Hero 31 was originally more closely tied to Hero 30.
Sigma has been revealed as the 31st Hero in Overwatch, and the gravity-controlling mad scientist is currently playable in the game's PC test server. With so many Heroes in Overwatch now, creating new ones has become a balancing act for Blizzard--one where brand-new mechanics must be weighed against the established lore of the game's narrative. Sigma is no different, having started out as one character that had to be changed to fulfill specific criteria: someone who further fleshed out Talon and also acted as an anchor tank.
"[Sigma's introduction] wasn't really reactionary to the meta," lead hero designer Geoff Goodman said in an interview with GameSpot. "We were looking to introduce a new barrier tank to the game, specifically an anchor tank that the team could rally around to push through chokes and take objectives. So a lot of the prototyping all began with him having a large barrier and being somewhat immobile, so he's not running off on his own. The teammates had to gather around him and make a push."
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Blizzard is always working on multiple Overwatch Heroes at once and adapting prototypes as the needs arise. So when it came time to introduce Hero 31, there already was an idea of what the team wanted to do next. "We knew, from a gameplay side, that we wanted this anchor tank, and even at an early point for him, we knew we wanted him to be part of Talon," Goodman said. "So, he literally was just 'Talon anchor tank' on paper for a good amount of time as we were prototyping."
Though Talon is partially made up of former Overwatch team members and is currently the main antagonist in Overwatch's narrative, much of the organization still remains a mystery. It's a trend Blizzard was looking to change, and Hero 30 and 31 allowed the developer to do it. "[Talon is] an extremely important group in the Overwatch universe and while there are already some really prominent and beloved characters in our line-up who are in Talon, I think when you look at it, they're still a very small sub-section of the overall group," Goodman said. "As we're developing the universe, when we add new Heroes, we try and make sure that they call back to the core Overwatch story. So that's why Baptiste and also Sigma are very related to Talon, because we were thinking, 'Oh, this would be a good chance to be able to explore more of this world through them and see it through two new characters' eyes.' So with this two-pack of Heroes, you [learn] a little bit more about Talon and see Talon grow as a group as well."
However, before Sigma was created, Blizzard looked to a previously established Overwatch character for Hero 31: Mauga, a Talon member introduced in the Overwatch comic that's focused on Baptiste and who's a former friend to Overwatch's 30th Hero. His willingness to embrace the murderous side of the organization that caused Baptiste to quit made him seem like a good way to explore Talon from another point-of-view. Plus, the dude is built like a truck, making him a prime candidate for the tank role in a video game. "Originally, [Hero 31] started as a different character that we later called Mauga," Goodman said. "[Baptiste and Mauga] were going to be together. However, we found it kind of difficult because, though we really liked Mauga, it was hard to imagine that guy as a slow-moving dude with a shield, marching with his team. That guy feels a little more like he'd be jumping in like Winston or Wrecking Ball and causing chaos. So somewhere sort of later in development, we decided to shift gears and go with a completely different character, and that's how Sigma formed."
Once Blizzard decided to focus on a brand-new character instead of a previously established one, it opened up the possibility of exploring previously established technology and powers in a brand-new way. Both Orisa and Zarya have gravity abilities, for example, but no Overwatch Hero had been completely built around gravity-focused powers. "It was clear that once we shifted courses on this character, that we were going to double down on the gravity abilities," Goodman said. The idea of doing another scientist--we had some other ideas--came about pretty quickly too."
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Goodman added that Overwatch's story and gameplay are developed "hand-in-hand" so several of the add-on Heroes have had their design or backstory completely changed prior to their release, like Sigma, to better fit their abilities or vice versa. The prototype for Ana, for example, was an alchemist who operated as a close-range fighter with throwable potions that caused different splash effects. When it came time to implement the alchemist into the game, Blizzard chose to use the opportunity to add Ana as a playable Hero. As Ana had already been established as a sniper in Pharah, Soldier: 76, and Reaper's backstories, however, most of the alchemist's explosive concoctions became special bullets, with only one remaining potion-like: Ana's Biotic Grenade.
Going forward, the creation of Heroes will be impacted by Overwatch's new Role Queue feature, though perhaps not as substantially as you might think. Blizzard has had plans for Role Queue for a while and has thus already been working within the parameters of its eventual launch. "We have been talking about Role Queue for a long time," Goodman said. "It took quite a while to implement it. I don't even remember when we first started talking about it or really committing to it." Sigma has always been designed with Role Queue in mind, for example, and changes to his character--like removing Accretion's secondary ability to form a rock-like version of Mei's Ice Wall--have been a result of balancing the character, not accounting for the new feature.
Goodman did add that Role Queue's launch does currently eliminate the possibility of seeing a fourth class (beyond tank, damage, and support) in Overwatch, as introducing another class would mess with the balance Blizzard has been operating under with Role Queue in mind. However, there may be more hybrid Heroes--like Brigitte, who's support class but can use Barrier Shield and Shield Bash to technically act as a tank for her team--in the future.
For now, the only way to play with Sigma is on Overwatch's PC test servers, but the Hero will be officially launching on all platforms soon enough. Overwatch is available for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.