Blizzcon 2017 has thus far yielded a ton of news regarding Overwatch, including a new hero, a new map and crossover skins. On top of all this, attendees and virtual ticket holders also learned a few interesting details about the game’s past during the Overwatch Archive panel.
Up until this point in time we haven’t known much about the development and concept stages of the game, beyond that Overwatch as it exists today sprung from the PvP elements of canceled MMO Project Titan, and that Mercy was once planned to be a man.
However, at the panel it turned out that the game has two, not just one, cancelled MMOs linked to its past, and that there are a host of heroes which the devs ended up considering too outlandish to approve for the final game… and let’s remember that one of the poster-characters here is a genetically engineered intelligent Gorilla.
The game’s colorful cast is one of its main selling points, and likely its most interesting element, so it is no surprise that a lot of work went into putting together such an illustrious roster, and that a lot of ideas had to be cut along the way.
This look into the game’s past not only revealed what could have been, but some of the founding ideas that persisted into the final build.
One particular sheet of concept characters showing dozens of heroes only has 4 which more or less resemble their current forms, with a few others who are the obvious genesis of current heroes. Angelica was a previous name for Mercy, and interestingly enough Mercy was a previous name for Pharah. Ironclad was a character that clearly evolved into Torbjörn, Frost went through a few iterations before becoming Mei, Troy was developed into Solder: 76, Brit eventually became D.Va and Bastion likely borrowed a few traits from Rumble.
At the same time, the sheet is chock full of cool hero concepts that don’t resemble anything in the game today, either visually or in terms of skillset. Many of them were likely scrapped entirely, but a few might see the light of day as future additions (in some nigh unrecognizable form).
A piece of concept art was also shown for another proposed hero who likely got scrapped earlier in the planning stage simply because of the premise, however it was that very premise that made this hero so cool – a cat with a jetpack. Possibly planned to have gained intelligence the same way as Winston, this hero was going to be a really rad feline with a mech like jetpack, or, a really grumpy and fat cat with a floating couch.
Also seen are a hockey player with jet-powered ice-skates (this element could have been adapted for Lúcio), a bulky mech with a mean looking harpoon and a grouchy looking alien-thing.
Mentioned only without any accompanying art is what may be our favorite of the lot.
One proposed hero was a team-up of a Russian woman riding a bear (if this was anything other than a Tank hero we’d be hugely disappointed) wielding two AK-47s in akimbo. While that alone is extremely badass, the hero’s ult takes the cake – the bear rises to hind legs and takes the guns for itself.
Many of the plans on the long character sheet were scrapped early, but quite a few designs made it far enough to be included in a pitch image used by the devs to field the concept to the executives running the company. The image below uses 21 characters and more of them are more recognizable, but quite a few are absent from the game entirely.
We’ve got Mercy, Torb, Bastion, Tracer, Genji, Reaper, Winston looking almost entirely like their final versions and early iterations of Pharah, Symmetra, Soldier: 76 and Roadhog. Many of the others were changed significantly or had elements cannibalized for other heroes.
The big red bloke in the middle was split and reworked into Reinhardt and Orisa (neither of whom are red by default), the sniper squatting in front of Bastion was genderbent into Widowmaker, and based on the asymmetrical cybernetic arm, the green-armored guy behind proto-Symmetra, may have become Doomfist down the line.
Others, however, like the Hazmat wearing hero up front or the three-eyed red guy with a flying machine strapped to his back are both entirely unrecognizable. Also curious is the game’s name, which based on the images background was “Prometheus” at the time, likely changed for legal reasons.
Beyond all these cool concept characters, Blizzard also showed off some early map footage from not just a pre-release map, but a kind of hybrid map type that was a more literal mixture of escort and control, in the sense that the capture point was sitting on the moving payload, meaning the location of the capture zone was constantly changing.
The reason the map type was scrapped in favor of the current hybrid setup is because building maps that accommodated large open spaces for a moving capture point ended up being far too open.
Overwatch’s past was also revealed to be more complex than we knew until now.
Years ago it was widely known that Blizzard was working on another MMO codenamed Project Titan, something intended to follow in the footsteps of World of Warcraft but in a sci-fi setting with transdimensional elements. Titan struggled in development for years before Blizzard announced it’s cancellation, and later, sometime after Overwatch was announced, they revealed that the shooter was based on Titan’s PvP system, which they claimed to be “the only part of that project that worked”.
Now we know that Overwatch had a second failed MMO in its past.
After Titan went the way of the dodo, the design team was given one and a half months to come up with something to replace it. Initially they wanted to keep the MMO aspect of the project and explore other ideas on that venue.
One such idea was a class-based MMO called Crossworlds, another sci-fi concept set on a planet that acted as the “crossroads” of the galaxy with every alien species inhabiting it. The initial plan involved 6-9 classes, but then Geoff Goodman, who now does hero design on Overwatch, coined the unique idea of introducing ~50 highly specialized classes instead.
Jeff Kaplan, who was in charge of the project, thought that pulling off an MMO with that many specialized classes would be an insurmountable task, but the scope and originality of the idea gripped him. Using that as a jumping off point, and grabbing some Titan assets, the team started cooking up another idea.
Things were still very fluid and a number of ideas were fielded (including a Starcraft MMO) before the seed of Overwatch was sown, but eventually the idea of having lots of highly specialised characters was combined with Titan’s PvP to spawn a team-based competitive sci-fi multiplayer shooter – and the rest, as they say, is history.
With its connection to the troubled Project Titan, Overwatch seems to have a more storied past than most other games do, and would certainly make for an interesting documentary. It’s anyone’s guess whether any of these unused concepts will pop up again in some capacity, but we’re sure hoping they do.