League of Legends design director Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street talked about the philosophy behind designing or reworking champions based on five main pillars.
In an 11-minute video, Ghostcrawler explained what kind of things go into consideration when creating or re-creating a champion, based on the overarching concept of satisfaction, a resonant theme, skill-expression, fairness, and uniqueness.
Satisfaction is predicated upon making abilities fun to use. The effect of an ability, as well as audio and visual surrounding it all play a key role in making a champion fun to play. An example given is Jinx’s W, which matches expectations of a fast moving projectile and has both a punchy visual and audio effect that matches the name “Zap!”
A resonant theme means designing a character’s story and how the look and abilities match that theme. It revolves around broad play — a lot of people playing the same champion — or deep play, a small number of dedicated players to one champion. Champions like Ashe are easy to grasp and play thematically for a lot of people, while Ivern is quirkier by design, thus appealing to a smaller but more dedicated base.
Skill-expression is how playing a champion breeds a sense of accomplishment. Ghostcrawler points out skill shots and other abilities that make or break a fight based on the game knowledge around a situation. Zed was used as an example, as he offers a large amount of variables in terms of how skills are all executed, with the success of the execution based on how well the player takes the variables into consideration.
Fairness is how fair it is to play against a champion. This is where the ever-important balance comes into play, and the best examples are champions who have clear strengths and weaknesses. Ideally, long ranged champions aren’t as scary up close, and melee ranged champions aren’t as effective when hitting them from afar.
Uniqueness is what makes a champion stand out. With a roster of more than 130 champions, all need to be unique so users feel compelled to play them. That also includes making champions to better fit the game world of League of Legends. Ghostcrawler singled out Pantheon as a champion that failed in that regard, as he is defined as a generic Spartan — and that’s where his identity ends. Ghostcrawler continued that in a future potential rework, Pantheon might be tooled up lore-wise and gameplay-wise while keeping his identity.
In terms of design successes and failures, Ghostcrawler pointed out that Nunu and Aatrox are closer to the failure end of the spectrum. Nunu’s problem stems from abilities that feel old and gameplay that makes it ambiguous. Aatrox initially had some good hype surrounding him thanks to good visual design, but he failed to deliver interesting gameplay.
The most successful example for champion design is Thresh, a support champion who has been consistently played since release. Thresh delivered in terms of satisfactory abilities, and the nature of his kit rewards skilled play. The only shortcoming Ghostcrawler seemed to point out is that there isn’t a lot in terms of counter play against him.
The design philosophy for the team is always subject to change, Ghostcrawler said, as it has in the past in order to better match the need of the game. There will be new champion releases toward the end of the year, and Ghostcrawler said the team will aiming to hit a wide range in terms of player appeal.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games