Overwatch Anniversary, Petra And Brigitte’s Impact: Interview With Overwatch Developers

It seems like just yesterday when Overwatch burst onto the scene, but now the game is already celebrating its 2-year anniversary. Building upon last year’s Overwatch Anniversary event, this year’s Anniversary came with the release of awesome new skins, a new Petra deathmatch map, and a daily rotating arcade with all previous seasonal brawls available for play.

We caught up with Geoff Goodman (Lead Designer) and Bill Warnecke (Lead Software Engineer) of the Overwatch team to find out more about designing Petra, behind-the-scenes stories with the development team, and their thoughts on certain heroes.

Could you tell us more about the decisions that went into creating Petra, and how it fits into the lore of Overwatch?

Geoff Goodman (GG): When we started working on Petra, we knew we wanted to work on a second deathmatch map, so we looked pretty hard at Chateau – what we had on offer already there and what we could do with a new map that would be different, but still feel great for deathmatch.

Probably the biggest thing we honed in on was that there’s a lot more verticality in Petra so there’s multiple layers. You can have Widowmaker on high ground looking down on the pit area, but also winding paths on the side that you can hit for close fights if you’re Reaper or Junkrat. That was a really big decision we made early, we wanted to have Pharahs and Widowmakers that can abuse the verticality of the map.

Bill Warnecke (BW): In terms of story, we had it set up where archaeologists are currently excavating or trying to recover something from the area. Overwatch is pretty early in the overall terms of the story, so new maps like this are an opportunity for us to tease out an upcoming plotline or set the roots for things we want to do. This could be in-game or cinematics, or other long-running plotlines, so finding out more about the story of Petra is kind of down the future.

Left: Geoff Goodman, Right: Bill Warnecke
Petra is the first time we’re seeing breakable floors in a map! How did this idea come about?

GG: We wanted to experiment with this idea that what if the map can change over time, and we actually have destructible areas in the map. Originally it came around because during the holiday breaks for us around November, a lot of people go on breaks, so our team scales down. Basically we sort of let the team just develop whatever content they wanted, kind of free and open, and often we wouldn’t use the stuff – it’s a lot of prototypes and we see whatever’s cool.

Some people got together and built this prototype of a breakable environment and it wasn’t anything like Petra, it was just a test to see what it’ll be like, but it was actually a lot of fun even on that little test and we definitely wanted to do it.

BW: It was interesting for me because for my group of programmers, one thing that we work on is automated testing of maps and that area’s a good spot to set up bots to test and see if things are working okay.

But the engineer who was building that test didn’t realise right away that the floor was breakable, and he noticed at some point that his test wasn’t working correctly. When he finally put it up on a TV to look at, he saw the floor was broken and everyone was continuously dying there (laughs) so it was kind of a fun moment.

Do you think breakable floors will find its way into regular maps some day?

GG: I think it’s possible. When we first put in Oasis, we had the first jump pad in the game and we didn’t want to make a map that just had jump pads everywhere, we were just like “Well I hope this doesn’t hurt the game!”

So we tend to check the waters here, make sure everyone enjoys it as much as we do. That’s not to say the next map will be fully destroyable, there’s definitely a measured approach where we make sure the integrity of the competitive nature is still there.

BW: And we can see that a little bit because we’re running the competitive deathmatch now. It’s not regular 6v6 competitive but people tend to treat these mini competitive seasons pretty seriously, so we look for feedback there to see how it plays out.

How differently do you approach designing a deathmatch map compared to say, a regular payload map?

BW: I think if you look at it, the core of Overwatch is everything brings out special things from the heroes. It’s all making the heroes feel interesting or bringing out their abilities. On a typical 6v6 map you can bring out the sense of teamwork from the heroes, but on a free-for-all deathmatch, you’re really looking at how does each individual hero on their own shine on this particular map. Quite a different philosophy, but still rooted in the same ideas – make the heroes feel awesome for each of their individual reasons.

Since all previous brawls were made available during Overwatch Anniversary, are there plans to create fresh new brawls for future seasonal events?

GG: We’re working on a bunch of stuff all the time. We actually have a really powerful toolset that we use to experiment with heroes and game modes. I remember before we shipped the game, we were talking a lot about deathmatch and CTF (Capture the Flag), and we said we’re never doing that, they’re not gonna work for the game.

Fast forward and we get the arcade, we get brawls going, so we gave it a try. Deathmatch ended up being super popular and fun, along with CTF which we’ve reiterated over time. At this point I hesitate to say anything’s off the table because who knows!

BW: I think we’ve done both spectrums of it so far. We’ve done lighter touch adjustments to brawls and maybe like CTF, doing a rule-set task or adding a new map for it, all the way through Retribution or the Archives event which felt quite different year over year, completely new missions.

