How the art and music of League of Legends goes beyond the expectations of gaming
If there was a single overarching theme I learned throughout all the Riot office presentations on October 12th, is that the company does not settle with the old and that it is always willing to advance further. This is very much the case when it comes to ‘arts’ which are featured throughout the game of League of Legends. Not only is Riot willing to revisit past endeavors, but also strives to keep pushing forward in finding new ways to make the game experience ultimately better.
Animation director, Brad Marques, for League of Legends described LoL as being an animator’s dream. With a cast of wild beings, LoL does everything in its power to strive away from realism. This is fantasy people. With influence from Japanese Anime, LoL works more in the realm of ‘if it feels right, then go with it.’ In Summoner’s Rift, if there is an insectoid creature fighting alongside a little girl with a teddy bear against a fallen angel sorceress and a steam golem, it’s believable – and that is an accomplishment all on its own.
Adam Murguia, art director has a task of continually making something better and to actually go back and bring the weaker aspects up to par with the newer and better features. In the past we’ve seen characters completely visually redone both in game and via splash art. The art and animation teams reach a level of accomplishment and technology where the new content goes far beyond the older content. For this reason, that older content needs enriching. Characters such as Gangplank, Ashe, and Katarina have all been upgraded visually in game while characters such as Pantheon, Morgana, and Miss Fortune have been upgraded in the splash art region.
The reason I find this to be so remarkable reminds me of the old cliché “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.” Every new champion that comes out (about every 2-3 weeks) has heightened graphics, animations, and unique artwork. Due to the fact that Riot is constantly getting better and growing as a company each time this occurs, the newer characters tend to be of higher graphic quality than the originals. With 100+ characters, it’s hard just to go back and redo all the old ones though slowly but surely this is exactly what Riot is doing. When you have Sivir stand next to Katarina in game, you really notice the difference. With so much new content, you wouldn’t think there would be time to reskin the old – but it happens.
For the purpose of uniqueness, at the presentations we were even explained how certain character animations are “retired.” What this references is when a certain champion moves or acts is such a unique way that no other future character can delve into that characters specific style. The example used in the presentation was Darius’ attack (dunking) animation. The way he chokes up on the axe, swings his axe outward, and how the attack arches from down to up is owned by Darius and from here on out retired from the animation team. Why this is amazing is because there are 100+ champions and they just keep making more; this means they aren’t reusing any animations, and making each character unique. Certain poses have been retired as well for specific champions; each character is unique in both appearance and locomotion.
If you’re an avid League of Legends player and have been instantly signing in and skipping the log in art and music these last few months, you have been truly missing out. From animated splash art, to unique compositions, to poetry… the multiple teams of Riot have been really going above and beyond to bring this extra level to the overall experience of League of Legends. Is animated splash art necessary? No. Is unique music necessary? No. These are more examples of the extra mile Riot is going to, which shows the gaming world just how passionate they are about their product. A solid chunk of LoL players have probably never noticed the music changes and that is a shame.
Christian Linke is Riot’s composer. During his presentation, he brought up the two most memorable login pieces in my opinion – Draven and Diana. With Draven (sorry, Draaaaaven) being this cocky / center of attention type champion, Riot had to decide what would make this present itself the most. Where would this type of character be found? Their answer was to put him in an arena with a defeated foe in front of him. The music is very gladiatorial sounding, the audience cheering his name every few seconds, and he has the huge unforgettable smile on his face – everything is the way he’d want it. Without reading an ounce about this character, the login screen has already taught me so much about his personality and persona. Ryan “Morello” Scott, Riot’s lead champion designer, once told me he feels that text is the worse way to tell a story (in a video game). Listen to Draven’s theme.
The second example was Diana. I remember distinctly when her splash art and music came out, the community exploded with praise for the beautiful, blithe, and eerie composition that Riot had created. The combination of the music and the read poem was nothing like I’ve ever experienced in a video game. This was a true work of art. The poem was serene and told players just enough about this character’s past to understand where she’s coming from and her motivations. I practically demand you listen to it. The thing I can’t reiterate here is that this entire production was for the login screen only. There is nowhere in the game where you can hear the song or hear the music. Now that Diana isn’t on the login screen, it’s like it never happened. It was so good though, so good. Listen to Daylight’ End (Diana’s theme).
Often I feel like League of Legends gets a bad rep for ‘not putting out new content besides new champions.’ Or, ‘When’s Magma Chamber coming out?’ Putting out a new champion is no easy task, especially with the amount of effort Riot is putting into these characters. Hopefully this article has brought that a bit more into perspective. Many of the ideas that would have made up Magma Chamber are now part of Dominion, so in a way we still got Magma Chamber. There are also a ton of potential changes coming up with season 3 that we can look forward to.
I want to end this with homage to the 1996 drama / thriller A Time To Kill, “I want you to picture this video game. Now imagine it’s free to play.”
Historian, teacher, writer, gamer, cheat master, and tech guru: follow on Twitter @AndrewC_GZ