Overwatch 2 – Blizzard on Creating Story Missions, the Genesis of Push, and Launch Plans
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:17pm 28/11/19 | Comments
We sit down with Game Director Jeff Kaplan and Lead Designer Geoff Goodman to discuss the differences that comes from developing story content versus PvP, sound design, Push, and the game’s interesting launch plans.
“We liked telling the backstory, we thought it was extremely important,” Jeff Kaplan, Game Director of Overwatch tells me.
We’re discussing how, with the announcement of Overwatch 2, we’re finally seeing the response to the call that was sent out by simian scientist Winston when the original game made its debut years ago. As a team-based competitive shooter, that would go on to coin the genre-term ‘Hero Shooter’, Blizzard has spent the last couple of years fleshing out the world through cinematics, comics, and lore filled environments. Giving us backstory, history, and setting up complicated relationships for both the world and its characters.
“A lot of our players wanted us to move [the story] forward super-fast,” Jeff continues. “But it's important to understand who these people are and where they came from. It's a brand-new universe, so you need to explain what happened and how we got to this state. That said, we know that people are ready to see the overarching plotline move forward and that's the complete and full intention of Overwatch 2.”
Announced at BlizzCon and currently in development alongside continued support for the original, Overwatch 2 will move the story forward in a literal sense. In that new Story Missions will allow players to team up as specific heroes to take on the new Omnic threat facing the world. The first of these missions showcased takes place in Rio de Janeiro, where Lucio, Mei, Reinhardt, and Tracer race to put an end to the invasion. Overwatch 2, in the traditional campaign sense, will have a beginning, middle, and end.
“A lot of our players wanted us to move [the story] forward super-fast, but it's important to understand who these people are and where they came from."
“We already know the arc of the story experience and not every one of the current 31 heroes is playable,” Jeff explains. “It just doesn't make sense for some of them. Their stories just don't align. Now, there are a lot of heroes in the story experience. And that's one of the things that we think is really-cool about Overwatch 2. We're also exploring this idea of opening-up player choice. In the Rio mission we limit you to Reinhardt, Mei, Tracer, and Lucio. If you think about it, Lucio is the most central character to that story, and he has to be there.”
The team at Blizzard is consciously aware of the attachment players have to its heroes, where even though this is the first fully-fledged campaign for the series – there’s already a deep level of attachment. And passion. Adding the option to play as Brigitte in the Rio mission makes sense because she’s there – alongside Mercy and Genji. “That's something we're exploring,” Jeff confirms. “But it would still be a limited roster. We wouldn't suddenly let you play in Rio as Wrecking Ball.”
To facilitate these new Story Missions where real-time cinematics and storytelling is brought to the fore in a way that hasn’t been seen before, the team has spent and continues to spend considerable time upgrading the engine. The earliest prototypes of this have already been seen in Overwatch events like the seasonal Archive Missions. In addition to increasing the size and scope of maps, to the numbers of enemies you’ll encounter, to developing AI – Overwatch 2 will also bring a suite of visual updates that extend to the way heroes look.
“One of the big reasons for the character improvements,” Jeff continues. “Is that we want to bring them closer to the camera.” A sentiment reinforced by Overwatch Lead Designer Geoff Goodman, who expands on the more obvious updates coming like higher resolution textures and more detailed animation, “There’s new tech for the actual skin of the heroes that make them look different,” Geoff tells me. “And their eyes have changed too. Everything is going to look nicer.”
“The team has spent and continues to spend considerable time upgrading the engine."
One aspect that stood out when playing through the Rio de Janeiro mission at BlizzCon was how different it sounded. Not in terms of how heroes were portrayed or that the sound effects felt like they were ripped from a different universe – but in the overall presentation. Something that was born from the core difference between developing PvE and PvP content.
“We're finding that sound design is almost the opposite of PvP,” Jeff explains. “An example would be that in PvP I want to hear what the enemy Ultimate voice line is. What I don't want to hear in the mix is all that much from my allies. I don't necessarily want to hear their voice lines very loud, so we actively pushed them way down, volume-wise. In PvP I also would want to hear any threatening shots that are coming towards me so those go way up. In PVE, again, it's almost the exact opposite. I want to hear everything everybody has to say.”
In execution it’s more akin to the sort of dynamic cinematic audio presentation full of nuance and bombast that you’d find in a theatre. A place where things like enemy footsteps aren’t at the top of the Audio Director’s sound effect priority list. “It's interesting watching the sound-team work because for the most part it all sounds good to me,” Geoff Goodman adds. “But they're in the details, and when we have three or four enemies shooting at the same time, they’ll vary the pitch of their shots slightly so that it doesn't sound all the same.”
One area where the subtle changes will be more prominent, or readily audible, comes with how Overwatch 2 treats music. The introduction of a dynamic music system that reacts to what players are doing, is also something the team has been working on for years. Where dramatic moments swell with melody and tempo and quiet interludes let both the sound-space and environments breathe.
“There’s new tech for the actual skin of the heroes that make them look different. Their eyes have changed too. Everything is going to look nicer."
“It's the most amazing thing to watch being demoed,” Jeff Kaplan says excitedly. “It can start low and then if we want a dramatic spike, we can set it to seven and it'll be this big change that’s perfectly in time. And of course, it goes to 11. That's the highest point that it goes.”
Overwatch 2 is not simply a chance for the team to tell stories in the wider Overwatch universe, it’s also the next major step in evolving and growing the core team-based competitive shooter roots of the series. This in turn has made Blizzard’s release strategy for the sequel something of a first, with the goal being to not split the player base. With over 50 million players, Overwatch 2 will essentially become two games in one with all owners of the original getting access to the new maps and heroes. Even all the sound effects and music found in PvP, will change. Nothing, according to Blizzard, will be left untouched.
And then of course comes the brand-new stuff, like the newly revealed Push Mode which adds a new core PvP experience to Overwatch that could be viewed as a robotic tug of war.
“The original inspiration for Push came from one of our tech artists, Dylan Jones, where he made a map that put the payload from King’s Row in the middle,” Jeff Kaplan tell me. “It was a long, linear map and it had all sorts of level design issues because of that length. But, Aaron Keller, who's our assistant game director, really loved Dylan's idea and worked with Dylan, because he felt that he had the core of an idea. And that was years ago.”
“We have a like a lot of cutting room floor stuff and we do a lot of iterating on game modes too,” Geoff Goodman adds. “Some of that has come out in the Arcade where we've done things like Capture the Flag, but we've also iterated on many others that people haven't even seen. Push was one of those, and it’s a mode that has been a lot of fun to play for a while. We knew we had something special and it wasn’t long before we felt it could become a core mode.”
“With over 50 million players, Overwatch 2 will essentially become two games in one with all owners of the original getting access to the new maps and heroes."
Surprisingly, with the team working on both Overwatch and Overwatch 2 for some time – and a release plan unlike anything we’ve seen for a shooter sequel before - the game is still a long way from hitting shelves. Even with the polished and engaging Story Mission set in Rio, new Hero Missions and talents discussed at length at various BlizzCon panels, and new modes like Push feeling great even in demo form, there’s still a lot of work to be done before a launch date is set.
“We're thinking about it,” Jeff Kaplan concludes. “It's complicated, but it's also not immediately upon us. We have some time to work out the details. Right now, the most important thing is that we’re inviting our audience to help us finish it. The next step is to process all the feedback. What were the things that players were excited about? Are there things that we should maybe change? Are there things we should be doing more of, or less. Figure that out first, then drive towards a launch campaign.”
Thanks to Blizzard for making this interview possible.