BlizzCon 2014 – Overwatch Origins Panel Transcript

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Tsang: I think one of the moments where the art style really came together was when the character team Renault Galand, the first character we modeled was Torbjorn and just figuring how do we infuse the handcrafted feel with, we have this new engine this new technology; the materials we have the ability to make it very realistic. There’s a lot of games out there these days that go that route; but I think as you guys said Blizzard’s style it’s lived in, it’s handcrafted so I think the team did a really great job pulling it off and you can see some of the processes here of how we got from concept to how we painted over and we went back and forth; I’m super proud of the team and how Torbjorn looks and all the rest of the characters.

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Petras: Can we get a big shout out to the talented art staff of Overwatch and engineers in the global team?

Metzen: Another really significant part of having developed Overwatch, I think we talked about it a little bit yesterday, I think Jeff might have brought it up is over the years our cinematics department — we’ve worked with it pretty tightly; and you guys have played StarCraft II; really all of our games from the beginning our cinematics department has done some of the greatest cinematics for video games consistently over the years and that partnership has always been very strong; but uniquely on Overwatch what was super fun and super good for our shop is that the partnership started day one.

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As we were kinda getting the art style together, as we were defining the game at a more distilled level we started working on these universe ideas and this intro cinematic really, really early, like way earlier than we normally would engage on a normal project like that at that point in development and Jeff and his team were instrumental in helping us find the style that translates between the reality of the game world and the reality of the cinematic expression.

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We’ve never had this level of cohesion before and it’s just another cool story behind-the-scenes of Overwatch that even kind of Blizzard’s changing and pulling together in totally different ways to make this a reality so that is one of my favorite things in this game so far; it’s just how it’s drawing parts of the company even closer together than we even had been before, so this game is kind of good for us in a lot of ways.

Kaplan: I’ve been walking around the line at the show floor and hanging out at the demo area and it’s been so much fun talking to people as they finish up playing the game and one of the things people keep asking me is how do you guys come up with these ideas for these heroes? I think it would be really fun to talk about some of the heroes and how we came up with the ideas and how they came be. So maybe Arn, you can brief on it a little bit and maybe Chris can jump in there too?

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Tsang: We have a super talented team and with a game like this with all these different heroes ideas come from everywhere; we have some heroes that are from team submitted ideas, some ideas come from design has a really cool concept for a hero or an artist has a really cool visual hook and that’s where it all start.

For Pharah, I think we started with Jeff Goodman’s original design of how about a hero with a jet pack and a rocket launcher? That was it. The gameplay was solid, but we didn’t really have a good visual. It sounded like a very simple concept, but it really took us a lot of iterations to get to where Pharah is today.

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Kaplan: Do you remember his original nickname?

Tsang: Rocket Dude. It used to be Rocket Dude, but we went back and forth. One of the first original concepts by Justin Thavirat… it was a super high concept (but I loved the shapes and the silhouettes); but then we looked at it and we were like… it’s a little too high concept and we wanted to ground it a little, so then you see the next one: “Oh yeah! It’s a dude in jetpack and a rocket launcher” and then suddenly we almost stripped down everything interesting about the hero. We went through several other iterations as you can see but retaining some of that original spirit of Justin’s original sketch and points from all these ideas from all these different artists we were able to come up with the final design which I’m super proud of and excited to share with you guys.

Metzen: It’s been super fun because the heroes obviously are the sole equity of the game and our ability to have a lot of different ideas so as Arn was saying we kind of latched on to this rat tattooey (Ratatouille?) thing like any one can cook which means good ideas are going to hook out of anywhere; and so the fun part is no matter where the idea comes from, it’s just us huddling together and figuring out how just how to hammer it into shape, and how to find almost this two-layered process of the fantasy of gameplay from a pure design standpoint.

What do you want it to feel like? How do you want to feel as you are moving through the space, as you are using your abilities, from locomotion to the specificity of your weapons? That’s a very specific fantasy where there are specific ways that take shape and then on the other side the fantasy of just the characterization; who do you feel like, how does it feel like to be you? There could be many types of Rocket Dude, but what is the fantasy?

That is how we came to the more distilled version of Pharah specifically and she is very altruistic and we kinda joked that she’s got a little bit of a ‘Captain America’ kind of vibe where she is all about justice and order and trying to make the world a better place and just kinda bring order to the chaos.

