- This article is about the game. For the titular organization, see Overwatch (group).
|May 24, 2016|
|Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch|
Overwatch is a multiplayer team-based first-person shooter developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. It was released on May 24, 2016, for Windows, Xbox One, and Playstation 4, and on October 15, 2019 for the Nintendo Switch.
As of May 2018, the game has had 40 million registered players.
Overwatch takes place on a near-future Earth, some time in the mid 2070s. Some thirty years before, robots turned against humanity in what became known as the Omnic Crisis. This eventually led to the formation of an elite strike team, who finally brought an end to the war. This team was the beginning of Overwatch, an international task force which tried to maintain global stability for two decades, until corruption tore it apart. Though Overwatch was disbanded, new crises are looming, and the world still needs heroes.
Overwatch's story is revealed through supplementary material, such as cinematic shorts, comics, and news articles. Interactions between characters and certain details on maps also help flesh out the setting and its inhabitants. Eventually, Overwatch's lore is planned to be on par with Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft.
Overwatch is an objective-based game, where two teams of six players compete. Servers are hosted by Blizzard. There are five modes of play: Quick Play, Competitive Play, vs AI, Weekly Brawl, and Custom Games, as well as a Practice range and Tutorial. There is a leveling system which gives user portraits and loot boxes.
- Main article: Overwatch beta
Two weeks before its release, an open beta was held from May 5 to 9.
|“||Titan was this massive collection of talent. Some of the most amazing developers that I've ever seen...from all over the world. It was largely not a homegrown team. It was the first time Blizzard pulled a lot of external talent in.||„|
|~ Jeremy Wood|
Overwatch started development in Summer 2013, as development on Titan was winding down. Titan, a next-generation MMO that Team 4 was in charge of, was publicly cancelled in September 2014, with work having begun in 2007 with the intent of developing a successor to World of Warcraft. Specifically, Titan was a mix of MMO and FPS elements. Mike Morhaime has described the process as working on two games in parallel, and that in hindsight, neither came together.
Project Titan was planned to feature at least ten playable classes (Jumper, Reaper, Juggernaut, Phoenix, Architect, Assassin, Guardian, Longshot, Spec Ops, Mechanic). Many of these classes went on to form the basis for Overwatch heroes. Titan differed from past Blizzard projects in that a lot of external talent was recruited for its development, whereas previous projects had used pre-existing staff. NDA's (non-disclosure agreements) are in place (as of 2018) that prevent many (former) developers from speaking widely on the game. Reasons cited behind the cancellation include a lack of passion for the project and the trending success of their smaller-scale titles.
Team 4's confidence was shaken by the project's cancellation, and many members of the team were transferred, leaving only a core group to brainstorm what Blizzard's next game would be. Specifically, at the time of its cancelation, 140 people were working on Titan. After it was shut down, 80 were permanantly assigned to other projects at Blizzard, and 20 more were temporarily relocated to other teams for anywhere from six months to two years. The remaining staff were given six weeks to come up with a new direction for the project. The developers came up with three separate game ideas, with the idea being that each idea would have two weeks in discussion. The six weeks ended up being divided into one block of four weeks, the other a block of two weeks. The first four weeks were pitching ideas for an MMO in one of the pre-existing Blizzard universes (it has been indicated that StarCraft was the setting chosen; concept art for the project was taken from Chris Metzen's early work on StarCraft, and Team 4 found the StarCraft setting compelling enough to do something similar as World of Warcraft), the next two were on developing a new IP MMO. The new IP would be named Crossworlds, set on a remote planet with numerous alien species that acted as the "crossroads of the universe." Like World of Warcraft, Crossworlds would be a class-based MMO. Geoff Goodman pitched the idea of doing 50 classes (as opposed to the original 6–9 idea), the difference being that each class would be hyper-specialized. The idea was deemed unfeasible, though the concept stuck with Jeff Kaplan, who began developing his own pitch.
