The Art of Overwatch
Dark Horse Books
October 24, 2017
How did you first hear about Overwatch? Like many fans, I saw promotional art, cinematic animated shorts, and fan art before I ever saw gameplay footage. Overwatch‘s characters have inspired an enormous fandom. In The Art of Overwatch, Blizzard and Dark Horse give us a behind-the-scenes look at the visual development of the characters and settings we know and love.
At over 350 pages, The Art of Overwatch is packed with beautiful illustrations. It’s divided into several sections, including “Heroes,” “Environments,” “Skins,” “Animated Shorts,” and “Origin Stories.” On most pages, writer Matt Burns intersperses snippets of text explaining decisions the artists made.
The “Heroes” section contains early development art of each of Overwatch‘s playable characters. Each hero is allotted several pages of full-color art. The background information that Burns reveals for each character is fascinating. For example, we learn Hanzo and Genji were originally conceived as one character. The game developers had too many ideas to cram into one character, so eventually he was split into two.
It’s shocking how radically different early concepts of characters were from their final versions. At one point, Mei was a slim character with a cold, intimidating facial expression. D.Va was a child instead of an adult. Mercy was originally envisioned as a Black man. Reinhardt’s early iterations incorporated African tribal motifs. No matter which characters are your favorites, you’ll discover new facts about them in this book.
Burns reveals how character designs, or even the existence of certain characters, were driven by gameplay decisions. Tracer originally wore a long scarf that served as a way for players to visually track her as she moved. Later her scarf was replaced with an energy ribbon. Junkrat was added as a character because the game devs wanted to add an indirect area damage element.
We also learn how characters’ concepts influenced other characters. Sombra’s look originally resembled Ana’s, so the developers removed Sombra’s hood and shortened her coat. Roadhog’s appearance didn’t finalize until Junkrat existed, and the two characters became scavenger accomplices from the Outback.
The “Environments” section shows how the developers weaved backstory into each location. In Ecopoint: Antarctica, handwritten notes and abandoned items hint at the time Mei was trapped there. In Eichenwalde, the site of a major battle between humans and omnics, you see damaged buildings. King’s Row has a memorial for Mondatta, the omnic monk assassinated by Widowmaker in the animated short “Alive.” A major takeaway of The Art of Overwatch is how Overwatch‘s creators approached every design choice with intentionality. Readers who are creators themselves will appreciate this theme throughout the book.
While I enjoyed the character details in the “Heroes” and “Skins” sections the most, I was most impressed by the props and small items in “Environments.” We see that artists made many different chairs and suitcases in the transit station in Numbani. The Hollywood map has highly detailed movie posters, and Hanamura has painstakingly drawn logo art for fictional arcade games. Burns notes how developers sought to reflect cultural influences; for example: “From its doorways to its wall patterns, Oasis was based on traditional Middle Eastern architecture and motifs.”
The “Animated Shorts” section shows paintings that the developers used for reference as they created the cinematic shorts. For each short film, Burns includes a brief note about lighting and color choices. In the “Alive” short, for example, London’s streets have warm gold tones when Tracer appears. The rooftops where Widowmaker lies in wait are cool blue. The pages showing art for “The Last Bastion” have particularly beautiful environmental designs of sunlit forests and carefully rendered trees, rocks, and flowers.
The Art of Overwatch would make a lavish gift for any Overwatch fan. If you enjoy seeing early concept art or knowing more about the development of one of your favorite games, this might be the book for you.