With Season 4 of Overwatch 2 over the horizon, we spoke with the dev team about Lifeweaver, the new Thai support hero in an interview. Joining us during the interview are Alec Dawson, Lead Hero Designer, Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, Lead Narrative Designer, and Chonlawat Thammawan (Takki), Senior Tech Artist.
But before we dive deeper into Lifeweaver’s design choices and abilities, here’s a quick rundown of Lifeweaver:
- Class: Support
- Name: Niran PruksaManee
- Age: 29
- Birthplace: Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Voice Actor: Phuwin Tangsakyuen
Interview is edited for clarity
The team mentioned they came up with the idea of Lifeweaver being a plant-type character first, then deciding on their ethnicity. Is that usually the case when designing new heroes?
Takki: This is personally my first hero but I think in the past, we had a couple heroes where we know about the character first, and the character is just so cool we make them into a character. Most of the time, we would get the gameplay of the character first, then deciding on the visuals later.
For the previous examples would be Ashe from the cinematic and then she becomes a hero. For Lifeweaver, we have this plant archetype with the ability kit in mind first, and we decide the visual later.
Gavin: The teams have been getting more and more collaborative as we’ve gone along into Overwatch 2 developing these characters together. For a long time, we’ve been really excited for a plant-base hero, and when the narrative team was trying to figure out what we were going to do with a plant-based hero, we had no idea where to start.
We saw the early prototypes of the art and we were like “well that doesn’t look like plants at all, that sort of looks transparent, is that Hard-Light?”. When the artists said that it was Hard-Light, we then knew what to do with this hero now.
It then became a natural evolution that we decided that this hero is related to Vishkar in some way. We already have Symmetra who’s very much a Vishkar Loyalist, so it made sense to us to develop a character who is sort of the person who fell out of Vishkar, who did something that they didn’t like and rebelled. That’s the creation of Bio-Light , which is what you see adorning him all over the place, that sort of living lights.
There’s been a lot of effort in the design of this hero, are there any specific Asian elements in this hero that you feel might be missed by most?
Takki: Lifeweaver is Thai, so there’s a lot of references that our concept artist and our localisation team try to cram in there. For example, the pants he’s wearing might be a little unusual for people who don’t know Thai traditional garments which have this interesting silhouette.
And we have Thai patterns everywhere hiding in his kit, even down to the type of flower he uses where it’s like a Lotus, which is a very big day to day life in Southeast Asia. We have something like his nickname, where if you have any Thai friend you’re going to know that Thai people have nicknames. For Lifeweaver’s nickname, it means water lily.
We also have a lot of voice lines that are native to the character. What I really like about Overwatch is that we have space for characters to say their native language, which is highly uncommon for characters in Thailand. We rarely have video game characters from Thailand, especially video games from the West. What is even more rare is Thai characters who get to speak Thai. I’m really excited for Thai players to hear their own language in Overwatch.
On the design side, Lifeweaver’s design is centred around the Mandala flowers, we wanted to know how the initial spark of the idea for these elements to be the focus of Lifeweaver’s design came about?
Takki: The design of Lifeweaver originated from the old concept the team really liked of this plant archetype healer. Our concept artist loves to say “Sci-Fi Druid” which is something that the team is going for at that point. We didn’t know about the nationality, we don’t know about their backstory or even the Bio-Light bit. We know nothing about that.
As we explored more, I happened to do this Thai skin pitch presentation for season 3, which we did get (The Divine Monkey Genji). That pitch may have inspired the concept team to explore Lifeweaver as Thai. The way they mentioned to me is that everything just clicked. They really liked the silhouette of the pants, they really like the mix of this traditional garment combined with a bit of science and it goes well together.
The idea of Mandala shape in general is similar to Golden Ratio where it’s like the shape that connects the mathematical principle with the creation of nature. And it just suits Lifeweaver very well.
Gavin: As with the rest of the development, Takki, didn’t you name this character?
Takki: I may have. I pitched a bunch of names. I am just honoured that the narrative team chose the name I suggest. I really love the name and I think the team really loves the name too. As you know, Thai people have really long names, and for Lifeweaver’s name, we made sure it’s a little easy to pronounce. I know his last name is a bit hard to pronounce but it has a good meaning behind it, which means Jewel of the forest.
