Doomfists, nerfs, and a concept art book: A round table discussion with the Overwatch developers

Spirits soared after Blizzard’s Behind the Scenes of Overwatch’s New Hero panel at San Diego Comic-Con. The four panel speakers, senior designer Michael Chu, lead character artist Renaud Galand, assistant art director Arnold Tsang, and principal game designer Geoff Goodman, exchanged high fives, hugs, and general elation as they were ushered out of the panel room and into a smaller side room, still giddy with adrenaline. After congratulations, animated conversations recapping favorite moments of the panel, and a few pictures with some very special make-a-wish kids, the four settled down for a private round table discussion with myself and three other journalists. The mood was jubilant as these four friends talked over each, built upon each other’s stories, and laughed early and often while providing us a candid inside look into the making of Overwatch.

Is San Diego Comic-Con better than Blizzcon, or do you guys prefer Comic-Con?
Michael: They’re very, very different.
Renaud: Well, this was my first panel, so I’m not going to be able to answer that. It was great, it was amazing!
Arnold: Somehow it feels more low-key here, in a way?
Geoff: I think that, for me, personally, I’ve been coming to Comic-con for so many years that it’s so much fun to be a part of it, and also seeing Overwatch being embraced, and seeing cosplayers wearing the stuff around here, I think it’s really fun. I was really excited, too, to do this panel, because we really love talking about how we make these heroes. We always get asked about it! This gave us the opportunity to go into the process a little bit, and peel back the curtain.

It’s so interesting to see that concept phase! I know with World of Warcraft, that was something of a closely guarded secret, is that something you guys want to be more out there with, to show that progression of thought?
Renaud: Definitely!
Arnold: Yeah, yeah, we actually have an art book coming out very soon that has tons of concepts! Like, we basically tried to put every single concept that we had for the development of the game in there, so there’s going to be a lot of cool stuff in there.
Renaud: It’s so rewarding to also engage the community, and stuff like that, show them as much as we can.
Geoff: Even from early on, we’ve always been trying to lower the walls between the development and the community, and I think like talking about stuff like this–
Michael: –The only downside is that we don’t want to show, like, thing’s we’re not going to do. Then it’s like, “Uuuuugh! That would’ve been really cool!”
Geoff: Like Doomfist’s rock throw!
Michael: Yeah, like the rock throw he was supposed to have. He was almost the rock guy.

Any chance that we’re going to see the masquerade outfits from the comic as skins?
Geoff: That’d be cool.
Arnold: Those would look super awesome.
Renaud: And some of them are pretty easy to do, as well.
Geoff: Think of the cosplay action we’d get off those skins, if we made them.
Michael: We could have an Overwatch Masquerade…
Renaud: I would go to that ball!
Arnold: During next Blizzcon, that’s when we do it!

The story is so deep, and it keeps getting richer and richer with these characters, you guys keep turning out these stories in comics and in animated shorts. Do you guys see this continuing for as long as you want to do it?
Michael and Geoff: I hope so!
Arnold: Basically!
Geoff: I mean, if it’s gonna continue as long as I want to do it, I think that’ll be basically forever, but I think that it’s great. People really love the animated, actual 2D animated movie for Doomfist, and we had a ton of fun doing it, because for me, it was like a dream come true, to do a 2D animation.
Renaud: Such a different style.
Michael: First time I saw the rough cuts, I was like, “oh my God!”
Arnold: Jaws dropped!
Geoff: We were like, “Are we really doing this? We’re really doing this!” And then when the finished art started coming in, like the first full color ring, I was like… whaaat? But when you look at Arnold’s artwork, you can just see it immediately.
Arnold: Yeah, 2D animation, especially Japanese animation, on the artstyle of Overwatch, so it’s just natural for it to be expressed in 2D.

With Overwatch becoming such a cornerstone of the Blizzard IP, when you design a character like Doomfist, are you automatically thinking about how to translate to Heroes of the Storm?
Geoff: Not as much. Honestly, when they’re translating from a game-design perspective into Heroes of the Storm, there’s a lot of things that they have to worry about that we don’t, because it’s a completely different game. So the pacing, the camera and everything, plus they have to add more abilities, since they have more abilities, and things like that. I think it sort of is nice that it lends itself well to it without having to go out of our way to do it. Plus it’s nice because they get the opportunity to say, “Hey, that wouldn’t really work, that move maybe doesn’t work, Roadhog is already sort of like a character we have,” so I think it’s a great opportunity for them.
Arnold: On the art side, we really just focus on the design for the hero for Overwatch, because the Heroes of the Storm team, one thing that’s great about that team, is that they’re able to take all the different characters from all the different IPs, and somehow make it work cohesively in their game. We’re always really inspired to see how they bring the Overwatch heroes into their game, rather than trying to plan it out.
Geoff: And really that’s kind of what makes the game so cool, is the intentional clash of all this different IPs and stuff. It kind of works in our favor that way.
Michael: One thing I love about the Overwatch story is that it’s like a thirty plus year story in terms of what the universe is, and what’s really fun about that, is that there’s so many stories to tell in so many different time periods. Each time period is like a little different flavor. I know it can be frustrating, too, for people ’cause it’s like, “I want more of this story,” and then we give you one of these, and then it’s like, “Oh, I want more of that, but now I’m not getting that.” But the other thing that I think is really fun is that some of those characters persist in so much of that time, is seeing how they change over time. When you drop into Uprising, you’re like, “oh, all the characters are a little different than I expected them to be,” because it’s seven years ago. I think that, playing with that, there’s so much possibility for us, so hopefully we’ll get to tell a lot of those stories.

