We once again had the opportunity to talk with 3 more key members of the Overwatch 2 team in an interview, Art Director – Dion Rogers, Hero Designer – Piero Herrera and Narrative Designer – Kyungseo Min; In this interview we discuss about the new hero Kiriko as well as the new map Esperanca set in Portugal.
Dion Rogers – Art Director
Kyungseo Min – Narrative Designer
Piero Herrera – Hero Desginer
We also had the opportunity to talk with Jon Specter the Vice President & Commercial Leader, Walter Kong the General Manager as well as Aaron Keller the Game Director in a previous interview where we asked questions about the Battlepass and Live service. If you’re interested, do consider checking it out here.
Note: This interview is edited for clarity.
After watching Kiriko’s gameplay trailer, I really enjoyed it. But I feel she looks a bit overpowered since her kit is so diverse. How are you guys planning on balancing her so that she doesn’t dominate the meta?
Piero: With Kiriko and all the heroes that we have developed, they were actually in production for a very long time and not only have we play tested them a lot, it also goes through a lot of iterations on not only on the design but also on the balance to make sure that we are nailing down on that point.
We have different processes in place, for example we have a few weeks after the release of a hero where we can look at the data on how players are playing the hero and then adjust before the hero is available for competitive play. So we’re pretty confident that with those processes in place, she’s gonna be ready for the OWL (Overwatch League) and other competitive scenarios.
Dion: When we make a hero, there’s also a fantasy that we’re trying to achieve. So for example with Kiriko, she’s a support ninja, so we really wanted the gameplay to feel this way as you’re playing her. She’s very mobile and she has this teleporting ability. We balanced that with a bit of the creative choices versus the design, so hopefully she doesn’t feel too overpowered but instead, feel like a support ninja.
Kiriko is pretty much brand new to me where I only saw a few photos of her and I’m loving her already. She looks fantastic and I was wondering if you guys could share a little bit of her lore and how her story is going to play out cause I always have tons of fun with the stories of the Overwatch heroes.
Kyungseo: Thank you so much for being a lore fan, and as a narrative designer that makes me very happy to hear! So, a little thing about Kiriko is that she’s a Japanese character where she draws on both the traditional Japanese Shrine Maiden as well as a Ninja.
She learns these healing abilities from taking care of her grandmother at the Shrine but she also learned how to fight and be a badass ninja from her mother. We can see that she really bridges these two sensibilities together, especially in terms with the art.
You can see that we’ve tried really hard to sort of have this street style going on but also a nod to traditional Japanese clothing as well. As far as her story goes, she is acting as a guardian to protect her Grandmother’s Shrine – Kanezaka. There is rivaling clan after the Shimada clan had fell and she’s just someone who is fiercely protective of her family and her community.
A little nugget of information here is that Kiriko’s mother was also Genji and Hanzo’s mentor while she was training her daughter. So players can look out for a lot of great interactions between the three of them, like there’s a lot of banter and history between them.
How often does player reception drive the creation of a new character. For example, people love asking questions of how Junkrat and Roadhog got exiled from junker town, and we eventually met the Junker Queen. Do you guys have a bookmark set aside to answer player questions in the form of a new character or map when you get around to it?
Dion: Yeah we have a lot of ideas, there’s no shortage of our hero ideas or map ideas, but like you we do love to create maps that are connected with the heroes. In a similar way like Junker Queen with Junker Town or Kanezaka with Kiriko or even Hanamura with Genji and Hanzo. I think we have a lot of stories developed already, it came out so good but we’re always kind of reacting to what’s going on in the game and we’re trying to address that.
Kyungseo: It’s sort of a blessing and a curse really, our universe is so rich and unfortunately we can’t tell all the stories like when we want to. So we are really mindful of heroes who are popular and loved by the people, but we also want to be diverse and inclusive, by showcasing places of the world and people who feel underrepresented.
How long have you been designing Kiriko, and can you tell us the backstory of it?
Dion: So the artwork for her started a little while ago when we were exploring ideas for PvE content and so there was this character that had a giant ninja star on her back that which ultimately would become Kiriko.
