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/dev: Ahri’s ASU

Where the fox is the Ahri update?

DevAuthorAhri ASU Team
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Editor’s Note: This is a big post, as we’ve got a lot to catch up on. Enjoy!

Hey everyone! I’m Layla “yoganinja” Jean, the producer in charge of Ahri’s ASU. In the recent LoL Pls we shared an update on Ahri’s base concept and VFX progress. Today we want to take you behind the scenes to learn a little more about Ahri’s ASU. But before we get to the Nine-tailed Fox, let’s talk a bit about ASUs.

An ASU (Art & Sustainability Update) is primarily focused on sustainability, aka making it easier to develop skins. As you can imagine, some of our older champions are pretty challenging to create skins for, and our capabilities and standards continue to evolve year after year. We want to make future skin development for these champs more streamlined. To do this we do a number of things, like refactoring how data is set up in the engine, how art is authored across source art packages, and using modern tools and tech to upgrade the champion. 

Art is our secondary focus, with the goal of bringing an older champion up to modern day standards. Each ASU is customized to what that champ needs and will therefore vary in scale. But we’ll generally update the base champion and all 1350 (and below) skins so the champ’s older in-game visuals, animations, audio, etc. are brought up to modern standards and better reflect their DNA and core fantasy.

An ASU differs from other updates (VGUs or CGUs) as it does not touch gameplay or ability functionality, or heavily reimagine our champion’s lore.

When selecting the next ASU, we take into account many factors such as everything we talked about above, and things like tech debt and complexity, art quality, or champion popularity.

Which brings us to Ahri! She’s a beloved champion and we consistently receive feedback about how outdated her rig and animations feel when she gets new skins. Her base doesn’t even have some basic animations or a recall—which are now standard for new champions. So she was an ideal candidate for an ASU.

All that said, let’s talk about how Ahri’s update is progressing!

Narrative

Elyse “Riot apothecarie” Lemoine, Senior Narrative Writer:

Ahri was my second project with the ASU team after Caitlyn and getting the chance to work with everyone again was incredibly exciting! (Especially as an Ahri main.) That being said, it can also be pretty intimidating writing scripts for champions as beloved as Ahri.

For ASUs, narrative has two goals: Guiding narrative cohesion through collaboration with the ASU team, and bringing the champion up to our current narrative standards.

When it comes to updating champions, I usually take a multi-step approach:

  1. Researching the champion by digging into existing content.
  2. Understanding what players love about that character—what is the power fantasy for this character?
  3. Creating a comprehensive story guide that breaks down the character's personality pillars, backstory, goals, beliefs, and relationships.
  4. Writing the final voiceover script.

There are plenty of steps in between these, like reading existing scripts to find lines to carry over, or writing scenelets/exploratory scripts to find the character's voice. But, at the end of the day, we’ve got a cohesive narrative document that becomes the basis for the voiceover script to make sure that the character's voice is consistent and strong.

It might seem like a 160-line script should be pretty straightforward, but it's all the steps getting to this point that make it an involved process (and not every writer works that way)! I find that it helps me stay on track, while also serving as a narrative asset that I can share with the team.

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Ahri’s process had the added unique opportunity of taking place after the release of Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. However, this left us with a decision: Will base Ahri's new script be pre- or post-Ruined King? Talking with our concept art lead Thomas “Riot Hylia” Randby, we decided that post-Ruined King Ahri would be the most exciting for players. After seeing her grow so much over the course of the game, it felt like a loss to revert her back to who she was before: Someone running from the pain of her past rather than moving forward with her chin held high.

This updated version of Ahri was so much fun to write and it gave us the space to play in when it comes to what Ahri’s future holds for her. Now that she's finally let go of the burden of her past and the pain of her regrets, she can see the world and approach her future with excitement!

Concept

Thomas “Riot Hylia” Randby, Lead Concept Artist:

As new champions, events, and cinematic experiences are released, players are able to immerse themselves in the world of League of Legends in all sorts of new and exciting ways. Oftentimes though, the speed at which the narrative evolves and changes may leave certain characters feeling lacking. Caitlyn, for instance, felt like a relic of the early days of League where Piltover had a less unique identity and existed simply as a steampunk inspired whimsical city of technology.