It was during the brainstorming of Crossworlds that the concept of Overwatch emerged, effectively as a side-project during the brainstorm session. Looking at Titan, the developers decided that they had succeeded the most in its PvP mode. Kaplan did a pitch for heroes rather than classes, where each hero would have their own backstory. When the idea was brought to Chris Metzen, he and everyone else agreed that they should focus on this idea. Morhaime has described the pitch as "an evolution of a sort of Team Fortress-style game in a superhero universe."
From Prometheus to Overwatch
The development team was given an assignment for each member to pitch their own hero. By the first morning, 48 hero concepts existed.
The team looked to Hearthstone for inspiration on making a smaller, self-contained game. Blizzard pitched the game to Activision with the codename Prometheus, presenting concepts for numerous heroes brainstormed by the team using repurposed artwork from Titan. There was some reluctance from the executives, given that no-one had asked for or expected Blizzard to make an FPS, and Activision already had Call of Duty as a successful FPS franchise. However, in the presentation pitch, Bobby Kotick (CEO of Activision-Blizzard) was impressed by the varied character roster. Activision ended up giving Blizzard the go-ahead to make the game.
While some character concepts from Titan found their way into Overwatch, Overwatch was built from scratch. From the beginning, Team 4 worked closely with the cinematic department on character design. The Temple of Anubis was the game's first milestone, in the phase of development Jeff Kaplan has called "finding the fun." The initial goal was to have one complete map, complete with level design and environmental art. Pharah, Widowmaker, Tracer, and Reaper were the first heroes play-tested. This was in March, 2014. There were some difficulties in transferring Project Titan's game engine to Overwatch.
When work on Overwatch began, it was decided that the game had to take place in a new setting, and one would be inviting for players. Chris Metzen had specifically sought to create a superhero universe for years prior to the game. There was a desire to set the game on Earth, as up to this point, Blizzard's primary universes had been in fantasy and sci-fi settings far removed from the modern day/setting. The developers looked at how other games were treating Earth for inspiration. One sub-genre that was avoided was post-apocalypse—according to Jeff Kaplan, "there wasn't a lot of breathing space" in the genre in order to "make a statement." Similarly, realistic settings were avoided, as the developers wanted to move away from FPS settings of the past decade, which were predominantly modern military or near future. The decision was made to go back to the "world worth fighting for" concept that had been present in Titan, which would have also taken place on Earth and expressed this theme. When designing the game, Blizzard wanted the world presented to be as fantastical as possible while still being relatable to modern-day Earth. They wanted the setting of Overwatch to be a mix of the "dark and gritty," while also being "a world of color and sound and light." It was intended to be a setting that players would want to keep coming back to and be invested in,
Although it was known that Overwatch would focus on multiplayer, it was also decided to embark in worldbuilding. The first reason was that this would follow in the footsteps of the Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft settings, all of which had detailed universes. The second reason was to not impose limits on the nature of the universe. By engaging in worldbuilding, there would be material for other projects to draw off (the game's animated shorts are a result of this). Likewise, if a separate Overwatch game was made, the developers could draw off pre-existing material.
It was decided that the setting shouldn't be binary, as, among other reasons, Warcraft had been defined by the Alliance-Horde dichotomy. Effort was made to distinguish it from Warcraft, which has a more ominous atmosphere (in the words of the developers, "oppressiveness causes fatigue").
Events such as the Omnic Crisis were made up as the lore was developed rather than being pre-planned. It was decided to have the game's setting post-both the Omnic Crisis and the golden age that followed, in order to leave it open ended, and allow creation of new heroes that weren't part of Overwatch, but were inspired by it. Unlike the Warcraft and StarCraft universes, the team wanted the world building to be done in a minimalistic way, kept at the same level as the characters, rather than world building being done for its own sake.
When designing maps, the developers often visit the real-world locations where applicable. The locations are often infused with 'fantasy' elements (in the sense of combining the location with the 'fantasy' of it as it exists in the real world).