I think it’s a lot of discussion in the months leading up to that event about how we feel about playing this right now, how players enjoy it, changes due to new maps or heroes, and deciding what feels right. As the development team we play the game and listen to player feedback a lot, and those help shape what we’re going to do at any given moment. I think the door is open, we can do so much, it’s just figuring out what makes sense.

There are so many great new skins in this event, especially Doomfist and Orisa. Where did you draw inspiration from for the Anniversary skins?

GG: We have an amazing concept artist team led by Arnold Tsang and it’s less a matter of coming up with skin ideas, it’s more like, okay we have these 10 awesome skins, we should pick whichever one we really like. Inspiration comes from everywhere, we certainly have fans throwing out suggestions all the time which we love hearing and we love trying to provide the skins they’re asking for.

For example, the Doomfist skin was right out of the comic. I remember internally we thought “Oh my God that’s amazing, we need a skin for that!” and after it was released, there was an immediate response so this was a thing we had to do. Then it was just a matter of where we can put this, since it’s not exactly a summer skin. So that’s what’s so great about this event, is that we get to put our favourite ideas in there and it’s an excuse to not have to tie it to a season.

It’s been 2 months since the release of Brigitte. Some people love her, some want her nerfed – did you expect her to have such a huge meta impact and polarizing response from the community?

GG: To be honest, yes. Normally it’s really hard to predict everything and we’re usually pretty surprised, but the reason in this case is we have our own meta internally as we’re testing things, and for her specifically we had a pretty polarizing response too. It’s not even like you’re playing against her and you’re frustrated, a lot of time it’s people playing as her.

We’ll literally have a playtest and the two playing her on each team will come up and one person will say “That felt great she was awesome!” while the other felt like “I was dying all the time, I felt like I wasn’t doing anything!”

It was actually pretty challenging to create the character in a lot of ways, especially on the tuning side as a lot of the feedback was really polarizing. But in a lot of ways it’s really good to have that in the game. You want characters to have a strong impact one way or another. When you’re releasing heroes that are just sort of “Oh, it’s another running gun guy, how do I play this person instead of 76 or McCree,” it tends to not have the meta or game impact that you’re hoping for.

Especially in Brigitte’s case, it’s a new answer to Tracer and Genji and these really fast characters that are hard to pin down, especially as a support character, being able to protect yourself and your other support ally.

We knew that it was going to have a huge impact on the meta at large. When we announced her, we talked to the Overwatch League pros and they were convinced this was going to change the lineup because there’s so much reliance on Tracer, and there still is. Tracer’s still extremely powerful, but the thing about Tracer is that she gets to pick her distances, so she gets to back away a little bit.

I think in a lot of ways we were sort of expecting somewhat polarizing responses, but I really feel like the game is healthier for it.

As for Reinhardt, many have been asking for bug fixes for quite some time. Is this something the team is looking into?

GG: We’re working on a behind-the-scenes tech for his ultimate, Earth Shatter. There’s a lot of consistency issues with that and in the past we’ve tried to fixed these bugs one-off, but we’ve realised there are larger systemic problems with the tech that it’s laying on. We’re kind of rebuilding that one from the ground up, and that’s why it’s taking a bit of time.

It’s high priority right now and I’m hopeful that we’ll get it in the next patch or two, and that’ll be really helpful because not only will it fix all the bugs hopefully, but also secondary issues that people have brought up.

For example, if you block an enemy Reinhardt’s ultimate but you lift up the shield before it finishes, it’ll still hit the people behind you which is super unexpected and weird. It’s because right now it works like a wave, and if you block the part’s that going to hit you, you won’t necessarily block the part behind if you put the shield away. That will be completely solved, and that’s why it’s needing a lot of work but I think it will help him significantly.

He’s difficult to change because he’s a core of many metas and compositions. He’s in an interesting spot now because he works really well with Brigitte but also gets countered hard by Brigitte. I’m not sure what we’ll do as far as tuning, but we’re definitely talking about it.

Another amazing year of Overwatch done and dusted. Any hints about what’s to come from the Developer team?

GG: Umm, (laughs) it’s always hard to answer these without literally saying what we’re working on of course! I’m not allowed to say, it’s a lot of things, but we do have a lot of ideas. It’s less about coming up with what to do now, it’s more like which of the many things that we want to do will we slot in here.

We’re working on so many things at the same time, and they’re all getting done at different time spans, but I will say that we have a lot coming and I’m personally super excited about it and really looking forward to a lot of it!

The Overwatch Anniversary event runs from now till June 11, 2018. Log in anytime during the event to receive your free Legendary Loot Box, and pick up cosmetics you missed from any of the past seasonal events!