Overwatch 2’s contextual voice lines are what make it special, narrative designer says

Just what does it take to write and implement all those lines?

The original Overwatch revolutionized how players experienced narrative in hero shooters. Rather than deliver its story through the common techniques of in-game cutscenes and dialogue boxes, most of the lore in Blizzard Entertainments landmark FPS could be found in its pre-match voice lines. These voice lines were usually part of short conversations between characters and served to flesh out Overwatchs world of the future as well as the characters relationships.

While it might seem as though limiting most of the games lore to two-sentence in-game interactions would cause the Overwatch community to lose interest quickly, what actually happened was quite the opposite. Fans instantly became enamored with the games characters and world thanks to well-written, interesting, sometimes mysterious lines that alluded to relationships, connections, and other events in the games ongoing story. These lines were one of the main reasons Overwatchs world felt like a living, breathing, interconnected entity.

In the wake of this success, developer Blizzard took the same approach to lore delivery in Overwatch 2. Voice lines are back and better than ever thanks to a massive amount of new content and new reactive and contextual lines that serve to celebrate the player in everything they do in the game. Of course, creating thousands of new lines was no mean feat. The dedicated writing and narrative design team on Overwatch 2 spent years writing and scripting all of these interactions just to ensure the franchises world continues to feel authentic.

Its not all about putting words on the screen, though. According to Justin Groot, senior writer and narrative designer on Overwatch 2, the narrative design team at Blizzard has taken on a variety of tasks to ensure this new game is something truly special for players. Groots infectious enthusiasm for the new game and its voice lines in particular made us believe there just might be a bright future out there for Overwatch.

The power of reactivity

The big star of Overwatch 2s lore delivery is its dramatically expanded voice line library. While there are a handful of voice lines in the new game youll probably recognize from its predecessor, the vast majority are new. They range from sillyone laugh-inducing conversation sees Orisa asking Hanzo if he wants to ride her into battleto serious and everything in between.

While some voice lines are designed to play in the short period before a match begins to help pass the time, many others can only be heard when completing certain actions. Groot gave the example of a voice line that only plays when you defeat an invisible Sombra, a rare occurrence that will happen once in a blue moon for most players. The original Overwatch would not have called attention to such a play on its own, but its sequel is taking the time to reward players for achieving these unusual feats.

We really want to celebrate players accomplishments, Groot told Dot Esports. When you do something awesome in the game, we want the game to notice.

Other examples of reactive lines include those that play when you interrupt an enemy ultimate, like consuming a Zarya Graviton Surge or Hanzo Dragonstrike with D.Vas Defense Matrix. Some are rarer than others, as many players have found during the first few weeks of Overwatch 2s life.

These new voice lines are so important to the game that Groot says writing and implementing them is one of the biggest parts of the narrative design teams day-to-day work. Creating, implementing, and recording each of these lines is an enormous task, one that could only be completed with a team. No one person is responsible for each line: We have the most collaborative writing process Ive ever seen, Groot said. All the other narrative designers pile into [one document] and throw out new ideas. Its an additive process. While this makes it difficult to attribute any one line or conversation to a specific writer, it also means all of the games voice lines were truly a labor of love.

Engineering success

Of course, writing these linesand the other lore text that can be found throughout the gameisnt as simple as opening a Word document and asking yourself what Mei would say to Ashe. In a game as complex as Overwatch 2, there is a high volume of technical limitations that must be taken into consideration when writing. I believe it is likely that Overwatch 2 has more voice lines contextual to more situations than any multiplayer shooter in history, Groot says.

So, just what does it take to organize and implement all those lines?

Groot told a story about a Junkrat voice line that played when the fiery fiend launched himself into the air with two Concussion Mines in a row. Oftentimes, the line would be smothered by one that plays when Junkrat throws out the first mine, meaning players would never hear the special line. The team solved the problem by adding detection logic that discerns whether players have already heard the initial line. If so, the game wont play the second line. The goal was to have the game deploy the most interesting line for every situation at any given momenta lofty goal indeed.

The games genre and fully voice-acted nature also play into the lines that can be included. Its important the team keeps their lines short since Overwatch 2 is such a fast-paced game. That doesnt mean the team isnt able to push boundaries, though. Many of the games pre-match conversations are longer than one or two lines, which was the standard for the first Overwatch. The goal of these lines was to build character and make the games heroes feel more like real people. While they required additional scriptingwhich prevents lines from getting jammed up, Groot saidthe work was worth it to build a world that feels much more legitimate.

With so many new voice lines added, especially the reactive lines, the team had to come up with a way to organize them. The first Overwatchs few reactive voice lines were triggering separately from each other based on gameplay actions, which resulted in a lack of backend organization and an inability to pick the optimal voice line for a given action. Groot solved that problem by building an enormous monstrosity of a script that prioritizes different lines for different situations, which centralized the problem and ensured players receive plenty of fun contextual lines. Narrative design is a technical endeavor as much as it is a creative one.

A world worth fighting for

Groot smiled and laughed throughout our interview; his passion for the game was palpable. The first Overwatch captured the hearts of gamers around the world with its fun characters and engaging lore, and Groot intends to build on this with everything the team has written so far and everything that has yet to be revealed. We really want you to keep hearing new lines as long as youre playing the game. We want you to continue having these moments of delight, Groot said.

Despite his enthusiasm, there are roadblocks to this success. Overwatch 2 had an extremely rocky launch thanks to server overload, two back-to-back DDoS attacks, and bugs that hampered players first impressions of the full game. Players have also had much to say about the new games hero unlock system and its battle pass, not all of which is positive. Overwatch 2 has an uphill battle ahead, and its not clear whether it will reach the same pinnacle of success as its predecessor.

Despite this, Groot believes players will love the plans the narrative design team has for the future.

Weve been blown away by how much people have responded to the voice lines that weve added, and were so incredibly grateful to have the community that we have, he said. This is just the beginning [of] Overwatch 2, and we have so much stuff were excited to show off. We have so many more places and people and gameplay moments that we want to explore.

I, like many, was hesitant to embrace Overwatch 2 thanks to its launch problems and the incredibly tumultuous recent history of Activision Blizzard. After speaking with Groot and hearing how much love and care the narrative design team put into sculpting its lines and its world, though, Im ready to give it a second chance.

To be a writer is to create, and it is obvious just how proud Groot is of what the team has created. Developer passion is something that is frequently lost in the day-to-day churn of updates, monetization, events, and commentary. Seeing it on display is a breath of fresh air, not to mention one of the highest endorsements a game can receive. While we cant say for certain what the future of Overwatch 2 will bring, with Groots words in my head and on my screen, Im willing to bet that the future will be bright.

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