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Designing (and improving) Overwatch's 'Play of the Game' highlights

"From a technical standpoint, it's a really hard problem to have a computer figure out what is cool," Blizzard's Rowan Hamilton tells GameSpot in a chat about Overwatch's "Play of the Game" moments.
"From a technical standpoint, it's a really hard problem to have a computer figure out what is cool."

- Overwatch lead software engineer Rowan Hamilton.

Blizzard released Overwatch last week to critical acclaim, and the MOBA-inspired team-based shooter has already been earmarked by the game industry (and Activision Blizzard itself) as a potential eSport.

The game was clearly built with that in mind, but a key component of its design -- the post-match "Play of the Game" feature, which programmatically displays a clip of a player's actions the game deems to be a highlight of the match -- is earning a bit of ribbing among the nascent community of Overwatch players.

Blizzard is well aware of the feature's shortcomings, Overwatch engineer Rowan Hamilton tells GameSpot in a recent interview, and it's working to improve it -- but that's a dicey proposition when you're trying to design a system that can automatically pick out the most important play of a match to every players' satisfaction.

"It's feedback we get a lot. From a technical standpoint, it's a really hard problem to have a computer figure out what is cool," said Hamilton. "[We] have a lot of cool systems internally where we can play with the algorithm that determines Play of the Game...it's going to be an ongoing process, and hopefully we continue to improve it."

While Hamilton remains relatively vague when discussing the technical details of the feature ("I'm not intimately familiar with the system," he admits) fellow devs may still appreciate his insight into how Blizzard tweaked Overwatch's "Play of the Game" algorithms to do things like shed light on the work of people playing as healers and other "support" roles -- without giving them the spotlight.

"There's obvious stuff like damage and kills. There's stuff like healing...so a lot of support actions do come into it," said Hamilton. "We've added some stuff recently, such as determining how hard a shot was to hit based on how fast the target was moving, how far away the target was moving. So a snipe of someone half a screen away who was just chilling out and waiting to be headshot won't be weighted as heavily as a Tracer [a highly mobile character] zipping across, barely in sight that you manage to pick off. We're constantly looking at different things we can add to that."

You can read about some of the other things Overwatch developers are monitoring, and how they plan to keep the game going as its playerbase plateaus and drops off, in the full GameSpot interview with Hamilton.

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