As time went on, we decided to create a support character whose kit is to jump in freely and damage players. If you main damage heroes, maybe you’re curious about this new support hero that we created. We started with this artwork because we thought this artwork was pretty cool, we didn’t get a chance to use it so let’s try it out now as this new support hero.
But the problem with it was she looked too much like a damage dealer, and with this giant ninja star at her back that she would throw and it was difficult for people to see her as a supporting hero. So, we started to evolve this concept but the heart of it is still there, where we evolved it a little more into the shrine maiden traditional look you see now.
That’s some of the backstory where she began and we also have a lot of cool art and drawings of lots of just random characters that sometimes we pick from to at least be a starter idea for a new hero.
Piero: We just started building on the view on Kiriko like a DPS, but she’s actually a support. She still has a bunch DPS with her kunai, where her secondary fire with the kunai allows her crit the enemy. She’s still really effective on the healing with her primary fire and homing projectiles over there, but we at least provided the feel of this mobile DPS character but still is a support, so it’s a good balance between the both.
Dion: Oh I was gonna mention about the kunai that Genji used to have, we like that too. So we decided not to go with the giant ninja star and give the kunai over to Kiriko so it makes her look a little less of a DPS character.
Kyungseo: It was originally Genji’s kunai and we gave it to Kiriko. In terms of narrative, we’ve always wanted to explore more from this region in our universe with the whole story with the Shimada brothers, Kanezaka and Hanamura.
I think we were toying around with the idea like maybe Kiriko is Genji or Hanzo’s sister. We definitely had that idea going around but in the end we decided to make her to be like a close family friend. But story-wise, we iterated a lot and tried to find the most compelling story for Kiriko.
With Overwatch 2 switching into a 5v5, has the approach to designing a support hero change where back then support heroes have a very specific role and from the Overwatch 2 Beta, the game felt a lot more fast paced. How has that effect into flushing out a character like Kiriko?
Piero: Throughout the beta when we went onto the 5v5 format, we did get the feedback that playing as a support was a little harder because they’re focused down a lot more. The way we’re responding to that sort of feedback is by making sure that those new support heroes have ways to defend themselves. Like with the kick that we gave Zenyatta and players had responded positively to that when it come onto the beta.
With Kiriko, she can use her cleanse and invulnerability skills on herself as well as throwing a grenade if she chooses to. So those are some of the really subtle design differences that we are exploring to make sure that those characters feel really good even on the 5v5 format which is different from the previous 6v6 format.
Kyungseo: Kiriko was the hero that we really had the 5v5 format in mind where you can tell with her high mobility, because you mentioned that the format now is faster paces than in the 6v6 format and we really didn’t want her to feel clunkier. So you could say that she was really tailored for the 5v5 experience.
Dion: You might have seen in the Beta that we’ve made adjustments to the maps where we wanted to help support characters by adding more covers. There were some of our maps being a bit more open and with one less tank, it can be difficult for support heroes to gain cover, but we addressed this by changing a lot of the layouts in some of the maps or even increasing the amount of cover you have to help with that issue.
If one of your teammates picks Kiriko, who will you play and how would you play with her?
Dion: Brigitte was originally my main hero but I swapped over to Kiriko being my main hero from playing her so much, second to her would still be Brigitte. But I do think both of them actually synergise with each other pretty well. With Brigitte being a bit slower, Kiriko’s haste really helps her out, especially if you would combine that with her ultimate.
Kyungseo: I love playing Winston when Kiriko is on my team just because they also synergise with one another well, the haste really makes Winston feel really powerful.
Piero: I’m more of a support player where we used to be a Zenyatta main but I’ve swapped over to Kiriko as my new main. Once I got my hands into Kiriko’s final kit that you guys all see right now, she became my main for multiple reasons. I can share one specific reason where Kiriko is really good with flanker type heroes with Genji or Tracer.
