Overwatch’s newest hero, Orisa, isn’t what you’d call, er, typical. She’s a quadrupedal robo-tank with horns, and she kinda came out of nowhere. In creating her, Blizzard faced some unique challenges.
During a recent GDC session, Overwatch lead writer Michael Chu discussed Orisa’s conception.
“Orisa was a character that emerged from game design,” he said. “We wanted to have what we called an anchor tank: an alternative to Reinhardt. On the art side, our assistant art director wanted to explore new things. He really wanted to push the boundaries of what an Overwatch hero could look like.”
This dovetails with a comment from Jeff Kaplan earlier this week where he said that Blizzard wanted to do something outside the box with a female character, as opposed to going with the usual slim femme look. Blizzard didn’t want Orisa to be like Overwatch’s other robots, either. Her personality, Chu said during the panel, would be somewhere between Robocop and GlaDOS. She’d have a technological edge on old-timers like Bastion and Zenyatta.
Between those very particular personality quirks and a design that’s less reminiscent of any particular animal and more akin to the entire animal kingdom, Orisa was... complicated. That, Chu said, quickly became a problem.
“We needed a spark, and we were looking for it,” he explained. “The thing about Orisa is, in a lot of ways she was unconventional, and she was hard to come to terms with. She has four legs, she has horns, she’s a robot. She has a really big frame and animal locomotion. It was difficult to encapsulate her personality. There was a lot going on.”
Enter Efi, a character who initially seemed like a curveball, given that she was the focus of the build up to Orisa’s reveal despite not being, you know, a hero. Chu said she was created not as a hype campaign smokescreen, but to bring Orisa’s disparate elements together.
“We needed something to pull it together, and for us, that was the character of Efi, who’s this child genius who believed that she could build a hero,” said Chu. “We imagined that when she was working on Orisa and upgrading her, they had a little TV on in the lab, and they were watching the Overwatch Saturday morning cartoon. So what if we could perceive Orisa and the world around her through Efi’s eyes and, by association, learn more about the world that way? Orisa as we know her was born. We had this new character learning about her place in the world. She was learning how to be a hero.”
“Grounding the character in a perspective you could relate to helped us figure out this very high-concept character and relate to her,” he added.
For all the personality complications Orisa brought to the table, there was one area where she pretty immediately made sense: in-game.
“She actually clicked really soon [from a play perspective],” Chu told me after the panel. “I remember very early on in playtesting, maybe the first week or so, I played her and was like, ‘Yeah, she’s pretty cool. She makes sense.’ Some characters are a lot harder. Like Sombra was a trickier character to figure out the place of. But this one was a lot easier.”