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Developing Overwatch 2's Samoan hero

Video games don’t have many Samoan characters that come to mind. However, Blizzard Entertainment added to that list with Mauga, Overwatch 2’s 39th hero. He is not only another character from a little-known background, but he’s also one of the few Oceania characters in AAA title. spoke with Overwatch lead hero producer Kenny Hudson about the steps and lessons learned from how the development team crafted the new tank character.

While Mauga was introduced to the hero shooter in late 2023, shortly after BlizzCon, he was a work in progress since 2018, Hudson explains.

“We started developing him almost immediately after we saw inspired concept art [and narrative influence] and knew he was likable. I looked at how we would make a gameplay kit that justifies that and lives up to our community’s expectations, which is where we started.”

Hudson says that the early planning for Mauga went in a different direction and character eventually.

“When we’re creating abilities early, we noticed that a lot of the abilities that were coming out were very heal-centric, leading to the creation of Sigma [added to Overwatch in 2019]. These abilities don’t fit Mauga’s personality type from what we read,” he explains.

While Mauga is from a heritage that hasn’t been seen often in video games, the importance of his inclusion and proper cultural representation is similar to that of other characters.

Getting that representation right naturally included working with cultural consultants. One of the consultants that the development team worked with was artist Si’i Liufau, who specializes in contemporary Polynesian tattoos and Tataus. As an aside, the word tattoo originates from the Samoan word tatau, and they hold special cultural significance.

Hudson explains that Si’i Liufau called out the initial tattoo the team originally created for Mauga. He says, “His original tattoo was Polynesian inspired but was not done by a true Samoan tattoo artist. We wanted authenticity, and we contracted [Si’i Liufau], a certified master Samoan tattoo artist, and worked hand in hand with him.”

The tattoo professional provided his expertise to the creative process, but the work still had its unique challenges in representing authentic art.

“He drew some stuff up, we drew some stuff back, we have the meet in the middle because there’s a little bit of rendering and stuff. There’s a lot of fine details in those tattoos that many engines couldn’t handle,” Hudson explains. “So we had to get it to a place that was still, you know, accurate and through to Samoa. But at the same time, realistic for our game to handle.”

Regarding mostly positive representation, Hudson says that while developing the Samoan hero, the team ensured he did not fall into harmful stereotypes as a person of color.

Development for the Samaon hero took a backseat as the development team focused on Sigma. However, Hudson notes that these brainstorming sessions were good overall, as they led to the creation of a new character during the creation of another.

Mauga remained on the back burner and the pandemic changed the work structure for a few years. His rollout was pushed back as a result.

Hudson says, “The pandemic happens, and we’re all trying to figure out how to make heroes from home. How do we communicate with each other? How do we do these, you know, prototyping and pre-production phases amidst a global pandemic, and that kind of delayed him a bit more.”

“We were further along with the kit, but we just had this idea that we’re 80% there. We needed a little bit more time. But how do we get that more time? We [then] had the hero Ramattra already finished and in our back pocket.”

He continues, “We got together as a group and made the call where we get to swap Mauga and Ramattra release dates. Ramattra was originally supposed to be released in season eight; moving him to season two because he was done, and moving Mauga to season eight gave us the time that we needed to finish the game and get it 100% there.”

Swapping the releases allowed the Overwatch team more time to dedicate to the development of Mauga.

Hudson says, “Luckily for us, the schedules we’ve built to make heroes are pretty long…I wouldn’t necessarily call it a concern. It’s definitely in the back of our minds, but we have enough time to let the hero soak and mesh with the rest of the cast.

“By the time we get into bringing the hero to life, we’ve gathered enough feedback from the team to say, does this make sense? Does it feel like it meshes with our universe? And if not, where can we improve that?”

Regarding the feedback topic, players could try out Mauga the weekend of Blizzcon 2023. Hudson explains that this window of play time provided valuable insight into the development and fine-tuning of the hero.

The game producer explains, “One of our goals was Mauga’s perceived survivability. There’s always this period when you release a new hero on the gameplay side where players aren’t as familiar [with them].

“They don’t know the ins and outs of playing said hero. And in this case, people were not used to ducking behind cover. But it also showed us what the first couple of days of Mauga’s release could look like if we did not do some balance changes.”

Hudson admits he and the development team were not expecting specific reactions to the hero that weekend. One of them was the voiceover work.

“One of the cool things I saw during the free trial was a giant Reddit thread on what all of Mauga’s voice lines mean. I didn’t expect to see a write-up like that ever, to be honest,” he says.

Reflecting on the overall process of bringing Mauga from concept to completion, Hudson says the biggest takeaway was that it was an overall learning opportunity.

“I’m just glad to have the opportunities. My philosophy is to remember that we’re learning about something new when we make heroes. We have this opportunity to learn about a new culture, he says. “By no means am I an expert. But did I walk out of this experience knowing much more than I knew before going into it? Absolutely.”

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