Overwatch’s newest hero had an interesting path to the game, Blizzard revealed during a panel at BlizzCon 2018 today: She started her existence in Overwatch as the antagonist of Blizzard’s animated short about McCree first, and the game team became so enamored with her design (and her Omnic sidekick BOB) they developed a new playable hero around her.
That path of Ashe isn’t too dissimilar from Brigitte, who made her Overwatch debut in digital comic form and later came to the game. But it’s rarer for the story and franchise team to lead the development of a new hero.
Blizzard developers described Ashe as a “unicorn” character, meaning that her journey from storyboard to concept art to final character was rare because it was so remarkably smooth. The very first sketches of Ashe (and BOB, for that matter) are very close to the game’s final design.
Blizzard did iterate on Ashe, of course. Her initial sketch was just a handful of lines on a storyboard intended to evoke her outlaw character design. Initial designs for Ashe were too close to existing characters, Blizzard said, namely Reaper and McCree — and Blizzard didn’t want to simply create a female McCree.
Early designs also looked a little too goth for Blizzard’s tastes — cool, but not Overwatch, they said. There were also concerns that she looked too much like a vampire hunter and they wanted a mix of biker-meets-cowboy.
Blizzard then explored more looks for Ashe, including the abandoned “female McCree” design, and others that the developer said it may return to for other characters. And one major thing had to change: Ashe needed a haircut, for technical performance reasons. Hence the asymmetrical bob cut.
And speaking of bobs — there’s BOB. While Ashe was the Overwatch hero who had the shortest trip from initial idea to approved design, her Omnic sidekick’s was even shorter. BOB was also present in the initial storyboards for “Reunion,” and the game team was adamant that he also be in the game. Geoff Goodman, lead hero designer for Overwatch, said that multiple staffers submitted design documents for BOB after seeing his initial sketches. They really wanted BOB, the burly Omnic with a moustache who’s also Ashe’s butler, in Overwatch.
Here’s a look at BOB from his initial concept art to his approved design:
Getting Ashe and Bob into Overwatch presented a technical challenge for Blizzard, as the Omnic is a totally separate character. He’s about as big as Reinhardt, which made it difficult to fit him into the game’s memory budget.
The developers also talked briefly about finding the right voice actor for Ashe. They went through a number of actors and auditions, they said, but during Ashe’s playtesting, a piece of audio recorded for the McCree cinematic felt like the best fit to embody the character. That actor turned out to be one of the first options Blizzard had been considering: veteran voice actor Jennifer Hale.