The loudest applause from the crowd at the opening ceremony for BlizzCon 2018 was in response to least expected reveals -- Warcraft 3: Reforged (a remastered version of Warcraft 3), Lucio-Oh’s (the cereals), and B.O.B (the omnic butler that appears in Ashe’s ult). Ashe was obviously popular as well, especially in the Overwatch demonstration booth; the way Blizzard showcased this new Western hero and her relationship with McCree felt refreshing, too.
With most of the previous additional heroes in Overwatch, they were released after some hints or clues were given to fans. This wasn’t the same for Ashe, and there is a reason behind that; we had the opportunity to hear about it from Jeff Kaplan, the director for Overwatch, and Hak Lee, the technical artist for Blizzard, as well as a bit about the Doomfist nerf.
There were hints foreshadowing the release of the new heroes that were previously added to Overwatch, but not for Ashe; it almost seemed like she was announced out of the blue at this year’s BlizzCon.
Hak: Actually, Ashe was developed in a somewhat special way. Previously, we would have the heroes designed first then have the animated shorts made. As for Ashe, she originated from the animated short, ‘Reunion’, for McCree. The dev team took interest in Ashe after seeing her, and wanted to turn her into an actual playable character.
I think Ashe is a great example of how Overwatch heroes are made; it shows that it’s possible to create a variety of characters not just from the Overwatch team but when other teams within Blizzard have a good idea as well.
There must have been some difficulties with the different development process since Ashe was made by cooperating with another team.
Hak: Although it was the cinematic team that made the basic design and concept, putting that in the game is the Overwatch devs’ work. The challenge during the development actually came from something else -- the render memory for the hero. Each hero has limits on available resources like memory rendering, which was hard to adjust. It wasn’t because of Ashe but BOB actually. (Laughs) Since BOB was so awesome, we wanted to add both Ashe and BOB to the game. As a result, we had him join the game as part of Ashe’s ultimate skill instead of following her all the time.
Where did you get the actual inspiration for Ashe?
Jeff: The hero Ashe began from the Ashe in the animated short, but Ashe herself was influenced by Western movies. Think of the Spaghetti Western movies that were loved by our fathers’ generation. The animated short, ‘Reunion’ really showcases Ashe’s Old Western characteristics.
What did you focus on to make her different from McCree, who has a similar Wild West origin?
Jeff: We didn’t just focus on them being different genders; we focused on parts that better illustrate Ashe’s characteristic, like her costume or weapons. We made them different both visually and in-game by having her carry a long rifle instead of a revolver. If you describe McCree as a mid-ranged hitscan hero and Widowmaker as a long-distance sniper, Ashe can be seen as something in between. She can immobilize enemies from a mid-long distance.
Hak: If you look at the animation silhouette, you will see the difference. If McCree draws his gun with his right hand from his waist, Ashe is holding a long rifle with both of her hands.
Can you tell us your personal thoughts on Ashe?
Jeff: I think Ashe is an amazing hero with two big appeals; the first one is the various emotions Ashe has. Ashe seems sassy in the animated short, but she also shows her capacity as a leader of the Deadlock Gang. I think Ashe expressing this comprehensive line of emotions is one of her biggest charms.
Another appealing aspect of Ashe is her unique gameplay - not just her abilities like Dynamite; how she uses her lever action rifle is just awesome. The Overwatch team tested all different kinds of gun sounds and usage in order to develop Ashe’s lever action rifle. I think that kind of process is what made Ashe even more attractive.
Hak: Ashe went through a process of putting two characters into one. As we mentioned earlier, the development process was a challenging one. We saw with our own eyes how this work takes a lot of effort as we watched Alyssa Diaz, the character artist, work on it. We love Ashe at the same level of effort it took us to make her.
The crowd’s reaction to B.O.B after ‘Reunion’ was great; did you expect such a reaction?
Jeff: All of us devs love BOB. We expected the Overwatch fans to as well. That is why we did not hesitate to add him to the game as part of Ashe’s ult. As mentioned before, we had some difficulties adding BOB due to the technical problems like render memory, etc. There was even a discussion about whether it would be possible to use both Ashe and BOB at the same time. But we were determined to have BOB as part of Ashe’s ult or not have Ashe at all in the game when developing her -- and we were finally able to have both Ashe and BOB successfully added to the game.
Hak: There is this funny anecdote about BOB -- Ashe says ‘BOB! Do something!’ when she is using her ult. This became a running joke in the team - adding our name to ‘Do something’. For example, our team gets to play a game of basketball every Wednesday; if I make a mistake or I’m not playing well, my teammates would be like, ‘Hak! Do something!’
Jeff: Hak! Do something! (Laughs)
Echo, the new omnic character, appeared in the animated short. Can you tell us what role she will be playing in Overwatch?
Jeff: Echo is a character we’ve been preparing for long ago. Although there were many people who thought she was Athena since she had Athena’s logo on her forehead. Athena and Echo are two different characters.
As you can see in the short, McCree, who received the call from Winston, thought Overwatch needed Echo more than him. This is why he saves Echo from the Deadlock Gang. Echo will be added to the game as a hero to play one day but not as a new hero right after Ashe.
Ashe is the first hero to start from the animated short but there are skins that were based on animated shorts.
Jeff: There are some skins we created that were inspired by the animated shorts. The Nano Cola skin from D.Va’s animated short, ‘Shooting Star’, is one of them. Overwatch players could obtain it through the Nano Cola challenge. We were also able to make Pajamei and Ecopoint: Antarctica skins through Mei’s animated short, ‘Rise and Shine’. Likewise, we hope to make many cinematic skins that can satisfy the players.
We got to see some MEKA agents in the animated short, ‘Shooting Star’. What do you think about them appearing in the game as D.Va’s skin like Reinhardt’s skin, Balderich?
Jeff: I haven’t thought about that, but I think it’s an interesting idea. We will consider it for later.
Each team in the Overwatch League has their own team colours and logos. What do you think about adding the winning team’s unique skin to the game?
Jeff: That’s a very surprising idea -- we do enjoy making different skins and we also added Overwatch League All-Star skins like Pacific Genji and Atlantic Tracer. I think it’s a good idea to add various skins other than just team skins from the OWL.
There are many players who complain about Doomfist being too OP; is there any plan to adjust his balance?
Jeff: The feedback on Doomfist’s performance is fully understandable, and it is one of the questions we get a lot. If we are to answer that right now, a nerf on Doomfist will be applied on the PTR within a few days time. Doomfist’s Rocket Punch will be nerfed through this balance change.
What tips can you share with us for playing Ashe?
Jeff: One tip I can give you is to use her Dynamite as often as possible. Using Dynamite where enemies are cluttered will let you fill your ult gauge much faster.
With that ult ready, focus on using BOB; when you are using BOB, always consider what direction your enemies are standing in order to knock up as many as possible. If you use it at the well or cliff, your enemies will fall to their death.
Hak: We know that there are many fans who are really passionate about Overwatch. They come up with various strategies and use them; there are a lot of ways to play, like always aiming down the sights, shooting fast to hit the dynamite, etc. There are a lot of possible new strategies being made since BOB can capture the point as well as push the payload, so please think of different ways to play them. I’m also looking forward to what new and fresh strategies will be made.