There are many aspects of Thai culture that don’t get shown in the media. How does the team make sure that Lifeweaver isn’t just another token Thai character?
Gavin: First of all, Blizzard has an amazing localisation team, who honestly we don’t get a chance to call them out enough for all the wonderful work they do. What happened from right at the start when designing this character is they sent over a ton of research material that the team went “oh my god” and spent their time reading it, yelling about things and sending them to each other.
There was that element of it, and we use a lot of those for some of the voice lines that Lifeweaver is using. But we also made sure while developing the character, that we did a lot of sensitivity checks with culture experts. We checked those lines with those cultural experts as well to make sure we weren’t making any silly mistakes. And we’re really happy where we landed.
What is the team’s thought process behind designing and releasing new heroes? Do they get priority depending on how much they contribute to or against the meta, or do you release it when its ready?
Alec: We’re working on heroes about a year in advance and it comes from a place where what we’re passionate about and what we want to add to the game in terms of new abilities or narrative.
With Lifeweaver in particular, we started from a place mechanically of trying to introduce a new hero that has an easy to use healing mechanism. Similar to Mercy’s theme, Lifeweaver’s healing is soft targeted, it actually hones. You charge it up, let it go, it doesn’t miss.
That’s one of the things where we started in terms of what we wanted to introduce to the game in the support role with Lifeweaver. From there, things kind of converge together. We had meetings about who is Lifeweaver going to be as we went forward.
Takki: Originally, we had these ideas of a plant healer as we mentioned before that we really wanted to do, but the visuals were still blurred. We don’t quite know who they are, we don’t know their nationality. We know their silhouette that we really like, and the archetype. As we get features pinned out, the visuals become more solidified once more team members get their hands to.
Even on the ability side, we have this ability that comes in from fun ideas from the team members, like Parting Gift for example, when you kill Lifeweaver, he drops Health Pack where your allies and enemies can pick up. These kinds of things happen all the time in hero development, and it’s something really exciting and fun for the team.
With Lifeweaver as the 37th hero that you guys have put out so far, how has that process been like in terms of creating and delivering all these heroes and how has that evolved and changed over the years?
Gavin: We’re always excited because each hero represents a new challenge for us to find out where we go next. We have this one vast page of hero ideas that we’re working with, and they’re divided into lore, looks, gameplay hook, etc.
Alec and the team do their magic and come up with these wonderful ideas. The team then all comes together and we start brainstorming for ideas and have a wonderful time. In the recent years, we’ve moved more and more towards that sense of collaboration, we’re all trying to push each other up and highlight each other’s ideas and create something new and exciting that we’re all bursting at the seams to share with people.
Alec: The switch to 5v5, we’ve re-evaluated what it means to create support heroes in particular. Some of the things we look at is how they can defend themselves. Going from Overwatch 1 to 2, you’ll get the number of changes are made like Zenyatta getting his kick, or the support passives comes in, a number of buffs along the way like Brigette’s shield getting a little bit stronger.
So how they can defend themselves, Lifeweaver in particular has Rejuvenating Dash where he can gain a bit of health there. With Petal Platform, it’s something you use a lot for your own safety. Not only can it provide cover underneath you, you can actually jump off the apex of it to get a lot of height itself too.
There’s a number of ways that you can try to get out of bad positions. That’s one of the things we’re looking forward to, that supports in particular, how do they fight back, how can they be the scrappy heroes that they may not have the tools for when it was 6v6.
Takki: In terms of the art side, something worth mentioning about Lifeweaver development is that he’s one of the most challenging heroes to develop in terms of visuals, because his ability kit is pretty unconventional in a way.
It’s pretty unique, he uses Bio-Light. First of all, what does Bio-Light even look like? What does the Petal Platform look like? What does Tree of Life look like? How does he reload his gloves? Everything has to be figured out and the team worked together so well to come up with all this stuff, it keeps evolving.
In terms of his character design, it actually doesn’t change much. We really liked his [initial] design and we stuck to it. But his ability kit on the other hand, is the opposite, in both visual and the technical side.
