I took some time at PAX East 2016 this past weekend to check out Overwatch running on a PlayStation 4. The game plays really well, and you can dig into my impressions of it on that format right here.
After my hands-on session, I sat down with Assistant Game Director Aaron Keller and talked about a bunch of stuff as it relates to the game. I’ve transcribed that interview in its entirety. My questions are in bold, Aaron’s answers are in plain text. Check it out below this gallery.
Did you need to make any design changes in order to accommodate bringing Overwatch to consoles?
We talked about it, it was something we anticipated while developing the game… Even early on, we wanted to develop this game for consoles. Most of the team had console controllers on their desks even though they were hooked up to PCs and we didn’t have a console build yet.
We wanted it to feel as good as it could on the console, and I feel like we accomplished that. I think it plays really well and handles really smoothly on console, and it’s always locked at 60fps.
We had anticipated that we’d need to make a lot of tuning changes, and we didn’t actually have to do that.
Really? That’s sort of surprising…
There are very small differences, and I don’t think we have any on the tuning side right now. There are differences like voice chat, you know, because the consoles handle that.
We do have aim assist on consoles, so that’s probably the biggest difference between the versions for gameplay.
How does this aim assist work?
I don’t have all the details of it, but we actually worked really closely with Treyarch [one of the studios behind Call of Duty]. They gave us a lot of tips for it, and a lot of help with tuning on it. They were actually really helpful all around.
Is that sort of an unexpected perk of being with Activision now?
Yeah, we’ve collaborated with a lot of different studios. We worked with Treyarch for our game, the Destiny team [Bungie] has come down multiple times to talk to different people at Blizzard. It’s actually… you know, a lot of people look at Activision as this dispersed set of studios, but there’s actually a lot of collaboration between them.
Did that surprise you?
A little bit when it first happened; but, it’s actually been really refreshing and really nice to feel like your part of this broader set of kick-ass developers.
So, it’s 21 characters right now, right?
How did you arrive at that number? Was there a lot cut out… I mean, I’m sure there was…
Yeah, it was pretty fluid at the start of development, you know, exactly how many heroes we wanted to have in the game. One of the things that was really important to us was that we have a variety of play styles, and a variety of play styles within each role. We have four different roles in the game: attack, defense, support and tank. We wanted a lot of people to be able to feel like they could pick this support instead of another because it better fits their play style.
We wanted there to be a lot of different options and counters for people to select from over the course of a match. 21 is where we had it.
The interesting thing that happened during development is that even when we had 17 or 18 heroes, we would add a new one in and it would totally change the way the game was played.
Did that mean that you would have to go back and re-tune all 17 of the previous heroes?
That could happen, but some of it was almost just that the meta of the game would change because this new hero was there. There were new things that you would have to think about as you played the game.
Does that sort of meta game change make it harder to decide on stuff like character DLC after launch?
Yes and no. The game sort of reacts a little differently to each hero you throw at it. It’s always, from our point of few, become more interesting and more exciting each time we’ve done it. It’s always this refreshing thing that happens; the new heroes are there, and you’re thinking about everything. Whether it’s on a specific map or how your team should handle strategy, you’re thinking about everything in new and different ways.
We have already talked about it. We will be adding new heroes to the game, and we will be adding new maps to the game. That stuff is coming.
Was free-to-play ever talked about by you guys?
We talked about all sorts of things. It took us a while to arrive at this business model. The reason that we went with the box model and with all 21 heroes at launch is because we feel like an important part of the gameplay is to be able to switch heroes. That switch can be based on something your team needs or to counter something that the other team is doing.
We felt like that ability to switch to many different characters was so important, and that became the basis for the decision on how we’d price our game. The business model of our game was a gameplay decision.
How long does it take to make a single character? How much of the team is involved in the process?
The process is pretty interesting, and it’s almost never the same from hero to hero. On the design side, our Principal Hero Designer, a guy by the name of Geoff Goodman, comes up with a lot of the core ideas. Early on, we’ve always taken big brainstorms from the whole team. There are ideas from all of our team for heroes.
From there, it will go to a character art team. They’re the ones who actually build our characters. It’s kind of amazing. They start with nothing at all and they come up with these incredible characters that we see.
Then we also have some weapons guys. Then we have an amazing animation team. It gets passed through our tech art team, it goes to the animators and then they animate it. There are a lot of people involved.
At the start of it, at least on the ideation side, we’ll start with maybe some really cool gameplay ideas from Geoff. Or, it might be that once of our concept artists draws and amazing looking character… we don’t even know what its abilities are yet, but we’re like ‘We have to make that thing.’
Sometimes it will even start as a story idea. That’s where Soldier 76 came from. It was something that Chris Metzen, our Creative Director, had wanted wanted to do for a long time. He had this great idea for this character.
It kind of goes all over the place. Each character comes about in this creative way. In the end, we just want to make something that’s super cool and that we’re super excited about.
On that note, with the story… is it sort of an ambient thing?
Yeah, in the game the story is more ambient. We try to put different things in the levels to tell some of the story. Like, before we announced Soldier 76, there were pieces of information about him in one of our maps, you know? We do things like that.
And then, we’re also trying to do a lot of the story telling outside of the game. At its heart, this is a multiplayer shooter. We don’t have cutscenes. It’s all about the core gameplay, and we want to make it as crisp and as fun as possible. So, we’re trying to do storytelling outside.
Will the shorts continue after the game launches?
Yep, we have more shorts coming. We also have more digital comics coming. We have a graphic novel coming. At PAX, you can get the hard copy version of it. Otherwise, it’ll exist as a digital version.
The graphic novel will be a much bigger, meatier version of it.
That’s it for me! Thanks for talking about Overwatch with me.
Thank you! Glad to do it.
The game’s fun, I was a bit addicted during the beta.
(Laughs) Me too, really. Glad to hear it.