With Overwatch 2’s third season just around the corner, Blizzard is ready to reveal the game’s newest, and chilliest, map: Antarctic Peninsula. This icy addition is Overwatch 2’s first map solely designed for Control, a game mode first introduced in the original Overwatch that sees two teams of five square up against each other as they attempt to maintain control of a location for a set period of time.
Though this mode is an Overwatch staple–and fans of Mei’s Snowball Offensive might find the arctic setting a bit familiar–Antarctic Peninsula marks an important shift in how Blizzard will be approaching maps as the series continues. In a group interview with GameSpot and other gaming outlets, art director Dion Rogers, level designer Trey Spisak, and lead narrative designer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie elaborated on how the game’s map development is evolving, what makes Antarctic Peninsula unique from previous maps, and what lies in store for Overwatch 2’s future.
First and foremost, the Antarctic Peninsula map marks the start of something new for Blizzard: a push toward what Blizzard calls more organic maps. The developers explained that, until recently, Overwatch maps have primarily been designed in a very modular fashion. However, as the team has checked off all the “popular locations” and cities across the globe, Rogers explained, they now want to focus on the “many under-inspected locations” they’ve been “toying around with.”
“Overwatch is a city-based game, you fight in cities in New York and in Portugal, but Antarctica is a very organic map for us,” art director Rogers said. “It’s uneven in its shapes, there’s curvatures to the caves and ice, and this posed a challenge for both narrative and level design to make a map that features less of that modular feeling. We pushed it pretty far, how organic an Overwatch map can be.
“When we jumped into Antarctica, we talked with our tools engineers, or graphic engineers, about the types of tools we would need to create more organic shapes in a faster manner. Normally, an artist would need to sculpt most shapes, but we updated our tools so now we’re excited to explore more areas like the jungle or even a full environment that’s a cave. It’s totally doable now with the new engine… We definitely plan to do more of what we call ‘organic-based maps.'”
This style of map is not just new territory for the design team, but the narrative team as well. Jurgens-Fyhrie explained that previous Overwatch 2 maps, such as Season 2’s Portugal, have required a bit more outside thinking when linking them to Overwatch 2’s overarching story. Similarly, future organic maps that don’t feature bustling cities and blatant links to characters require a bit more consideration. However, these maps do offer up opportunities to delve deep into character’s backstories, as is the case with Mei and Antarctic Peninsula.
“One of the questions that I’ve heard from the public and have always been excited to answer is, ‘Hey, Mei and her co-workers were frozen for ages. Why did no one ever come to rescue them?'” Jurgens-Fyhrie said. “It’s sort of a sad question, but the answer is Overwatch tried. And that’s one of the things that’s so exciting about this map, you get to see a huge part of the story that we’ve never talked about before. And you can play across that area. You can see the Overwatch Icebreaker ship that tried to come and rescue Mei and her team but failed. And the people there had to flee because the weather was too insane–they had no choice and Overwatch was disbanded before anyone ever went back there. You can see some hints about what Mei and her team were trying to find up there.”
“And maybe there’s sort of a secret,” Jurgens-Fyhrie added with a smile. “Maybe there’s something you can find on the map that will tell you something even more exciting about the story to come.”
With Overwatch 2’s long-awaited PvE feature slated to drop later this year, it’s no surprise the team is ramping up for a big push towards narrative-focused content. However, this doesn’t mean they aren’t investing time into working up some fun new additions for the game as well.
Though the team ultimately vetoed putting environmental hazards in Antarctic Peninsula–they considered it for some time before ultimately worrying it might be too gimmicky and frustrating–they did add what they referred to as “environmental bonuses.”
“Penguins were vital to the team’s happiness,” Rogers said.
“[And] in the optimistic future of Overwatch, penguins can dodge bullets,” Jurgens-Fyhrie added.
While you can’t pet the penguins–though Rogers assured us the team tried–you can shoot at them. If you do, however, the penguins will dexterously avoid each bullet and pull off some “Matrix-like” moves.
In addition, the Antarctic Peninsula map also features a fishing mini-game. “I didn’t even initially know this made it into the level, but it did,” Rogers said.
While the mini-game isn’t robust, players can shoot into fishing holes to cause fish to come to the surface, thus “fishing.” Rogers added that these fishing holes also give players a chance to have some fun with the game’s physics engine, but didn’t elaborate beyond that.
Rogers also revealed that the map has the deepest amount of snow ever seen on an Overwatch map, meaning players will be able to draw designs in the snow. While the art director said the team had a lot of fun with the feature, they did not state if there were features in place to prevent more crude players from having too much fun with it.
On a separate note, the team also addressed a question concerned with the rise of machine learning and AI implementation in gaming. Rogers stated the studio does not use AI to help design levels, explaining, “Our dev team makes everything. It’s that polish we look for that comes from everything being handcrafted. An artist or designer has touched every part of our game.”
Antarctic Peninsula and all its bulletproof penguins, fish, and new hero quips will hit Overwatch 2 with the start of Season 3. The season kicks off on February 7 and will run for about two months.
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