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Overwatch: Bringing Blizzard's New Shooter to Consoles

The evolution to Overwatch brought the game to consoles. Blizzard talks about some of the design decisions behind the console versions.

Interview by Mike Williams, .

The Overwatch open beta is over. According to Blizzard, 9.7 million players enjoyed the game across PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Though some forget the console versions exist, console-only players probably made up a good chunk of that 9.7 million.

Blizzard has worked hard to bring the Overwatch experience to all three platforms. USgamer sat down with Overwatch assistant game director Aaron Keller to talk about the ins-and-outs of Overwatch's console versions.

USgamer: How hard was it bringing a premium PC experience on both consoles?

Aaron Keller: We've gotten a ton of really positive feedback on it. I'm surprised at how good people have gotten on [consoles]. I see people who obviously haven't played it much, who can track better on a console controller than I can on the PC.

From the very start of this project, we knew we wanted to be on console. We gave everybody on the team console controllers. Before we even had a console build, we would plug them into our PCs just to make sure that the controls felt just as good on the console as they do on the PC. I think it feels great.

We also spent a lot of time making sure it was performing. It runs at 60 fps locked on both consoles. I don't think it's an inferior experience playing on the console; I think all three platforms play just as good.

USgamer: Was the additional focus on consoles the reason behind the relatively small core movesets of the Overwatch heroes?

Keller: It's a bit of both. We knew we wanted it on console, but at the same time, we wanted all of our heroes-- we didn't want them to be complex. We wanted someone to be able to sit down and get the hang of a hero quickly.

Part of that is just the way we envisioned combat for this game. We want everything to have a quick, simple read to it. The gameplay can be pretty fast, so we want you to get a quick glance at the battle and know who the heroes on the other team are. We limited the amount of abilities that heroes can have. We had this philosophy early on: once a hero started getting too complicated, then we decided we were talking about two different heroes. Hanzo and Genji; those used to be one hero.

USgamer: Were there any heroes that became too complex from a technical or design standpoint to fit on console?

Keller: The one that I think keeps our engine programmers up at night is D.Va. When you look at her, she really is two characters. Early on, if you put 12 D.Va's into a match, you would tank the engine. Not even on console, on the PC. The engineers and the artists had to put a lot of time into getting D.Va to perform.

USgamer: How much work did you put into the aim assist on consoles? Does that feature work on PC if you're using a controller?

Keller: There is aim assist on both console versions and the aim assist is not there on the PC, even if you plug a controller into it. We were able to bring in some of the Treyarch guys and they helped us with our auto-aim code.

USgamer: What's the learning curve you've seen for players on the console version, compared to the PC side where the enthusiast players live?

Keller: The funny thing is you can always tell when somebody is playing that's been in an earlier [PC] beta. They'll pick their hero and you can tell they know what they're doing, but they're always accidentally hitting ability buttons. They don't have that muscle memory. You develop a certain muscle memory on the PC, with all of the buttons you're going to hit. In every situation, you know what you're supposed to do, you just hit the wrong button.

USgamer: One major change this console generation is both consoles have easy ways to share gameplay online. From a design perspective, has the rise and sharing and streaming culture helped you?

Keller: It's actually a shock to me to see all of the community interactions with the game. Prior to Overwatch, I worked on Project Titan, which was cancelled. The last game I shipped was Wrath of the Lich King, an expansion for [World of Warcraft]. The whole scene has changed since than happened.

The community has been so helpful to us. They've given us a ton of good feedback. On our forums, we have a bug page and they just fill it up with bugs. Then we go and start fixing all the bugs. It makes the game better.

There's also this competitive scene that's developed in the game while it's in beta. All the designers on the team watch these tournaments and we can make changes to the heroes. We actually have made balance changes to the heroes based on what we've seen there.

USgamer: Were there any game systems that simply didn't work on any platform?

Keller: We've had a lot of game systems that didn't work. We just came out with our new progression system a few months ago: Progression 2.0. Progression 1.0 was in the game earlier and that changed your hero's abilities and powers a little bit. We stripped it out, because in the end we want the game to be clear and understandable in combat. You don't want to look at a Reaper and say, 'Is this a Reaper that heals when in Shadow Step, or the other Reaper?'

USgamer: Bringing a competitive title like this to consoles, what do you hope to accomplish and what are your plans for Overwatch's future?

Keller: First and foremost, I want people to come into this game and just have fun in the moment-to-moment combat. We spent so much time trying to make that feel as good as possible. Overwatch has so many amazing moments in it, where it feels like the entire match is on the line. When people come out of some of these matches, I want them to feel this unbridled enthusiasm.

We do have plans for the future. We will be releasing more heroes. We will be releasing more maps. We don't quite have a timetable for that yet. We don't have the exact plans on how those will be released, but we do know that we're not going to be charging players for them. If you buy Overwatch, you will get all the heroes and maps that we release for it, free of charge.

Overwatch is coming out on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on May 24. It's going to be a long wait.

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