There is a considerable lack of support heroes compared to tanks and DPS. Is it because it’s easier to design tanks or DPS heroes compared to supports? What are the unique challenges for developing heroes in this role?
Alec: I wouldn’t say any heroes are considerably easier than others, they definitely have their own unique set of challenges. In particular, supports that are introduced, we want them to have some sort of utility, some sort of unique thing that they bring to the game. Not just in terms of how they feel and how you pilot them, but actually one of their abilities should aim to bring something new to this team.
As we look at Overwatch 2, that is something that we want to improve on. Lifeweaver, adding another support, our next hero is going to be a support. Over time, you’ll see that support roster grow, we’re going to keep this thing of two support for every one tank and one DPS.
Lifeweaver is the first hero that has a unique draw and negative drawback to being killed. I was wondering what was the motivation behind implementing a mechanic like that?
Alec: One of the things that Takki mentioned was something that came up later on during development with Parting Gift in particular was an idea from the Strike Team. We all thought it was a good idea and were passionate about it and we play tested it very well.
One of the reasons why it’s not just for allies is that it creates more of a game there for the enemies to engage with the Health Pack. They don’t feel like they can actually properly defend it, or they can’t pick it up, things of that nature.
There’s some things where Sombra or Tracer picks on your Lifeweaver, they’ll have a little bit of healing. So it can make him into an attractive choice for some of those flankers as well.
Gavin: Enemy players actually get less health when they pick up Lifeweaver’s Parting Gift. Where it heals enemies for 75 and it heals your allies for 250. And the thing I really like about that is not just the health pack but also the Petal Platform that can be used by enemy players if your line falthers. And I think it makes for really exciting and unique new gameplay elements that will give players a new strategic element to their team fights.
Lifeweaver seems very movement & verticality focused, how have you found how that affects heroes who are already quite mobile and have a lot of verticality, and conversely those heroes who don’t have those?
Alec: There’s a lot you can do with it. I think one of the things you see a lot is maybe a Soldier 76, or a Widowmaker, and you use the Petal Platform and bring them up to certain positions.
With Life Grip in particular, heroes like Reinhardt when he uses his charge and misses, he’s usually dead in the water at that moment in time. But now with Lifeweaver in the team, he can usually bring Reinhardt back to safety.
There’s so much that we’ve seen been done with team composition and strategy, considering both of those abilities , there’s quite a bit you can do with Lifeweaver on your side.
Takki: From my experience, Lifeweaver doesn’t just benefit your ally that doesn’t have mobility. For example, if you play with Ana, you can help Ana move around a lot. But, if you play with a hero with a lot of mobility like Genji/Doomfist/Reinhardt, they can go all out without having to rely on their own ability to come back.
If you have a Lifeweaver and you communicate with them and be like “I’m going all out with my abilities, please get me out”. It also works. He can pair up with so many scenarios or compositions which is very exciting.
Gavin: One of the really exciting things about Lifeweaver for me is that it’s sort of an evolution to the maps. Every team that comes to an established map, maps that they’ve been playing for years, they can be able to play it [the maps] in a new way with Lifeweaver’s abilities. It’s really exciting. The scary thing for the enemy team is when the team with Lifeweaver shows up from a place where you didn’t expect them.
Tree of Life is a very unique ability because it exists in the game world and there’s not a lot of things that do that. From internal testing, what kind of trends are you starting to see emerging? Do enemy players target the tree and try to knock it out, or do they regroup and try to get out of there? Do people use it to block geometry?
Alec: I think when players first get used to Lifeweaver, one of the things they do is “hey I’m just going to use this for healing when my team is in trouble”. Eventually they use it for more blocking, and they start asking how effective it can be there.
One of the things, having to playtest the other day, someone sent out a B.O.B and put it in a corner with this tree, and B.O.B can’t see anything. There’s a number of things players will start to pick up on.
I do think on the other side, if you have a Bastion on the other team, you can shred through that thing [Tree of Life] too. It does have a chunk of health, but players will start to understand how valuable the tree is, and they’ll start to target it.
Takki: What I really like about Lifeweaver’s kit is when you first pick him up, you’ll notice that you’re going to feel like his ability has obvious applications, but as you play him more, you’ll realise that each of his abilities can be used in so many ways. Just like the tree, I have used the tree to block the enemy spawn, i used it to block line of sight, I used the tree to burst heal.
