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The story of Overwatch: Return of the 90s shooterIn part two of GameSpot's three part series, GameSpot's Danny O'Dwyer talks to the developers at Blizzard about how games like Team Fortress Classic, Quake 2 and Half-Life Deathmatch inspired them to create Overwatch.
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, and was, I could of been a pro. And for me it was half-life, one death match, which any competitive FPS player is rolling their eyes right now, really dude? You couldn't have said Quake III, or Counter-Strike, or something like But I swear to god I was godlike in Halflife One Death Match. I could literally kill entire maps with the crowbar alone. Throwing snarks at everyone. [LAUGH] Exactly. [MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO] The word Moba is filthy word in the world of video games. It's like mustard. You're either in or you're out. And it was a word that was thrown around quite a lot when Overwatch first hit the gaming consciousness back in 2014. And with so many MOBA-like shooters hitting the news at the same time, it was no wonder. But the truth is Overwatch isn't a MOBA. In fact, when you get right down and play it, it's a game that almost feels like a best of collection of some of the shooters many of us grew up playing. In fact, when talking to the team about how the game was crafted It amazing just how may games were used as inspiration. But personally, my first question when I first heard about Overwatch, was what the hell are Blizzard doing making an online shooter. What does a studio known for making games about wizards and goblins and flying lion birds know about online shooters? Well, as it turns out. Quite a loss. There's 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's a split. There 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. So I was following those guys from the gecko and I was around in counter strike back in the day when, you psych a weapons back to your spawn so if your team was winning you would kill most of the enemy team. But there's one carrier left you didn't kill him you took all the weapons on the map and you just psycho them All the way back to your spawn. Then you ran, you killed the guy, and now all the good weapons were waiting at your spawn. So I was around in pretty early days of those things. Half-Life one shipped with the map editor on the disk. And ironically the name of the map editor was Worldcraft, 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. And that's where I was really learning, I 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 that I really got a feel for what it takes to make a map and have it run well and Have other people play test it and it was super exciting. I made a couple of maps for that. Before Geoff Goodman, who's our designer working on the bots. He and I were actually in a Team Fortress clan and we didn't even know each other. Like I was working with Blizzard and I wasn't sure where he was and he got an expert job with Blizzard. So so he came up through the ranks, and then we [INAUDIBLE] sort of this weird like wooh this is like weird synergistic stuff, like wow how did all this happen? But yea now we're making this really awesome shooter and we cant be happier. What was it like jumping into the first person space? I dont know on some level I want to say You know, terrifying, no safety net. Like what could you guys be possibly be thinking, when there are so many shops in the industry that do this. That are world class experts at this content. But I believe, Jeff Kaplan had an instinct of the product he wanted to make and how it would feel. I think a lot of us were FPS fans. For our whole lives and so there's always been this kind of dream to work on the FPS. The FPS, unlike a lot of other genres, the FPS is very explored. There have been, there is such a diversity in what people do with FPS's and there's also mastery in the genre. There are a lot of You know, there's some genres that you look at and you see a fertile ground where they're cool ides. 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. You want to put them on the wall hall of THese type of games. Behind my desk over there I actually have the boxes for doom one and doom two. Just sitting there in honor of the greatness. So it's a daunting genre to step into. The sound exact Exactly what they want out of the genre and are very particular. So you're kinda stepping into something that is solid ground and have to be very careful to respect what has been done there for 20 years before you. Assuming though you guys thought that there was something that people hadn't nailed yet. Yeah. That there was something that you guys could do that nobody had done From before. Absolutely. I think it was a mix of things. I think one FPS's in the past, I wanna say decade, have been trending towards realism and modern military. Or if they stepped outside of realism it was towards a gritty near future. Barely near future. Here's what an AK 47 then would look like five years from now. So we felt like there was a space to explore that with beyond that. The other thing that we didn't see a lot of happening was new and unique movements. So having come from quake modding Community where, I remember when segueing from Quake I to Quake II, there was almost this race in the modding community, who could make the grapples hooks the fastest? But it was all about rocket jumping, and grapple hooks, and there was even grenade jumping. And it was, how could you move around the map quickly, and in these really fluent, elegant ways? And one of things that we wanted to sort of bring back ESPS was abilities and movements and fluidity in how you move and skill like you know widow maker who's are sniper for example a lot of people use her grapple not just to get up to a high advantage point but actually launch themselves and snipe while in