Crafting a Champion – Research for Riot

I recently discovered the Riot Games Internship Program, and holy s*** I need this so bad. I can’t think of any better way to jump-start my hopeful career in concept art, and with the odds against me (at least 6000:1) I’ll have to try and prove myself. So that’s what I’ll try and do.

I’ve decided I’m going to follow the Riot Pipeline for character design and make a champion or two of my own while thoroughly exploring each idea. I’m going to start by reading some different Dev Blogs posted by Riot about their champion process and write about my research here. I’ll link each blog as I read them.

*DISCLAIMER: No images belong to me and are all property of Riot Games*

Developing Dark Star Thresh

This project involves creating a ‘skin’ for a pre-existing character. It starts by identifying ‘Thresh’s’ core idea and how to “multiply that by 100”. They spend some time identifying the reason and personality behind the skin. They give Thresh a purpose and a motive, helping anchor the design.

One of the concepts they enjoyed involved a “cloud of space” emanating from Thresh’s head, but they needed to deem whether it would look as good in game and so they ran tests to confirm it was possible. It took four weeks to lock in the skin’s visual direction, on top of the initial week of brainstorming.

He was initially designed with a red colour palette, but this was changed to distinguish him from his other skin (Blood Moon).

The rest of the article delves in to aspects past concept art, so I’ll be moving on from it and leaving on this awesome process shot of his loading screen splash art.

 

On the Champion Rework Pipeline

So apparently it takes around 9 months to create a champion of visual update. I’m gonna be doing mine a little quicker…

First Phase: Open ideation phase (about three months). A small team of writers, concept artists, designers and a producer works on this phase, and there are usually about 3 going at once.

Some early Yorick thumbnails

Ok, so there’s not much in this one along the lines of concept work. Moving on…

 

Narrative Hooks

This article mainly focuses on backstory and behind the scenes plot that goes in to making a character’s background believable and solid. I love this image of “Bilgewater Slaughter-Sheds” which are never mentioned in the game at all but are exactly the type of thing I’d expect to see in the brine-soaked town.

Maybe I could use this as a background for one of my characters…

Leave your bundle of threads loose so the curious can pull on them to find how they tangle together. League of Legends isn’t a single narrative, it’s an existing universe with characters that are anchored to it.

“For the audience, dangling story threads and hooks provide areas of intrigue and speculation, a tiny glimpse of events that hint at bigger things yet to come, or suggest a deeper and richer world history/backstory. They can also function to suggest a much bigger world out there, one that is vibrant with stories just waiting to be discovered. Finally, they also give the audience a chance to voice what story hooks they’d like to see developed, giving the creators a better idea of what they should focus on.”

“The one thing that’s most important, however, is avoiding creating frustration by dangling out a million story hooks that are never developed or followed up. That kind of thing can be irritating, and can have a detrimental effect, not just with the audience, but on the narrative universe as a whole. It can start to feel like there’s nothing behind all those hints and nods – it’s just a facade of depth, with no actual substance.”

There is a balance to finalising stories for closure and leaving ends open for audiences to wonder. That’s the hook. There are some interesting points on narrative in a world on this article, so give it a read. Moving on to something more concept-y.

 

Jhin Development Process

So this is a lot more of the “meat and veg” type stuff I wanted to get in to, and highlights the early stages of a concept that I crave. The team started with an initial idea, they wanted a champion that felt like you were using an old bolt-action sniper rifle, and wanted to differentiate between this character and the other sniper wielding character, Caitlyn.

Ok so on a side-note I started looking up Caitlyn’s visual update after typing that last paragraph and stumbled on to a freelance concept artist who does a lot of work for Riot by the name of Thomas Randby and some of his work is really awesome stuff.

So, back to Jhin. Bolt action sniper. Robotic Cowboy. Bounty Hunter. These were the buzzwords initially used in crafting him. Some of them were chipped off through the design process.

They thought the term “Deadeye” resonated very well with this new champion. They started looking at the idea that “ever shot counts” as it does with a bolt-action sniper. They implemented an ammo system for his shots before he has to reload, something that no other champion has. The point of his abilities were that even though they had extremely long range, they could also miss (which is not the case with Caitlyn.)

After further playing around with the ammo mechanic, they decided that the fourth shot should deal the most damage from a gameplay perspective but why would this be the case in a real-world idea? That’s when they hit the sweet spot by making Jhin an artist. He doesn’t just want to kill his targets, he wants it to be so perfect that their deaths are his art. He becomes a Virtuoso.

“In carnage, I bloom; like a flower in the dawn.”  -Jhin

After discovering his artistic identity, the team incorporated rose imagery in to one of his abilites and heavily referenced opera in his personality, design and aura. His ultimate ability, aptly named ‘Curtain Call’ has four extreme long-range, high damage shots. And as soon as you enter this stance, a violin can be heard playing as you paint the canvas with blood.

They removed the robot element from his identity because they wanted him to appear human. They invented a mask to cover his face with a calming, confident yet sinister grin. They placed him within a faction of their world, Ionia; a place of intricate design that favoured form over function. Makes sense. This was a true psychopath.

The best part about Jhin’s design is his rifle. It’s actually a four chambered pistol, that he then constructs in to a rifle for long range, paired with the asymmetrical hump on his shoulder to create a piercing cannon. They also gave the barrel a fountain pen-esque nib at the end to emphasise his personality as a “creative”. His colour scheme was that of roman emperors, because “while Jhin’s very much equipped to kill, he’s also dressed to impress.”

With Jhin’s final release, they also released a skin called “High Noon Jhin” which is a nod to the robo-cowboy that inspired his initial creation.

This is the kind of depth I want to go for with my design. Research, themes, tropes, aesthetics, playstyle, factions; everything. I want to take it as far as I can.

 

There’s a bunch more blogs that I’ve read through and enjoyed but instead of me summarising them you can read them directly here:

Tahm Kench – a large fish demon dubbed the “River King” with quite the mouth on him (In both senses). A personal favourite of mine.

Kindred – a snow white lamb and an ominous dark wolf spirit combo that sew and reap life.

Kalista – a culmination of vengeful spirits manifested in to one form. She throws spears.

Sion – a resurrected juggernaut equipped with a battleaxe and a blood lust. His newly-fitted lower jaw is the crown of a King he slaughtered.

Aurelion Sol – creator of stars, wanderer of galaxies. Narcissist. This enormous space dragon was a leap for the game design team to implement.

Galio – A stone-bound sentinel seeking to supersede strength as a sentient shield. He’s a big gargoyle.

Taliyah –  A weaver of earth and rock, she hails from humble beginnings.

Kled –  A redneck squirrel that rides a lizard.

Ivern – The friendliest tree man you’ll ever meet.

Camille – Her legs are blades.

Enjoy reading these! They’re great insights in to professional storytelling and design.

 

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