Ask Riot on Runes, Splash Art and Buttons

By Calisker, Ostrichbeernana

Welcome to Ask Riot, where we focus on your questions and give you answers.

This week, we talk about how we make splash art, how we decide which abilities go on which buttons, and our current thoughts on Runes and Masteries.

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My question is about the splash arts of champions. I really like them and they look fantastic, but I wanted to know: How long do you usually need to design a splash art of a champ or skin?

It takes our team around four weeks to complete a piece of splash art. Splash art is arguably our most important asset outside of the game as it’s frequently a player’s first interaction with a champion or skin. This gives you a chance to first fantasize about playing as the champ (or skin). If done well, it could give you a deeper idea of a skin’s alt-fantasy or a champion’s motivations. You know what they say about first impressions, so we want to take our time and get it right.

We start with the champion or skin concept art being shared with the splash artist. From there, we create some really rough thumbnail images to get an idea of the composition. This is shared with the team and broader illustration team at Riot for feedback. We’ll create a variety of thumbnails to choose from, usually 3 to 6, and then pick one and continue to explore it. We’ll iterate and execute changes and move into Color Composition. Here, we’ll try out a few different color schemes on the single thumbnail to lock down the right mood and tone.

Once a color composition is picked the artist then goes and creates a line drawing. These initial stages account for about the first two weeks of a splash's development. The final two weeks are the render stage, where we create really tight details and materials to get the level of quality players know today. Another factor we sometimes have to consider is preparing the splash to be animated by the Motion Graphics team, which can take extra time to build out!

One of the other questions we hear often, is “How do you decide something is ready?” Well, this can be a little ambiguous to answer as we'd love to keep polishing forever but that means we’d never actually get it to you so that won’t work. While a splash is being rendered we monitor it pretty closely with the team to make sure we incorporate all the correct details and ensure the right level of visual hierarchy within the composition. Feedback can range pretty drastically! Sometimes in really colorful exciting compositions, like PROJECT: Ekko, the feedback will have be more geared towards making sure the character pops out from a busy background. For art like Pool Party Miss Fortune, we had to pay really close attention to (and edit) the character herself to make her feel like the champion who players know and love. There’s always new challenges with developing splash art so we really do have to take them on as they come!

3rdColossus, Champion Splash Artist and Riot Ve1vet, Personalization (Skins Team) Production

What was your vision for runes and masteries when you first created them and how might you change the system?

The original intentions behind runes and masteries were two-fold. First, they gave players some ability to customize their champion’s power and abilities above and beyond Summoner Spell and item choices. Second, they served as a form of progression system for level 1-30. As you obtained levels, you earned new mastery points and rune slots.

In terms of runes and masteries providing meaningful customization today, the experience is only average at best in my opinion. The update to keystone masteries we did last season helped to provide more choices for players, but we still have a long way to go. (Working in Adobe Air also proved to be pretty brittle to work with technically, which makes ongoing adjustments painful to players and developers because they tend to cause bugs, but we do have plans to rewrite this code.) Because rune benefits are passive stats, which can be easily solved by the community, it’s hard for them to ever be interesting decisions. In their current form, runes will probably always be something you just look up on the internet and copy from a guide, and that’s not awesome.

In terms of runes and masteries providing meaningful progression today, we’re just not hitting the mark. I’d argue that for players who are truly new to League, it’s hard for them to appreciate whether buying a new Lesser Quintessence of Mana is really noticeable when they’re still mastering the basics of the game. But even worse, a power delta between a lower level and higher level player exists because of runes and masteries. It’s the worst of both worlds: a system that doesn’t feel meaningful but in reality is really meaningful, in a bad way. This power disparity makes learning things like last hitting harder for the players who needs help the most, as well as making them weaker when compared to bots, or allied or enemy human players.

When League launched, the Summoner leveling system was pretty much the only progression in the game. At this point in the game’s life cycle, most League players have been level 30 for some time, and they have other progression systems that they can focus on, such as ranked progression or champion mastery, and we have long-term plans to offer additional progression systems as well. We recently reduced the time it takes to reach level 30, but we have acknowledged before that League’s onboarding experience needs much more attention. When we do that work (which is a priority, just not as high as many other priorities), we think we can offer a more compelling experience for truly new players that isn’t based around earning small passive bonuses (for example, Hextech Crafting is arguably a better system for delivering incremental rewards to players).

So if we don’t think runes and masteries have aged well, what are we going to do about it? We need to make changes. I will be frank that they won’t be coming in the 2017 preseason. These are complicated systems for developers to work on, and they affect everything from game balance to League’s IP economy. We don’t have details to share yet, but I didn’t want to confess that we aren’t happy with the current system without offering some commitment that we are going to change it. We think we can deliver on a system that offers some amount of customization without the current power delta that occurs while leveling. While there are champions that are underpowered or overpowered at any moment in time, overall we think most players would agree that they have a lot of champions that they can choose to play. In the same way, we think we can offer that level of choice in runes and masteries, or whatever the system that replaces them turns out to be.

GhostCrawler, Game Design Director

How do you decide which abilities get assigned to which buttons?

There are a couple of guidelines we try to follow with ability slotting to help players when they’re first learning a new champion.

First, if an ability is shaping up to be the bread-and-butter spell, the one that’s cast most frequently and ranked up first, we tend to assign it to Q. While players will eventually try all kinds of skill orders, we try and make sure that for a player trying a champion for the first time, maxing Q is a decent choice.

Second, some types of abilities have trended into certain slots, and we try to follow those trends. When working on Kled, for instance, we were prototyping an early version of Jousting, his dash ability. We looked at similar melee fighter champions like Riven and Yasuo, saw that their dash abilities were in the E slot, and followed suit with Kled’s dash. Similarly, his purely passive attack modifier, Violent Tendencies, has similarities to abilities like Vi’s Denting Blows and Vayne’s Silver Bolts, which both live in the W slot.

By following existing trends, we can leverage skills players have already learned from other champions to help get over the hump of playing an unfamiliar champion. It’s similar to how games in other genres follow shared conventions - if you’re playing a new, complicated FPS, for instance, you at least know that pointing the cursor and clicking the left mouse button will (generally) shoot your gun.

Oh, and we like putting ultimate abilities on the R button. It just feels like the most powerful letter, you know?

Harrow, Game Designer

2 years ago

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