So suddenly her personality has started to distill. Then we get into the process of spending a couple weeks in Los Angeles in recording studios just dialing in, finding the right actor with that right kinda accent and flexion; and just kind of ripping on lines in the studio; kind of like “yeah, yeah, yeah” or “no, she would never say that;” and we kind of found it as we went and it was just a very team-based process which made it really, really fun and everyone effectively on the team when we started dropping the voice into the game we are like: “yeah, that’s exactly it;” and everyone was just kinda really feeling it.

It’s an interesting process where we all come together and kind of find the shape of it. It’s a little different for us; but it really works. We have great certainty when we can all look at each other and go: “I think we nailed it”.

Kaplan: I remember other moments where other heroes came to be and Reaper is a good example where– Reaper we had no idea what… by the way we look like an advertisement for a Blizzard story, somebody from licensing better have donuts at the Overwatch team Monday morning for this; kind of embarrassing.

But anyway… Reaper was particularly cool because that was a hero that was entirely inspired by the art; we just saw that character and we were like “oh man that’s cool; like he has to be in the game,” and that’s one where you just see the art and you go ok we are going to need to sit down and figure out what this guy does.

Winston was the same way. I don’t know where the idea for Winston came from Arnold, but we were blown away with that; and we just had the picture and then we ran with it so we– where did Winston come from?

Tsang: He comes from the moon.

Metzen: Of course, he does.

Tsang: I think Winston is a really interesting case because with this new world, this new universe we really wanted to find the boundaries of how far in the fantastical realm could we go and still stay relatable within Earth; and there is something about Winston that even though as kooky as apes on the moon sound there is something familiar about it and I think he really represents Overwatch and everything we are trying to do with pushing this new world and boundless imagination and he’s all about what’s the line Chris?

Kaplan: Imagination is the essence of discovery.

Metzen: Winston is a big science nerd, so totally it just distills right down the middle with like ‘I get him’. As exotic as this kid is he’s a very relatable person; one of the things I always trip on when I think about Overwatch is I go back to World of Warcraft; if you really think about WoW — good god… 20 years ago.

It started super simple. Can you imagine, how many of you guys have played Warcraft I? It’s pretty good. Could you imagine Warcraft I? Picture that; only orcs and humans.

Imagine Warcraft I with a Draenei running by, or imagine a Warcraft I with Ragnaros stomping through a mission? I go back to this idea that sometimes really good ideas start simple.

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With Warcraft over twenty years, it’s going to take a while to process, you had X number of games to build upon a pretty solid and simple base and game by game, expansion by expansion we were able to kind of weave in new mythology, new art, new characters, new ideas and it just kind of shaped itself over time and if you look at WoW now; I always wonder if you are just a person on the street and if you look at World of Warcraft now … we airdrop you into Shadowmoon Valley, we airdrop you into Valley of the Four Winds… you are going “Wow, this is nuts!”

The pandas running by, it’s like a thousand flavors, the weirdest layerings, it’s like this tectonic striation of zany; but you can get there over time. So as I look at Overwatch we are kind of finding what is the base? What is the solid base? Is Winston as exotic as it gets? Is that pushing too far? Is Zenyatta (this robot monkey) is that too weird? Where is the boundary?

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What is kind of fun about Overwatch is that we don’t exactly know; and that is so liberating. It’s a weird thing to say but it’s kind of like WoW (World of Warcraft). Let me rephrase that; WoW is kind of built to be over time to be this big sandbox and if the quest designers and the artists on the Warcraft team goes “you know I have this hook, it’s goblins with a rocket ship or it’s intelligent dimensional shades of blue from the phantom zone; whatever the kooky idea is as long as you can rationalize it and make it fit within the context of the game, it could take almost any shape. Think of all the kooky ideas you’ve seen in WoW (World of Warcraft) and as I relate that to Overwatch we have this kind of infinite horizon ahead of us, in terms of the characters we choose, where we go in terms of story and things like that; it’s like being at the start of this kinda awesome new vector and it’s very liberating conceptually.

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Tomas Hernandez is owner of Blizzplanet.com since 2003. I post news about World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Careers, and the Warcraft film.

Blizzplanet is a leading fansite covering news about upcoming Blizzard Entertainment licensed products. I also post previews and reviews. I have interviewed book writers and Blizzard game developers.

I was previously an employee of the OGaming Network (2003), and IncGamers (2008-2010). I was a guest newsposter for GosuGamers (World of Warcraft) a few years ago and for Diablofans.com (formerly Diablo3.com)

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