Blizzard’s Overwatch Announcement

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Pretty much everyone and their auntie was aware of this before me, but here goes. Blizzard Entertainment have announced that their next game release will be a First Person Shooter called Overwatch. It is a “team-based” game, which from the looks of things is a euphemistic way of saying “there’s not going to be a single player campaign, or if there is it’s going to be short and really just an adjunct to the multiplayer stuff”. From just the trailers it looks…it looks like Team Fortress 2.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Team Fortress 2 is an awesome game, although it is so ridiculously ill-suited to new players that anyone leaping into it now would have the following reaction: “Ok. I just died four hundred times and still have no idea what is happening.”  Extremely fast gameplay (powerful weapons, low health, and an overall movement speed that is *just* on the sane side of “frenetic”) combined with the fact that there are 9 playable “classes” in the game – it does not invite casual play.

So if Overwatch is more of the same (and with a dozen classes, it looks damn like it) I guess I’m out before it even gets started.

But the fact I’m unlikely to dip my toe into the waters isn’t the only reason to post. I was given this link on Twitter:

Blizzard wants its diverse fans to feel ‘equally represented’ by Overwatch’s heroes

While wanting to create a roster of diverse characters is a laudable goal – everyone wants to feel represented, of course – I had watched both trailers before I read this and having done so, it felt like the article was a bit of a joke. The characters on display in the trailer didn’t feel particularly diverse, and the women got – as ever in these things – a harsh deal when it comes to armour design. Still, I decided to go to the main site and take a look at each character in turn.

Tracer – English (white) woman, age 28. Outfit is pretty good – I’ve seen runners out in more mental leggings. In the trailer she has the most ridiculous English accent and is “quirky”. Manic Pixie Dream Girl Alert Status: Amber.

Zenyatta – A robot, age 20. A Nepalese guru, he’s also a fucking robot because the West apparently doesn’t dehumanise South Asians enough these days. *slow clap, Blizzard* He floats in the air and makes vaguely mystical gestures so I’m genuinely expecting a grab bag of New Age spiritual piggybacking in his voice acting.

Mercy – Swiss (white) woman, age 34. Presumably named after the one word she managed to yell when they crammed her into her costume. Luckily for a 34 year old, she has the physique of a late-teens gymnast, so the ridiculous boob armour fits like a glove. One of her three abilities is “Can Shoot A Gun, But Is Usually Better Off Not Trying”. I’m not fucking kidding.

Hanzo – Japanese (but still white, see description) man, age 38. This character takes the absolute piss. He looks like a Generic Male Character, of the sort you find in every other game ever. Blizzard should call him Adam Fucking Jensen, pay Eidos a cent every time he gets picked and they could add in those embedded shades from Deus Ex to ice the cake.

Bastion – Is a robot. Of all the exciting robot possibilities in the Universe, Blizzard have opted for one with two modes: Shoot Gun (Can Move) and Shoot Bigger Gun (Cannot Move). By giving him no base and no affiliations, Blizzard sidestep all awkward drone comparisons.

Torbjörn – Swedish (white) man, age 57. Basically they wanted a dwarf from the Warcraft Universe. He has the same name as a swivel chair from IKEA. His backstory is the plot of Iron Man.

Symmetra – Indian (POC) woman, aged 28. She’s a POC! Yay! They’ve dressed her as “Sexy Uhuru”! Boo!

Reinhardt – German (race unknown) man, age 61. He wears a giant suit of armour, and no hint of him can be seen. Might as well be a robot.

Pharah – Egyptian (POC) woman, age 32 – this is actually really good, IMO. Her armour actually covers her, she doesn’t have high heels, and she has an Offensive role that is reflected in the badass combination of rocket jump, knockback/shield and armour destruction ability, and a rocket launcher. In her backstory, she follows in her mother’s footsteps to serve in the military. Well done, Blizzard! The first character so far I find genuinely interesting.

Winston – Is a gorilla. Is a fucking gorilla. I can’t even.

 Widowmaker – French (PURPLE) woman, age 33. Has a physique that makes Mercy look like she’s been slacking at the gym. Wears a figure-hugging one-piece that has been slit from collar to navel, because all the very best sniper/assassins know that when you are hunting a mark, inner sideboob is the most important trait of all. Did I mention she’s purple? She’s purple. Blizzard would rather put a purple woman and a gorilla in their game than a black person, their commitment to diversity is so great.

Reaper – Name: Unknown, Age: Unknown, Affiliation: Unknown. Dressed in an outfit reminiscent of Death himself, this is high-order fanservice that makes the design choices that led to Hanzo look reasonable. There is fan fiction being written RIGHT NOW about Reaper, I guarantee it. I can only hope he turns out to be one of the weakest characters in the game because a lot of people will first pick him simply for looking “cool”.

This is all just conjecture, mind. Maybe Blizzard HAVE done a great job of representing everyone, but that effort won’t show until every character they’ve ever planned is out there. Of course, by that time the meta game will have become so complex that trying to get started will feel impenetrable to everyone, regardless of their race, creed, or orientation.

One to the finish line, the other to the recycle bin.

So far this month I have managed to finish up my short story for the Blizzard Writing Contest.  It’s quite interesting (and challenging) to write in someone else’s world.  I’ve tried it once before; back when I was playing WoW I wrote a short story about Arena PvP.  It only really struck me when I was writing my competition entry that I had taken a wrong turn back with that first story.

While there’s a certain minimum amount of foreknowledge you can safely assume in the average reader of tie-in fiction, I made the mistake of overexpectation on the part of the reader.  To anyone who didn’t play WoW, it might as well have been written in hieroglyphics.  Granted, if you explained everything in a detailed and precise way, you’d be writing a manual and the core audience would fall asleep reading, so it turned out there were a lot of tweaks that had to be done to balance the writing.

Also, it’s pretty tough trying to be original.  Some of the stuff that happens in my story just doesn’t happen in the game it is based on. I wanted something that would have an authentic feel to the Universe it was based on, but I wanted it to be more than just a re-tread of something you might have seen if you played it.  So I took some liberties.  The reasons they can happen get explained, but I can imagine a real hardcore fan might tut in disapproval reading it nonetheless.

Also this week I finished editing a Steampunk story, which is not getting sent anywhere.  I wrote it, edited it, scrapped it, re-wrote it, edited that until I was sick of the sight of it, and in the end I have to say I don’t think it’s strong enough.  It’s annoying, because I started out with a good idea – the difficulties a female inventor would face in the Age of Steam – and as I worked away on it I discovered it was much, much harder to say what I wanted to within the constraints of my word limit.

It’s not that what I’ve come up with is particularly bad. At some points, it’s about as good as my writing gets.  It’s just that taken as a whole I don’t think it stands well as a short story.  It feels like a fragment of something longer, and – havign considered the idea of writing something longer with it – it probably wouldn’t make the final cut.

The recycle bin isn’t really where it’s going, though.  It’ll get filed, along with everything else that doesn’t quite work, and maybe parts of it will come back in something else.

I may kill my darlings, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to waste the dismembered parts they leave behind.

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Picture of a flower – I’m not sure what type.  Sweden, 2011