview: Jeff Kaplan on Overwatch
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Whether you played the Overwatch closed beta in the last round, are currently involved in the second phase, or are hanging out to play Blizzard’s first crack at the shooter space, you can learn something from my interview with Jeff Kaplan. We talked about which points of feedback from the first closed beta helped to shape where the game is currently at, new features, and a whole lot more.

There's also a gallery of snazzy new screenshots attached to this article, too.

PCPP: I just wanted to start with a feedback question. What were the biggest points of feedback that you had from the community from the last closed beta that you were able to address and incorporate into the next phase?

Jeff Kaplan: That’s a great question. There was a concern about how ult[imate]-generation worked. For example, players were concerned because you use to generate ultimate by taking damage or dealing damage, and that meant that certain heroes, such as Junkrat, who does a lot of indirect damage… like, if you’re really playing Junkrat correctly, you should have a lot of grenades going at all times. But you felt like you were feeding the other team ult, because sometimes your grenades would go off and not kill somebody, that person just gained a lot of ult, and Mercy, the person healing that person, gained a lot of ult. So we removed the ability to gain ultimate from taking damage, so that we feel like it was a very big significant balance change. You still gain ult by dealing damage, and then you also gain ult at a slow trickle rate, as well. So that was a big adjustment.

We added a lot of new functionality to the [custom] game [mode]. We added a practice range, where you can go in safely and just kill training bots, try new heroes. It’s like a fun playground that you can run around with nothing shooting at you, but there are tonnes of targets for you to experiment with. We added a new play mode where you can play versus the AI, and we queue you in with six other players on your team, fighting exclusively against bots on the other team, which is a great entry point to the game for a lot of people. We blew out our custom game feature.

You can now add a map rotation, so it’s not a single game at a time and then back to the lobby. You can have it just change cycles, maps, if you want. We gave you control over heroes so you can have only one unique hero per game, which would mean that only one person can be Tracer in the whole match. You can have one unique hero per team, two unique heroes per team, two unique heroes per game. You could set up a game where it’s only Hanzo and Genji playing each other. You could set up a game where it’s headshots only. You can disable the killcam in a match. You can disable skins in a match. You can set the health modifier. Really, just a tonne of stuff based on player feedback.

PCPP: One of the features that I particularly enjoyed about the last closed beta, and it might sound a little bit random, but I really liked the end-of-match rating feature, specifically as it relates to other players. Has it survived into this stage into the beta, or has it been scrapped?

Jeff Kaplan: Nope, it’s still there. We call it the commendation system. And we actually spent a lot of time on it in the past few months. We have a really talented designer named Scott Mercer who sort of made it a big focus of his for a good period of time to really improve the system. So we’ve done a couple of things to the end-of-round experience. You’ll see some of the screens are actually redesigned. The commendation—the cards that pop up—that screen looks the same right now. In terms of statistics, we’ve completely redesigned the statistics that show up at the end of round, as well as during the match.

So there are now new statistics that we think are really cool. Like, for example, we track what we call objective kills, which means that if you’re killing people either from an objective or you’re off the objective but killing people who are on that objective, you get kills, it kind of lets you know who’s fighting near what you’re fighting over. We have a statistic now for objective time, which means time spent either pushing the payload, capturing a control point, or contesting one of those things. So it really shows who’s winning or losing the match for you. Along with that, we added the cards at the end that we call commendations.

We added cards for all of those things that are really relevant to what you were doing. We also just added a whole lot of new and interesting cards. For example, now Zarya has one for how many projected barriers she’s put on people. If it was a really significant number. And we did a major tuning pass because we felt like sometimes that cards that came up at the end, you’d kind of look at it and scratch your head, like, ‘What was so impressive about that? I did this really cool thing over here, and then I see that, like, Roadhog has a thousand damage taken, and he got the card instead.’ We basically did a massive tuning pass on the commendations at the end.

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