Quick Gameplay Thoughts 1/14: Preseason 2022
A closer look at how Preseason 2022 has landed.
Noxus has a problem. No, it’s not just Demacia’s penchant for spinning nationalists, the creeping threat of the Black Mist, or the ever-increasing number of demons in Runeterra. Their problem is closer to home. And it’s metal as f&^%.
Mordekaiser is inevitable. And Noxus must stop at nothing to defeat him.
But what does that look like? Are they willing to throw aside all morals to construct their ultimate weapon? And what happens when it turns against them?
Rell happens. And Noxus is not prepared.
When the dev team first started working on Rell, they had two things to go off of: dark support and tank. That’s not quite enough to make a character, so they did what anyone would do: turn to the artist.
“We really loved the idea of creating a tanky support. It’d been a long time since we’d made one—Braum was actually the last,” says senior concept artist Justin “Riot Earp” Albers. “But unlike Braum, we wanted her to have a darker past and personality. I explored a few different options, but everyone was really attached to the metal bending concept. After we landed on that, we just had to decide where Rell came from.”
When darkness, strength, and armor are involved, there’s one area of Runeterra that just really works: Noxus. It’s a land of inclusivity, tolerance, and opportunity —at least, to those willing to put aside ethics for a chance at power.
“ The Black Rose , who run Noxus’ clandestine operations, are interested in some horrible things to further the empire’s expansion and power,” explains narrative lead Jared “Carnival Knights” Rosen. “Demon calling, Void magic, resurrecting and controlling dead gods... A little of this, a little of that. And one of the things this group of crappy 1000-year-old aristocrats have discovered is sigil magic, which has the ability to rip the magic out of living things and then forcibly put it into someone else.”
So when the team was looking for a way to explain Rell’s “dark past,” they focused on that dark side of Noxus.
Born to an agent of The Black Rose and a ranking Noxian soldier, Rell’s magic manifested at an early age—in the incredibly rare form of ferromancy , or metal manipulation. Perfect for combatting Mordekaiser, a revenant attached to metal. So her parents did what any truly patriotic Noxian would: They sent her to an academy for magical kids, to be turned into weapons for Noxus.
Rell spent years at this facility, forced to fight the other students under the guise of “learning from one another to improve.” And she defeated every single one.
But as she bested the other students and grew increasingly powerful, they began to disappear. Torn from her life, just as the instructors tore the magic from their bodies and implanted it into Rell, their ultimate weapon .
“The magic from the other kids is placed into Rell with the sigil magic, which empowers her own latent powers,” explains Riot Earp. “But the process is incredibly painful, for both Rell and the other students. I focused a lot on adding the sigils to her arms—especially the one that holds her lance—to make sure it’s clear when playing her. I wanted the pain that she underwent to be clear to players, so they understood her past.”
When Rell defeats other students, they either die from their wounds or the staff tears the magic from their bodies to implant into Rell. And that process leaves them null, in a zombie-like state devoid of magic and emotion.
But Rell never signed up for this. She doesn’t want to fight her friends, the only ones who ever showed her compassion and love. And once Rell finds out she’s been lied to and forced into harming others... She’s furious at everyone and everything. And she tears the entire place down.
“Anger is such a hard emotion to empathize with, and we wanted to make sure players could understand where Rell was coming from. All of the pain she’s gone through, the heartbreak,” says narrative editor Elan “Qulani” Stimmel. “It’s also one of the reasons we decided to make Rell young—it’s much easier to understand and relate to a young person’s fury. Most teenagers are filled with angst, and that’s without discovering their life has been fueled by lies.”
This is where we meet Rell. She’s free from the facility. The Black Rose got what they wanted. Noxus’ greatest weapon is finally unleashed.
“I wanted to make Rell the tankiest tank the world has ever seen. I had this idea of a heavily armored character who sunders the ground she walks on, making the earth beneath her collapse from her might,” says game designer Stash “Riot Stashu” Chelluck. “Unfortunately that’s hard to display in League, and I still needed to make sure she thematically felt like she was manipulating metal. I was looking for neat ways to map her ferromantic powers into her gameplay, to really make her feel powerful and hard hitting without feeling like a mage.”
That meant the team needed to understand what exactly ferromancy is. How does it work? What does it look like in League? And how do they make sure Rell feels like a tank, not a metal-slinging mage?
“I wanted to make sure that Rell visually reads as a tank,” says Riot Earp. “When I was designing her armor, which is made from metal from the school, I wanted to make sure it read that she’s incredibly strong and powerful. The metal part of her armor is bulky and dark. So to balance this I gave it a dress-like silhouette.”
Rell crafted her armor using her ferromancy. It acts as a sort of magnetic field that allows her to control latent metal in the ground, metal that touches her directly, or any that comes close to her. What she
do is reach hundreds of meters across a battlefield to pick up a single person and crush their
“Because Rell needs to be close to her enemies to manipulate their armor, and she plays as a tank, I needed to make sure that her gameplay fit that,” Riot Stashu explains. “Her ultimate became the best way to illustrate that particular tank fantasy. She becomes supercharged with power and enemies in her vicinity get pulled in, but it doesn’t interrupt their casts or channels.”