air. So we wanted to get into some of that really high skill epic sort of fluid really fun to watch type of gameplay. Added to that was team gameplay, so I think the masters of team gameplay in the FPS genre was the Team Fortress series and it started with Team Fortress the mod for Quake one Which was amazing. One of my favorites ever. Then I don't hear a lot of people talk about it, but [UNKNOWN] classic, which was the update to half-life One. And again, just as a half-life One guy, just lost myself in that for so long. And then Team Fortress Two, when it launched, especially in a lot of ways back in 2007, Was as perfect of a design of a team based shooter as you could ever achieve. I mean visually, from the game play 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 mobile games. And, I think the thing that really spoke to people in mobiles more than anything, was how coordinated teams can really be successful. And, the team fortress competitive community new this existed. The community was really small. The team fortress The community was huge in terms of who was playing it, but a lot of us were playing it in pubs. Where we'd get on these servers that we modified, like, I'm playing 12v12 instant respawn. And it was just kind of this chaos, meat grinder where I think the TF2 competitive people realized like, no if you really coordinate and play this in a tight, competitive way, it's all about the team play that you saw exploding in MOBA's. And those games were built from the get go to embrace, in their case 5v5 Game play. So I think we saw a refinement that could take place that what if you had these cool abilities at the you know abilities happening. Great movement and then really embrace the team play and objective base game play but really focus people on winning or losing as a group. So, I think all those elements combined are what lead to overwatch becoming overwatch. You think all the ideas from all the third person shooters. during that amount of time, there's a lot of great ideas to explore. That worked back then, what can we do with it now, and make it even better. We knew the rocket launcher is How is the. When you think first person shooter man, it's like all rifles and rocket launchers. Like between those two, we knew we were gonna have someone with a rocket launcher. And very early on, it was sort of interesting cuz we were first doing one of our first knockdowns. Initially we really only planned for like three heros. And it was like we portray [UNKNOWN] Widowmaker and Jeff Goodman was like, I think I can get a rocket launcher character in super fast. And he just did it. And [INAUDIBLE] of course we're gonna put a rocket launcher. It was like, yes we're doing that. And it's like, if we get that in super fast then do it. Yeah, so we sorta just snuck Farah into that mouse hunt. Even when she wasn't called Farah then her code name was Rocket Queen. If you go into Well like a file name like .fera.whatever it's like rocket clean. We knew we were eventually gonna do someone with a grenade launcher, like Trunk came later on but we'd alway stalked about it. Because that was one of the things when we were developing Tor Burn Was, turrets are super strong. It's like, yeah but we're gonna do the grenade launcher character, and that's gonna change things cuz he can lob grenades and hit the turrets where the turrets can't fire back. But then we finally did it, but we did it with our spin, with the traps and the remote controlled detonation. [BLANK_AUDIO] There's a lot to talk about when it comes to hero design, especially how many of them reference classic shooters of old, and some not so old. But we'll dive into that properly in the third video in this series. Right now I wanted to quiz Jeff about the many ways in which Overwatch is entirely similar to many online shooters. I wanted to ask him about its game mode, its map design, and how exactly you breathe new life Over such well trodden ground. The game mods themselves, are sort of familiar. Most of them are, we've seen them in other games. Is that almost intentional? Because if you start to mix up game modes and all those different heroes it sort of might overcomplicate it for players. Absolutely and in fact you guys are here visiting us, in our space. You'll walk around and you'll see we have things up on the wall. And on one of the walls out there is our level design, high level guiding goals. And one of the first ones is it's all about the heroes. Which is a funny thing to say about the level design, the maps and the level design is, it's 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 player. There's a lot going on when you're playing Over Watch. it's a very fast pace game. Things are coming out you very quickly and you need an immediate on what's going on in the battlefield. Also There are roles and sort of strengths and weaknesses to all the characters. If we try to over engineer a game mode too much, you're going to 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 Sarah right now Maybe I should switch to 76 or Creed because I think I'm really good at countering Terran with 76. Some of the game modes that we explore get really complicated and gimmicky and you get in these modes of like, Okay, there's Two foosals and then theres widgets and then you need to get the widgets to the foosals and if foosal A has more widgets than foosal B suddenly you thinking of the interface, you need to do to that. You're lost in it all is whar happened to tracer? what happened to Winston? what happened to widow maker? They dont matter anymore Anymore. So it's a very deliberate choice for us to take game mode that in a lot of ways faded into the background. The game is not about wacky, crazy game mode, the game is at it's essence about these amazing heroes and things that you're able to accomplish with them. There are some things that I really worried about it at the start of the