The last half of the “Overwatch Origins” panel consisted of a question and answer session in the traditional BlizzCon fashion. Overwatch’s team sported Lead Game Designer Jeffrey Kaplan, Creative Director Chris Metzen, VFX Supervisor Jeff Chamberlain, Art Director Bill Petras, and Lead Character Concept Artist Arnold “Arn” Sang.
Highlights include discussion of the game’s story and its future, where its ideas came from, and how the team will be approaching heroes in the future. We’ve transcribed the majority of what was said below.
For the first half of the panel and images, see the BlizzCon Overwatch Origins Panel article.
Q: Honestly, it was so exciting to see Overwatch, because there’s like five female characters and I’m super excited. I was just wondering, can we expect more female characters, more POCs, more cultural diversity, more body diversity in future heroes?
A: (Metzen) Yes, all of that. All. Often. This coems up every year, especially for World of Warcraft. There’s a lot of people that want to feel represented. And that’s part of how we look at this product. We want to have this international cast of characters. We want everyone to come and play, and we want everyone to feel represented and like theres characters that speak to them, so we’re putting a lot of thought and passion into that. We came ehre this weekend with 12 characters–we have many, many more that we are already developing, and there are many more that we have concepts for but we’re still working through the ideas. There’s a lot about this game that is seeking that as a very high ideal, you know? To have people feel like they’re represented and feel like they could be part of this fictional event. Very important to us.
Q: I was just wondering if any of the characters from Overwatch would ever be integrated as heroes in Heroes of the Storm.
A: (Kaplan) That would be freaking awesome. That would be the coolest thing ever. Man, I hope they do that. We’ll hope and plead with Dustin (Browder). The way we see it right now is we have to earn that right. So, Overwatch isn’t out yet. This is our first experience. We can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say about it. We’re really looking forward to your feedback. And we hope that when we launch this game, you guys deem it worthy that our heroes are allowed to be in Heroes of the Storm.
Q: I’m curious about how long you’ve been working on the game. OBviously, there’s been all kinds of rumors of those 20 years of what you guys have been focused on. Where did the original idea come from? How long has it been in development?
A: (Kaplan) We’ve been working on this for about a year and a half now. It came from…I think it was the summer of 2013. We had wound down our previous project. We had dispersed a lot of the team to different areas of the company. A lot of people went to work on Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Legacy of the Void, and then we had a small, core group start in on a new idea. We had a really fun ideation period where we talked about various ideas and various directions we could go, and you guys could be surprised how different they all were, but it was a really magical moment where the team just came together. You almost didn’t have to pitch this game. A lot of game ideas you have selling the idea to developers around you to get them excited about it, and this was a weird one where you’d be one sentence in on it and they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I’m in! Let’s do that!” It was a lot of fun coming up with the idea. It was very collaborative. Almost the entire team who’s working on it now was involved with the original idea, so I think the Overwatch team feels tremendous ownership over what it is. But it’s been awesome. It’s been one of the best development cycles I’ve been part of.
Q: I think the question on everybody’s mind is are there going to be any collectable hats for our characters?
A: (Metzen) That was bothering me, too. Really.
A: (Petras) Wow. I don’t know. Arn, you want to take that one?
A: (Sang) Go ahead.
A: (Petras) We’re gonna go ahead? You know what? That is a great idea. Think we’re gonna have to definitely discuss that for now, though. That’s a great idea, though.
A: (Kaplan): I’d call that a wishy-washy answer to the hat question that is taking the internet by storm, but sorry guys, you’ll have to keep speculating.
Q: Is this, in the story, going to turn into a big defending the world or the galaxy from unknown threats and parallel worlds? I would love to see more story for this.
A: (Metzen) Man, I hope so!
A: (Chamberlain) That’s a great idea!
A: (Metzen) Sounds awesome! We should totally do that.
A: (Kaplan) THese guys are like buzzing right now hearing you say that.
A: (Metzen) Here’s the truth: we’ve got some hooks, but we are not quite that far out yet. But, hell yeah! Every part of that. Yes. I’m not comitting (the team) to having to do it. I’m just saying that’s a fantastic idea. For sure.
A: (Chamberlain) We’ll do it.
Q: So, my big issue with the cinematic is that you have all these hero characters, and they’re fighting against each other. And the same thing with the objectives: they’re heroes, but they’re fighting against each other, and there’s no real big villain. There’s no antagonist except for the other heroes. So, when does the line get drawn to say these are heroes, these are villains, and this is the objective everyone’s chasing?
