Respawn’s Nessie expert speaks with

Ian Holstead, a Gameplay Programmer at Respawn, spoke with at the ALGS Split 1 Playoffs in LA. They designed the newest Legend to join the Apex Games, Alter, and has been the mastermind of Nessie Easter Eggs since at least Season 17. 

Read on to find out how they designed and balanced Alter, as well as their design philosophy for Nessie Easter Eggs in Apex Legends!

Designing and balancing Alter

Alter is the newest Legend to join the Apex Legends. The villainous character is a skirmisher with the power to create portals. Though other Legends, like Ash and Wraith, also use portal related abilities, Alter is the first to use portals to breach through physical obstacles. Designing Alter, for Ian Holstead, was about making “a new sort of ownable space” while also being “team agnostic”. 

“Things like Bangalore Smoke and Gibby Dome are really interesting because they’re team agnostic… Alter’s Portal is the same way. It doesn’t affect anyone else differently, it affects everyone the same way. It creates new opportunities for you to move around the map, and by extension, it creates really interesting gameplay moments.”

Alter can breach through solid objects (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)
Alter can breach through solid objects (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)

Alter’s abilities are inherently powerful, so balancing them for both fun and fairness was important. Because of this, developers modified and swapped Alter’s tactical and ultimate around during her development.

“Alter went through a lot of iterations. She had that tactical in some form for most of her development, but a lot of the time it was her ultimate actually.”

Keeping Alter fair, fun, and understandable

The balancing act for Alter, like all the other Legends, has to be focused on fun and fairness. Ian Holstead explained how the dev team modified Alter during the course of her development to achieve that balance.

“How do you make that in a way that’s fair, in a way that’s fun, understandable in the chaotic space, but still powerful? And there were a lot of sort of iterations to get there. I think one of the big changes we made was actually to phase you briefly after you go through the portal.”

Alter entering her portal (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)
Alter entering her portal (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)

“Originally, you just instantly went from one side to the other. Playing like Team Deathmatch and stuff internally we found that people were playing this almost like you would play around a Gibraltar Dome where you would poke through the portal, do one shot, and go back. It sort of lacked counterplay in an interesting way.”

Alter’s portal Tactical can be trippy, for both players and enemies, during a fight. Developers needed to help players adjust to the portals while also preventing them from abusing them.

“Having this give the enemies an opportunity to react but also you a moment to understand where you are, it can be very disorientating going through solid space by extension you can’t see of the time and it sort of slowed down the pace of the ability, gives people a moment to react and I think that really helped pull the whole thing together.”

Alter's appeal to players

Alter is a unique Legend, with a particular set of abilities. While she might lend to a more aggressive playstyle, she also has a high skill ceiling. Players will have to fully understand how to best utilize her tactical and ultimate, using both game sense and map knowledge.

“I think that Alter will appeal to people who really like skirmishers or maybe assault Legends. I think that Alter’s kit is interesting because it does provide a certain amount of utility to your team but ultimately I think people are really going to latch onto the tactical.”

Alter may be hard to learn but will be well worth it (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)
Alter may be hard to learn but will be well worth it (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)

“Being able to make these really clutch plays where you get the perfect flanking angle on an enemy and just the outplay potential is so strong. I think people who really enjoy that will gravitate towards her.”

When discussing the skill ceiling on Alter and how players might find her abilities particularly useful, Ian explained that Alter will be a Legend that rewards game sense and map knowledge.

“Her tactical rewards tactical play. It really rewards having a very solid understanding of the combat space [and] where your enemies are.”

“You put a portal into a room where there’s a bunch of people pointing guns at you, it does not go great. But on the flip side, you can take those powerful flanking routes in a way that they weren’t expecting.”

Alter can make unique rotations to aid her squad (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)
Alter can make unique rotations to aid her squad (Image via Apex Legends on YouTube)

However, having such powerful and unique abilities in a Legend does come with the drawback of coming with a significant learning curve. 

