While Blizzard tend to focus on displaying final, polished products, but during today’s Overwatch Archives panel at BlizzCon, Jeff Kaplan and Arnold Tsang revealed a whole lot of what the hero shooter looked like in development. Coming out of the ruins of the MMO codenamed Titan, the game already had a wilder development than most, and early designs for the game were appropriately crazy.
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As they were prototyping the game, one character design that stood out was a certain tough-as-nails Russian woman. But Zarya was quite a bit different in those days, since she rode a bear while dual-wielding AK-47s. She would’ve had an ultimate ability that saw that bear mount also pull out AKs and start shooting, too.
Before they settled on the hero shooter, there were tonnes of possibilities for the team’s next project. One early idea was something set in the StarCraft universe, intended to explore the lives of civilians and ordinary people on the ground as a war went on around them. This concept was the origin of McCree, whose design was part of one piece of concept art. Another early idea was an original sci-fi setting on a crossroads planet at the edge of the universe that would’ve been an MMO with between six and nine classes. But that focus on classes was what ultimately led to Overwatch.
The team wanted to move on from the failed Titan project, but its lessons proved especially valuable. What if they applied character traits and backstories to the elaborate classes they were designing? Once the ball started rolling on that idea, everything else the team was considering seemed like a waste of time.
Some of those early characters were player classes from Titan, and others were built on NPCs or enemies. The only truly original design for Overwatch that didn’t have roots in other ideas was Winston. Yet that doesn’t mean they were truly building on an previous game. While the engine was based on that from Titan, more than two-thirds of its code was thrown out and rewritten from scratch, and all the in-game art was entirely original.
Their pitch meeting with Activision was especially nerve-wracking, since just six weeks earlier they’d canceled the biggest project in company history, and they were pitching a shooter to a company that was already producing the most popular shooter series in the world. But one piece of art was what it took to convince CEO Bobby Kotick, who proclaimed Overwatch would be the start of “an amazing universe.”
Jeff and Arnold also offered a quick glimpse at some unused hero concepts, including the now-infamous “jetpack cat.” Originally a jetpack monkey, the idea was that they already had a talking gorilla from the moon and wanted to see how much further they could go. The character would’ve had more freeform flight options than Pharah, but all the concepts they looked at ended up being just a hair too silly.
One idea that ended up being too silly from a gameplay perspective was Torbjorn’s. Before he got armor packs, he instead had a claw trap ability that would hold enemy heroes in place, making them easy pickings for the turret. The ability proved to be totally broken so it was soon replaced, but one remnant of it remains, since Reinhardt’s ranged ability - initially a hammer throw, now fire strike - was originally made as a direct counter for claw trap.
A last pertinent detail came up during the Q&A session after the panel, when one fan asked if they’d ever do a similar breakdown of Titan’s development. Jeff said they’re still going through the “healing process,” but he seemed positive about the chances of finally showing off the remains of Titan one day - and he promises he has screenshots and video of everything the team’s ever developed. There’s still hope we’ll see what Titan would’ve been.