A: (Metzen) Jeff and I had done a bunch of press yesterday, and we were kind of talking this through, and having to explain it over and over is kind of interesting. It’s a nuanced response. At the end of the day, let me hit this in two ways, because I want everyone to understand how we’re approaching this. We made the decision very early… I’m after a big story. I’m after building big, strong universes of ideas that we can trip out on for years and just feel like we’re part of the flow of this thing. That’s very important to me. We’re talking about a number of creative, newer ways to do that, but the conclusion we came to early in the project was, “Look, with a game like this that’s 6v6, we need a lot of freedom in the gameplay.” When you jump into a match and people want to play four Winstons, if that’s the way you want to play, we want to allow you to play that way to maximize gameplay. Conversely, trying to shove a lot of story into the flow of these maps–especially if you guys have played, it moves very fast–there’s not time to stop and do well on nuance or theme and things like that. While it’s typically not what we do as Blizzard, separating story and gameplay allows both aspects to breathe on their own and really take the shape they need to take. And I guess the next point is, where’s the story, right? Where does the narrative occur? We fill these spaces, and you tell me that it’s kind of cool that this character comes from this city, but where does it play out? Where would we be seeing the context of these characters? We don’t have anything to announce yet. We have a lot of plans that way. Obviously, you guys saw the cinematic yesterday, which is something we just absolutely love. Well, we want to do more of that. We want to have deep, rich stories that are fun, and tug on your heart strings, and just literally kick butt, and show you the bigger tapestry of this world, and how some of these cooky characters relate, what they think about each other, are there enmities, how do the villains play into this whole thing–we want to chase every part of that. But obviously at this point it’s kind of disconnected from the gameplay, such that Tracer and Widowmaker are…antagonistic.
A: (Kaplan) Yeah, well, they’re enemies. Obviously, they’re clearly enemies.
A: (Metzen) Yeah! They’re nemesises of each other, but you can team up in a map. There’s kind of a suspension of story within the gameplay. It’s a little cooky. It’s different than we’ve done it before. Ultimately, our reasoning is very, very strong. It allows both aspects of this event to really breathe and take the shape they need to take.
A: (Kaplan) It also removes a lot of restraints. Like, a lot of times when we go to directors like Jeff for the cinematics, we put these amazing restraints on them. Like, well, level 2’s gonna segway into level 3, but we need all of these things to happen to set up (what follows). What’s cool about this is that letting the gameplay and story breathe on their own…we didn’t put any constraints on Jeff when it came to making this movie. We just said make a cool story in the Overwatch universe, and we’ll make a cool game in your movie story. That’s how we’ve been sort of approaching it.
Q: I saw something I really wanted in the demo, which is the arcane cabinet fighters of the storm. There was a great little Easter egg and I was wondering if there’s any more like that in the full game.
A: (Sang) That’s my dream.
A: (Metzen) There will be more!
A: (Sang) There will be more!
Q: When you inevitably release more characters, will we see stuff from the cinematics to showcase the unveiling, or is it gonna be more bringing new characters into the expanding storylines?
A: (Chamberlain) That’s a good question. Early on, we were talking about how we would introduce characters, and the first (thing we came up with) was we should have a 5-minute thing explaining their origin and (so on). And I think Kaplan was the one that said, “We should just do whatever we want!” And so we talked about it a bit more, and obviously we’re not ready to reveal anything big yet, but we’re talking about more than that, I guess, so…look for more story!
Q: I was wondering if you have any plans to have an adventure mode to explore more of their backstory and where they came from.
A: (Kaplan) THat sounds like an awesome idea. We would love to explore something like that. We don’t have any immediate plans for something like that, but it sounds freaking awesome to us. I mean, that’s-
A: (Metzen) I pretty much begged Jeff to make that happen, so…we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes.
A: (Kaplan) We will try.
Q: So, are you going to have alternate skins, maybe?
A: (Metzen) That sounds awesome, too! Oh, I hate giving these answers. I mean, look at these characters: they’re beautiful, from the mind of Arnold, so I can only imagine what Arnold would do if he started skinning these characters and how awesome they would look, so hopefully something like that.
Q: How are you guys going to avoid the comparison to a vertical Team Fortress 2? Um…I heard it. A lot.
A: (Kaplan) So, if anyone wants to compare this game to Team Fortress 2, I would take that as the world’s greatest compliment. I mean, I love that game. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. I think it’s one of my favorite games of all time. Those guys are geniuses. Robin Walker up at Valve…I had the honor of meeting him. I would take that as a tremendous compliment. I think, though, as you start to play the game, you realize how different the game is from Team Fortress 2. Sure, there are some similarities–there’s team-based objectives or whatever–but already at the show we have 12 heroes here, and Team Fortress 2 does something very different where they have their sort of roles…they have 9 of them, they let them be very customizable, so maybe your Demo man is suddenly charging you with a sword. So, they’re kind of going in a different design direction than we are right out of the gate. Or I should say we’re going in a different design direction than they are. Also, mobility features hugely into this game. You’ve got Pharah flying–I know you said the verticality comment, as well. But I think the thing you realize when you start to play Overwatch is that all of us have been conditioned from recent shooters that are out. And I’m not saying this as a knock to those, because I love them. I’ve prestiged numerous times in many of the Call of Duties, so this is absolutely not a knock on those games. But Overwatch is about these amazing hero abilities, it’s not about running around and putting people under your crosshairs. And it’s funny. You watch someone come in and play Overwatch and maybe they come from a Call of Duty or a Team Fortress background, and they won’t hit the buttons at all. They’re only shooting the gun. And you have this breakthrough moment where you show them (to use abilities), and that’s where you really start to see the differences.
(Source: BlizzPro, Overwatch Origins panel, BlizzCon 2014)