Josh takes you into the world of Blizzard’s Overwatch with his recap of the panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, which took place on Thursday, July 21 in Room 6A. Click here to go back to the previous panel, Nerdist TV’s The Boundary Pushers, which featured showrunners Bryan Fuller, Steven Moffat, and Michael Green .
At 6:45pm on Thursday, I was able to see the Overwatch panel. I hadn’t planned on seeing this panel originally, and even had it as a panel I would probably miss on a previous article, but I decided I would rather see this panel than a couple others at the same time. I have been having a lot of fun with Overwatch. You can read my previous review on Overwatch here.
There were 3 panelists on the panel, plus the moderator. Kim Phan was the moderator, and is in charge of Blizzard’s eSports division. The people on the panel were Michael Chu, a senior game designer at Blizzard, Arnold Tang, Assistant Art Director, and James Waugh, Director of Story and Franchise Development.
This panel was outlined as discussing the new character for Overwatch, which was revealed as Ana a couple weeks ago. (Pharah’s mother, for those following the game’s story). The panel started with an exciting audience trumpeter, who played the fanfare for the game. After some introductions, Kim Phan has the animated short made for Ana played. This shows Ana discussing her role in Overwatch, and how she wanted to prevent her daughter, Pharah, from joining the group. She discusses how she followed orders, but then one day, hesitated, and says that day, “everything changed”. We see that Widowmaker had shot her, in the eye. She then tells how she let everyone believe she is dead, but then talks about her necessity to rejoin Overwatch.
Here is the video that we watched in the Comic-Con panel:
Michael Chu talks at first, discussing the back-story of Ana, and the lore of Overwatch. Michael remarks how there are a lot of stories to tell for characters like Ana and Soldier 76, as they have been a part of the universe for quite a while. Michael Chu discusses Ana when she was younger, and how Ana was one of the best snipers in the world. He then discusses how a group of Egyptian snipers Ana was a part of joined up with the rest of the world to stop the Omnic crisis that was breaking out.
Michael Chu talks about how it is exciting working on developing Ana because of her relationship with Pharah. He continues explaining that Ana was second in command after Jack Morrison (Soldier 76), however, she never really wanted to leave the front lines of combat.
One other interesting note is that the team writing for Overwatch knows exactly how old Ana and all of the members of Overwatch are. Another interesting note is that an image containing Overwatch characters was shown which contained two mystery characters that haven’t been named yet… Unfortunately, I was unable to get or find a picture of it.
Michael Chu and the team discuss the two characters but don’t provide any good information regarding them, unfortunately. Then the audience gets a special treat–the voice of Reinhardt was in attendance to the panel, and provided some lines from the game live for us to hear. It was a lot of fun.
Apparently there are a lot of weird fan theories regarding characters, with one being that Mercy is a “immortal vampire” which Michael Chu confirms is not true.
Returning to Ana, Michael Chu discusses how Widowmaker got the drop on Ana, injuring her severely, and she was left not knowing how to move forward with her life, and this is where the next Ana comics will pick up.
Moving to Arnold Tsang, he talks about how Ana was developed. Ana had a good back-story going already, so it was different than some other characters, like Pharah, as they worked around her abilities and molded a story around those rather than making a character and then deciding the character’s abilities.
Arnold then discusses how to bring Ana into the current timeline, and they looked at older middle-eastern women, and took inspiration from them. They also looked at clothing a character like hers would wear. Tsang also discusses the decision on whether to give her a mask or not, but they decided to show her face, wanting to highlight an older woman character for the game. They also discuss coming up with animations, and such. Also an interesting bit–they wanted to make sure players of the game could determine whether they are seeing Widowmaker or Ana easily and quickly. This was done by having Ana use her non-dominant eye for sniping, making her hunch over a bit more than Widowmaker who tends to stand very erect.
Moving on from there, Tsang talks about collaborating with the modelers of the character, making sure they can make all of the “parts work” when she is being played in first person. Tsang then outlines her weapons–her biotic rifle, which heals allies and damages enemies, her pistol sleep dart, her biotic grenade, which amplifies healing on allies and prevents healing on enemies, then finally her nano-boost dart, which is her ultimate, giving a massive health and damage boost to an ally for a short duration.
For those wondering how Ana’s biotic rifle works in terms of healing allies and damaging foes, Tsang provides a very logical answer for this. Actually he provides two: The first is that Overwatch members inject themselves with an anti-venom serum which prevents damage to themselves, which the enemies will not have. On top of that, Ana is able to swap out darts for either option, depending on what is needed.
We are then shown a game-play video, which has been released online already. You can see it here:
Moving on to James, Kim Phan asks him about a quote regarding how he wants to build worlds rather than simply “games”. James talks about how the game of Overwatch is very deep in terms of story. James then talks about how they want to tell the story, which is with the animated shorts, and now they are planning on doing several graphic novels/comics for various characters. When asked about creating shorts for all of the characters, James indicates there should be more, but did not commit to saying who was next as far as characters, when this would happen, or how many more would be coming.
James moves on to talking about their comics, which have 6 so far, and now released are two for Ana. Number 7 focuses on Ana’s past, and 8 focuses more on Ana in the present timeline for Overwatch. What was really exciting is the audience was given a hard copy of number 7. Look for that in an upcoming giveaway possibly–if I can pull myself away from it!
Then James discusses a new format that the comics will be available in. It is similar to what Buffy and a few other comics have done, which is digitally have some animations and sounds added to the comics, to make them a little more engaging. James then discusses the graphic novel that will be coming out. It is coming out digitally in November, and the physical copy will be coming next year sometime in April 2017. This is being published by Dark Horse, and will focus on the Omnic crisis that brought Overwatch into the team it is.
James then talks about how they decide to make comics and for which characters. It seems to come down to what the team working on the story feels most passionate about. The panel then discusses some more art for Overwatch, and talk about their homage to Capcom games, like Street Fighter.
The panel then moves on to audience Q&A. The first question asks how the game’s story allows for bad guys and good guys to fight alongside each other. Michael Chu answers this question, by referencing a theory he thought was interesting–when playing the game, players are playing with “action figures”, so that whatever happens in game is not actually canon. It seems like a good way to explain it to me!
Then the panelists are asked about how they decide to make characters, and Tsang explains it as an organic process, and comes from what the teams are excited about. He says that it can vary in how the characters are developed.
Up next, an audience member asks who Pharah’s father is and if we will ever know. Michael Chu says that, essentially, if it becomes interesting to make it known, then they will make a story for that. What is interesting though, is that Pharah’s father is known.
Another questioner asks if other characters are inspired by other games, and I really liked their answer and it gave me a better appreciation for the character Lucio–Michael Chu explained that he was developed from the RPG character of a bard, which is a musical based class that typically provides some sort of constant “buff” or assistance to players. I thought that was very interesting to learn about.
When asked about a new character for Overwatch, Michael Chu says that they want to make sure they differentiate their current characters before adding more. They did not mention any specific plans for new characters. They are also asked about developing a Canadian character, and Arnold Tsang, being Canadian, really plans to push for a Canadian character.
One of the final questions I thought was a good one, was asking if there would be plans to allow players to play through actions that happen in story elements of the game, the questioner giving the example of playing through Ana’s injury. The panelists seemed intrigued by this question, but said that for the moment, they plan on focusing on the multiplayer aspect of the game.
After this panel had ended, I would up hunting down Violet, who was in the Hall H line for Friday. She has gone over that in her post for Thursday night, which you can click here to read.
Stay tuned for more coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2016!