Overwatch nearly scrapped Ashe, and hasn’t ruled out retiring characters

Overwatch introduced yet another hero, a gunslinger named Ashe, at Blizzcon 2018. Ashe packs a rifle and is assisted by her loyal robot butler, B.O.B, who can put up quite a fight. We sat down with Scott Mercer, Principal Designer, and Geoff Goodman, Lead Hero Designer, to find out how the new hero came about and if there’s any plan to retire old heroes as new ones are introduced.

Digital Trends: You have a new hero, Ashe. She has a western badass feel. What was her inspiration?

Goodman: Interestingly, from a game design perspective, a lot of times a new hero will come about because we’re working on a new gameplay concept, new mechanics we want to try. But, a lot of the original heroes, like Winston, came from art first. They were just drawn and we’re like, that’s a cool hero, what would he do?

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Geoff Goodman

Ashe is a little more like that. Ashe came from story and franchise development while they were working on the cinematic. It’s not like we told them, we want to make this hero Ashe, put her in this cinematic. It was actually the opposite. They were building out what the Deadlock Gang would look like, and what the backstory is. They had some storyboards real early, and some early sketches, and we just fell in love with her right away.

We were already mechanically thinking about doing another hero who was very weapon focused. Independently, they were working on this, and were like ‘look at her!’

In the gameplay video we see her taking on Genji, Pharah, Widowmaker, and McCree. Those are people a lot of players think are OP, and the community is always talking about them. Is Ashe an answer to them?

Goodman: I think she will be played a lot in situations where like, with Widow, Widow can be played at really long ranges. I think she’ll still be played there over Ashe. But at the shorter range areas, where maybe you’re stretching to play Widow, in those cases Ashe is more likely to be played than Widow if you want precision.

Really, some of our heroes come about as more of a direct response to give tools to players so they can counter certain things. Obviously the dive meta was so strong where you had Tracer and Genji running amok. So at that point we were like, we could nerf them, but it’s more interesting to give tools available that are an option.

Brigitte’s case was more about that, but Ashe’s case was less that kind of thing. It was less a specific answer but more just a cool character. Though obviously she has her own ranges where she’s really good.

How much does Overwatch’s competitive play factor into new characters?

Mercer: We’re very mindful of the meta. It’s something we’re aware of, of all the feedback. We get a fair amount of feedback from Overwatch professionals, their coaches.

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Scott Mercer

Still, it’s not necessarily the defining point, where ‘oh, because of this one point of feedback we do X.’ A lot of it is the character’s fantasy first. Everything that Ashe does perfectly fits her character, from the rifle to the dynamite, and thinking she’s a member of this gang. And you have B.O.B., this robot butler of hers, and it all fits together.

We look at that, and make sure it all fits in, that we have an idea how she’s going to play. We want to make sure she has things that will make people look at the character and say, oh, I want to play her. Obviously with her a lot of it’s the rifle, and B.O.B.

Goodman: Certainly B.O.B. We’ve had to say, wow! People really like B.O.B.

Mercer: Yea, at the same time, I think the real exciting stuff is when people get it in their hands. Things will change. The Coach Gun ability on her is really flexible and you can do a lot of things with it in defense, bumping people away, mobility.

The weapon promotes one thing, but man, if you can get close and drop dynamite right at someone’s feet. We’re interested in seeing what happens when players get her, and that’s going to happen next week on the PTR.

Her ultimate is certainly unique, what inspired that?

Goodman: There’s quite a story behind that. After we saw the storyboards pretty much right away, that day, a couple designers wrote up paper designs and sent it back to the group. And the one thing common through those was B.O.B. as the ultimate. They’re this duo and we wanted to preserve that.

We wanted to do a character in full detail, that creates another character in full detail. We almost didn’t make it at all.

Then we started to prototype and make her, and it was challenging to make it work. We wanted to do a character in full detail, that creates another character in full detail. We almost didn’t make it at all, and we talked about doing another ultimate, at that point we thought about doing a different hero altogether.

Luckily, the engineers pulled it together, and we have great artists that squeezed Bob, just barely.

Mercer: It’s such an iconic line in the cinematic. ‘B.O.B., do something!’ We wanted to create that moment in the game, and it turned out really well.

Does Blizzard have any plans to retire characters in Overwatch?

Goodman: We don’t have any plans to do that right now, but it’s certainly on the table. It’s mostly if we feel that it’s overwhelming, or we feel that the game would be better if people had a different meta going on.

We’ve talked about a rotating thing, or seasonally, but we don’t have any plans. We don’t have enough heroes where it’s there yet.

Mercer: It is something where, with Torbjorn and Symettra, we reworked them. We look at the characters every so often and ask if there’s something we need to do with a character, or with the competitive meta. We’re really close with all these characters so retiring them would be like, how do we do that?

Exactly! But that’s why it’s a concern of players.

Mercer: Well, if there is an issue like with Symettra or Torbjorn, we want to address that. Can we address that, refresh the characters, keep everything people really love about it? We try to bring these new things to them.

We’re really close with all these characters so retiring them would be like, how do we do that?

For the lore of Overwatch, is there an overarching story, or is it just something that unfolds how it unfolds.

Goodman: It’s both. We do have an overarching story, and we’re always trying to find ways to get at it. The first cinematic everyone saw was Winston recalling Overwatch, which from a timeline perspective was the most recent. But since then we’ve done a lot of backstory of the heroes, and how they’re connected to each other, and how we build up the world.

There’s definitely a story post-recall. It’s just a matter of finding the best way to tell it.

Mercer: Yea. There’s a big plan. There’s a lot of details that we haven’t developed, and that’s intentional. We want to freedom to make changes, to respond to what players are liking. But even now, if you look at the cinematics and story bits, it’s all building towards something, you start seeing connections between them. It’s exciting to see people piece it all together.

Overwatch is coming up on three years since release. It seems like Blizzard has no intention of slowing down. How long a lifespan do you see Overwatch having?

Goodman: Well, we just announced the Warcraft 3 remaster. People are still playing that. We don’t have any plans to slow down.

If anything, Overwatch is a game we love to work on and a great game people love to play, but it’s also a new IP. If you think about Warcraft 2, Warcraft 3, and then World of Warcraft comes out of nowhere. It’s associated to Warcraft by IP, but the games are very different.

There’s a potential for Overwatch to go that way as well, and maybe an avenue for us to tell more story. Big picture, the sky’s the limit.

Mercer: We’re just so excited about building out this world. There’s so many possible stories to tell. And it’s so unique within Blizzard that one of the reasons I like working on this game is just thinking about all the cool things we have coming in the future.

Check out our full Blizzcon 2018 coverage for more about Overwatch and other Blizzard games.

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