In Ahri’s case, players have had several opportunities to see higher fidelity and more nuanced iterations of the character. She’s been in cinematics for League, Wild Rift, and Legends of Runeterra, and she was a key character in Ruined King with new designs and more unique character interactions. More than reinventing Ahri, we really wanted to bring her up to par with what players already experienced.

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Ultimately we opted to blend elements from her appearance in A New Dawn, her Wild Rift turntable, and some small homages to her Ruined King appearance, making use of luxurious silken fabrics and long flowing hair but retaining certain elements to emphasize her more wild side as well as her innate Vastayan grace. Her hair is a bit wilder, paying homage to her more feral appearance in Ruined King as she struggles to control her power and the desire to sate her baser instincts. This more feral side reveals itself when she lets loose during Spirit Rush, and a dangerous glow appears in her eyes and her tails unfurl in all their glory!

Ahri also posed a unique challenge in the sheer number of skins in her catalog. In a similar vein as her base, many of these skins have featured in other experiences that allowed us to draw inspiration for their updated designs.

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K/DA and K/DA All Out, for example, featured smaller, more intricate details in their cinematic appearances that we were able to use in her newly updated in-game visuals thanks to her fresh rig and proportions.

One of the most common responses we’d see when we’ve released new skins was the matter of her tails. In her previous iteration, Ahri’s tails didn’t originate from a single point and clipped pretty badly through her thighs and back, even as low as her shins! To resolve this issue, we opted to include multiple layers of fabric on each skin where Ahri’s tails connect to her body physically. One layer masks the origin point, and the other sits beneath the tails to communicate that their origin point is on her body. 

Working with the team to bring Ahri’s visuals into the modern era of League was an absolute joy and privilege, and I can’t wait to see her running wild on the Rift!

Tech Art

Izzy Cheng, Senior Technical Artist:

On the rigging side I knew Ahri’s tails were very important for her in-game read and fantasy. Not only did they need to feel right, but we also wanted to make it easier for devs to work with them on future skins from a sustainability standpoint.

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The animators, character artists, and I did a lot of testing and many iterations on the tails to make them feel more fun, fluid and floofy. I added more fidelity into the tail rig which allows each tail to move smoothly either on their own or in a group all together as nine. My goal was to make sure each tail could create smooth arcs and curves for maximum elegance.

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Alongside the tails, I cleaned up and brought the whole Ahri rig up to our current new champion rig standards.

Animation

Einar “Riot Beinhar” Langfjord, Senior Animator:

This is my second go at developing an ASU after finishing Caitlyn. I am beyond excited to bring one of our IP’s most beloved characters up to our modern standard. There is so much I wanna talk about for Ahri as she is very complex, but for today I wanna focus on an aspect of the character that’s truly unique to Ahri: Her tails and how we approached developing them in a way to both be sustainable and give us some great results.

When looking into what would be important for animation, we knew right away that making the proper fantasy of the NINE-tailed Fox a reality was one of our top priorities. The tails are such a unique character trait that has a lot of potential, so we want to put the time and effort into getting them to look good.

However, nine tails on a single character is a lot of work, especially if you want them to look right. I worked closely with Izzy, our technical artist, to get the right kind of functionality for Ahri’s tails. We found that blending between a single main tail and nine individual tails gave us great results that also meant we didn’t have to micromanage each one all the time. We did a lot of testing with different values and ended up with a system that gave us a satisfying result when testing tail movement.

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Some early animation tests with the tail to try and get a sustainable workflow

Having a solid system for the tails while creating individual animations is great, but to truly sell the fantasy of the Nine-tailed Fox, the tails also need to respond to player input. We therefore worked very closely on the in-game simulation system and applied live simulations on each of the tails at all times. They all have slightly different movement values so they all feel like they move more true to a tail you would see on a real fox, with a hint of a magical twist. Simply running around as Ahri should feel fun as you dodge between skillshots and hunt down your prey.

