Kaplan: Overwatch team considering public test realm and server browser

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In a goliath update on Overwatch’s development today, director Jeff Kaplan detailed Blizzard’s current plans for a public test realm and a ‘server browser-type feature’. 

If Blizzard want to improve on one of the best FPS games on PC we won’t stop them.

The plans, which Kaplan was very careful to stress are in a constant state of flux and may not materialise for various reasons, are part of the mid-to-long term development aims of the Overwatch team beyond the next patch, which will include Competitive Play.

“Competitive Play is quite a big effort for us this time around — almost as much work as the first version,” Kaplan said in a forum post. “But it’s really far along. We’re playtesting it multiple times a day. We’re also looking into/debating putting up a Public Test Realm for this feature so that we can test it in a larger environment before putting it live.”

Blizzard often use Public Test Realms (or PTRs) for their online games, such as World of Warcraft, in sounding out bugs. The PTR is used by Riot in their development of League of Legends patches, specifically to sound out bugs in champion interactions after ability reworks.

Kaplan believes it could be useful for certain large features like Competitive Play, which he doesn’t envision hitting its stride until a few iterations through.

“Even when it goes live, I anticipate our first few seasons will require iteration on the feature,” he said. “We’re working very hard to make it awesome at release but there are some things you need to see and feel along with a large population before you can properly sign off.”

Kaplan also wants to expand on what the Custom Game option offers, as well as Brawl mode which he feels is not living up to its potential just yet. Part of the improvements, which are not near the end of the pipeline yet, could see some sort of server browser appear within Overwatch.

“For Custom Games, we want to improve overall functionality but figure out a way for players to play more Custom Games with their friends or with strangers (for example, we’re researching what a server browser-type feature would look like in OW),” he said. “This is a ton of work so would not be on the immediate horizon. But in our dream world, you could play Custom Games with 11 other people (friends or strangers) with fun rules in play and gain EXP while doing it.”

On top of these changes, Kaplan said there are multiple heroes and maps in the pipeline, with an aim to have them out before the end of the year. For the heroes, there are ‘some that are very far along and others that are just getting started’ as well as prototypes that may not enter production.

“We’re also working on a few new maps right now,” he said. “One of them is “officially” in our production pipeline as it has passed through enough prototyping and playtesting that we feel confident in it. So that map is in the hands of our art group at this time.”

Beyond these player-facing features, Kaplan acknowledged a massive number of technical tweaks going on such as improving the high-bandwidth “high tick-rate” server option players have been requesting.

“Obviously, there is a lot more going on — stuff I am forgetting to mention as well as some surprises,” Kaplan concludes. “I can’t stress this enough:some of this stuff might not happen.The reason developers usually don’t give insight like this is because if something changes or doesn’t happen, players get very angry at us. I would like to change that dynamic but we need to do that together.”