Exclusive Interview: Overwatch’s Leads Reveal Upcoming Game Features & More

We’ve recently sat down with Geoff Goodman, Lead Hero Designer for Overwatch, and Bill Warnecke, Lead Software Engineer for Overwatch, to ask them a few questions about the game and their inspirations as they were planning for the new (and upcoming!) game features.

Check out how our conversation went down!

1. Could you tell us more about the new Deathmatch map, Petra?

Geoff: I’ll start with some of the mechanics. When we started working on Petra, we looked pretty hard at Chateau (the previous Deathmatch map) and looked at what we had on offer there along with what we could do with the new map that would be different but still feel really good for Deathmatch.

Overwatchs Leads on the topic of Deathmatch map

So, a couple of things that we honed on is that there’s a lot more verticality and layers in Petra; you can have Widowmaker on high ground looking down on an open pit area with breakable ground. There’s also a winding path that you can make use of as Reaper or Junkrat and have some close-up fights. A decision we made early was to allow characters who can really abuse the verticality of the map like Pharah and Widowmaker to have a lot of fun and opportunities in this area.

Deathmatch map underground

We wanted to experiment with the idea that the map can change over time like destructible areas. In fact, the idea originally came during a small holiday break during around November, a lot of people go on break, so our team was scaled down because of that. We ended up letting the team develop whatever they wanted in this period, like prototypes of different mechanics and see what was cool.

There was a small pod of people who got together and sort of built this prototype of breakable environment. It wasn’t anything like Petra; it was mostly a test path to see what it would be like and it was pretty fun even just on that little path and it was something we definitely wanted to use.

Deatchmatch map featuring breakable ground

Bill: It was interesting for me and my group of programmers; one thing we worked on was automatic testing of maps and (Petra) is a good area to set up a lot of bots to test out the map to make sure things are working properly. The engineer who was building that test didn’t realise that the floor was breakable and at some point, he noticed that his test wasn’t working as intended.

When he finally took a look at the test, he realised the floor was all broken and (the bots) were continuously falling through the floor. It was a fun moment when he realized it and thought it was really cool; we hopped in instead to try the map out.

Geoff: Once we actually started working on Petra and began prototyping, it was already really fun, so we knew we were on to something that just needed some refining.

Bill: In terms of the story, I think we have it set up where the archaeologist is currently excavating the area of shrines trying to recover something from the area, and Overwatch is at its early stages. So new maps like these are an opportunity for us to start teasing out any upcoming plotlines or to set the roots for things we want to do, maybe in the game, a cinematic or other kinds of long-running plotlines so finding out more about the story of Petra is kind of down the future and leaves you hanging a little.

Geoff: It’s intentionally vague and (the map) has a lot of mysteries built into everything. The environmental artists did an incredible job, especially when we were first testing out the map. At one point they just checked in a massive art update and it was in the interior at the back side where a huge cavern that opened up which was a previously a wall.

When the playtest email came in, we looked at the map and asked, “Oh, what is this new map? I’ve never seen this before!” I didn’t even realise it was the same map because it just looked SO different and so awesome. I was really happy how awesome it looked and it just looks amazing.

2. Will we see more destructible terrain in Quick Play or Competitive maps, or will these features only be seen in Deathmatch and their respective Competitive queues?

Geoff: I think it’s possible! When we first put in Oasis, we had the first jump pad in the game and that was a case where we didn’t want to make the next map that was just jump-pads everywhere. “Well, I hope this doesn’t hurt the game,” was what we were hoping; we tried to test the waters a little and make sure everyone rejoices as much as we do.

That’s not to say our next map is going to be fully destroyable or anything; I think there’s definitely a measured approach here. We’re going to make sure that the integrity of the competitive nature is there.

Bill: Because we’re running the competitive Deathmatch season right now, we’ll be able to get a little bit of feedback about the mechanic. I know it’s not regular full on 6v6 competitive, but people tend to treat these mini-competitive seasons pretty seriously, so we’ll look there for feedback and see how it plays out.

3. What goes into designing a Deathmatch map like Petra (Deathmatch) and how different was it designing it compared to, let’s say, Rialto (Payload)?

Geoff: From both a level-design standpoint and a gameplay standpoint, it’s definitely going to be different. A map like Rialto and any of our payload or assault map is going to have a linear and single-direction flow. You have an attacker and a defender, who are trying to create chokepoints and they’re guarding the sidelines very carefully along with a tiny area as a staging ground on this linear path. There are a lot of specific situations where the defenders have time to set up their defenses like sniper roosts for Hanzo and Widowmakers.

A Deathmatch map, on the other hand, is much more circular and more open; you expect a lot of movement from all directions and you’re spawning on the circumference of a circle and moving towards the center where that large health pack is, kind of like a power spot. There are little pockets of opportunity all over the place and (players) are not necessarily facing each other at a standoff point; it’s more like (they’re) guarding this large area or taking over this little corridor. So, from that perspective, it’s very different.

