The BlizzCon 2017 panel “Blizzard’s Worlds” covered some fun trivia and facts from the development of Overwatch. From a scrapped hero concept where a cat zipped around wearing a jetpack to the “stopwatch” mode, we got an inside look at Overwatch’s development.
With Overwatch’s core combat systems locked in so early, a lot of the design problems of Overwatch came from the details. Jeff Kaplan mentioned that one struggle was deciding how large team sizes should be. The team tested 4v4, 8v8, and other sizes. Ultimately, they wanted each member to feel like they mattered ... but still feel like they were part of a team that required cooperation.
Secondly, Blizzard wanted to include a “stopwatch” mode in order to appease esports fans and competitive players. After a long struggle to perfect the stopwatch mode, one designer walked in and solved the problem in “about five minutes” by suggesting the time bank system that exists in the game.
The lesson here is that much like the Overwatch organization, bringing in folks from all walks of life is a great way to solve big problems.
The end goal is to create a game that’s accessible and makes even the most casual player feel like a hero—but also something that can be played at the highest levels. Kaplan explained that one of the best moments is to have a viewer who is a skeptic of esports, and watch them change their mind after watching an amazing game. He notes that you should never sacrifice the core integrity or accessibility of a game, because the casual and hardcore experiences can go hand in hand.
Another struggle was knowing the game had to be built around larger than life characters, but understanding how far would be too far in terms of design. Winston, the talking gorilla scientist from the moon, remains one of the weirdest characters in the game.
Kaplan mentioned that they wanted Overwatch to be “super cool” and based around superheroes, and Winston very much challenged that aesthetic by merits of... being a giant gorilla. Ultimately, the idea of creating a world where Winston is one of the biggest heroes around became appealing.
While breaking the mold became part of Overwatch’s asethetic, the infamous jetpack-wearing cat character was defined out of bounds. Of course, the fan reaction to the jetpack cat story almost ensures that they’ll show up at some point. As Kaplan dryly noted: “There’s no escaping jetpack cat at this point.”
Jetpack Cat and other early heroes got a little spotlight at BlizzCon, showing us the Overwatch world that could have been.