Farewell To Overwatch

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I stopped playing Overwatch. For those of you that know me, that was hard. It was my go-to relaxing game, lots of fun, great FPS.

What changed my mind was watching the layoffs at Activision Blizzard. It was unnecessary and it felt like I was somehow supporting that. I thought about how the company could be focusing on making the game better, wondered about how much of management pay should go to employees. It started to make me ask “why am I playing this?”

Then as I watched the Anthem mess and others, I began to realize I really needed to go back to more and more indie games. I needed to support people who were innovating. I needed to support innovation. I needed to ask where my money was going.

Something felt “off” among a lot of big games and big companies lately. Oh sure, I’ll play some AAA games, but I’m going to be more selective. But I’m also going to think about who I’m supporting and where my money and time goes.

After a week or two, I didn’t miss Overwatch. I rediscovered some Early Access Games I’d let slide, and I found new ones. I explored more weirdness and fun at itch.io.

I felt like I appreciated games again. I appreciated the diversity of the many indie games I played. I realized how fun Early Access was to connect with people. It was kind of like if you eat the same thing a lot, you remember what it’s like to taste different things when you change.

I’m sure there will be more experiences to report, but this made me think. I do miss Overwatch, it really is a well done game (that deserves more), but it’s nice to taste diversity again.

Steven Savage

Fanime 2018 Observation

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

It may seem odd that as of late I’ve posted about animation, but my recent activities have put me in touch with some worth discussing.  My recent speaking engagement at Fanime 2018 gave me a lot to think about – because there’s some insights into where anime and animation may be going.

One of the things I do every con is scope out what’s popular in cosplay and the artists alley.  It gives me an idea of what’s going on, what’s popular, and what we may want to pay attention to.  What I saw has me thinking about a few shifts in anime, animation, and gaming.

My Hero Academia

This superhero show – deserving the praise it’s received – was huge.  Plenty of cosplayers.  Plenty of merchandise.  It was pretty much the dominant anime at the convention.

This has me wondering if the show gets a wider distribution or viewership if it’s going to be the new gateway anime.  I can’t think of anything that truly fit that definition for years (but see below), but MHA could well be it.  If we actually have a new gateway anime that’s a cultural game-changer, meaning more people get interested in the broader anime-and-related scene.

Land of the Lustrous

I only just started watching this gorgeous, hard-to-describe show about living gemstones in a strange world.  I have had friends recommending it, but started watching it because it was far more represented at Fanime than I expected.  I had been concerned that the “limitation” of being on Amazon would affect it, and apparently I was wrong about that or the word “limitation.”

If this representation indicates penetration, that’s excellent news for both Amazon and for unusual anime – because LotL may look like a CGI action anime/magical girl thing but it’s certainly not.  I have trouble describing it.  At this level of attention I suspect it’ll remain a fixture for awhile and shows there’s an appetite for more unusual things out of Japan.

Yuri On Ice

The famous skating sports drama/romcom was less represented this year, but still holding on in cosplay and merchandise.  Considering how it’s been represented in the Olympics, it still reaches people.  I consider it a minor gateway anime if only due to exposure.

But it’s not going away at least in American fandom.

Video Games

Overwatch was still well-representated in both areas, though I saw slightly less Cosplayers.  I think Overwatch is not only popular (in a justified way) but clearly its cast, its character designs and character “skins” encourage cosplayers.  Anyone doing a game wanting mindshare should keep cosplayability (which is now a word) in mind.

Fire Emblem, the game series, was also very well represented.  With a huge cast over many games, and a prominent current one, I met many cosplayers who’d dressed as characters from the series.  Again cosplayability and interesting characters brings mindshare.

Of course back when FFX-2 came out, it was clearly cosplayable.  This is just following in those footsteps.


So there you have it.  I think we have a new potential gateway anime, Amazon’s investment in LotL seems to have brought interest and passion, and characters and cosplayability produce some real passion.

– Steve

Playing Producer: An Overwatch RPG Character System

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Taking a break from my more dramatic posts to do a bit of game analysis here –  I’m playing Product Owner and Producer in my head asking just what an RPG of hit game Overwatch would need.  I’ve noted that it’s probably viable (if the target date is 3-4 years from now), that it’d have to be highly personal – so now let’s get to the final question.  Also feel free to use any of these ideas.

What would the Character system be like?

Overwatch as noted is a Superhero story through a sci-fi lens with some mysticism thrown in. This means characters people play have to be UNIQUE. When you create a character in an Overwatch RPG they should feel just as unique as the characters in the game. That’s a tall order, but I actually believe it can be done.

In addition, there’s certain gameplay challenges for this uniqueness; loot and crafting. But again, I think this can be handled.

So let’s get to it.

