Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan barely has recovered from his marathon chair-sitting session over the holidays, but the scruffy-looking nerfherder is back in front of the camera to talk about what’s coming to the team shooter in 2018.
In addition to the start of the Overwatch League and the introduction of league skins to the game, Kaplan confirmed the release of the Blizzard World map “very soon” with tons of Easter eggs for players to find. He also teased new heroes, with the next one being “very needed” and in internal testing.
Additional maps are in the works, he said, and the team will be focused on improving competitive play over the course of the year. Story buffs will be pleased to hear that Blizzard is hoping to further the lore of the game through animated comics and shorts. Finally, the “Year of the Dog” event, the anniversary, and the return of Uprising are on their way.
Overwatch made a bid for players’ attention this busy holiday weekend, and in some ways, it succeeded. For starters, Blizzard decided to gift all players with five free lootboxes (worth about $5 total). All you have to do to get yours is to log into the game by January 1st.
But that wasn’t what had everyone talking over Christmas. No, it was the fact that Game Director Jeff Kaplan decided to stream himself sitting in front of a fireplace for 10 hours doing… very, very little. That didn’t stop Twitch and Twitter from going nuts, as around 40,000 people tuned in to see this spectacle (which was probably inspired by similar Christmas fireplace stunts).
Of course, you don’t have to watch all 10 hours of His Royal Kaplancy. Someone took the trouble to compile all of the truly exciting moments of the stream, and someone else (that’s us) took the trouble to copy and paste that video here below!
The complex and often times toxic environment of Overwatch continues to make the popular team shooter a source of controversy and attention. Even Game Director Jeff Kaplan seems fed up with it, publicly calling out a troll on the forums and giving direct examples of the player’s abrasive behavior.
“Our community has made it clear to us that toxicity is one of the top issues that needs to be addressed in this game,” Kaplan said. “As a result, we’re getting stricter and that means people are going to get suspended and banned for poor behavior. You’ve fallen into that category.”
Meanwhile, players in Overwatch’s competitive scene are grappling with the ongoing issue of “smurfs” — that is, multiple accounts run by the same person who is attempting to grab several spots in the top 500. While smurfing isn’t forbidden by the studio, some feel that it is unfair since it blocks other players from getting into the top 500. How widespread and prevalent smurfing is at this point is not exactly known, but there are suspicions that it is fairly rampant.
Winter Wonderland is indeed returning to Overwatch next week on December 12th, and Game Director Jeff Kaplan is not doing anything to quell the anticipation for snowy antics. If anything, he’s stoking the fire at the lodge, telling players that new skins are incoming, including one for Hanzo from the comics and a couple of ones for the two “junkers” of the game.
There’s plenty more on the way as well: Seasonal overlays for King’s Row, Hanamura, and Black Forest are coming, with the latter map pass debuting this year. Players can enjoy some snowball fights in the Black Forest and Antarctica.
Kaplan also introduced a brand-new event: Mei’s Yeti Hunt. One team will be five Mei characters against a single “Yeti” (Winston) in Nepal village. If the Yeti finds enough meat to trigger his primal rage, the Mei team will go from hunting to escaping.
Get the full skinny from Blizzard after the (ski) jump!
Blizzard’s Jeff Kaplan gave an interview on Reddit this week that provides an interesting perspective from an original World of Warcraft developer who defected to Overwatch.
“I think classic is a great idea,” he says. “I have great nostalgia for what the game was. I think people need to be careful about what they think the magic was versus what it actually was. I don’t think what made the classic servers great was the shitty quests. I’m allowed to say that because I wrote all of them.”
Indeed, he stresses the importance of community and lauds the absence of the dungeon finder, but he also points out that some of vanilla’s problems: the lack of server transfers, the lack of well-distributed auction halls, and the smaller servers.
Are you a lurker, a spectator, a lookie-loo when it comes to Overwatch? For fans of the game who love to watch matches yet have a hard time following the frantic fighting, Blizzard has a few projects in the works to help out.
“Probably the top thing we hear on the development team is that sometimes watching Overwatch e-sports can be very challenging to follow the action and know what’s going on,” Game Director Jeff Kaplan says in the team’s most recent vlog. “So for the past few months, the Overwatch team has been extremely dedicated to working on a number of features to improve the viewing experience for all of us.”
These improvements include team uniforms (in both home and away versions), team color schemes that will be used in tracer rounds and explosions, an interactive map to show all of the action at once, a third-person smart camera, replays from the kill feed, and an automated tournament interface for organizers.
As the discussion and response to Overwatch’s legendary toxicity problem continues, even the development team isn’t spared from the impact of this, ahem, “passionate” community.
Game Director Jeff Kaplan wrote a somewhat raw essay to tell players what it is like to be a developer on the project and deal with the stress and harassment that comes with it. “Developers speak to you directly, using our real names,” he said. “And if you’ll allow me to speak openly for a moment — it’s scary. Overall, the community is awesome to us. But there are some pretty mean people out there. All of our developers are free to post on these forums. Very few of us actually do because it’s extremely intimidating and/or time consuming.”
