Omnic Lab: A Strategic Overwatch Podcast

A Strategic Overwatch Podcast

Summary Transcript of Ep.56 with Scott Mercer Interview

DISCLAIMER: All answers from Scott listed in the transcript are summarized and shortened as well as written so that people can translate it into their native language a bit easier. If anything is misleading or implying things that were not specifically spoken by Scott, they are just in writing here. We want people to LISTEN to the show, so please do that for the maximum clarity. This is by no means a direct, word-for-word transcript of the episode. For more information please visit the Scott Mercer show here or watch the VOD on Youtube here.


00:02:25 - Scott what is your background at Blizzard?

>Tech Support right after Diablo 1 with some Warcraft 2 install issues is where I started. I did Quality Assurance and Game Testing after Tech Support hours were done. Eventually moved on to a full time Level Designer position for Starcraft and Broodwar as well as Warcraft 3 and subsequent expansions. Moved to Warcraft for dungeons and raids until the team got larger to lead the team. Titan then rolled around and I started to work on that with them. Now I am a Principal Designer and work on lots of stuff and different design projects. I’ve worked on Zen, Soldier, Torb, and the tutorial. I am responsible for the stats and what cards come up in the game and game formats and map pools.

00:08:18 - Could you describe some of your most memorable highs & lows over development before Overwatch existed possibly during Titan as well?

>Cancelling Titan was such a big blow to the team, cancelled for all the right reasons was still really hard on us. Overwatch came right away to the top of what our options were for changing the project. Since Titan was cancelled, there hasn’t been a whole lot of low points for us. One of the cool things that happened for us was designers and programmers finally got to shoot someone for the first time. Basically a gray, box-shaped female design for tracer shooting laser beams from your eyes to test out the game was really cool.
>Originally we were only going to have 3 heroes for the game and ended up being four.Anubis was our first start with Tracer, Reaper, and Widowmaker. Then, we had Jeff Goodman with the Rocket Launcher hero design that ended up being Pharah. Code name was Rocket Queen.
>Working super closely together with folks even in Art we as designers and programmers get inspired to make heroes/maps because of how cool some of them look.
>Blizzcon was 3 maps and 12 heroes at the official announcement for Overwatch. The announcement having fans react to saying, “By the way you can test on 600 machines over there behind the curtain” was just a really cool moment for everyone.

00:17:44 - What are some things that you put in the game as features connected directly connected to player feedback and community ideas?

>Custom Games is a big deal for us. It isn’t just listening to feedback and implementing, we want to give folks tools and control options for players to try out lots of different things for new stuff. We want to allow players to explore themselves so they can give better feedback.
>For competitive, the whole changes to the system is taking not only feedback but also psychological reactions to the system and how to adjust the system because of it.
>Matchmaking is actually really good right now, but if it makes one error people run straight to reddit and rage there. Then we all put on CSI hats and try to investigate the rare issues or glitches in the system that show up.

00:21:17 - Matchmaking must be a nightmare to have to setup and design to be balanced. Can you talk about that a bit more.

>It isn’t just simple numbers, a lot of the matchmaker is just trying to set-up fair matches as much as possible. You want to feel like if you only did one or two things better you could have won instead of having absolutely no chance of winning. We also have been working on trying to get the matches to seem fair too.

00:23:13 - Do you have any information you can give us on what you plan on doing to help players more easily monitor progression, hero picks, & performance moving forward?

>One of the big things for us that we are looking to implement is match history (last 10 games or last week of short-term history of games). Right now it is hard to see how you have been doing lately or improving. Right now we are trying to setup the system to support being able to expand into implementing a match history with stats.
>We also trying to provide analysts and casters the right tools to tell good stories about our games and players. We haven’t worked out yet when that is available we don’t really have any information on that.
>We have a lot of things we have to work on the back end to setup the system to be able to have a system that displays match history. We want to be able to help folks who are looking to improve within the client to see how they have been improving or declining on certain aspects of the game. We want to do ALL the things!

