The Overwatch art team have opened up about their design inspiration for the popular Lunar New Year Face Changer Sombra skin, as well as the challenges they encountered when implementing the cosmetic’s unique features.
Face Changer Sombra has been a massive hit with the Overwatch community during the Year of the Rat event. The Legendary skin for the Talon hacker features some of the most ground-breaking skin technology in Overwatch, including a rotating selection of masks that change throughout the game.
Now, the developers have opened up about the struggle of getting everything to work in-game, as well as where the original idea spawned from.
In a January 27 blog post, the Overwatch team described how the Face Changer Sombra skin was inspired by the Bian Lian “face changing” Sichuan opera performers.
“The art used to be simple, with performers only changing a few faces per performance,” they said. “Now, most professionals can swap through more than eighteen masks in a single show. With only six at her disposal, Sombra still has a way to go before she can truly be considered a mask-switching master.”
Each mask has a different meaning in Chinese culture, from the “red, black, and gold visage” inspired by Sun Wukong, to the “purple Calavera motif, rendered in the elegantly embellished Sichuan opera style.”
However, getting all the masks to swap interchangeably throughout a game — the major selling point of the skin — was tough.
“We had to figure out a way to have the ability to swap the masks in-game depending on when we wanted them to change,” said John Gotch, a member of Overwatch’s art team.
“After we had the 3D model created, we took the variety of faces that had been concepted, implemented the 2D art into the 3D models, and then worked with the Effects team to have it hooked up in-game.
“When we started to implement the skin into the engine, we only started with two masks. This was to test our tech and make sure the option we ended up with gave players the ability to see all the variations of the masks.”
Initially, the plan was to have Sombra’s masks change during “extreme animations,” like using her EMP or going in and out of stealth. However, they settled on just shuffling through each mask every so often so that every player could notice the changes in skin.
“Since it wasn’t noticeable in most aspects of the game, we went with the option of the mask changing every so often,” he said.
It took a while to nail down the engine, but they were driven to work it out. Gotch had been touched by a journey to the Sichuan province last year, and it inspired him to turn the small opera shows he saw into an immersive experience for Overwatch players worldwide.
“The overall experience of the opera was definitely nothing I was familiar with since it was very different from Western opera, but the face-changing part was pretty amazing,” he said. “It was really fun to watch how many different faces they were able to switch between and how fast it was done.”
Credit: Blizzard Entertainment
Fellow artist Daryl Tan said that the skin has a sentimental value from his childhood growing up in Singapore.
“When I was 14, my school staged a Beijing opera performance. They brought in a professional opera troupe to train us, and I got to experience everything from the elaborate make-up to the beautiful costumes.
“I played the villain who went into town with his goons to kidnap village girls and got wrecked by a hero in white played by my best friend. Learning the moves and coordinating the play took a few months of work, but it was a really rewarding experience.”
The Face Changer Sombra skin is available in the in-game shop during the Year of the Rat event for 3000 credits, or if you’re lucky enough, you can nab it from one of the Lunar New Year loot boxes until February 5.