Every man and their Bronze Drake has kept a finger on the pulse of Overwatch, the latest IP from Blizzard Entertainment, the wonderful minds behind World of Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft. After brewing in beta on PC for a few months, the company are now ready to release their proprietary first-person shooter to the world. We were privileged enough to head over to the States and check out the game on console, as well as chat to a few of the developers.
Overwatch is Blizzard’s inaugural venture into the FPS market, and as you can imagine, it’s quite an ambitious project. The game launches this month with a roster of 21 vastly different heroes, each of which has a different role to play in game. Don’t let the word ‘hero’ deter you – this is by no means a MOBA of League of Legends or DOTA furore. Blizzard already has Heroes of the Storm – this is something entirely new.
“I think it’s a really unique experience”, says Aaron Keller, assistant game director. “We were committed to making the best team-based, first-person shooter we could."
The team required to craft such an astounding game needed to be motivated.
“A lot of the Overwatch team came from the cancelled Titan project”, notes Keller. “It was kind of a devastating moment in our lives to go through something like that. All of these people came together and started throwing ideas around, and it was weird how quickly it coalesced into this idea for a hero-based, team-based shooter, set a short time into Earth’s future. Everybody rallied around it”.
Many of Overwatch’s maps are based around real-world locations – King's Row in London, Hanamura in Japan, or even the map flat-out called Hollywood. Keller himself was heavily involved with the video game actualisation of these real-world locations.
“We got in a lot of nit-picking arguments like, ‘Do we ever want to call something by its real name in a world?’. We did a lot of research, but at the end of the day, we’re not trying to completely mimic a real world location – we’re trying to give you the tourist’s fantasy."
We appreciate his shout-out to Down Under, as demeaning as it may be.
“We have a map called Hollywood. It almost looks like a cross between Beverly Hills and maybe Rodeo Drive. If you ever drive up to Hollywood itself, it doesn’t look anything like this, but what we want is like ‘Hey, pretend we’re someone that’s lived in Australia their whole life – what’s the idea they have in their head?’ That’s what we’re trying to deliver."
It wasn’t only work on the environments that required major attention to detail. In bringing the title to console, it was important for the studio to retain the customisation abilities that PC players are so comfortable with. You can change the camera's visual sensitivity on the sticks, and even map different buttons to different abilities for each individual character – a big move in the right direction for a console port.
Having high-calibre console players in attendance during the press trip was a huge advantage for the studio. “They’ve given feedback on extra customisations that they would want," notes Keller. “Hopefully we can add some more of their suggestions before this goes live”.
With community being such a focal point of Blizzard’s organisation, Overwatch’s competitive scene was always going to be important.
“I think we’ve been really lucky, because we started developing a small competitive scene for the game, just for the beta, and there are already a lot of players in it," explains Keller. "It gives us a lot of hope that it can turn into something bigger. If Overwatch can come in and find a place amongst the biggest games in the industry, I’d be ecstatic."
The company recently released a video detailing the specifics of the competitive scene, and the game looks to be holding its ground against the giants of the industry. A five-tier system will be implemented for competitive play, with subdivisions in each, and a queue that allows teams of any size to compete together.
Overwatch’s ability for players to change characters at will, removing the caged-in feeling of being stuck with one champion for periods of up to an hour, differentiates the title from its competitors
“At the start we didn’t know if we were going to have hero blocking or not – we just wanted to have a bunch of cool heroes to begin with," says Keller. "We quickly realised that once you get a certain amount of heroes in there, the game becomes really dynamic."
Moreover, Keller cites the lively nature of the game as a key component in its appeal.
“It’s one of the things that makes the game magical when you play it. You make one switch on your team and it really forces the other team to re-evaluate what they’re doing, and see whether or not they need to switch at the same time. It becomes a really strategic decision."
Pressed for time, and cutting in on his lunch break, we manage to sneak in one last question with the assistant game director – where does he see the game in ten years?
“Good lord – that’s a long time! The analogy I use a lot of times is, if you get to the last page of a book you really, really love, it’s almost a sad experience to finish it, because you want to live in the world that another author has created for you.
"I’d love for people to still be playing Overwatch as it is right now. If it’s that good of a game that people are still playing it ten years from now, just as people are still playing World of Warcraft ten years down the track, that would be amazing.
"Blizzard is committed to making Overwatch a franchise. a world, the same way it has with its other games.”