Characters: Backgrounds Must Matter

Character’s need to be able to have some kind of background and have it matter. Uniqueness comes with history, and a paragraph of charcter description doesn’t cut it. That means you need some kind of way to portray backgrounds so they matter.

I’d suggest the followin:

  • First, cover different basic characters – human, altered human (like Genji or the Soldiers), Uplifted Animals (like Winston) and Omnic.  These should alter options and maybe offer benefits and disadvantages.
  • Ensure factions matter (let’s face it, there will at least be Overwatch and Talon).
  • Give those characters some background choices that flesh out history, some bonuses, and probably initial reputation. Maybe even a short almost choose-your-own-adventure type thing.
  • Allow the final summary of said choices to be made so they can be tweaked.
  • Background affects certain elements like training mission, initial reputation and NPC reactions, and so on.

Imagine you start Overwatch the RPG, and try to get wild by playing an Uplifted animal with healing technology. You pick an Uplift and get a few species choices, and pick a Bear. A few more choices and you decide you were created by an independent scientist and have healing abilities due to some kind of biology-altering process (nanites, cybernetics, whatever). With your story in place, you design your character, and your first mission might be a test of said abilities (taken from a stock list of missions, or a stock mission altered for you).

The choices would be deep in that you might get bonuses to certain aspects and a few summaries on your character profile, and the first mission and character reactions are different. One change to your choices would result in different experiences, but meanwhile every scientist NPC is cautiosu around your bear because they know he had a hard upbringing and they don’t want to anger several hundred pounds of traumatized muscle.

It’s not that the individual choices may be that radical – but they must add up.  In fact, this is a major theme you’ll see . . .

Characters: Appearance Matters

Overwatch presents a diverse cast of characters because it is basically a Superhero game.  Therefore it must have a very diverse character appearance engine and option.  The original game contains a robot monk, a genetically engineered gorilla, a giant dude in a suit of armor, a skinny time-jumping soldier, a plump scientist, and more.  Each character looks unique – as must any created character.

This means a few things:

  • Actually different builds.  No more “skinny, muscular, and average.”  Let’s have a range of heights and weights and builds.
  • You should be able to build someone that looks like they’re from our world – a range of skin, hair, face, eye types and so on.  Hire actual experts to ensure all the differences among humanity are represented.
  • Makeup, hair, jewelry, and clothes options that represent a range of past, current, and projected future cultures.  Every character has their own look, and many characters in the game call back to their culture, to legend and history, and so on.  Sometimes Blizzard has been a bit ham-handed on this, so again call some experts.
  • Ensure there’s also plenty of superhero-ish and sci-fi-ish options because hey, it fits.
  • Make sure missions and levels and purchases let you get really unique cosmetic items and choices.  Let people’s appearance reflect their experiences.
  • Don’t do anything insensitive.  Again, consult the experts.  Have this game have a bibliography.

I figure Blizzard can do this easily.  But to have something allowing diversity while keeping the aesthetic?  That’d be an achievement.

Also if you can get people to sit in a game for 30 minutes playing with options?  You win.

Characters: Characters Must Be Iconic And Individual And Easy

Now let’s get to the challenge and the chance for glory – the character creation system.

An Overwatch game has to let you make iconic heroes that are unique individuals with a system an audience can understand – as an Overwatch RPG may attract people of diverse gaming background.  It also has to be something a team can actually develop and test and patch.

How do you let people make characters as unique as a vigilante techno musician and a crazed life-manipulating scientist who looks like a Sailor Moon Villain?  How do you code and test this?

As I look over various Superhero games, game systems are always a challenge to develop.  You need a system to reflect the ability to do anything, while needing to make it understandable, createable, and testable.  But in my gaming over the years I’ve noticed a few trends that give me an idea

  • Skill Trees are a great way to provide customizable characters, but in ways that don’t become an overwhelming system.  The Borderlands series does this very well, with iconic characters that have three “trees” that allow them to be uniquely customized.
  • A lot of superhero games – and indeed games period – put characters into broad categories with options – even Champions pen and paper eventually acknowledged there were only a few major archetypes.  City of Heroes/Villains did this well, having you pick a character role (Ranged, Tank, etc.) with a variety of power options within it.
  • Interacting Iconic Ideas” is something I’ve seen work well – give people a few kinds of iconic choices that together produce a unique character.  Wildstar Online did this in a marvelously simple way – you pick a fighting class (Stalker, Warrior, etc.) and a profession or social role (Explorer, Scientist, etc.)  Even these two simple choices would yield unique characters – like a Medic who sought out combat, or a brawling Warrior who build settlements.
  • Categorical Choices” – DC Online’s superhero system is brilliantly simple, even if I have issues with the implementation.  A character choses a way to fight, a type of superpower, and a type of movement.  You can be a magician with pistols who flies, or a high-tech martial artist who can run up the side of building.  Simple, elegant, effective.
  • For clarity, some options should be simple either/or choices.  Make it easier on everyone.
  • Make simple characters choices customizable.  If your character has a plasma rifle that’s nice, but maybe they have options to tweak the speed of fire, ammo capacity, and so on.  Sure you can not change it, but maybe in time you want to make it “your own.”

