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Reddit Q&A with Jeff Kaplan (round up) - Overwatch

Jeff Kaplan sheds some interesting light on the future of Overwatch.

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About Ed Thorn

Ed joined Metabomb in May 2017 and is responsible for the Overwatch and Destiny sections of the site.

Overwatch Subreddit mods, turikk, BoozyPelican and Dennis recently had a chance to sit down with game director Jeff Kaplan and ask him a bunch of questions regarding the game. His answers don’t disappoint, as he gives his thoughts on expansions, new seasonal events and even the possibility of adding community modding tools in the future.

We’ve rounded up the key information from the interview, making it easier for you to absorb the exciting new details. It’s a lengthy read, but one that’s well worth chewing over.

Do you believe in expansion packs or sequels?

I think an expansion pack or a sequel could be cool, I don’t know what that is today. We don’t have an idea where it’s like “Oh okay, I totally know what it is”. What I don’t like is the concept of splitting up the playerbase – I don’t like the idea that some of us can play on this map or that some of us can or some of us can’t play with these heroes and some of us can’t.

Hero switching is key to the game. I can’t imagine coming out with a hero that drives everybody crazy if somebody mains it and then that person not being able to switch off that hero. Or the opposite, where it’s like “Hey we really need an x, y or z right now” and somebody saying “I can’t switch because I don’t own that hero.” That, I think really strikes a chord with us as being wrong.

So just off the back of that, you guys had your first real experiment of PVE with the Uprising event, unless you count Junkenstein, although that was more like a Horde mode thing – How did you guys feel that “when” and on the idea of a sequel or spinoff eventually down the road, are you guys still playing with the idea of a story-driven Overwatch experience?

What’s funny about Junkenstein is, you have to remember that our engine is brand new – it’s developed from scratch. We call it the “Tank Engine”, our Lead Engine Programmer John Lafleur – he’s now our Tech Director – was sort of the pioneer of that engine. So even doing something like Junkenstein was extremely hard for us. It’s not like we pulled up a bunch of like AI pathfinding and all these notes that exist in other engines, so Junkenstein was the baby step that enabled Uprising to happen...You can almost think of it as like the prototype for Uprising.

It’s also a great avenue for us to do a lot of storytelling with, so we had a ton of fun making that. If I was to give my post-mortem of Uprising: I loved it, I was extremely proud of the team, I think it gave a real vibe, I think it gave a heavy dose of what it was like back in the golden years of Overwatch, which is something I think the players have really been craving.

I think if we left Uprising up all the time as a permanent game mode. I mean you’ve already seen the kind of fatigue in week 3 of “Hey, there’s not a ton of replayability here.” I think not only do you have to do replayability in terms of how the AI behaves, how you spawn the AI, what the objectives are, but I think you really need some sort of meta replayability on top of that – all of which was lacking. So, I think Uprising gets an A+ for a holiday brawl that happens, but I think Uprising as a permanent game mode is not actually… I know I shouldn’t tell the players what they want, but I actually think they want Uprising times 10 as the permanent gamemode, not actually Uprising as we put into the Uprising Event.

Sure, if there were like Leaderboards or incentives like unlocking things through progression. I think especially that the whole notion of travelling back in time to a period in Overwatch’s history – Michael Chu [Lead Writer] did this AMA where he talked about loving the idea of looking at events of like Talon, and I hypothesized “Imagine if you could do Volskaya Industries invasion as Reaper as an Event” and eventually have this kind of storyboard that you could play through but you know, pie in the sky.

Yeah, that would be awesome!

It’s something the team really knows and loves, so I think we’d like to do more of it – in a way, we’re just trying to figure out how to do it. With these monthly updates, it’s very difficult – our dev cycles are very fast for something like that, and I think our players deserve a lot more than just a Junkenstein or an Uprising, and trying to figure out how to deliver that to them is a much bigger challenge.

What about putting those tools in the hands of players, so they can come up with their own scenarios?

We love that concept as well, and something that I try really hard to communicate to the player base. They think we have a philosophical opposition to people modding our game, which I mean, couldn’t be further from the truth.