One of the biggest fan requests has been for Terry Crews to play a character, so why did he not land the part? Did he come in late in the process, did he not feel like the right fit?
Geoff: We love Terry, Terry’s awesome. He came to visit us and we had a great time. The thing was, when we were looking for Doomfist, we were looking for something very specific, given his role in the game. When we were early in the audition process, we heard Sahr [Ngaujah], the actor who plays Doomfist, and like, he just blew us away immediately. Once we heard his voice, it was like… Holy crap, that’s Doomfist. It was amazing, because he’s so talented, he’s so good. He can give all these different flavors of Doomfist. You probably haven’t even seen all the flavors that he can do in the game and in the movie. I’m really excited about him being able to bring all these different aspects of the character to life. That’s really the Doomfist voice in a nutshell.

You said it several times that Doomfist is very much a nod to fighting games, so was that really intentional, that everything about him had to be fighting game homages?
Geoff: I mean, we are such big fans of fighting games, that I don’t think you could’ve stopped us.
Renaud: We were like, this is it! This is the moment! We are making that love letter.
Arnold: Overwatch, as a game, is heavily inspired by fighting games, not just Doomfist. The character select screen, the art style, the visual effects, the animations, even the highlight intros are very reminiscent of win poses from fighting games, with the dynamic poses.
Geoff: Short of actually doing a fighting game… We’re getting closer and closer, with Doomfist, we’re almost there!
Michael: And I tried to even work a little bit of that into his backstory. He’s got a pretty complicated backstory, he’s like the heir to a prosthetics company, but then he’s also a street fighter, so it’s definitely in his DNA. It’s funny, I was working on WoW originally when WoW was shipped, and I remember the questions then, and a lot of interviewers were like, “You’re like the RTS company, how are you gonna make MMOs?” And then, when we shipped Overwatch, it was like, “You guys are an MMO company, how are you gonna make an RTS?”
Arnold: We can do these genres! We play these games so much, we love these games so much, who knows, maybe someday we’ll have a fighting game.

Did Doomfist have any bugs which you found in PTR?
Michael: Lots of bugs!
Renaud: We’re actively working on them.
Geoff: We fixed pretty much all of them, it was pretty much all hands on deck to fix a lot of bugs for a while. He’s a pretty complicated character, he’s not just a guy with a gun that runs around and shoots like a lot of the characters. He’s got so many interworking parts and very complicated mechanics, so it lends itself, unfortunately, really well to bugs.

You say ‘bugs,’ and they say ‘nerfs.’
Geoff: The nerf before he’s out… is that even a nerf?
Michael: I buffed that skin name, so…
Geoff: Something that’s interesting, though, there was a bug that was in there for a while where… I try to keep in touch with a lot of pro players, because some of them play religiously and provide a lot of feedback, which is super helpful, because they play like nobody else does. So I was getting some feedback from them, and when I removed this bug, it was like, “Oh no!!! It was so fun to do this thing!” And I thought well, maybe there’s a way to introduce that part without like, all the baggage and the bugs that came with it. So we actually did that, I actually put in… what it is is when you’re doing the rocket punch, you can hit space and cancel out, but gain a little extra distance. That was a direct response to the fans in the PTR, so it was cool to be able to get that in.

How do you decide what character to put out next? Is it story driven decision, or is it a response to the current roster?
Michael: It’s gone every direction in the past, like 76 was a character who came directly out of the story. We weren’t even going to make that character, then suddenly he burst into the story, and we were like oh, that’d be a cool character. What would he do? So that was pretty crazy. Then we had a lot of characters early on which just came out of pure art. The concept guys jam out all kinds of awesome art. Lately, post-release especially, we got into like, hard-core game design. What does the game really need? Where did we miss the mark? Are we missing a healer? That’s why Ana came right away. So a lot of decisions have been made like that, especially right after release, but now we’re getting a little more, like… Doomfist isn’t necessarily a direct response to the way the game is shaping up. He happens to work really well in countering the current professional META, but we’re getting back to being able to do just, awesome, cool characters that are not directly associated with the META or anything. It’s more about what would be badass, what do we really want? It’s exciting.

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