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Overwatch's Workshop now has programmable bots, enabling training modes and Auto Chess-like experiments

(Image credit: Blizzard)

In an update on the Overwatch PTR yesterday, Blizzard added a new functionality to the Overwatch Workshop—the custom game tools that players have used to build everything from Torbjörn Golf to a functioning Portal gun. The new feature is programmable dummy bots—hero entities that have no human or AI controlling them, and can thus be programmed using Workshop actions to move, aim, activates skills, and do most things that a real player can do.

Up until now, Workshop creators have had to use workarounds in order to have proper AI-controlled enemy heroes. This game mode by prolific Workshop creator Darwin, for example, featured an attacking enemy Doomfist for you to practice Ana sleep darts on, but it required another human player to sit idle in the Doomfist in order to properly work.

"The main limitation that we had before with using bots is that their own AI has higher priority than workshop commands, consequently we can't make them go where we want or face the direction we want," Darwin told PC Gamer. "If we wanted to move them we had to apply impulses and do all sorts of nasty looking trickery. Dummies, the new bots, are just empty shells, which means that we can script any sort of behavior we want."

Darwin, the 27-year-old CEO of a mobile game development company, is known for such Workshop creations as this tool for practicing Ana's grenade trajectory, as well as D.Va Racing, Lúcio Pro Skater, and the 1v1 Tekken-style OverFighter, among many others. 

"With dummy bots, we will be able to greatly improve those practice mods and make advanced training ranges with different heroes moving realistically in different patters," Darwin said. "Also there is definitely a ton of community-made PvE content coming."

By PvE, Darwin means game modes similar to the Overwatch seasonal events Junkenstein's Revenge and Uprising—waves of enemies coming at you from different directions. The big question on my mind, though, is will this enable an auto chess-type mode, with players sending AI bots in to battle it out with each other?

"I don't think that actual good and enjoyable Auto Chess in Overwatch is somewhere on the horizon, but we definitely got a lot closer to that," Darwin said. "Now two players can do a 1v1 where they spawn bots against each other, sending bot Reinhardts charging in or Pharahs barraging from the sky."

Darwin says an Auto Chess-style mode is possible now, and one will probably spring up in the next few weeks that will attract some attention, but he doesn't see it sticking around as a popular game mode. In order to make a version that's actually fun to play, he says there'd need to be some sort of onscreen control, like a regular cursor. Beyond that, the Workshop would need more heroes—the PvE units from Junkenstein and Uprising, for example—so that there were more grunt-like options to send into battle than the likes of Genji and Tracer. He would also like to see more UI elements, as the Workshop is pretty limited in that regard.

Once these new features move from the PTR to live, Darwin plans to update his older practice tools to no longer require a second idle player. Until then, he's just messing around with the new tools and seeing where his imagination takes him. So far, that's just meant sending an army of Reinhardts charging in after one poor unfortunate Torbjörn.

Bo leads PC Gamer's hardware coverage, helping you better buy, understand, and use your PC hardware. You can usually find him playing Overwatch, Apex Legends, or more likely, with his cats.