We’re totally open to it, but because of that new engine, the amount of time for us to get all of our systems online, and the infrastructure, set up so that somebody could create something, modify it, have their own branch, check it in, test it… We’re just pretty far from that, so philosophically we’re 100% onboard, but in terms of timeframe, years + type of timeframe for us to get there.

I know you guys were really careful to make the custom game creator and browser to be really user friendly, but if you look at like Starcraft or at the Galaxy Editor, it’s just not user friendly at all and there’s really limited documentation, but it gives people the power to create whatever they want. Would it ever go down that path – “You’re on your own, but here you go?”

Yeah, I’d rather give them something, than nothing.

This is going to make some players upset if I say this, but I’m more of a believer of “Give them real hardcore tools, which means that the vast majority of us will have no ability to make anything.”

I think if we were to release our tools, it would be much more towards a professional to semi-professional to up and coming modder, mapmaking, coder type of fanbase rather than like “here’s this dumbed down system to where anybody can make anything.” But again, we’re years from that.

What’s your favorite map or gamemode?

My favorite map is Hanamura, which is controversial because I actually love assault, or 2cp, and I actually love Hanamura. I love the way it looks, I love the way it plays.

Who would you say you have the most hours on hero-wise?

Reinhardt.

Just two quick troll questions – one, Stylosa on YouTube asked if ranked matters. (laughter)

It matters how long you can keep that rank. (laughter)

And YourOverwatch asks “Can Mei get a jetpack?”

Can Mei get a jetpack? (laughter)

Or can we get a cat with a jetpack? (laughter)

Okay, maybe the cat, but not Mei. Where would Snowball sit?

Obligatory where’s Doomfist?

Gotta ask Terry about that one!

More maps and more gamemodes. Can you talk about that just a little bit?

Yeah, more maps are in the works, and I’m super excited because every time I see threads pop up on reddit or our forums and people are talking about like “Oh a new map - Here’s the new map that it should be!” Many of the new maps that we’re developing are those maps, so I’m like “Yes! I know they’re going to like when we announce our next...”

MOONBASE CONFIRMED!

Nonono I didn’t say anything! That’s a killer idea though. People are going to be very excited about the maps that we’re making. And then new gamemodes, we have some ideas… The arcade has really opened it up.

...I don’t believe that many new gamemodes belong in Quickplay or Competitive…

...I don’t think we want a bunch of gimmicks – I think you want Overwatch competitively, to have a certain vibe to it, and it should be more focused on the heroes and less focus on the game modes. Now the arcade has opened the door to where we can really do a lot of fun stuff and you know, you start to see some of that, and there might even be some more cool stuff, with the Anniversary Event.

I know you personally have talked about it in the past about not wanting to incentivize Competitive too much so that people who don’t actually want to play Competitive for Competitive’s sake are there. Have you guys put more thought into like, Diamond weapon skins or special…

We totally have! What’s funny is we have a ton of killer ideas of content that we could make, if we wanted to give more cosmetic rewards. For Competitive, the more and more I think about it, the more I think it’s a mistake to add more into that. I know it’s like a really weird thing to say…

Well it’s almost like you want to do something cool, but then you’re like “That’s too cool, we have to actually rein it in.”

I’ll say something even more controversial. I wish we would’ve never added any cosmetic items to Competitive. I think the people playing Competitive should only be there because they really care about playing in Competitive mode, and they want to rise through the tiers – that’s who I think belongs in Competitive.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all the cool stuff that we have ideas for couldn’t be given out to players in other ways, so it’s not like we’re just not going to make it, like “Haha we’re taking out football and game over” – it’s more that I would love to give it out in a way where it doesn’t encourage players to be in Competitive mode who don’t want to be there.

I want to point out that a lot of people are asking for another cinematic, so people like that, that’s good. That’s feedback I’m passing on, I’m doing my obligatory duty.

To speak to that, the animated shorts are probably the thing that we love the most. It’s like the biggest treat that we get to do and our animation team is like wickedly talented – that’s a different team from the Overwatch team.

