The latest hero for Overwatch, Ashe, was announced at this year’s BlizzCon through a dynamic and action-packed short: Reunion. For those who are unaware, Ashe is a part of the Deadlock Gang, has a trustworthy robot companion named Bob, and can get pissed off by McCree fairly easily.
At this year’s Blizzcon I was able to sit down with Overwatch’s Lead Writer Michael Chu and Lead Character Designer Renaud Galand in a group interview to discuss Ashe’s inspiration, how Blizzard’s Overwatch character development process works, and the current state of the Overwatch shorts.
Press: What was the inspiration for Ashe?
Renaud Garland: Well, the inspiration for this one was actually really interesting because, you know, inspiration can come from anywhere. Writing can come from a like a name or a design need or even a sketch that would have been done in the corner of a napkin. In this case, we knew it was coming from the fact that we really wanted to explore more of the story of some of our characters.
The cinematic and movie team came to us and wanted to explore the gang and where McCree is from. Ashe happened to be one of the characters of that gang, the leader in this case, and that’s really how it came about. We all fell in love with her when we were working on other prototypes back then. We saw her and were like “Oh my god, she’s so strong, so amazing! We should try to give her a shot and try to make her a hero.”
Michael Chu: She was created originally in a unique way, but all the heroes sort of go through this process where the basic idea has to then fit into the overall Overwatch universe. For her in particular, it was trying to figure out this character who existed in the Reunion piece. How do we get her into the overall universe and have that may make it feel good? There was a particular challenge that we already have a character like that.
A character like McCree is so iconic and he’s sort of laid claim to the cowboy aesthetic and everything. It was very important for us to make sure that Ashe stood out and wasn’t just ‘Oh she’s the female cowboy,’ so we went the biker gang route with her. We want to push that aspect so her story isn’t just a tributary off of McCree’s. Because of that, she has such an interesting story.
[McCree is] a kid who ran with the Deadlock Gang and joins Blackwatch, and after Blackwatch, all this stuff happens. I felt like what we hadn’t really explored was that the Deadlock Gang is this thing. McCree had a little bit of involvement in it, but he never struck me as the kind of character who is like ‘I want to run this gang and be like this amazing criminal’. He’s more passive, so it became clear that Ashe could be this character who really drove that aspect of the gang, so that’s that’s really where her character came out…and Bob.
RG: Yeah, I remember when we were first starting to envision the fact that we would have Ashe, we were actually debating ‘Should we have Bob as a hero?’ He’s so amazing and then…
MC: It wasn’t a long debate.
RG: Ultimately we went with Ashe, but we knew that we wouldn’t have Ashe without Bob, even though it was a tough challenge.
MC: It’s funny because I joke that Bob is hero 29.5. From a creation standpoint, he almost felt like that much of a challenge. If you get into Ashe’s abilities and stuff and Bob is her ultimate, he functions basically like you’re like any other temporary character in the game. So in some ways, it’s a joke.
P: Are we going to see more stories about Ashe outside the game?
MC: Oh I hope so. I mean I can’t I can’t promise anything as I’ll only get myself in trouble, but you know we’re definitely building out the Deadlock Gang, especially now that we’ve got two heroes that are tied into it. I think it’s something that’d be really fun to do and find out who those other two mysterious members, the two founders, were and also finding out more about McCree and Ashe’s relationship over the years. I think it would be really cool.
If I were to describe the relationship [between Ashe and McCree], I’d say it’s complicated. Then I realize what that immediately connotates, so it’s way more complicated than that. Ashe is extremely an ambitious person; McCree is more easy-going.
There are so many different aspects to it. They start Deadlock gang together for a few years doing all these crimes, heists, and everything, and then you know McCree’s… career [laughs] goes in a very different direction. The Deadlock Gang isn’t cool with McCree being like part of the covert part of Overwatch. Working for the law, criminals are not too happy with that. There’s a lot of complicated intersection between those characters.
P: So how long have these ideas been gestating for you guys?
MC: These ideas about the Deadlock Gang have been going on for a while, but we didn’t really delve into. Recently, when we were updating Route 66 so everything was in place to work with Reunion, we noticed a lot of those elements honestly have been there for a long time. For example, we always knew that in the payload there was this crazy robot named Echo. We’ve been waiting for all these years to reveal that so it’s great when we get an opportunity.
Once we’re making the movie and the hero, then we can start to get into it. So different parts of the character and parts of the story came at different points in time. I would say primarily for Ashe’s backstory and how she fits into everything that we really dove into that once we started working on Reunion.
P: Can you talk about some abilities for Ashe that you explored but didn’t implement?
MC: I remember that after the designers went off and started kind of coming with ideas for what Ashe could be, a lot of them had Bob. This going to sound like a cop out, but Ashe is one of those characters where the ability set didn’t go through a lot of changes. Very rarely we have a character like that. It just kind of works.
RG: Yeah, I just remembered trying to mess around a little bit with [Ashe] because when [the designers] first showed Bob us on the technical side we were like ‘Oh my God, how are we going to do this?’. Still, we ended up doing it and it’s it’s amazing because you actually pushed the technology further, which helps the whole game. We love those kinds of challenges, but it’s true that for like a couple of weeks we were not sure about it.