A comparison between the tail physics of old vs the new and improved tail physics

Charm is one of Ahri’s most iconic abilities, and we really wanted to use the tails to make the iconic moment even more impactful. We really wanted to express her alluring nature and show how far the new tail rig could be pushed to make nice poses. 

However, a problem we ran into was the camera angle. If you work on how an ability looks from one angle, it won’t necessarily look good from others.

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When the spell is shown from the intended angle it looks great, but flipped around the spell loses its “charm”

We still thought this was a very interesting direction to go, so we decided to make four animations for the spell instead of one. Each corresponding to the direction you are looking at the map. Yes each of these spellcasts are unique based on if you are facing north, east, west, or south!

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A unique animation for each angle makes Ahri always able to look her greatest regardless of angle

VFX

Riot Sirhaian, Senior VFX Artist:

Just like Caitlyn, working on Ahri’s ASU was made easier and required less work thanks to her VFX Update. Since ASUs don’t change gameplay, and most of our older VFX have now been updated across the game, there wasn’t as much VFX work required. Ahri mainly needed adjustments to some of her spell sizes to match the hitboxes and some cleaning up of older particles. She needed a bit of love and more details here and there to elevate her visuals, but nothing too big.

A visual upgrade to base Ahri’s Q missile. This spell’s VFX had to be remade quite a few times given that its VFX implementation had to be fixed in the code directly.

One of the main goals of ASUs is to fix how older champions work in the back-end, and Ahri had a lot of weirdness going on. We untangled all of the spaghetti, which required some VFX to be remade and/or severely adjusted. For example, her Q was set to run at half speed. Which meant the VFX had to be created at double the speed in order to look correct and at “standard” speed in game.

Fixing that required all of her Q VFX to be retimed to match the new normal speed. She also still had a lot of old VFX that were no longer used, such as the healing variations for her orb and Qs, or things that likely dated back from before she was even released. She even still had unique particles within her character that were used in an early draft of Nexus Blitz. We cleaned all of that up to make it easier for future VFX artists to work on her, without wondering what particles such as the weird “Ahri_Base_R_Tumblekick_tar_02” were all about.

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We once had a funny bug where Ahri would turn into a noodle shortly after casting Q

Prior to working on Ahri, spiritual energy in our IP wasn’t particularly well-defined. The only info we had on Ahri’s power was “raw spiritual energy” which isn’t super helpful. What does spiritual energy look like? How does it flow? In what color(s) does it appear? What shapes does it form? How do we unify that type of magic without altering how players perceive Ahri’s power? And many other questions. Answering all these questions took some time and a lot of collaboration across teams. Eventually we landed on a soft, light blue energy, slowly flowing upwards like the smoke plume from a calm candle.

A visual upgrade to Base Ahri’s W. The missile curves were tweaked to allow for more graceful motion.

Ahri’s orb is one of her most important reads. We went through many iterations to get it right. Some very detailed orbs with a very clear fox shape, some a lot smaller and faint, and anything in-between.

Given the height of the camera and how fast her movements are, we landed on a clear shape with a hint of a swirling fox shape in the orb, with some rising energy and a trail. The trails allowed us to enhance some of her quick motions, while the hint of foxy shapes helped tie her more to the fox spirits in her recall. We tried adding a more detailed fox shape in the orb, but after testing, we realized that adding too much detail in such a small area of the screen ended up muddying her read, often creating pixelated artifacts.

A fox shape sometimes appears in the orb, detailed just enough to be recognizable, but fuzzy enough as to not cause unnecessary noise at normal camera level

Ahri’s charm has always been a very contentious spell. It’s hard to read at some angles, sometimes 3D, sometimes 2D, and it was sometimes difficult to show how wide it was or where the hitbox started. We went through a ton of iterations for this spell. After many discussions with the team(s), we landed on a 3D heart that starts with a fast rotation and stabilizes in a straight line. That way the heart’s shape is always identifiable at the start of the spell no matter the angle at which it’s fired, but the width is always respected. We’re keeping the 2D heart for some of her skins (tweaked to maintain size consistency) to retain the same thematic aesthetics (like Arcade), but are pushing for the 3D heart with a similar motion in the rest of her skins.

