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Overwatch Archives Panel

by - 5 years ago

Take a trip into the past as Jeff Kaplan and Arnold Tsang share some of their most cherished moments in the history of Overwatch’s development.

This panel is dedicated to the “secrets” of Overwatch and how it came to be.

They were give 6 weeks to come up with game ideas. At the end of the 6 weeks the studio would decide if one of these ideas would go into production. They decided to come up with 3 ideas and only allow 2 weeks each to work on.

The first idea was a StarCraft like. They wanted to be able to tell stories that you just couldn’t in an real time strategy game. What was life like for the civilians on the ground of these planets. This lead to this early idea sketch of a character that you should be able to recognize.

The idea for McCree was an early sketch for StarCraft and he was possibly some kind of prospector. While this game idea didn’t pan out the hero was a huge inspiration that eventually made it into Overwatch.

Another new IP they started working on was based on a far remote planet that was a crossroads of the Universe. All sorts of different alien species would end up there. A concept idea was drawn out by Bill Petris

While exploring new game ideas they focus on key concepts. The first is defining the visual style. Another part is the engineers would look at what technology would be needed to make the game work. How many people will be in an area, how instanced will it be, how much persistence do the items in the game world need. The second game they where working on was going to be a class based mmo. They were working with the idea of 6 to 9 classes. Jeff Goodman(World of Warcraft class designer) was brought into the class meetings. One thing he said hit a chord with the team. He had stated I wish instead of doing a game with 6 or 9 classes, we could do a game with 50 classes. But I wish each class would be focused and have a certain set of abilities, and they could all be wildly different. The idea however of trying to make gear for 50 classes was unfeasible. It is hard for Warcraft to do what it does 12 years in.


We where still at a point of mourning for losing Titan. One of the best parts of titan was all the artwork and character design. If you look into Tracer and her early sketches they were from Titan. They had also been working on concepts for the villains, there was group of bad guys in Titan called “The Junkers.” The junkers had a guy who would throw out a hook and had a pig face. This was a group that also would make it into Overwatch.


While still working on Crossroads MMO idea Jeff Kaplan began a new concept. Working with these different character ideas.

This brought the idea of characters instead of classes. They could have back stories and names. This concept really made things interesting for the artists and designers. If they weren’t tied to armors a players making there own, they could really get into really specific and fleshed out stories. 4 days into designing Crossroads the course was about to change. The idea of heroes instead of classes lead to an awesome shooter type game. When the idea was brought to Chris Metzen like everyone else they decided why are they wasting time with these other game ideas, this is the project we should be working on. The team fell in love with this idea and was given an assignment to create there own hero concept. By the ending of the morning they had 48 hero ideas. Some ideas wouldn’t make it to the game. Others would be remade.  Alex Afrasiabi(World of Warcraft creative director) Had the idea for a female Russian that rode a bear, dual wielded ak-47’s. The ultimate was that the bear would also pull out dual ak-47’s

It was time to get serious about pitching the idea to Blizzard Entertainment and Activision. Jeremy Craig stepped up and made a more advanced slide to help pitch the idea.

You will notice many loved characters and some very different ideas, some which may still be working there way into the game. You will notice a lot of familiar names and ideas scrambled into this slide. It is easy to see how much editing and refining the game has gone through.


They were also pitching the idea of a game played all around the world. They made up a slide of possible locations.


These would be the precursors to the locations we see in the game or might see in the future. You can quickly see how some maps like London became King’s Row.  The art style was adjusted to fit the hero ideas they were already fleshing out.

The ideas had such a resonance and support from Blizzard, that it was time to take it to Activision for further support. They went into the meeting knowing they had just got Titan canceled, and pitching a shooter to a company know for it’s shooter games. The whole meeting was described as a void. They were throwing out ideas and showing slides and getting no response or feedback. They were told to stop and go back to this slide of artwork done by Arnold.

they had never seen character likes this before. This were told that the art was so interesting and compelling, and this is going to be an amazing universe. This image would become a cornerstone of the game. It showed the unique character the variety and the vibrant colors.


While Overwatch had been given permission to continue they still had a ways to go before getting the greenlight.

They were given a new deadline to create a core combat by March 2014. The first step in this process was the tec reboot. It was a drawn out process that involved deleting unneccesary items and creating many more.

This involved so much more then just using the leftovers of Titan. Even for characters who were in titan like Tracer and Reaper, They had to be made anew with fresh modeling and brad new textures. For almost all intents and purpose they were starting over.

While designing things don’t always look pretty. Back in October 2013 this is how Tracer looked. They weren’t even able to put guns in her hands yet.

They continued to refine. Here is one of the first play tests to determine scaling.

They then had a test of the Blizzard Physics Engine. In this you get to see some of those smash and explode effects we all love taking shape.

We started to get into playtesting Temple of Anubis with Tracer and Pharah.

In January 2014 they were able to do some matches of Tracer vs Tracer. They now could tell that it was fun to play and was starting to take shape.

24 days later you can see the ui and textures making it into the game. It was about this time that items like healthpaks were added to the game as well.

More characters are being added and tested and we end up with the coolest death blossom, or not.

Pharah had been decided she would be blue. Lots of work had been done to make her rocket launcher perform better.

Widowmaker had made it into the game and work has begun on her grappling hook.

The playtest had really evolved by February 2014. They were getting close to the March deadline. Textures and UI elements were starting to be really refined.

With core combat completed they had new milestones to reach for. The next milestone set was for Overwatch to be announced Blizzcon 2014. This would be an ambitious milestone. They didn’t want to do just a small teaser video. they wanted to blow away everyone with a full cinematic, 12 heroes, 3 maps all playable at the event.

This would involve a lot of work refining and implementing skill for varied characters. Hanzo ultimate went through a range of iterations to get it ready. It started as a rough catapillar of death to a swirling dragon, then finally the two spiraling dragons we now know.

All the while they were still working on new hero ideas.

they were pushing their limits to see how far they could take it. They wanted to learn what would fit in this universe they were creating. This lead to some fun and strange concepts.

This lead to the infamous Jetpack cat. While this was a hugely popular idea for the team, they felt they had gone to far and where beyond the scope of their universe.

They had to go through a lot of iterations of maps, characters and skills before they got Overwatch to the point they showcased it at Blizzcon.

The locations went through a lot of tuning.

The heros needed a lot of polish, Not all were going to make it to Blizzcon 2014.

In the end the whole team was proud and happy with all they managed to accomplish.



JR Cook

JR has been writing for fan sites since 2000 and has been doing Blizzard Exclusive fansites since 2003. He helped co-found BlizzPro in 2013. You can hear JR every week talk about Hearthstone on the Well Met Podcast published on iTunes.

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