So, obviously we’re going to push to do as many as we can of those and we have some killer stuff in the works right now.

You ever thought about doing cross franchise/cross IP skins and cosmetics in Overwatch?

It’s come up and we’ve had some ideas. Obviously, our stuff has been dipping into Heroes of the Storm which has been cool and they’ve been making great stuff. We felt like for our first year, it was really important not to do that stuff, to really set Overwatch apart as its own IP. With that said, as we move forward, one thing that’s really fun about Blizzard games is celebrating other Blizzard games, so I think we’d like to do it at some point.

I think at some point, we would love to pay homage to some of the other Blizzard franchises.

Just actually pinging back on my question earlier, where you talked about repeating seasonal events. Obviously there’s only so much space between events eventually if you end up adding like a Spring event besides like the Lunar New Year one, do you still foresee events beyond the ones that we’ve had in year one, in between the gaps?

I think we need to be careful about event fatigue. Part of what makes events feel special is that they’re not happening all the time. Now, we’re about to hit our 6th event, so it’s almost like an event is happening every other month. I don’t think there’s no room ever again, but I also think we should really start to take our foot off the gas pedal when it comes to events and I think the focus for year 2 needs to become “What will Summer Games look like when it happens again?”, because there’s a certain spirit to it – like they really miss Lucioball and they really want it back, so it should have that.

I think the next year will just be refining the events that we have, rather than adding new ones, but I would never take adding a new event off the table.

Oh, so, you kind of foresee it as being like WoW, which basically at this point has their established events over the course of the year, and when they bring them back, they add some new things. I’d like to see Junkenstein’s Revenge slightly added upon. I know a lot of people are huge fans of Lucioball, but personally, like the aimtraining that I got from Junkenstein’s Revenge was a lot of fun. I just wish there was like one more room, another stage.

Yeah like the door breaks and you go into another section…

Do you see any content coming that isn’t related to events? So, like more cosmetics that aren’t tied to them?

Yeah, actually, this is going to be a little confusing, but in the Anniversary patch, we have non-event cosmetics going into the standard Lootbox. So Sombra gets her sit and laugh, Orisa gets her sit and laugh, so those are highly asked for. Tracer gets an emote because she was an emote short and one of hers overlapped with sit and laugh, so we decided to do a make good on Tracer, so Tracer gets one, and because the community loved Reaper shrug so much, we felt like we had to give the Reaper shrug, so we went ahead and made that emote, we also made a spray of it.

A couple questions for Overwatch League that would moreso fall in your domain – adding things like pro spectating and maybe Overwatch League specific cosmetics or anything like that?

So, it’s not just specific to Overwatch League – Overwatch League is all of eSports – the spectator experience is something that we care deeply for. Right now, we’re doing a bunch of experiments in terms of improved team coloring.

We also have it on our list to come up with some form of spectator map or observer map. The map is not intended for like everyday player use – it’s really intended for somebody who is like broadcasting or casting Overwatch and we want it to be useful for them.

We’ve also been doing some development on stuff, like we put up the Overwatch Professional Realm – OGN Apex Season 2 was run on that – that means that they didn’t have to be on the same patch that the live servers were on. We want to patch live servers, but we also don’t want to interrupt pro tournaments, and something we’re doing heavy exploration on right now – no specific details or timeframe – but something that we’re doing a lot of exploration on right now is match history and statistics in particular with an eye towards eSports and tracking your favorite pro players and that sort of thing.

Any chance of getting an official API or anything like that to pull data about your profile and stuff like that?

Yeah. We want to do some sort of statistics API. We’re not sure yet what should be included and what shouldn’t be included – players just say “Just include everything! We’ll figure it out.” but there’s some information that’s probably best not put out to the Internet at large, but we’re very open to doing some sort of API.

We actually have a couple APIs we want to do – some are targeted more at players, some are targeted more at web developers, some are targeted more at broadcasters who are broadcasting eSports, and there’s probably some overlap between those, so there’s a lot of work going on in that department in particular with statistics.

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