The version of base Ahri’s E that everyone in our team and VFX community agreed was best for thematic and gameplay combined

We wanted her ult to no longer rely solely on a ground decal and to instead empower Ahri and show how powerful she is via a magical aura around her. We toned down and repurposed the ground decal to show how many stacks she currently has. Ahri should now look a bit more menacing—yet still graceful—when her ult is active.

You’ll hear (and see!) more about the rest of Ahri’s VFX soon! But for now we’re going to go back to making her the best we possibly can!

Audio

Emmanuel “Riot Gunlap” Lagumbay, Sound Designer:

While we typically make adjustments to the way a champion sounds when making a skin, making adjustments to the base template that decides how all skins sound is pretty nerve-wracking. Add in the fact that my manager was one of the folks that did some of the original sound design for Ahri, and you have me sitting there like “This is fine.” :p

That said, having an Ahri expert at hand is probably one of the greatest gifts ever. We had a lot of excellent conversations where I learned about the thought processes for why Ahri sounded the way she did, and how we could further evolve her aural experience to fit the modern League aesthetic. Our talks really ended up feeling like the conversations in the Tales of Ionia cinematic, which, in the grand scheme of things, was a perfect setting for working on Ahri.

Modernizing Ahri’s sound revolved around the idea that we, as a team, wanted to explore more of the spirit magic within her. Her kit contained a lot of fiery sound elements, like crackles, flame whooshes, and generally a lot of crushy noises that are commonly associated with fire. To further differentiate her from more fire-focused champions like Brand and Annie, our goal was to inject some more spiritual tonalities within her abilities. But then I had to ask myself, what does this blue spirit magic sound like?

Spirit Blossom sound palette

In looking through our catalog of sounds (sounds that we’ve created for League over the years and use as building blocks), we actually haven’t had the opportunity to do a LOT of exploration in the whole realm of spirit magic. Sure, we have Spirit Blossom, but we decided not to lean into that thematic, because Spirit Blossom is the fantasy version of what Runeterrans THOUGHT spirit magic would sound like. Thus, in exploring the Runeterran spirit magic, we had leaned more toward “chime-y,” slightly sparkly elements rather than the wind instruments found within Spirit Blossom. While there are some slightly vocal elements in the Runeterran spirit magic, it was a lot less aggressive than more ghastly elements found in Shadow Isles champions.

So fun fact, Ahri’s Q hit sounds were actually the same as her auto attack hit sounds! Back then, this wasn’t too uncommon, especially for caster champions whose autos weren’t necessarily as important to hear as their abilities. Reusing the assets for similar needs saved time and space!

I used this as an opportunity to revisit these sound effects and add a little more tonality to her hits. We also took the opportunity to add different sounds to her Q to differentiate between hitting the first target, multiple targets traveling away from Ahri, and a whole new set of sounds for the Q’s return journey. This allowed us to help distinguish between her regular hits (going out) and her true damage hits (going in) from an audio standpoint, and it allowed us to clean up the audio mix by taking out frequencies and shortening sound lengths a little more for when she’s clearing waves and hitting multiple targets at one time.

Some of her ability sounds also trail off a lot longer than we would want for more modern champions. I had the running joke going that “Ahri already has nine tails, she doesn’t need more,” in reference to the tails of the assets that lasted a little on the longer side.

The last biggest change on Ahri’s sound design was adding a loop sound for when Ahri has casted her ultimate. While in her spirit rush form, we thought it would be important information for players to know that the aura is still up. Since the aura can refresh based on whether or not she gets a kill while in it, we wanted something persistent to be present that wasn’t super distracting, but still provided players with information needed to make decisions. Likewise, there’s also a sound that plays when the aura dissipates.

See You Soon

There’s still a lot more to do with Ahri, and while we hope that you’re excited by what we’ve shared today, we’re going to be going quiet until she’s ready to be released early next year.

Thanks, and let us know what you think!


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