Kaplan also paints a somewhat sad picture of a team that is pressured to keep up with the game and on top of all of its controversies: “Overwatch is a 24/7, 365 days a year affair for us. Overwatch doesn’t stop because it’s 5 o’clock on a Friday evening. Overwatch doesn’t stop because it’s our kids’ birthday.”
Maybe it’s OK to take a break once in a while? That kid deserves a dad to watch him blow out the candles on his cake. Just saying.
Here is a fun bug indeed: Overwatch has a glitch that’s been accidentally slinging seasonal bans at players who did not deserve them. It’s not a particularly widespread issue, having only impacted about 200 accounts, but it has concerned Blizzard and stirred the team to resolve it and restore affected players to their glory.
“We recently identified a bug that, in extremely rare cases, can cause players to lose their skill rating progress and receive a seasonal ban from competitive play without any prior penalties for leaving early or being kicked for inactivity,” Game Director Jeff Kaplan posted in the forums. “This bug is a high priority for our team, and we’re working on a fix to prevent further instances of it occurring as we speak. In the meantime, we’ll be removing the seasonal ban for all players affected by this bug as well as restoring their skill rating.”
On a happier note, Blizzard published a new 12-page comic starring everyone’s favorite Russian heavy hitter, Zarya. Keep your eyes open; another Overwatch hero or two might be popping in to say hi during this one.
Overwatch’s next great character isn’t a product of Blizzard’s labs at all but the imagination of a masters student who whipped up a Thai hero named Tara as part of a school project. The result is a 40-page document with concept art and design specs for the hero, her abilities, her outfits, her weapons, and even a Thailand-themed map called Arun Town.
“I created a female character as a support hero,” the student posted on the forums. “Her name is Tara (meaning ‘water’ in Thai). The character’s theme is a fish, a Siamese fighting fish to be specific, and a plaited bamboo fish which is a local product in Thailand.”
In response, Game Director Jeff Kaplan said that the project was “amazing!”
Since the only real form of progress in Overwatch involves skins, there’s nothing more frustrating than opening a few dozen lockboxes and seeing every rare skin be the same one… for a character you don’t even play. The latest development update from director Jeff Kaplan notes that the team is aware of the problem, and steps are being taken to ensure that the number of duplicate items received will be dramatically reduced in the future.
You don’t need to worry about losing out on the buy-anything credits, though; the credits you get from loot boxes will also be increased, so you should find yourself getting more credits even as you get fewer duplicates of things you already have. How well this will map out in particular remains to be seen, but it’s an effort to mitigate the randomness that’s always underpinned the game’s lockbox structure. Kaplan also discusses ongoing improvements to the highlights feature; you can watch the full development update just below.
Next week Joe and Jane Gamer can secure their own ticket to the moon itself — granted that they are playing Overwatch. Blizzard is opening the airlock to its Horizon Lunar Colony on June 20th, and the team couldn’t be more excited about it. It’s the first map that the studio has built for the game that is 90% indoors.
Citing both a strong character hook and story hook, the devs said that the lunar colony was at the top of their most-desired locations list. The map allows players to visit the origin of Winston, the super-intelligent gorilla, and get some insight into what went on at this remote science facility. Of course, how much lore you’re going to soak up while bunny-hopping your way at lightning speeds down corridors is debatable.
“We were always inspired by the fact that Overwatch was a universe future enough and expanded enough that there could be a colony on the moon,” said Game Director Jeff Kaplan. Get a full map preview after the jump!
You can easily count me among those who’ve been historically unimpressed at the way toxicity is managed in Blizzard games; the studio has a public history of insensitivity, and I doubt I’m alone in having a pile of anecdotes about its failures to uphold its own policies and rules when it comes to in-game behavior. But as Blizzard has branched out into new genres, that attitude has matured.
Or so Jeff Kaplan’s implied, anyway. In the middle of a forum conversation about “leavers” — people who quit matches intentionally and ruin the game for those who are left behind — he says Blizzard is laser-focused on this particular problem.
“We had a lengthy meeting about this yesterday. We’ve been doing a lot of research on the problem for months now,” he writes. “We think we have some good solutions. We still need players to help us by reporting people. We do both manual and auto detection on our end, but player reports are the most immediate indicator that point us in the right direction. We also discussed the need for more feedback for the person doing the reporting so it doesn’t feel like your report is going into the void.”
There has been a development in the world of Overwatch that may point to the debut of a brand-new hero.
Blizzard posted a lore update today in the form of fictional emails and blueprints regarding the fate of lunar colony. The messages mention a gorilla outbreak on the moon, with two specimens still unaccounted for: Winston and Hammond.
This could be a prelude to a new playable character, something that Game Director Jeff Kaplan recently confirmed was “on the horizon.” Rumor is that this hero will be Doomfist, which would make this lore piece an origin story of sorts.
Meanwhile, the studio shut down any hopes that a single-player story campaign is in development. “We don’t have any plans for that right now,” Blizzard said on Twitter.