Welcome back to Talking Tactics, your go-to article series for TFT devs to chat about, well anything. Today we’re chatting about the creation of our two summons in Runeterra Reforged: Baron and T-Hex. But, we won’t stop there, we’ll also chat a bit about their reception now that we’re over half way through the set, and what that reception means to us as we look towards future TFT releases! So without further ado, let me intro our speakers:
Steve Oh - Animation Lead on Runeterra Reforged; Baron & T-Hex Animation
Jimmy “Riot JimJam” Vu - Senior VFX Artist on TFT, responsible for Baron Nashor’s VFX
Mike Barquero - VFX Artist II on TFT, worked on all aspects of T-Hex’s VFX from concept to implementation
Rodger “Riot Prism” Caudill - Community Manager on TFT who writes the words on things like Patch Notes, video content, and more
It all started when Kent approached us with a pitch, “I want players to experience a memorable game at some point in the set where their huge T-Hex fights another player’s gigantic Baron in an epic final showdown of kaijus.” Right off the bat, we knew we had to make these units stand out much more than any other.
TFT’s never had two summons, from distinct traits. The closest we’ve had to that was in Gizmos & Gadgets with Innovator, where we used Annie’s Tibbers and the Hextech Dragon from Summoner’s Rift, but with Baron and T-Hex we were bringing iconic characters from Runeterra to life. There was a lot of pressure with that, as those characters already had a ton of fandom, and even lore behind them. We had our work cut out for us.
When we discovered that we were going to put Baron Nashor into TFT as a new unit, we were ecstatic. As a team we’re pretty used to working on champions, which are interesting in their own way, but having the chance to bring something as epic as Baron to life—we jumped at the opportunity. We wanted to lean into making Baron Nashor feel epic, since he has a legacy in Summoner's Rift. Accomplishing this would involve contributions from multiple disciplines.
As the reward for hitting 8 Void, we wanted the ceremony around summoning him to feel ominous and large. Baron enters with an epic roar when summoned, along with a large Area of Effect stun around him. Then, Baron Nashor cycles between 3 different abilities, which makes him quite a threat to oppose and alludes to his sort-of spell rotation in Summoner’s Rift.
Similar to Silco, Sohm, and Nomsy from previous sets, Baron was also getting his very own custom model, rig, animations, and VFX for TFT as a unique character.
For the model, we had to make sure that Baron had a back side. When you play Summoner’s Rift, you never really see Baron from behind, so he’s developed without a real one. So one of the first things we had to do was give Baron a butt—well, a backside at least.
For its movements, one of my favorite custom animations that we created for Baron was the build-up for the acid spit ability. Steve Oh created an awesome animation where it looked like there was a mass of acid traveling upward from Baron's stomach until it reached his mouth. To emphasize that motion, I added some subtle purple VFX glows that traveled along that mass. This was a small detail but a cool ad that made TFT’s Baron, even more Baron-y.
At the crossroads of gameplay and visuals, we were able to create a Baron that is truly monstrous, one that definitely can’t be solo’d by a fed jungler at the very least.
I remember seeing the initial concepts for T-Hex during various art reviews and got so excited because we were bringing such an iconic summon from Legends of Runeterra to life in TFT.
At first, T-Hex started out as a super edgy, scary, mecha-monster fit for any modern movie where a towering tyrannosaurus with guns was called for. While that was cool, that was neither true to TFT’s style, or the fantasy of the technological-fantastical mecha-beings Heimerdinger would create. We quickly had to adjust the art to make it fit more within the TFT universe and become the most friendly mecha-dinosaur with murderous weapons for beams that we could possibly make. A lot of that TFT zany cuteness shows up more in the smaller, unpowered version of T-Hex which is fitting because at least when you’re lose streaking you’ll have this cute little mecha-dino to stay positive an evoke the “I’m doing this for you bud,” feeling. It’s worth noting that the team did explore versions of T-Hex that were even too cutesy.
Together with design and animation we thought about a kit that would fit T-Hex. We had to hit the ground running as T-Hex came in late in the production pipeline, especially for making a completely original character from scratch—something relatively new for the TFT team.
Design had a clear vision for these two characters; one of having both of them on the board at the same time, battling it out for Kaiju/giant monster supremacy. To meet this concept, we originally had the T-Hex breathe fire, but we had an even better opportunity to explore the fantasy of T-Hex as one of the greatest weapons hextech technology has to offer. What’s more hextech than blue magic/electric laser beams stemming from this massive Piltover weapon of destruction? The laser beam also allowed us to take a ton of screen real estate, which is important for a unit so powerful, without actually diluting gameplay clarity—a huge win that even the Technogenius, Heimerdinger, would appreciate. Oh, one more note about this vision, there’s an easter egg that happens when 4-star T-Hex kills Baron: she gains “Baron’s Head” as an item. It doesn’t do anything in game, but it sure is intimidating!
After that, everything fell into place. It was a whirlwind of back and forth between animation and design, it was a new workflow, a new character, but at the end of the day worth it not only because we feel we did justice to the lore—which is very important to us, but also because our players loved T-Hex’s thematic design upon release.
T-Hex was a labor of love. The timeline was stressful, being true to the Legends of Runeterra (mentioned*) concept was stressful, making a large scale unit that could compete with Baron was… you guessed it, stressful, but we learned a ton in overcoming these challenges and are excited to apply these learnings (and wins) to our next set.
Our Dev Drop and even PBE for Runeterra Reforged was a while ago, but wow, we’re still blown away by the positive reception. Seeing all that excitement for our work was awesome and super motivating. Especially given just how difficult creating units from scratch is for the team. All this positive feedback just confirmed that we were headed in the right direction, and that we should continue pushing new character concepts even more.
It’s always been a really interesting challenge to create totally new characters and fit them into TFT style. Whenever we recreate new units, the process goes far beyond just modeling and game design. For units like Silco, Nomsy, and even Sohm, we would have to create voice lines, sound effects, splash art, and even in-universe narrative. A ton of work goes into this, and so many people from marketing, to PIE, to Sparks (external studio), narrative, and even our player community team are involved in various aspects of production. That’s the beauty of being a smaller team, we really get everyone involved and our designs benefit from all our unique expertise.
TFT’s grown a ton, and it still is, but we want to be sure to continue taking this level of cross-discipline collaboration seriously, and there really will be no better example of this than our next set. As a game that started off as a mode, it’s amazing to see us grow from just borrowing content from League of Legends. We think players across all of Riot’s games are going to be blown away with how TFT has become leaders in this space, innovating with our own light-hearted style and original designs. We’re super excited to commit to this with concepts coming in future sets that other Riot games may be able to borrow from as we once borrowed from them.