Catching Sunlight - Prototyping Illari’s abilities with the hero design team
Illari has taken Overwatch 2 by storm—or rather, by the power of one thousand burning suns. We’re incredibly happy to see that players are enjoying her gameplay, personality, and story. To provide a little more depth and insight into how Illari came to be who she is today, we on the Overwatch 2 hero design team thought we’d share some of how her abilities were created through early prototypes.
Heroes can be inspired by many things! Sometimes, heroes are made from whatever prototypes of abilities we think are cool or have a positive impact on gameplay. Ana is a great example of this—parts of her kit were made before her character and story ever existed.
In Illari’s case, we had a strong starting point because we knew we wanted to theme the hero around the sun. These themes inspired her early abilities as well as her internal codename, Solar.
Prototyping is a journey through different questions, scenarios, and ideas. The goal is to test out and experiment with new things. We ask questions such as: How does this ability feel in relation to other abilities currently in-game? Is the ability making noticeable impact in a match? Are there enough options for counterplay? What does it feel like to land a hit or miss with this ability?
We’d like to offer a little insight into that journey and show you some of the prototyping that led to Illari. As we dive into Solar’s design journey, please keep in mind that these abilities and videos were placeholders through her development.
Prototype – Blind Ability
One of the earliest prototypes we played around with was a blinding ability. After all, this is a hero who gets her power from the Sun!
Solar would throw a grenade-like sun orb, or the spicy basketball in the video below, which would explode and blind enemies within its AOE.
We often use models that are already in the game while we’re still working through prototyping a new ability, which is why Solar’s model looks awfully familiar when she’s dunking on enemies with a basketball blind.
The team experimented with the physics of this ability and how it would affect enemies. After a few changes, the team added VFX of Solar jumping into the air and throwing the blind down onto her enemies.
In the end, we moved away from a blind ability because of the somewhat hidden effectiveness and frustration caused when played against. Solar didn’t feel a noticeable impact using blind, but the person getting blinded felt too much of an impact. We ultimately decided that a full-screen blind was too much for the type of action flow we’re building in Overwatch.
However, the mobility of her leaping into the air felt very symbolic to a sunrise, and was integrated into her finalized ultimate, Captive Sun.
Prototype – Healing Ability and Secondary Fire Healing
Solar’s healing capabilities went through a lot of ideations and prototypes. One of the first ideas was an ability that created pockets of healing with a deployable drone—she would throw a drone-grenade to allies, and the drone would hover over them to heal.
Pocket healing went through a lot of tweaks and adjustments. For example, one version provided more healing to lower-HP allies but was limited in mobility. Another provided a burst heal within the first second to give allies a little more flexibility regarding their placement. There was also a super fun iteration where the drones would automatically track allies.
This type of healing mechanic required a ton of management and attention, and we wanted something more strategic that allowed her to focus more of her time using the Solar Rifle. Then a eureka moment came while looking at Torbjörn and Symmetra’s turrets. We tried a healing turret mechanic with Symmetra during a creator experimental card in February 2022 and, while it had multiple problems on her kit as a whole, players did enjoy the concept.
From this, the healing artifact was born. Initially a hitscan healing projectile, it evolved to what it is now in order to fulfil combat clarity and visual goals.
Solar’s secondary fire came also came a long way from start to finish. The first iteration was a burst heal that could pierce allies (like Sojourn’s railgun), but it was on a hefty cooldown.
We wanted to give her a simple secondary fire to encourage players to support through damage, but the lengthy downtime made this ability feel too limiting. So we pivoted to something single-target,giving it a shorter cooldown.
After testing various uptimes and cooldowns, we landed on a simplified secondary that could be used often. Solar’s Rifle alt fire gives us what we were looking for, with the added benefit of pockets of healing with Healing Pylon.
Prototype – Ultimate Ability
There were a great many prototypes for Solar’s ultimate, so we’ll only look at a couple of them within this blog.
One of the first ideas sought up to five enemies near Solar and gave them a debuff we called “solar flares.” Solar flares would damage enemies, reveal their location, and increase their damage taken.
While this ultimate was cool to play with, it wasn’t that cool to play against. The debuff paired with the damage was a little too much, and the chaotic nature of the ultimate was frustrating to play against.
Another iteration riffed off solar flares, but the debuff was only applied to enemies within an area of effect, rather than targeting them automatically. The area would also heal allies, so there was quite a bit going on within that circle.
Many versions of her ultimate increased the amount of damage she dealt, but we felt those would better suit damage heroes. We wanted to encourage players to support their team by enabling and finishing off opponents, but some of these early ideas were doing a little too much damage.
We kept revisiting the status effects inspired by the sun, which kept themed to her personality and gameplay. Captive Sun's status effect keeps the ultimate ability attack oriented, while also encouraging team play to get as many detonations as possible. In a way, it's a damage enhancement effect with a condition and a delay.
From Solar to Illari
Taking a hero from prototype to game requires a ton of collaboration and coordination across almost all T4. Although many prototypes never make it out of preproduction, it’s always good to keep them for key learnings. After all, you never know how these abilities may pop back up in-game. In the end, we are pretty happy where the Solar prototype eventually became Illari, the last child of the Sun.
Our team learned a lot from Illari, and it’s incredible to see the community get to know her and play her in-game. Thanks for sharing all your feedback and awesome gameplay. We hope you continue to have a blast with Illari!
- Hero design team, Overwatch 2