One scenario I could give is imagine your teammate Genji gets Nanoboost by Anna and would potentially get slept by the enemy Anna. But witj Kiriko, I can now jump in and help that Genji which synergises his flanking opportunities when the moment is right.
Can you talk about some cosmetic ideas for Kiriko?
Kyungseo: We definitely want to draw into richness of her Japanese culture for future skins for Kiriko, so like definitely look forward for those.
Dion: Kiriko has a really cool cyberpunk skin in the battle pass, and we had a lot of fun with the traditional outfits for her as well when it comes to actual skin cosmetics. But there’s a bunch of fun little charms that i think people will find surprising.
We’re always looking for some fun ideas with her especially since she’s a new character, it’s really exciting to come up with unique cosmetics for some of the newer heroes. We’re currently running out of ideas for some of the previous heroes, so we’ll try out more things with it.
Do you take the game’s current meta into account when considering a role for a new hero? Or does it follow a set rotation of roles?
Dion: It’s a bit of everything you talked about, I don’t know if Piero wanted to jump in on it, but we don’t have a shortage of cool ideas for characters and a lot of time we start off with the theme of the hero like is it a cowboy or is it a scientist’s robot. We started to play with abilities that we found to be fun, but we do pay careful attention to what’s going on in the meta and who to move around sometimes, but usually it starts off with what’s fun for the game and then we start to develop it from there.
But keeping in mind of the things you mentioned, if there’s too many tanks do we build a counter to that but we also don’t want that to be exactly the way we choose. Maybe there’s something we need to edit about the tanks. We want to get away from the counters and go for more synergy like heroes instead of what’s the perfect counter pick.
Piero: Something that is really important to us is the balanced matchmaker. We want to make sure that there are players queuing for all those roles – Tank, DPS and Support. For example, Tanks and DPS have the most interest among players and that causes them to be unbalanced.
That’s something that we respond to, for example something that is cool behind the scenes here is when we made the changes to Mercy on Beta, and that actually brought the balance of the Support matchmaker up. Just a minor hero rework or something like that does have the power to bring the player’s interest towards a specific hero role.
That’s a a specific case because we only had Junker Queen and Soldier 76 in the Beta and that caused things to be unbalanced. But now that we have Kiriko, it balances things out even more since there is something for everybody once Overwatch 2 releases.
Can we expect the same like of attention to detail with the new map just like we had with the Rio Map, like including famous landscapes. What can the player expect from the new map based in Portugal?
Dion: The attention to detail for the new map will be similar to case with Rio since the artist that worked on Rio was actually from Brazil. He grew up there and so he was very connected to the culture and the architectural style. And with the artist that designed the new map, he’s the lead environment artist on the team and he’s also from Portugal, so he poured a lot of his knowledge of his experience growing up there into the map.
I think players will be able to find a lot of very fun Easter Eggs and the Portuguese culture is super wrapped into this map. The music that plays in the map is a remix of the national anthem from Portugal and we got the sound team fly out to Portugal and they recorded all these great sounds of like people doing everyday life activities and even recorded the unique interiors of the buildings.
They also took a ton of references while they were out there and they came back with all these great pictures that we used to help with the development of the map. So I think this new map is probably one of our most detailed maps when it comes down to players exploring every room and corner available.
We kind of went a little crazy with developing the map and the engineers were like “hey, you guys are overdoing it on this map!” But I feel like it’s one of those maps where I feel like we’ve discovered the engine and the upgrades that we’ve done with the OW2 engine and we added this into it.
I hope you guys get a chance to check it out and explore the map, maybe in a custom game and just walk around and listen to the sounds and the kind of immersion that we did. Portugal is going to be a push-the-payload map.
Piero: Just building on the attention to the details, I remember when I was playing this map for one of the first times and I’m actually a resident and I speak Portuguese. I entered in one of those rooms and I heard Portuguese coming from a news radio and that made me feel really happy whenever I enter that room. So that attention to detail is really going to come off to players and we’re happy with how that landed.
We would like to thank Dion, Piero and Kyungseo for answering our questions regarding Overwatch 2. The game is planned to release on 4th October 2022 for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows.