Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director, made both announcements during BlizzCon’s opening ceremonies on November 3. That same day, we were able to sit down with him. We learned more about Moira and how Kaplan expects people to play (and kill) her. We also got to delve into the inspiration for Blizzard World.
But our Overwatch talk went beyond the recent announcements. We also asked Kaplan about Mercy, her problematic resurrection abilities, and how Blizzard is trying to fix her. Kaplan also talked about how Blizzard is combatting toxicity inside the game.
And we defended Hanzo mains, because Hanzo is good and people need to stop being mean to him and the people who love him.
GamesBeat: Overwatch has a new healer.
Jeff Kaplan: Moira Odoran, yeah. Don’t ask me to spell it.
GamesBeat: Players have been clamoring for a healer. I know these characters are in development far in advance, but did it just happen that this was the next one to come out? Or did it come to a point where players were saying they wanted a healer and maybe you needed to push healer a little faster?
Kaplan: We have a pretty good instinct for the game. Our instinct was toward a healer. I felt like there are some cases where we get to a place before the community does. It’s funny, because they rage at us and feel like we’re out of touch with the game, and we’re like, we know. We’ve been there all along. Moira’s been in development for months, way before people were making noises about another healer. We felt like that’s what the game needed.
GamesBeat: Is it fair to say she’s more a hybrid healer/attacker, like Zenyatta?
Kaplan: What’s interesting — when you say hybrid healer, a lot of people get nervous and go, well, then she can’t main heal? She can’t keep a team up? This character can, especially with the right team comp. On the one hand, her healing that she does is cone-based, similar to Mei’s freezing spray. It hits everyone in an area. If you have a group all together, you’re doing a lot of healing on all of them. It also leaves a heal over time on them, in addition to just the throughput healing it’s doing. But if your comp has someone like a Genji who’s always flying in front of everyone —
GamesBeat: Those Genjis need healing.
Kaplan: They need healing, and they’ll let you know, four times every few seconds. You can send out her Biotic Grenade. It’s a choice, damage or healing. It’s awesome with someone like a Genji. You send it bouncing down that hall and Genji knows, if I follow this ball I’ll do devastating damage and get healed the whole time. Even though she has a lot of hybrid elements to her through the damage she does, she still can really keep a team topped off.
GamesBeat: She has this Fade ability, this short teleport. How do you make that feel different from Tracer’s Blink?
Kaplan: You’ll see when you try fade out. First of all, it’s super fast, but you have full control of your character. It’s almost like a mix between Tracer’s Blink and Reaper’s Wraith Form. Reaper’s Wraith Form is kind of slow and very deliberate. You know where you are and you’re in control. With Moira, it’s super fast. That player right there was controlling exactly where she went. You go into this phased-out version of the world and actually move Moira to her next location. Blink, it’s just directional. You point and you’ll blink in that direction, but you’re not in control of the character while the blink is happening. It’s an instant 10-meter teleport in a direction, versus being able to move wherever you want. That’s part of the game with her. We’re showing a lot of times where she’s blinking behind someone, but it’s really a great disengage mechanic for a support player. You know when Winston or D.Va jumps in on you, a lot of times you fade, and you can go back around a corner. They’re not even expecting — they can’t find you after that.
GamesBeat: What do you expect to be the counters to Moira? What characters will perform well against her?
Kaplan: With all healers, I think dive is very powerful. Ironically, I think Ana, with the biotic grenade —
GamesBeat: And that new extra damage with her buff.
Kaplan: Yeah. You counter the healing. Genji is pretty interesting. He can deflect when she throws out the Biotic Grenade with the decay, the damage version. D.Va can defense matrix that ability. She’ll have a lot of counters from people like D.Va, Genji, Ana. They’ll all work against her pretty well.
GamesBeat: Do you think healers are the hardest characters for you to design?
Kaplan: I wouldn’t say necessarily the hardest. They’re a lot of fun for us to design. The challenge with any new hero is, how do you do something different that’s unlike the other heroes? Lucio’s really that radius-based, aura-based healer with high mobility. Mercy’s a single-target beam attach. Zenyatta is putting orbs on people. Trying to come up with a new mechanic — if you’re the type of player who only plays healing characters, you don’t want to touch any other characters in the roster, you still have a really diverse selection to pick from.
GamesBeat: When you’re making a lot of the damage characters, you can look back to FPS traditions. With healing, there are only so many examples of what a support character in a shooter can be like.
Kaplan: Absolutely, but we take inspiration from other game types. Lucio was a great example of that. A lot of us played classic RPGs where they always had the bard with his auras around him. More of Lucio’s inspiration was from RPG than traditional shooter mechanics.
GamesBeat: Mercy has been through a lot of changes this year. Her Mass Resurrection was a problem. Then you changed it to the single-target res. Did you think that would be a nerf or a buff?
Kaplan: The goal — I’m about to tell you the goal and it’s going to make us sound like miserable failures. But the goal was to lessen the impact of resurrect overall on the game, and then also change Mercy’s play style so it was never wrong for Mercy to heal her teammates. We felt like we were in a situation — we had created a mechanic where a lot of times the correct thing for Mercy to do was stop healing, disengage, protect herself, and then res en masse. That was more effective than her going out and single-target healing one person. We felt like that was kind of broken gameplay, both for Mercy and for — honestly it never really felt great on the other end, if your team gets a graviton surge with a rocket barrage into it. “Wow, we just combo’d every ult in the game!” And then Mercy’s like, “No you didn’t, they’re all back.” So that was the goal, to lessen the impact of resurrect.