“I think that there’s a lot of room in the community to understand Alter’s kit and how she can play and be powerful. Her ultimate as well has a lot of different use cases and I think people are going to have to discover where it doesn’t work.”

Community Reactions to Alter's "Step on Me, Mommy" vibe

With disruptive power like hers, Alter will certainly appeal to a wide array of players. But it isn’t just her powers that appeal to players. Alter’s “step on me, mommy” vibe has sparked an enthusiastic reaction online. When asked if they were expecting a reaction like this, Ian said:

“I’m not going to say I’m surprised that people were very thirsty, but you know. Not sure Alter herself would really be into that, but I think if Alter expressed her opinion about that, that would be exactly what the people would want. So I’m just trying to stand up for her.”

Keeping Nessie hard to find, in a fun way

Nessie is the bread and butter of Apex Legends Easter Eggs. Developers hide the iconic green dinosaur across all four maps of the game, alongside an increasingly large population of Nessies in the Firing Range for players to discover.

Designing Easter Eggs isn’t always easy, though it is fueled by a long tradition of developers having fun hiding secrets. A lot of thought goes into the level of difficulty players need to face to collect their Nessies.

“I thought it was really important for anyone of any skill level to be able to find every Nessie. We have a hugely diverse roster of players, and some people are into Apex for lore, and some people are into Apex for Nessies, and some people are really, really sweaty and just chasing that number one Pred.”

Wattson skydiving with her Nessie (Image via EA)
Wattson skydiving with her Nessie (Image via EA)

When adding the hidden Nessies to Apex, developers can’t level test in the same way they might for maps or Legend abilities. Developers hold Easter Eggs close to the chest, so they don’t ask coworkers to playtest the difficulty of finding them.

“We try to keep things pretty secret and we try not to say, “Hey team, go spend four hours in the firing range and see if you can find the Nessies.”

Instead, Ian shared that what developers have to rely on is “instinct”. 

The hardest Nessies to find in Apex Legends

Instinct or not, some Nessies are more elusive than others. According to Ian, that's intentional since a different developer has designed every Nessie since the original ten classic Nessies.

“Some of them want them to be found quickly. Some of them, like the blue Nessie, they were content if twenty years from now, no one had ever found it. So it does vary in challenge a little bit.”

The difficulty level of Easter Eggs doesn’t always go the way developers expect, especially when the community comes together to hunt down Nessies. Ian considered the light blue Nessie the hardest to find, but players discovered it much faster than the devs expected.

"They were content if twenty years from now, no one had ever found it."

Ian Holstead of Respawn Entertainment

“I was really shocked by how quickly people found it. The community really rallied.”

However, before that particular Nessie was found, Ian experienced some anxiety over people’s reactions to Easter Egg hunting.

“I was getting scared a little bit because I was having people message me telling me that they hadn’t slept for forty hours, their family missed them. I was being offered bribes.”

The first blue Nessie was originally going to despawn within seconds (Image via
The first blue Nessie was originally going to despawn within seconds (Image via

Because of this anxiety, the developers have held back in regards to the Nessie difficulty before. The first blue Nessie, which can be found by hitting a dummy in the head with a throwing knife, was originally going to be a little sneakier.

"Originally, it was going to spawn on top of the Charge Tower, but after mayeb thirty seconds or sixty seconds it was just going to disappear. So you'd have to not only do the challenge, but you had to go and find it immediately."

Thankfully, Ian and the team decided that making the Nessie despawn within seconds was a tad too much for all the struggling Nessie hunters out there.

More Nessies in the future

Nessie isn't over just yet. The developers seem content to continue adding new Easter Eggs to the firing range forever. While plenty of green, gold, blue, pink, and red Nessies have been found, there's a whole rainbow more to discover.

Thank you to Ian Holstead for speaking to about Nessie, Alter, and how Legend development works in Apex Legends. For more exclusive interviews and other esports news, check back on!