Inspiration was taken from World of Warcraft in regards to the game's color variation. A number of zones in WoW rely on color (among other things) to convey mood, and are thus distinguishable. Overwatch follows this philosophy.
The cast was designed to reflect the "real" earth, where people aren't all one race, athletes aren't always lean and youthful, and people aren't just stereotypes based on their ethnicity.
The team aimed for the game's art style to remain "Blizzardy", approachable with exaggerated proportions and an emphasis on color, while still pushing its visuals forward.
During development, the developers experimented with team sizes, trying large teams like 8v8 and 12v12, as well as small teams like 3v3 and 4v4. Both had problems, so 6v6 was decided to be the sweet spot in order to make every player feel important (as it would be tough in larger games), but not to the extent that blame could be easily assigned (as it would be easy to do so with smaller teams).
There were concerns that players not being able to see their own hero would run counter to Overwatch's theme as a character-based game. A large amount of time was spent with the voice actors to cultivate the characters' personalities to offset this.
When designing the game's maps, the editors of Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty were looked at, to get a sense of map design, and how it could be applied.
Overwatch went through two progression systems while in development before settling on the current system. It was decided that the progression system should not be a focus of the game.
The first system featured a talent system that let players customize their heroes mechanically, where leveling up a hero would unlock new abilities for them. However, with Overwatch's need for fast reaction speeds and the ability to switch heroes mid-match, having so many iterations of a single hero was deemed too confusing. Additionally, a player's power increasing as more time was invested seemed like a poor fit with the competitive nature of the game.
The second system was more in line with the current system, rewarding players with cosmetics. Each hero had a level, and the more a player leveled up, the more cosmetic options would be unlocked for that hero. The unintended result of this system was that players were discouraged from switching between heroes because they wanted to level up, which negatively affected team composition.
A map editor may be released in the future. However, as of September 2016, there are no plans to do so, as the game is built on a new engine for Blizzard.
In April 2017, Blizzard was open to porting the game to the Nintendo Switch. However, two hurdles existed, namely the Switch's weaker specs, and that Blizzard already has to balance and develop three versions of the game. In August 2018, when asked about the possibility of porting the game to the Switch, Blizzard producer Pete Stilwell stated "anything is within the realm of possibility." However, he reiterated that at the time the comments were made, Diablo III was Blizzard's only focus on the console. A Mac release hasn't been ruled out, but as of May 2017, there are no plans to port the game to it. In August 2019, an Overwatch-themed Switch was listed on Amazon, but the product listing was quickly removed. The Switch version was officially revealed the following month.
A number of fans have requested a battle royale mode for the game. On the subject, Kaplan stated that such a mode would be "awesome," but pointed that it would be difficult to add the mode to a hero shooter, where abilities are intrinsic to heroes, while battle royale games are based around scavenging, with every player on a level playing field. Likewise, the game's heroes don't have the ranged weaponry prevalent in battle royale games.
Overwatch received "universal acclaim" reviews and was tagged as "must-play" game on Metacritic getting a metascore of 91/100 on both PC & Xbox One, and 90/100 on PS4. While its Switch version received "mixed or average" reviews holding a metascore of 73/100.
- Eight of Overwatch's heroes, Tracer, Zarya, Genji, Lúcio, D.Va, Ana, Junkrat and Hanzo are playable in Heroes of the Storm.
- No single player campaign is planned. However, there will be a PvE campaign-like mode in Overwatch 2.
- An Overwatch TV series is under consideration by Activision Blizzard Studios. In February 2020, Nick van Dyk, co-president of Activision-Blizzard Studios, mentioned that he had "developed and sold an animated series based [on] Blizzard's Overwatch franchise."
- Overwatch's game engine is named Prometheus, which is likely a reference to the Greek titan with the same name.
- Overwatch is #51 on IGN's Top 100 Video Games of All Time.
- Blizzard staff members have expressed interest in an Overwatch character appearing in Super Smash Brothers.
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