Jeff Kaplan Tells How the Cancelled Project Titan Became Overwatch

By Julian Benson on at

Jeff Kaplan, Overwatch's director, took part in a Reddit AMA last night and revealed some of the early development stories of what has become one of Blizzard's most successful games. In particular, how Tracer used to shoot laser beams from her eyes.

Overwatch came out from the cancellation of Project Titan. For years, Blizzard had been working on a new MMO, something that would push that style of game further than World of Warcraft but, for reasons best explained in Jason's post on the game's development, it was cancelled.

"We had 6 weeks to pitch new game ideas to the studio," Kaplan said on Reddit. "If we didn't come up with something compelling, our team was going to be redistributed to work on other projects (WoW, HS, HotS, D3 etc). Arnold Tsang was drawing these amazing characters. And during some of our game idea sessions Geoff Goodman was pitching really cool class ideas for a class-based MMO. We merged these concepts into what was to become Overwatch."

The team started building a prototype of its class-based shooter, and the first hero it put into the mix was Tracer - the time-travelling cockney who leaps about the game world killing folk with her dual pistols. She was a little different back then, though: "We did not have any animations or gun models," Kaplan recalled. "So she shot laser beams from her eyes."

Tracer was one of the first characters in because she was a near clear lift from the Titan prototype, Kaplan explains in a later post. "Titan was a class-based Shooter/MMO and one of the classes was called the Jumper. The Jumper wasn't a specific character but rather an avatar (like warrior in WoW). Most of the concepts of the Jumper were male... we did some female ones as well. The playable version in the game was male.

"Blink, Recall and Pulse bomb were all designed for the Jumper... as well as dual wielding machine pistols (at the time I was playing tons of CoD: MW2 and my loadout was M16 primary/ G18s secondary... the Jumper guns were my G18s)

"But because Titan was an MMO the Jumper started getting tons of progression abilities... you know covering a whole level up system... so the jumper got shotguns, and knockbacks etc... it was very cluttered and confused.

"When we simplified for OW, we chose only the abilities that worked well together and then created a HERO rather than a class... Tracer had a personality, an origin etc.. That's what made her work."

Tracer is one of the few characters to have found so much of itself in Titan, though, Kaplan says. "Contrary to popular belief, most of the heroes in OW were not in Titan."

Kaplan then outlined the ones that were. So, Tracer was Jumper. Reaper was a class called Reaper, "Widowmaker evolved from a class called the Ranger" as did Bastion and Soldier 76. "Symmetra and Torbjorn evolved from the Architect" and "Reinhardt evolved from the Juggernaut," though Kaplan says "he is completely different... just the idea of 'big guy with shield' is all that stuck." Finally, "Genji/Hanzo evolved from the Assassin."

One of the heroes that changed the most through development was Bastion, the hero everyone loves to call overpowered. Even before launch he was causing problems, Kaplan says. "We used to tease that Bastion had the 'ultimate of the week.' He had grenades, he had a remote mine, he could shoot through walls... yes BASTION COULD SHOOT THROUGH WALLS... he had an artillery volley... we just never could get it right. We were really pleased with the tank though. Transforming into another form really fit the character. It was way more work than any of the other abilities but it was worth it."

I'd still quite like to see that shoot through walls build. That does sound pretty extreme but, I mean, it's not often a game gives you a minigun that can't be stopped by brick.

Another interesting titbit was the worry about being compared to Team Fortress 2. This, of course, happened when Overwatch was announced and Kaplan knew the team couldn't escape that, but he had a plan to minimise the comparison:

When we were planning the announce of OW at Blizzcon 2014, I really pushed the team to have 12 heroes and 3 maps complete. My reason was that if we had 9 or fewer heroes, we would only be compared to TF2 -- players and press would map each hero to a TF2 equivalent. But I knew if we had more than 9 and we had enough maps for people to really play on and experience the game, they would quickly realize that while there was an obvious inspiration from TF2 in the game, we were clearly something different.

Kaplan also points out a key difference: "no hats."

There are plenty more stories over on the Reddit for those that want to know more.