Bill: I think the core of Overwatch is to bring out special things from the heroes and make them or their abilities feel interesting. On a typical map like Route 66, you can bring out the strength of their abilities through teamwork on the payload map. On a free-for-all, however, you’re really looking at how does each individual hero shine on their own on this particular map. So yeah, completely different philosophies, but still rooted in the same ideas: make the heroes feel awesome for all their own individual reasons.

4. What were the inspirations behind the legendary skins for the Overwatch anniversary? How much inspiration do you draw from the community itself, whether it be fanart or community ideas?

Bill: We certainly have fans that throw out suggestions everywhere and we love hearing that constantly. We love trying to provide those skins they’re really asking for.

Geoff: We have an amazing concept artist led by Arnold Tsang, and honestly, it’s less of, “Oh man, we gotta come up with a skin idea. What shall we do?” and more like, “Okay, we have these like, ten awesome skin ideas, we should pick the ones we really like.”

Doomfist Skin

Our inspiration comes from everywhere; the Doomfist (Anniversary) skin, for example, came right out of the comics. I remember when we first released that comic, internally we’re looking at it and thinking, “it looks amazing, we gotta make a skin for that.”

Right after (its) release, there was an immediate response from the community and we went, “Allllright, we definitely need a skin; this is literally a thing and we have to do this.”

The issue was that we had to ask ourselves where we could put this skin. It wasn’t exactly a summer skin or anything, so that’s what I love about (the Overwatch Anniversary Event) – we just get to put our favourite ideas and it’s sort of an excuse to not have to tie it to a season. We could just do anything.

5. Pink Mercy (a charity campaign to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation) was definitely a great idea and we love all the special sound effects for charity – is this the starting point for more charity collaborations in the future?

Geoff: I think it’s possible. We haven’t really committed to anything new yet, but I think (Pink Mercy) was sort of a trial run to see how the response goes, and it certainly blew us away. I mean, I can’t even say enough how grateful we are to the community and the players and everyone that was involved. It certainly is a great direction.

Overwatchs leads on the topic of Pink Mercy charity event

Bill: It felt like, when we were getting everything ready and talking about it on the team, it’s such an important cause for so many that we were all very emotional about. Then when you release it and share it with everyone, you can be a bit nervous about how it’s going to go, how everyone is going to feel and react. Reading blog posts from people who had Breast Cancer play a terrible part in their lives and potentially their families – to hear that this event has brought a form of joy or hope or thoughtfulness around the situation resonated really well with us.

6. Let’s talk Brawls. Since all previous brawls were made available, are there any more plans to create more for subsequent seasonal events this year?

Geoff: Well, I mean I couldn’t even announce these things anyways *chuckles* even if I knew exactly. To be honest, we’re still working on a bunch of stuff all the time. We actually have a really powerful toolset that we can experiment with everything; we experiment with heroes, which we do constantly, but also game modes.

I remember when we were first shipping the game, we talked a lot about Deathmatch and CTF (Capture the Flag) and we thought we could never do those. The modes didn’t fit with the game and they aren’t going to work with the game (back then). We thought about it a lot and discussed how it was going to work and what we wanted to go for.

Overwatchs leads discuss brawl mode

Fast forward to when we implemented the arcade and got brawls going. We thought, “Yeah, we could do those game modes – let’s try it,” and Deathmatch ended up becoming super popular and quite fun in the game. CTF as well, although we’ve had a few iterations over time. At this point, I’m (hesitating) to say if anything’s off the table, because who knows?

Bill: I think we’ve done both spectrums of it so far; we’ve done lighter touch adjustments to rules and maybe like CTF, doing sort of a new rule set while adding a map for it, all the way up to retribution or archive events where it felt quite different year after year with a completely new mission.

I think there’s a lot of discussion going into the month leading up to the event. Some of our concerns are: “How are we feeling about playing this right now? What do players think? How are they enjoying it? Have things changed because of new maps or new heroes that are in the game?” along with just deciding what feels right. As a development team, we play the game a lot and we listen to player feedback a lot. Those things come together help shape what we do at any given moment, so I think the door is open. We could do so much – it’s just figuring out what makes sense.

Geoff: Prioritising. It’s always prioritising. *Both Leads laugh and agree*

7. What kind of Competitive rewards have the team been testing out, and what are the future plans regarding those?

Geoff: We’ve actually talked a lot about that recently because it’s getting to a point where people are accruing over time and we agree with you that it feels like we could be doing more with it and we’d love to provide more avenues where you could use these points. I don’t have anything to announce right now but we’re very actively talking about it coming up with solutions for it.

8. Will introducing a Deathmatch Competitive Mode eventually lead to bringing the mode to OWL (Overwatch League)?

Geoff: I’m certainly not qualified to answer these questions, but I will say it’s pretty unlikely. We really enjoy putting competitive modes together for these seasonal events and everything: we had one for Lucioball last time, and it really helped solidify the game. We do have people who want more serious gameplay, but there’s a pretty big gap between a seasonal brawl and a competitive season. I hesitate to say ‘never’, but it’s probably ‘very unlikely’.

Bill: And I think if we take a look at CTF or Deathmatch, which you can create in a custom game at any time, it’s certainly more common than (a mode like) Lucioball, which goes away until the next year. We think they’re pretty solid game modes, even if they are part of the Arcade. But the real core of Overwatch and where we think the highest level of play is the 6v6 team battles. We haven’t gone through enough of season 1 of OWL and, I think, it’s not the time to make such a radical change in terms of the format. There’s still so much for that 6v6 core to figure out in season 2 that I don’t think we’ll be doing competitive Deathmatch anytime soon.

9. On the behalf of all the Reinhardt mains on the team, is he being looked at again? Because he’s pretty hard to play right now?

Geoff: Yeah, he’s actually being looked at right now, the biggest change we’re pushing for right now, but it’s tough because there are some technical challenges and we might not make it for the update.

We are working on some new behind-the-scenes tech for his Earthshatter Ultimate. He has a lot of issues on that; many inconsistencies in his Ultimate that, in the past, we tried to fix with one-off debugs. But we started to realise there were a number of larger, systemic problems with the way that it would detect targets with the tech that it’s laying on.

Overwatchs' leads talk about Reinhardt

We’re actually rebuilding that from the ground up so that’s why it’s taking a little bit of time, but it’s actually high up on our priority right now and I’m hopeful we’re going to get it in within the next patch or two. It would be really helpful because not only will it fix a lot of the bugs but also a ton of inconsistencies with the ultimate and in the game.

Outside of that, we are talking about some changes to him, he’s kind of difficult to change sometimes because he’s kind of a core part of a lot of meta strategies and team comps and he’s particularly in an interesting spot right now because of the way Brigitte has fallen into the meta where he works REALLY well with her but also gets countered quite hard by her, so I’m not sure exactly if we’ll do anything as far as minor tuning and stuff, but we’re definitely talking about it.

10. Did you expect Brigitte to have this huge of an impact on the meta?

Geoff: To be honest, yeah, actually. It’s usually pretty hard to predict everything and we’re usually very surprised. But the reason, in this case, is that we have our own meta internally as we’re testing things; hers specifically, we had a pretty polarising response: there were some that said she felt really invincible while there were some that said they were dying all the time and felt useless.

It was pretty hard to tune her, with that polarizing feedback, but in a lot of ways, it’s good to have her in the game. You want characters to have a strong impact on the others; we’re seeing heroes with another ‘run-and-gun’ tactic and that doesn’t have a meta impact that we’re hoping for.

Overwatchs leads on the topic of Brigitte

In Brigitte’s case, it’s nice to have a new answer to Tracer and Genji, very fast characters in general, where you can just pin them down and protect your team, especially as a support character. We knew that would have a large meta impact as well. I remember when we announced her and talked to the professional players and high-ranking players about her and they said, “Oh my god, this is actually going to change a ton,” because there’s so much reliance on Tracer.

She’s still extremely powerful – the nice thing is that Tracer gets to pick her distances and retreat if she gets too careless. I think we’ll still get a lot of polarizing response for Brigitte, but as I said, I really think the game is healthier for that.

11. Which direction will the design team head towards in the next year of Overwatch?

Geoff: I’m not allowed to say! There are a lot of things, but we do have a lot of ideas; it’s sort of what I’ve mentioned before where we’re not out of ideas but more about ‘which of the many things we want to do, do we use now?’

We’re working on so many things at the same time and they’re all being done at different timespans. I will say that we have a lot of things coming and I’m super excited about them personally; really looking forward to a lot of this stuff. So, yeah, it’s hard to really talk about when I’m not allowed to. *laughs*

Bill: I think one of the next cool things we have coming up is the new Symmetra stuff on the PTR (Public Test Region).

Geoff: Oh, yeah, that’s coming real soon, actually. The Symmetra rework – I talked a little about it on our public forums but she’s changing quite massively. We’ve just recently released Brigitte and we had a lot of questions like, “is she really going to impact the game?” and I think she is going to shift the meta and we’ve definitely seen that (happening).

I think Symmetra is going to have a lot of new opportunities in her new role as a damage-per-second (DPS) rather than a support character. It’ll be a really radical shift for the character, especially with the way teleporters are going to work, allowing her to connect two points in the field and teleport your allies across, maybe up to a building or stuff. There’s a lot of potential to bring characters that can’t usually get to high places like Torbjorn, to bring them to crazy places.

I’m super excited to see what the community does with her and it’s coming up really soon; it’s coming up on the PTR in a couple of weeks.

Alright, that’s it for now. Thank you so much for your time!

Both: Thank you!

Visuals courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

Wesley Tay

Wesley here. When I'm not too busy being trapped in a basement, I'm usually playing video games about war, death, suffering and cupcakes.

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