process going from designing space in World of Warcraft or any open world because I ended up transitioning over to the exterior level as you're seeing there, and the spaces there are huge. You're building whole zones and you're really worried about vistas and And kinda how it feels, like on an immersion level a lot of the time. And so I was really worried about scale when we first started, because it'd be so easy to just kinda keep running with what had on WOW. And so we did a lot of research early on into how big a map ought to be, and how big even just one engagement area ought to be. We did a lot of work looking at other games. We loaded up a lot of Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty, even in their editors. And we kind of started measuring things to just see what it was that those games did. And it was actually really interesting to me that in my head I was expecting those game spaces to be a lot different. Then they were. But they're actually pretty similar, a lot of the engagement distances in those. We did a lot of work on scale and how far away we wanted people shooting each other. And we were looking a lot at FOV and character speed because they all go hand in hand. And once we started feeling that that worked well, it Everything became about the heroes in the game. Team death matches are really interesting one that comes up, first of all team death match in a lot of ways becomes an oxymoron to me and that's not a fair statement but team death match 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 I play with Team Death match you have these moments where you run around a corner and you kind of look at the other guy, Okay, I, and then you run, like carry on, like please don't take my kill that's sort of, 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 sort of just reduce the game down to the team death match? 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 are some of the most powerful characters we have, but in a pure death match they suddenly become really questionable choices. We do not design our characters to be this perfectly balanced, one-v-one, rock-paper-scissors. Like every hero can beat every other hero. In a one v one situation, they're absolutely not balanced and tuned that way. So it would sort of be a disservice to a lot of our heroes to make the focus of the game more of a team death match. To that point as well, you've also done something that's almost like never occurred to use team based games is like stripping out that kill death ratio that everyone has. In not having traditional score screens. Can you sort of speak to the ethos behind that decision? Yeah, absolutely. 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 and I find those conversations really interesting and I think that there's some valid arguments people have made in terms of toxicity. But that hasn't been the reason at all and, in fact, if you go back and look at older versions of the game, we used to have a scoring In system and we edit rated endlessly on this score board and scoring system and what's the perfect score. That the score board that a lot players want is what I called the spread sheet it just rows and columns of everything and then like let us figure it out. But, if that feels like kind of a give up moment to us Cuz, 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. And 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 in? To a kill death ratio type of scoring system. Conversely you know, we have tried other scoring systems where people were said well, make it all about the objective. So, who's on the payload and who's capturing points and who's not capturing points. Or who's killing people on the payload and not killing people on the payload. But [MUSIC] We have characters like, Tracer and Gangi 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 us, though. Sometimes she's killing them, sometimes she's not. She's a distracting, ambushing, skirmisher. And that doesn't really fit necessarily with objective time, sometimes it's about kills with tracer, but sometimes it's not. You can be the absolutely 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 And none of that other stuff really matters at the end of the day. We always want your team of six to be working together to accomplish an objective together. And whether that's a stated objective, in the game such as escort this payload or capture this control point, Or it's some of our softer objectives which is just break through this choke point. We quickly started developing a series of things that we'd use in the map to bring a whole team together, whether it was on offense or defense, to kind of break through and accomplish what they needed to. [MUSIC] I'm listening to the designers talk about overwatch and one thing comes across this thing is a group of individuals who are incredibly well diversed in game design. This coupled with a deep respect for the FPS lineage and a passion for classic shooters means they are well equipped to try and deliver something new in what has become a rather stale genre of late. As you've seen from today's video they've very much have their sites set on team play as a way to archive this, but we've only told half of that story. Tomorrow in our third and final video, we explore the heroes of overwatch How they connect this game with classic shooters of old, and how a team hopes to balance a game with 21 different characters on offer. See you then. [MUSIC] Actually, last question. Yeah? Who is the hero that has caused you the most hassle of the map design? My gosh. It's Pharah and Widowmaker. They can just get anywhere in a map, and it's always One of the two of them you see on the form it's just I got over here. I got over here, and so we spend a lot of time fixing bugs associated with either of those. [UNKNOWN] my two favorite cards are there. [UNKNOWN] and [UNKNOWN] Yeah. Thanks a lot. [LAUGH] [MUSIC]