On July 13th, 2016, a group of Blizzard developers hopped into Overwatch to play the new Player Test Region patch with Ster, an Overwatch streamer. In the whole video, which runs almost two hours, the developers discuss different elements of Overwatch, Ana, and the new balance patch. The developers that Ster interviewed are: Tim Ford – lead gameplay programmer for Overwatch, Arnold Tsang – assistant art director on Overwatch, Geoff Goodman – principal game designer in charge of character design, Jeff Kaplan – game director for Overwatch, and Michael Chu – senior game designer working on story and lore.
The Blizzard developers talked about Ana, saying that she was always designed to be a support sniper but early in development she was a “Chemist . . with some sort of biology element with a lot of potions.” Ana’s toolkit early on had been designed to test abilities before being more streamlined. At this time, Ana was being called “Alchemist” and she had an ability that was “a potion she could drink, and it would make her jump and move really, really fast for a very brief window. . . so you got a super jump.” The ability proved too strong for Ana as a sniper. The developers said they are “trying not to put mobility options on everybody, [otherwise] the game becomes sort of “everyone becomes Tracer” in the long run.”
The potion ability was then replaced by Ana’s Sleep Dart, which was based on the idea that “maybe she doesn’t need to escape you and jump away really fast. . . maybe she can put you down and walk away really slowly.”
The developers also talked about how Ana’s ultimate was designed to try something different with support design, “we knew we wanted to go with something that wasn’t just the AOE, helping your whole team out thing. . . . we ended up [trying], ‘what can we do with the one person that’s just really good.'” They also spoke about how her design was different than Widowmaker’s, especially concerning the absence of head shots. The developers said “if she’s able to head shot, some of that comes with a lot of extra power; a lot of that power needs to be taken out of body shots. . . . I didn’t really want a lot of her power to come out of requiring head shots, especially on allies. . . . it can be hard enough to hit your allies right now when they’re jumping all over the place.”
On the Bio-Soldier Design
The developers also talked briefly about the design of an unreleased hero, a bio-soldier, who had been seen in some of the early Overwatch marketing. The bio-soldier had some of his abilities being tested in the very early Ana design when she was still Alchemist, but when the developers were trying to add Ana into the game, they realized they did not want multiple straight snipers. The developers discovered that Ana could fit into the Alchemist’s design. Jeff Kaplan said it “was kind of like this stars aligning. We had this really fun. . . awesome healer-sniper going on and then we wanted to dig out her story more.”
On the Mercy Changes
The Blizzard developers talked about why the Mercy change was brought around, arguing that the 50% damage boost had been too strong when Widowmaker had a 150 damage body shots. When Widowmaker’s damage was reduced, the developers thought “maybe there was a window to bring Mercy back to full charge former glory. . . . it’s shown, even in the one day we’ve played, it’s probably a bit much,” because it allows McCree to do over 200 damage with his head shots. The developers said they were planning on returning Mercy’s damage boost back down to 30%.
On the Zenyatta Changes
Zenyatta’s major buffs were described as trying to “push him up, putting him on PTR with some pretty big numbers and see what happens with an eye to see if the right answer is 175 instead of 200.”
Kaplan talked about how balancing the Competitive Play’s AFK and Leaver mechanics as balancing on “the razor’s edge,” speaking of the difficulty to be fair while also being wary of the competitive players’ ability to game the leaver system.
Kaplan spoke about trying to get players to understand the difference between the previous climb based system and the new skill based system. Kaplan said that they were trying to help players “grok. . . [that] it’s less about a climb and more about. . . playing fun matches with people of your skill level.”
The Blizzard developers talked some about the one hero limit in Competitive Play, arguing that the one hero limit play mode would allow Blizzard to save time on trying to balance around hero stacking while also allowing heroes to still feel powerful. Kaplan also spoke about how Blizzard was not interested in completely scrapping the idea of no limits; however, he spoke about how playing against a cheesy strategy can be “funny and cool. . . in one in two hundred [matches] . . . as those numbers get smaller you start to see it in one in ten and one and five, it’s less cool and funny over time, and it really becomes kind of fatiguing.”
For competitive season two, Kaplan said “We’re getting rid of the coin toss. . . and then we’re also adding the time bank system to the payload mode.” Kaplan also said that Blizzard is planning to implement changes both in season one and season to “to make the matches faster.” Kaplan also responded to criticism about how Blizzard released multiple balance changes, single hero limits and adding a new hero within a single season; he admitted to knowing the competitive system needed more work, saying that Blizzard “really wanted to put changes in now, rather than waiting all the way until September to start those changes happening. We wanted to start iteration now, rather than waiting all that time.”
Kaplan said there were four maps currently in development, but he stated that he “didn’t know when when they’re going to come out. I don’t know if they’re all going to come out.” He also slyly said that one of the maps was going to come out “soonish.” Kaplan also said that they were still exploring new game modes.
On Hero Hit-Boxes
The developers talked about how hit-boxes had been designed for the ease of play concerning extremely mobile hero, but discussed how projectile size worked with the “generous” hit-boxes. This design had caused some complaints with being hit around corners, specially with Hanzo’s arrows. The developers said, “We’ve just added some more nuance to it. I think most part, in the heat of the battle it should feel pretty good if you’re shooting as Hanzo, but you will have a lot less situations where you’re running around a corner and get caught by a Hanzo arrow.”
Other Intended Changes
Kaplan confirmed rumors about new skins, saying “there are more coming, and they are coming during the summer, and it is still summer.” He also spoke about being able to give all characters the ability to see their teammate’s health bars, like Soldier: 76 and Zarya.
Finally Kaplan said, “We want at least one more round of balance tweaks before we go live,” guessing the new patch would go live in one or two weeks.
Watch the whole interview.