MC: It’s worth saying that the technical challenge with Bob on the art side with it was really significant too. I remember when we originally knew we needed to set up a little bit of time to figure out if we could actually do it. Then that time came and went and everyone felt so strongly that it was an essential part of the fantasy of the character that we kept pushing at it. In the end, everyone went above and beyond figuring out how to make this happen because we originally didn’t believe in it.
RG: Then we really wanted to make sure that we had Ashe down too. We could not have Ashe without Bob, and we knew it’d be a missed opportunity to not capitalize on the Reunion short and have Ashe come at the same time. We felt so strongly about it that we just made it happen.
P: What was it like working with Jennifer Hale and finding the voice for the character of Ashe?
MC: Oh, it was fantastic. She had this really great chemistry with Matt Mercer who plays McCree, and we actually recorded her for the for the Reunion short before we actually pulled her in to record for the game. It’s interesting because the McCree and Ashe relationship is not your normal everyday one. McCree has that ability to push her buttons and just really piss her off, so it was really interesting to have to have that as a starting point. Then, in the game, it was great to explore the other parts of the character and how she functions when she’s not presented with our favorite cowboy. I think McCree is a special case.
Z: Can we expect to see a change in the pacing of content releases in terms of new maps and new heroes?
MC: We’re always looking at how our cadence is and what content we feel like the game needs. With Ashe, we identified that we were at a point where a new hero would be great. In particular, we were excited to do a type of hero that we hadn’t done in a while, a weapon based hero…We’ve made a bunch of ability based heroes, but this time we wanted to make another character for people who want to focus in on the weapon.
RG: There’ll be more.
Z: So, for the most important question: How many different kinds of little hats are designed for Ashe and Bob behind the scenes?
MC: It’s funny, we’ve rehearsed that panel that we did earlier a few times now and I didn’t notice the slides for some reason. They didn’t really register with me until I was sitting up there on stage, and I noticed that in every single piece of concept art for Ashe there’s a lot of changes, but with Bob not so much. They put a different hat on Ashe every single time. Like there are so many different hats it must have been a lot of material they had to buy.
RG: We made sure to have fun with the hats on those two guys. We told the animators not to do too much with the hat because we wanted to be able to change the shape and stuff that, which sometimes caused problems. With McCree, we have a whole suite of animations where he tips his hat and stuff like that so we had to keep that shape in place. With Ashe and Bob, we decided not to do that as we really wanted to have fun.
P: Are we going to see Bob receive his own skin and match up with Ashe’s legendary skins?
RG: Absolutely. We actually unveiled two skins for Ashe at a panel, and Bob always has like the equivalent of what her skin is.
P: What were some of the biggest challenges with creating this dual-character like system?
RG: The hardest thing really is simply that instead of one character we have two within the same budget. One thing that’s really important for us is for people on console, people with low-end specs, to [have Overwatch] run well. We don’t want to have like a hero that just breaks the game just because it’s cool. In this case, we absolutely wanted Bob…so we had to be smart about it.
We had to actually create different pieces of technology that would allow us to count the amount of detail you would get depending on where you see them from. So for instance, we had we actually had to create two different variations of Bob. We have one Bob that’s higher resolution with a lot of details that you see in Play of the Games and and all that stuff. Then, there is the Bob in the game, which is a little lower in resolution but still holds up really well.
You can still walk to him. I mean if he’s on your side — on the enemy side, I would probably run away from him. We had to actually come up with all of that and make sure that everything would be hooked up right to make him pop.
P: The music is Reunion was really good. Are there any plans to release another soundtrack?
MC: That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. I would love that because I feel like there’s actually a lot of music in the game that hasn’t been released. I don’t know the plans for that but I hope so, that would be great.
P: Is there any concern that all teams will decide to use at least one Ashe due to the extra character that comes with her ultimate attack?
RG: I don’t think so. I mean her ult seems to be a bit like powerful at first, but you’re going to see that you can do so many things to counter it. I think she’s a great character. Yes, it’s true that Bob can be nano-boosted, but he can be put to sleep as well. You know he can be killed, so I don’t think that. She’s like every other character in our roster; it’s going to be up to the players to see if they want her in their comp or not.
P: The overarching story within the shorts doesn’t seem to have progressed very far since Recall. Do you guys plan on releasing more Overwatch shorts set after Recall in the future?
Michael: Yeah. So it’s definitely something that we understand, so in Reunion, we’ve got a little bit at the end that pushes past Recall. That’s very intentional. Definitely, we’re looking to do more. We will probably still continue to do a mix though for a couple reasons. One is that there’s a certain level of the story concerning the world that is essential to understand before we move on to see how everyone reacts to it.
That’s one reason that we’ll continue to do both, but we definitely will explore a little bit more about what’s happening in the present. That being said, when we meet new heroes it sort of feels necessary to tell a little bit more of the backstory just to get to a place where you can understand what this character is. But yeah, definitely more stuff post-Recall moving forward.
You can try out Ashe now on the Overwatch PTR now before she releases. If you still haven’t picked up the game for yourself, you can currently do so on Amazon. For a brief overlook on everything else at BlizzCon, feel free to read our recap of announcements as well as my photo highlights from the convention.