00:27:42 - What was your favorite event to design from beginning to end?

>It wasn’t my idea or design, but the Lucio Ball was so creative and cool for me. Let’s go into a stadium and play soccer and it actually be super fun!

00:31:02 - Do you have anything you can tell us about some very ideas for what changes we can see on the ranked system and in OWL?

>New maps and new heroes are definitely things we are always rolling out. There are something we are looking into is the length of the competitive season. How long do people play Competitive, because right now people all play competitive differently. Do we need more or less tiers of skill than we currently have?
>Also we originally thought doing more rewards for competitive play, but now we want competitive just for people who care about winning games and working together instead of working for golden weapons or other rewards. Competitive is almost a different mindset. We didn’t do much for the gap for Season 4 and Season 5, but we are still talking about what possibilities there are for improvements, but we aren’t sure ourselves of what we want to do yet.

00:34:50 - Can you talk to us about the accessibility of Overwatch? (accessible to play as a casual player, yet deep and competitive for pro play)

>Each hero we try to keep their design simple. If we can’t make the design short and understandable when you hit F1, something is wrong. There isn’t a lot of complexity to each ability within itself. You look at Mercy, and she looks like a healer for example. All the deep understanding comes from how heroes interact with one another and work together to succeed. The deep part of the game is something you grow into understanding. The maps also are fairly simple, they don’t have a whole lot of complexity. “Easy to learn, difficult to master” is a big design decision at all blizzard games.

00:39:30 - Community Questions:

00:39:51 - Yanthrax: Are there any versions of characters, game modes, or maps that you loved, but ultimately didn't make it to the game itself?

>Bastion: Such a pain to balance. Ultimates: 1) Artillery shells lobbed in the air, 2) shooting through walls, 3) Mine that exploded (blizzcon) 4) Transform into a tank was at live.
>Game modes: 3 and 5 CP maps were prototyped and didn’t feel good at all. We are constantly trying new game modes a lot. CTF, Elimination are ideas we tried too and didn’t like, but now that arcade is a big part of the game, we feel like we can put out more ideas there.We sometimes put things aside and come back to them later.

00:43:28 - SuperValle: Characters and game modes are under a constant re-design process to improve balance and enjoyment. How do you select which hero/mode/map will be changed next? (ex. Lucio Rework)

>Each Hero and Map has it’s own unique story and ideas that need to receive different changes as needed. Lucio is interesting because of his power and high pick rates with pros around 95% or something like that. His power was not fun for Lucio players but more just in the auras. His job had just dropped into “don’t die” and yet he was still super strong. His gun was really not that great all ready, and most of the nerfs on the next stage were more of just making him not fun and useless.
>Originally, we wanted people just to not worry about the auras so the range was super far. With the rework, now you have to be mindful of the positioning since you can’t always hit everyone with the limiting aura and now we can give him more damage and mobility.

00:47:25 - Side question: How often has the balance or design on heroes been influenced by the player-base just getting really good at that hero?

>At some points in the game’s history this has been true. We always knew Zarya was amazing early on and no one was playing her. She used to have 4 second shields! We even nerfed her a bit and then people started realizing how good her ultimate and barriers were, but it took times for the players to catch on.
>We think Tracer is in a really good place right now, but someone could just come by and just play her to the point where they are good enough to make her look insanely overpowered. People like Soon for example and top Korean players.

00:50:41 - Bioshrimp: There was a health & ult status bar on top of the screen in spectator mode and "Junkenstein´s Revenge" event. Are there any plans to implement this for teams eventually?