One of my favourite story is when I wasn’t playing Lifeweaver, I was Bastion ulti-ing from spawn, and I was moving across the entire map to find the enemy group, and as soon as I found them, I’m just surprised that all of them are just hiding under the protection of the tree like a big umbrella.
Lifeweaver’s heal automatically goes to their target, and it’s pretty similar to recent support hero releases like Kiriko. Is this a new approach for more future supports that the team is looking at? And why has the team shifted away from healing supports which require more mechanical aim like Ana and Baptiste?
Alec: We’ll still have some more [heroes] with mechanical aim down the line. I think with Lifeweaver in particular, when you look at his kit, it’s one of those things that are pretty important to have an ease of healing on, so that you have time to consider Petal Platform or Life Grip, or all these different abilities. Lifeweaver needs to be very aware of his positioning, as one of the most important skills that we’re testing here is anticipation and positioning.
When we look at those two things, those are what we wanted to test for Lifeweaver, and we wanted to make the healing easier so that you can actually focus on those things too.
Which heroes do you think has the best synergy and compatibility with Lifeweaver and what type of a team comp will he fit into?
Alec: A lot of the things we’ve been seeing is playing with aggressive flankers whether it be a Tracer or Genji that can go in with some protection. On the support side, one of Lifeweaver’s weaknesses is when he falls behind on healing.
He’s very good at anticipating and if you’re prepared for things. But sometimes, it does take time to charge up your healing. If you fall behind there, then you’re going to need supports that can help you to have some of that burst healing like Ana or Baptiste alongside you, making sure it’ll be easier to heal your team up.
Takki: Based on my experience, I think something that’s very powerful about Lifeweaver’s healing is that it never misses as long as you pick the right target, and it’s also incredibly long range. I like playing Lifeweaver with a lot of high mobility heroes, which is a little ironic considering he can give a lot of mobility to the team. But playing with high mobility heroes means that you can heal them without ever worrying about missing from a safe distance.
And you can use his other two abilities to save other allies that may not have mobility movement like Ana or other supports.
Question to Takki. What does it personally mean to you to work on Lifeweaver? Being able to bring all these Thai elements that obviously is influenced from your origin story. And for Gavin and Alec, how is it like to watch Takki work on Lifeweaver?
Takki: I can still remember that day our lead concept artist and our lead technical artist grabbed me into this mysterious meeting. They didn’t tell me what it was about, and they showed the design of Lifeweaver, after they explored him being Thai, and showed it to me.
My jaw was pretty much on the ground because as a Thai player, we have always dreamed about having a Thai character but because it’s such a rare thing for video games to acknowledge Thai character. We always feel like it’s too good to be true, it’s never going to happen no matter how much we wanted.
And now that it’s happening, and it happens to be the hero cycle that I get to work on, it can’t be anymore of a dream come true. What I’m even more happy about working on this Thai hero, is how much love the team poured to this hero, and how collaborative it is. It’s gotta be my favourite team, we’ve become family in the end. We are really proud of this hero, and we can’t wait for our Thai audience to acknowledge this character is coming.
Alec: I think what makes the Overwatch team, the Overwatch team, is just seeing the passion everyone put into the hero. Seeing Takki and how infectious he is when he’s talking about the hero. The team the other day watched the final dev update version of the video and the chat was going off about how much they loved it. Gavin and Takki were both in there and it was just amazing to see all the joy everyone had watching that.
Gavin: I’ve seen a few seasons launch now and I can’t remember a season I looked forward to more than this. It’s killing me to wait this long to be honest with you.
Season 4 of Overwatch 2 is looking to an interesting time for players, especially those who main the support role. With Lifeweaver having access to various movement manipulation skills, will the current meta and team comp shift to better cater the introduction of this new Thai hero? Only time can tell.
Regardless if he will or will not change the meta, I’m always glad to see more Southeast Asian representation in western video games, and I hope that this will be more of a common trend moving forward.
We would like to thank Alec Dawson, Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, and Chonlawat Thammawan (Takki) for taking the time to share the development process of Lifeweaver with us.
Overwatch 2 is available across platforms such as PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S.