After seeing Sombra (finally) revealed during the opening ceremony and going hands-on with Overwatch's newest hero at Blizzcon ourselves, it's time to ask the developers a few questions.
I usually like to start my interviews with something a bit lighthearted. Try and break the ice, y'know? I thought the Sombra ARG might be a good option this time around. It was not. As a result, you can enjoy a couple of seconds of awkward silence in the video below - it felt much longer, you'll be pleased to know.
Anyway, once we get past that there's plenty to talk about: Sombra changes, stealth, the new Arcade mode and when to expect that big Symmetra overhaul we've been promised.
Hello again! I've read the comments asking for a transcript of the interview and you're right, it's much better to provide both options (when we can). I didn't have a chance to do so yesterday, as I was rushing to edit and upload videos between interviews, but I've made some time this morning.
Thanks for reading and/or watching.
Hello, this is Chris Bratt from Eurogamer, joined by a couple of people from the Overwatch team. We've got Tim Ford, the lead gameplay programmer and Skye Chandler, a producer on the game.
You've finally, after quite a lot of teasing, unveiled Sombra. She's fantastic, by the way.
TF: Thank you.
Do you guys think you maybe went just a little bit early with the ARG, in retrospect?
SC: Maybe. Well, I think the initial one, putting it on the tail end of Ana's [reveal] was cool. We learned a lot about pacing and how to better reveal pieces, maybe in the future. I think, overall, it was well received.
TF: Again, I think the ARG is really cool when you think about what the payoff is. The payoff is this really cool, badass Mexican hacker chick. So if you want to engross yourself in the mind of this person - how manipulative she is, that all really... I, personally, was very satisfied when we had the real launch and you could see who she is. Not just the look, but how she acts with her teammates, in quotes, and how she manipulates everybody to stay in control and keep on top of the information. Despite changes in pacing to the ARG, I hope fans felt it was incredibly satisfying to get her as the payoff.
Did you maybe expect players wouldn't figure it out so quickly? I remember writing it up after they had and there was a lot to that process. It was complicated. But I guess, never underestimate Blizzard fans?
TF: Yeah, never underestimate the Internet. I mean, there was some really complex puzzles. My favourite part about it was the stuff that we didn't do, like the SkySong and the ring effect that someone had discovered in the sky of Dorado, because Aaron Keller or Jeff Kaplan, during an interview, when asked about ARGs, had said "it's over my head". Which they said casually, but the fans interpreted as a clue.
I remember, after a developer diary in the midst of the ARG, people were seriously looking at how often he was blinking.
SC: I was going to just say that one! They were trying to decode his blinks. I was like, if we could get him to do that, that would be so cool.
TF: Yeah, Jeff nails those things in one take, just off the top of his head. I'm not sure if he could concentrate on blinking S.O.S.
So yeah, Blizzcon is the first time you've actually been able to see people play the character up close. Has that gone as expected? Is there anything you want to tweak after seeing players mess around with her so far?
TF: It's tricky. I think for her, ability-wise, we're really happy with how she landed. So a lot of it is going to come down to the number tweaking. And for that, we need the PTR. On the Blizzcon floor, I'm sure if you've played it, you're playing with someone that's never played Overwatch before, or...
And everyone is playing as Sombra.
TF: Yeah, you're not getting the most balanced matches.
SC: 12 Sombras.
So it's number balancing, rather than kit changes?
TF: Actually, we have already started, between the build that's on the floor and the build that'll be on the PTR, we have more clarity of effects. Those types of things.
How's that work?
TF: Just more readability when it comes to being hacked, hacking, more VO hooks. And we'll probably keep pushing that. We've done this for all of our heroes, when we realise that players are having a hard time understanding what's happening to them.
So the players that are being hacked - they need a more clear indication?
TF: And also, the moment Sombra lands the hack. We need more clarity around that moment. We're always iterating on that kind of stuff. And it becomes particularly important - Ana's a good example - when we introduce a new mechanic. When we introduced Ana, she had the ability to suspend healing for a person or give a healing multiplie. So, we had to add new layers to the UI and add a new a kind of visual language...
TF: Yeah, exactly. Purple means you can't be healed. So we just had to make that up, to lend clarity to those types of interactions. Sombra's no different. We'll keep pushing that, even past when she launches.
You're talking about new mechanics being added here. This is the first character that's had a true stealth ability. Am I right in thinking that's because it's really bloody difficult to make that work in a fast-paced, highly-competitive game in the first place?
SC: You're very correct in that.
I'd heard a rumour that with Genji, at one point, the team were thinking about a stealth kit with him, but it's tricky?
SC: So, Sombra as a whole. Long ago she was a character called Omniblade, that they had been trying. She was dagger-throwing and she had a sonar dagger and she was very agile. Then Hanzo really needed that sonar arrow. Genji came out and he had this stealth backstab, one-shot deathblow thing.