>Not right now. Philosophically we have not done this because in an FPS there is so much that is right in front of you all the time. We worked a lot within the sound and visuals are mostly with what is happening in the world and not necessarily the UI. We would much rather keep the attention to the world and the team fights instead of the UI.
>Would we do this is the future? Maybe, but its a big step to make and we are worried that it would be a bit of a distraction. It’s definitely an interesting point, cause our casters said it’s difficult for them to shift their attention between what is going on in the game and what is going on at the top of your screens.
>Overwatch UI is actually pretty clean overall, there isn’t a whole lot going on and there are quite a lot of subtleties to the design that make it what it is.
>For us as designers, if the only way for you to get to get information is to look at the UI I think we have screwed up somewhere. You should be able to look at the game in front of you and be able to figure out what is going on. We don’t want you to rely on the UI as a crutch. 

00:56:02 - Switchfox: What are some of the biggest challenges of the design team (specifically hero balance & map design) and how much does lore influence gameplay design elements?

>Sombra is one i can really point to for this question. Her lore is that she is a hacker at her core. Now do we represent that as a game mechanic? We really struggled with that. We had versions of the hack that cut player damage in half. How should the hack feel like and what is the gameplay aspect? We wanted to give her stealth, but lots of players think you should just be able to be an assassin and one-hit-kill people. One of the Genji ultimate variants we had was if he could get behind you he could stab you in the back and one shot you. That is only fun for one player in the game, so it didn’t go through.
>The fantasy of the character and what players want it to be is also something we wanted to hit and it was super hard for us to hit all these aspects. At one point she used to have permanent stealth and only broke stealth when she fired. Similar to Spy in TF2 or Rogue in World of Warcraft.

00:59:42 - How did you come up with the idea to hack health packs? - Rob

>Well at that point we just asked, “What CAN Sombra hack?” We had a version of her hacking the payload! During development was she would hack it and there would be a stick figure above the payload and he would count as 1 person on the payload (basically allows infinite contesting, everyone to be off the payload for fights, etc). It was a lot of fun, but that is probably not such a good idea. Sombra didn’t actually turn out to be a stealthy assassin but more of a sneaky support-disruption-offense hero.

01:01:53 - Cyclops: Was it originally the plan to implement only maps where characters were from? 

>There are some maps that we want to show because the heroes are from there for sure, but there are much more heroes than maps that we want to visit and we will see those down the line. Something like Oasis though was that we were inspired by making something super bright future and hopeful in areas that are maybe hopeless right now in the real world. Oasis is definitely one of those things where we thought, “Well this just sounds really cool.”
>We want to do all the things, so all of these are pretty open like the Lunar Colony! Sound was muted outside the airlock, and people were asked if the sound was broken. :)

01:06:05 - Svornair: Will there be any Update or upgrade to the Training Facility?

>I would love to, I think there is a lot of value to it. A lot of players have created lots of different training regimens on their own all ready. There is a lot of really cool stuff there that we could work on things to improve their game in places and systems like this. Most of this comes down to time and when we can get around to things like this, we don’t really know when or where this could be done.

01:07:56 - Yeah we would love more tools for this in custom games or in the arcade. -Andres

>There are definitely a lot of really cool ideas there. Hopefully when we do tackle that we can give players a bit of customization for that. The thing about custom games is if we give players some tools they will figure out not only the best way to use the tools, but also have a better understanding of what else to ask for. We want to give players some more tools for those custom games.

 For more links you can visit this page.

Special Thanks again to:

  • >Kiki aka Zoevia on Twitter the CM for Overwatch for helping us schedule and work through submitting our questions for the interview
  • >Blizzard OW PR, even though i totally forgot the PR representative’s name, you and your team are the real heroes with giving us more content to talk about each week.
  • >Scott Mercer (Principal Game Designer for Overwatch) for coming on the show and talking to us, this is a huge help to us and the community as a whole you’re awesome. Thank you all!
  • >Listeners & Patrons who have been listening to the show since before we launched the show with Scott. You guys have been a huge part to us continuing in creating great content and we hope this interview launches us further to helping the community grow, flourish, and above all get better at competing in Overwatch!