From my years of playing different games, I think I see an ideal Overwatch character system:

  • People pick a Field Role based on the four groups in Overwatch – Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support.  These represent (to an extent) your combat role in the field.
  • The Field Role gives you a range of Weapon Specialties and you pick one.  This provides your basic weapon or weapon set.  Much like current Overwatch, it’s what you usually are shooting or hitting with all the time.  There’s also probably a skill tree associated with the choice, letting you customize your choice over time.
  • The Field Role also gives you a range of Field Skills to choose from.  These are individual and highly iconic like “Explosives” or “Stealth” or “Healing”  You’d probably get to choose one or two – these are more or less your special powers and gadgets.  Like current Overwatch, these are special abilities you use – and should be customizable.
  • You then select a Profession role – your noncombat role.  This would be general professions like Scientist, Doctor, Engineer, etc.  This is for non-shooty adventure elements.
  • Your Professional role gives you optional skills – like Biology, Botany, Computers, Deception, and so on.

So the idea I see is that you pick how you fight, what combat abilities you have, how you function professionally, and a specific profession.  These would give you a few skill trees that are simple and clear.  So your character is already pretty unique from the start – and more customization can follow.

Yet at the same time you can sum your character up easy – “I’m an Offense Type with a Shotgun that uses Explosives and Scanners, and a  Survivalist specialized in healing and salvage.”  There you just summed up your characters – a person who likes big booms and setting up gizmos to find enemies, but they’re also good at helping people heal and salvaging cool stuff from combats.

(It’s not hard to imagine even a few sets of options would yield thousands of basic character types).

Character progression would be handled by expanding and customizing skill trees.  Take that Crusader Hammer and add extra impact.  Jazz your healing skill with an option that draws health from enemies as you heal.  In fact . . .

Characters: Handling Loot

Loot is a big part of RPGs, but also in Overwatch it seems kinda an odd thing to have.  I mean Overwatch is a semi-military organization and they probably, you know, have equipment.  Talon may be a criminal organization but they’re an organiziation.  You don’t exactly want people to be constantly trying to unlock treasure and hoovering up loot when they’re busy saving or stealing from the world.  It doesn’t fit the scene for most characters (looking at you, Junkrat and Roadhog).

Also a superhero game shouldn’t be about managing tons of loot.

I think this can be addressed in a few ways:

  • First, ditch money.  Go for the classic “reputation” system where doing actions gives you a spendable reputation.  That’s . . . well, like money.
  • Character weapons should be iconic – IE they can’t swap them out.  Like JRPGs and some other games your weapon choice is very narrow – classic Superhero.
  • Skill trees should allow for customizing skills and weapons – representing leveling up technical skills, being cleared for new components, etc.
  • Specific missions and amounts of reputation would let you upgrade your core weapon or purchase a new one.  This represents your increased reputation an rewards.
  • You may also get rewards for certain actions that let you customize your skill trees.  A mission may yield a new barrel for your rifle or an “insight” you can choose to enhance a non-combat skill.  City of heroes did something similar – people would find icons that represented new technology or mutations that you “dropped” onto a power to make it customized.

So in short, money that isn’t money, standardized weapons that are otherwise customizable or replaceable under some circumstances, and “customizable” skill trees that represent new technology and unique learnings.

This is fuzzy, it’d require thought.

Characters: Handling Crafting

And finally the hard part – crafting.  In a game that is highly social, but also has iconic characters and doesn’t focus on loot, how can you handle crafting?

I’m not 100% sure to be honest.  You want people to be able to make stuff and share it, but inventory management isn’t a big part of superheroes.  So a few thoughts:

  • Crafting unique clothes and items for one’s room/personal base is de rigeur.
  • Crafting “items” seems to either be out or something that should be onerous.
  • Maybe add “resource” missions that let people go into the field to get valuable resources – of course it’d be a challenge.
  • Crafting powerups and special one-use items would fit well, especially if it fit certain skillsets.
  • Crafting the “components” I mentioned above seems very viable.

This one is a bit hard for me to figure out – it may be the hardest part of the game.

I would add, finally, that if the game could add crafting-only and/or non-combat professions for people to play it would expand the game’s reach.

In Closing

So there we go, my large-scale analysis where I play Product Owner and Producer and ask about an Overwatch MMO.  It can be done with the right mix of simple ideas and complex interactions.

– Steve