TC: Really fun to use, not fun to receive.
SC: Yeah. Everybody wanted to be Genji, nobody wanted to play against Genji. So basically, the Shimada brothers stole all of her stuff and Sombra was left alone with her invisibility. Once we really focused on her development, that became part of her evolution of full invisibility versus partial invisibility. Duration or no duration. The biggest factor with stealth was: it can be really frustrating to be attacked by. So that was where a lot of the tuning came in. You still want to have fun playing, even if that stealthed player is hunting you.
I've spoken to the WOW team before about when they introduced stealth way back when. They had a big issue with the fact that if a player manages to hack the game, which is somehow fitting for Sombra, it's difficult to know when players aren't playing fairly. Is that something you've had to think about with Overwatch?
TC: It's one of the parts of Overwatch that we really cannot talk about: the specific solutions that we use to keep those types of hacks from working. Because if we do, the hackers will figure out how it works and how to bypass it.
Fair enough, but it's something you've had to bear in mind?
TC: Yeah, it's part of my role. I spend a lot of time and thought on that.
Good to hear. Moving on from Sombra to the Arcade, which is going to be replacing the Weekly Brawls. In your mind, why didn't the Weekly Brawls quite work in the end?
TC: I think some brawls worked quite well, but that was part of the problem, right? Mystery Heroes was super popular and even the Pharah/Mercy one was really popular as well. So you saw a pecking order of the non-season brawls. As soon as you throw Summer Games or Junkenstein in there, the numbers are crazy.
SC: And with a lot of them, people would hop in for like the first two days but then nobody went back to them. So by adding the Arcade, all brawls and other modes, it gives you a reason to go back. Overwatch games can be a little intense sometimes, so having that place to go and goof off and be like: I'm going to play six Meis, or whatever, you can do that. Another thing that I think is going to be really cool, in the future, when they're doing warm ups for esports, I could just see two super badass esports players 1vs1ing each other. That'd be so cool.
One complaint that some players had with the Weekly Brawls was the reduced XP compared to other modes. Is that something that's going to be addressed with the Arcade?
TC: There's levels, but there's loot boxes. I think most folks are more upset about the loot boxes when it comes to advancement. So the way we're doing that with the Arcade is as you play and win three times, you get a loot box. And you can do that three times every single week, then it'll reset. We also have rules for featured brawls when they show up. If you win your first game in that featured brawl, you'll also get a loot box. So we're hoping we can balance some of that out. Because we invariably change the rules when it comes to the brawls, we have to reduce the XP to...
So you don't accidentally create a way to farm XP?
TC: Yeah, exactly. You have to be really careful from a design standpoint, to make sure that the most fun parts of your game are the most rewarding parts of your game. If you have a dull part of your game, that's very rewarding, players will actually do it. They want the rewards. And then they'll burn out on the game. Those are the reasons we make those tradeoffs. We want to make sure we're plussing the most fun part of the game. And for the Arcade, the reason we're doling out the loot boxes each week, we want you to experience all the different parts of the Arcade. We don't want you to just settle in on something that, even if it bores you, unlocks a bunch of stuff.
I guess the reason I asked was because with Quick Play getting the one hero rule, if you don't like that idea, you'll play the new No Limits mode. Would the XP be equivalent?
TC: Yeah, I'm curious to see how the fans respond to that. I have a strong suspicion that, because Quick Play was, in the past, a mix. Folks who were practising off heroes before they go into Competitive, people that don't like Competitive, or players that just want to roll six Meis and just want to lock you into ice bars. For that style of play there's No Limits. I think it's going to be really fun, because it'll attract players that want to stack heroes. I think it really fits the brawls, the kind of bombastic fun, crazy version of Overwatch.
SC: The Arcade is going to allow for a lot of testing of new game modes too. If we'd come up with something like Junkenstein and we didn't have Halloween incoming, but we wanted to build it out and play it, that's where we would have put it. It'll give us a lot of opportunity to try things that we didn't really have a place to put before.
So one thing we haven't heard about at Blizzcon is the big Symmetra changes that we're expecting at some point. In fact, I think November was the ballpark time period. Can you give any hints as to where the team is at with that?
TC: Yeah, we can't give any details right now. We're excited about it and I think fans are going to be pretty pleased with the direction we're taking her.
Do you still expect it to be something we see this month? Or this year?
TC: Probably this year, yeah.
SC: The one thing we can definitely say is that they're really working hard to make sure that she's more than first point functional. And we're hoping to release her to the PTR this year. That has been a heavy focus recently and there's been a lot of tuning, trying to figure out what feels right. Once that's hammered out, she'll be out there.