Since its launch last year, Overwatch has earned praise for its unique, cartoon art style that has helped it stand apart from the majority of other shooters on the market. Overwatch's art style is such a part of its DNA that it's hard to imagine the game looking like anything else, but as it turns out, the game may have looked a lot different if it wasn't for Torbjorn.
As revealed by the Overwatch team speaking at the Game Developers Conference, Torbjorn, a defense class character with a penchant for building turrets, was the first character designed for Overwatch. Though not the first playable character in the game – that honor goes to the time-traveling Tracer – Torbjorn was the first character Blizzard fleshed out from a visual design perspective. Since Torbjorn was the first character designed for the game, his look in turn influenced the visuals of other characters and levels.
In fact, the design team added Torbjorn art to levels as they were creating them to make sure that the maps fit the visual theme of the game. Using Torbjorn to influence the style of the game and its levels dates back to when the team was building the very first Overwatch map, Temple of Anubis, so the role that the dwarf played in developing the game's art style can't be understated.
Blizzard decided to build the game's art style around Torbjorn partly because he represented a bridge between the company's past work and what it was doing with Overwatch. Torbjorn is a dwarven blacksmith, and wouldn't be out of place in one of Blizzard's other games, like World of Warcraft, for instance. Torbjorn is a bit different than the dwarves from WoW because of his ability to build turrets and manipulate molten lava with his claw, but he is still a dwarven blacksmith nevertheless.
Of course, Torbjorn went through a lot of visual design tweaks as well during development. As explained by Overwatch art director Bill Petras:
"Whatever he felt like, his stylization, had to fit into the world. You’ll see him appearing in a lot of the early images. We were really careful to make sure the level of exaggeration was correct. Did the world feel cohesive? Was there too much detail? Should we pull it back? Should we let the hero just be the main focus? So we were constantly evaluating Torbjorn along the way, too."
If Blizzard decided to dramatically change the look of Torbjorn during development, Overwatch fans could have ended up with a much different game. However, Torbjorn's cartoon look stuck, and the design philosophy behind his creation went on to inform Blizzard's creation of the game's other characters and maps. While Overwatch fans may not want the game to look any other way, it's fun to imagine what the game would have ended up like had Blizzard gone a different route with Torbjorn.
Overwatch is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.