But that still doesn’t explain what ferromancy looks like in League. How do you make something invisible clear in a game that requires clarity?
“When I started on Rell I didn’t really have any idea how to give ferromancy clear effects. It’s funny, I actually started by looking at magnets,” shares VFX artist Kyle “RiotPrismaPrime” Valentin. “I don’t really understand how they work, but I know that the way they pull is incredibly strong, and it’s often portrayed as distortion in the electron molecules in the air.”
After some tinkering with different effects and forms of light manipulation, RiotPrismaPrime landed on something he felt was uniquely Rell: chromatic aberration. By focusing on color distortion, RiotPrismaPrime made it appear as if light bent differently around Rell when she cast her abilities. And by adding her highlight colors of red and yellow, it added a more earthy, ragey element that demonstrated her personality.
“While ferromancy isn’t a new concept in fantasy or sci-fi, it’s new to Runeterra, and needed to be audibly different from other forms of magic,” explains sound designer Darren “Riot DummerWitz” Lodwick. “And it should be distinguishable from other metal-wielding champions like Mordekaiser and Leona. So I used a bunch of different methods and sources, like grinding metal, dry ice, and a lot of processing to make the metal sound fluid.”
“One of our other goals with Rell was to hit on the ‘armored and mounted knight’ thematic,” says Riot Stashu. “And because I wanted her to be so tanky, I needed to figure out how it’d work with her gameplay. We wanted her to be this unstoppable, slow-moving tank, but that kind of feels bad in League because the game relies heavily on movement, positioning, and dodging. But I couldn’t stop thinking of that idea, and I needed to find a way to make it palatable.”
Because Rell has the ability to manipulate metal to her will, she clearly wouldn’t spend all day walking around, lugging heavy armor everywhere... right? She’d need something that freed her up to move faster.
Finding the right mount for Rell ended up taking more work than the team expected. It couldn’t be too cute, because it’s Rell we’re talking about. She’s on a mission to hunt down the faculty at the academy and slay them where they stand, she’s not going to ride a rainbow unicorn to do that. But anything that was too... otherworldly wouldn’t give the clear “mounted knight” read.
“I explored a few options for the appearance of Rell’s mount,” shares Riot Earp. “I tried a lot early on like abstract metal figures or a basilisk. But none of them worked because they were visually confusing. So I decided to stick to a horse, but make it more metal and hollow. This way it’s clear this isn’t the type of horse you’d feed carrots to.”
Rell’s form swapping let the team explore two very unique gameplay fantasies: the tankiest tank and the mounted knight. Because she can swap between these two forms (on a cooldown, of course) they were free to lean hard into each. When Rell dives the backline and dismounts, she moves incredibly slowly, but has more armor and magic resistance. She’s looking for the fight, and she won’t run from it.
“When Rell makes the decision to enter the fight and dismounts, she’s stuck in that form for a while,” Riot Stashu shares. “The upside is that we made her really tanky, so she can survive for a bit, but she’s not unkillable. She actually got the nickname ‘the int horse’ during playtests. She can get to any fight on her horse, but she’s fully committed to it once she dismounts. But that’s okay. Players will figure it out, and once they do it’ll feel amazing.”
But there was a small hiccup in the mounting fantasy the team wanted to hit. It was hard to animate... Like really hard.
“Making Rell’s mounting animation feel good was really challenging. The horse is the avatar of her rage and magnetic powers, and I wanted it to be this cinematic moment for players so it would match the fantasy of her riding into battle,” says senior animator David “davehelsby” Helsby. “Each individual piece of her armor needed to be animated, and it needed to be visually clear while still delivering on that exciting moment. I spent a lot of time visually lining up each piece of metal from the horse to her biped armored form.”
There’s another reason for wanting Rell to embody the “mounted knight” thematic... Remember the null children from the academy? She certainly does.
“At the end of the day it could be easy to look at Rell and think that she’s just angry, full of hate, or out for revenge... And while I’m not saying that’s not true, her ultimate goal is much softer than that,” says Carnival Knights. “She commiserates with these kids more than she can with anyone else. And she’ll stop at nothing to save them. In many ways she’s a gallant knight. She wants to defend those who can’t, starting with the other kids.”
Rell could have been different if anything in her life had changed. If her parents hadn’t handed her over to the Black Rose, if she hadn’t discovered the truth of the school, or if she’d been shown a sliver of love. But that’s not what happened.
And while Rell won’t dwell on the past, that doesn’t mean she can’t find a little joy in the life she has now...
“The first thing I thought of when I heard Rell was a teenager and had a mount was a coin-operated horse ride—like the ones outside of grocery stores,” recalls davehelsby. “I’ve seen teenagers ride them a lot. And it’s so interesting because you see a person on the cusp of being an adult, but there’s still a bit of kid in them. I just feel like that made sense for Rell. She has a lot of adult responsibilities on her shoulders, but she’s still a kid, and she deserves a little fun.”