It was really interesting, because we put the changes on the PTR (public test realm), and the PTR feedback we got when we had Valkyrie now was twofold. We heard from non-Mercy players, now all Mercy is is a DPS damage machine, killing machine, and that’s all she’s gonna be. That’s why the changes on the PTR weren’t good. And what we heard from the Mercy community was just, the character’s unplayable now without five-person resurrect, she’s useless and nobody will ever pick her. Nobody was really identifying, hey, res happens really frequently now, maybe it’s actually more powerful than it was before? Obviously, quickly, as a community, we got to that point.
Our goal now is to lessen the impact of resurrect. We’ve had times where we’re just trying to change a character without changing the power level. We are very intentionally trying to bring the power level of resurrect down. We want the top two things you notice about Mercy to be, “Oh my God, she’s an amazing throughput healer,” and “Wow, look at that mobility, she’s just flowing back and forth through the map.” And we don’t want her to be the resurrect bot that’s just erasing kills.
GamesBeat: Resurrecting a dead ally is such a strong ability. Have you ever thought about just getting rid of it?
Kaplan: I think it would be unfortunate if we got to that place, where we just gave up on the ability. I do think it’s really cool. It feels great to be resurrected. It’s such a play style change. At first, your first instinct — if you’ve played a lot of Mercy, your instinct is to play it the old way. You’ll guardian angel into some 6v1 and hit your button and be like, “Oh, that was a big mistake.” It takes a big adjustment. But once you do adjust, there’s some really cool gameplay now. Suddenly a Reinhardt shield or an Orisa shield or ducking behind the payload, these become very interesting strategic choices.
Also, the team on the other side of the resurrect, where you don’t have the Mercy but they’re res-ing on the other side, it feels much better for them too. It’s less likely you’ll get that dive in and res Winston who dove into the [enemy team], and now he’s back rampaging. More likely, if Mercy does get a res off, it was somebody who was on her side of the front to begin with. There’s less of a sting to it. I hope these changes are right. If these changes aren’t right, I do think the direction of Valkyrie over the five-person res is correct for Mercy. We’ll just keep iterating our way to the perfect spot.
GamesBeat: Do you think that some of those Mercy players will transition to Moira as a new character?
Kaplan: I think there’s a lot of different types of players, but if I had to put them into three buckets, there are people who play everything: when I play tank I play this, when I play DPS I play this, when I play healer I play this. Then I think there are people who are role mains: I’ll play any tank, doesn’t matter what tank it is, I love all the tanks, whatever tank is meta or needed, I’m playing that tank. Then I think there’s a type of player who are just mains. This is my main. I’ll play this hero whether you like it or not. For people who just main a single hero, they’ll stick with that hero no matter what’s up. The players who main support and just want to play fun cool healers, they’re certainly going to try Moira out and have a great time playing her. Those of us who play everything and just flex with what the team needs, you’ll see lot of Moira play. Like Ana and Zenyatta, I think you’re going to see a lot of players who don’t normally play support very attracted to this character, because there are damage options on her as well, and you can play her very aggressively.
GamesBeat: Even with the new PTR changes for Mercy, some people were immediately saying that Mercy’s dead. Overreacting seems normal on most gaming message boards. How are you able to go through all of that feedback and sift through it?
Kaplan: When the feedback is loud and vocal, it’s because people come from a place of passion. They love the game. It’s not because they hate the game. They want what’s best for the game and their perception of what’s best for the game. The same goes for their hero. There’s a lot of ownership over a particular hero that everyone has. I think all of the feedback is valuable. It’s how you process the feedback. I think solely focusing on forum feedback is not the correct avenue. In general, the forums for example — if people agree with something or think something is well-balanced or super fun, they don’t make a forum post about that. They’re in the game playing. They tend to make forum posts about things they disagree with. I like to use the forums almost as a gauge, a barometer. I can use this to gauge where Mercy mains are at on this particular change.
But the really important thing to do is for us to play it ourselves. Not only were we playing the Mercy changes extensively before we put them on the PTR, then we just anonymously go on the PTR and play a bunch of matches. Sometimes we were the Mercy, sometimes we weren’t the Mercy. We were also checking out Ana. Sometimes we just — we’ll just play tanks and see, “Am I frustrated? How many resurrections got off that match? How many did our Mercy get off? How many did the other team’s Mercy?”
And also we look at statistics. We’re doing what I call the balance triangle: community feedback, dev team feedback, and then analytics. Paying attention to all of it and making sure that nothing’s out of whack. At the end of the day, we have to make a judgment call as game developers. It’s subjective. It’s a craft and an art form. It’s not just science. There aren’t right or wrong moves. As creators we sometimes just have to make a choice and say, we think this is going to be okay. Even if they’re being very vocal about it right now, let’s get over this idea that all change is bad and see if we move the game in a better direction.