State of Gameplay, Sep 2021
Our thoughts on how various aspects of gameplay have been this year.
Hi everyone, today we’re ready to give an update on the champion you all chose for a VGU earlier this year: Udyr. We’ve been sharing our progress with all major VGUs recently, and not only have you all seemed to really like it, but we’ve also gotten some great feedback early enough to actually affect the direction of the projects. So this feels like a win/win for everyone!
Before we get to the meat of it, let's recap why we chose Udyr and what our goals are. Udyr made it to the VGU poll because he’s one of the last really, really visually outdated champions in the game. Beyond that, his gameplay is over a decade old, and it FEELS like it (unlike, let’s say Lee Sin, who still feels pretty good after all these years).
With that in mind, our main goals for Udyr’s update are…
With that, three of the devs currently working on Udyr will go more in-depth on what we’re exploring for Udyr’s gameplay, art, and narrative design.
Stash “Stashu” Chelluck, Gameplay Designer:
Hello! Riot Stashu here, and I’d like to talk a bit about how our man-bear-phoenix’s gameplay has been coming along.
I was pretty thrilled when I got the Udyr update because Udyr and I go wayyyy back. I’ve played League for over a decade now, but I still remember the awe I felt when I first scrolled through Udyr’s kit in the shop all those years ago—all melee, no ultimate!? The mad man. I was intrigued and began my stance dancing journey asap. I first learned how to jungle with phoenix Udyr, but soon took him up top lane and had a blast first-blooding my unsuspecting opponents with the unfair red potion + tiger stance start. Eventually I got more into playing champions that had a few more tricks up their sleeves, but me and Udyr spent a long time together kicking butt and he’ll always have a special place in my heart.
Since Udyr’s early days, it feels like just about everything else about League has changed, and yet somehow his classic style has weathered it all. Even in today’s faster paced, longer-ranged, bigger-and-scarier world, Udyr somehow manages to keep up and throw down with the best of them using his brutally simple kit. His popularity has waxed and waned over the years, but somehow there have always been plenty of players in his corner ready to stance dance and maul their way through the Rift (especially recently, after seeing him clean up in the competitive split).
So! What I’m getting at is that while his straight-forward melee style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s clear that Udyr’s gameplay has stood the test of time. The all-melee brawler has carved out a clear niche for himself, so the plan is to stay true to the Udyr we all know and love with this VGU. You may ask, then, why are we updating his gameplay if he’s so great? Well! We think the core of Udyr is really strong, but see two main areas for improvement:
Variance/High Moments: Udyr’s pace of play is pretty consistent from the moment he dings level two. With no ultimate or other high-power options and a passive that says “always be castin’,” Udyr is constantly churning out medium/low-impact spells and doesn’t hit those jaw-dropping moments that other champions can produce. We’d like to mix this up a little bit, and introduce a few moments where everyone can look over and see Udyr doing something a little more visibly awesome and powerful.
Thematic Execution: Udyr’s “Animal-Shaman-X-Martial-Artist” theme is pretty cool in a vacuum, but doesn’t feel connected to Runeterra in a satisfying way; if Udyr can channel the greatest spiritual powers of the Frejlord, what’s up with the turtle and the monkey? There’s nothing wrong with these animals per se, and we want to keep true to Udyr when possible, but we think that by making a few thematic tweaks, we can make an Udyr that has far more exciting connections to the world around him and to those that would fight him for it. Whatever theming changes we make here, the gameplay will embrace them to really make Udyr shine.
So to summarize, Udyr’s gameplay update will address: adding variance (and high moments) and delivering more strongly on a theme (see the narrative section for a bit more there!). With that in mind, the rest of the design team and I discussed what we believed to be core to Udyr, and decided to try to preserve the following:
With the higher level stuff sorted, we got to work. How did it go in practice? Well, the team brainstormed a bunch of possible ways to heighten Udyr’s high moments. We came up with directions like: Udyr permanently gains a super-buff based on whichever stance he maxes first, Udyr can have two stances active at once, Udyr has an ultimate that turns him into the avatar of whichever current stance he’s in, and dozens more.
Finally after much paper kitting and vetting, we were excited to try a version of Udyr where he got a similar set of four stances as always, but occasionally gets to use a “super version” of each stance.
The original pitch for this “super stance” kit was that stances would passively grow in power as they went unused, such that if Udyr didn’t cast a stance for several minutes it would be SUPER CHARGED and have some special and more powerful effect. Everyone was excited about their forgotten stance occasionally being worth casting, so we tried it out. It had some mixed results; managing this power up was awkward and often ran counter to the things the player naturally wanted to do, but having the power up and using the super-verison of a stance was actually very exciting!
After many iterations and variants of “super stance,” we think there might be something here. Today we’re playing around with kits where Udyr can recast his active stance to use the super version (on a cooldown). We’re still considered other possible directions, but here’s Udyr casting some [experimental] stances and recasting them:
His secondary resource bar indicates the recast cooldown, but the CD was reduced dramatically for this capture.
(Also, yes, that’s a skillshot in there. We experimented with breaking some of those core Udyr rules; it’s good practice to test our assumptions to see if they’re more constraining than useful. In this case, the “all melee” constraint seemed correct so we decided to stick to it.)
My next plan is to explore just how far super stances can go. Should they be simple upgrades to the base stance, or can they be a little more differentiated? What are the craziest effects we can add on empowers? And so on.
And that’s about it! Now remember, we’re still at the point where nearly all of this can change, but I’m feeling pretty good about where we’re going. Thanks for reading, I’m so glad to have been able to share our progress with everyone!
Justin “RiotEarp” Albers, Concept Artist:
Udyr has been around for a long time—AND has seen a lot of things happen in the world of Runeterra. He's a very unique champion in our roster because he has immense spirit power that he channels in combat, which denotes an extreme ability to have discipline, but his outset appearance is very organic, primal, and almost humble in a way, like that of a monk. No crazy huge armor, extra limbs, demon horns, or anything of that sort, but a primal battle-ready confidence that only someone from the Freljord can possess.
From the first explorations we shared in April, we as a team centered around the Mountain Brawler, Wild Druid, and MMA Shaman, and were even more confident when you all keyed in on those same iterations. We may use some of the other initial explorations as inspiration for his Spirit Guard skin, like for example the Deity Invoker. For base Udyr, we want his melee-feel to take priority because at the end of the day, he still physically attacks his enemies. The Spirit Guard skin leans more into the spirit realm (obviously), so we can get away with more spirit energy visuals there, and then both can have their own unique space.
Now that we had direction for his base character, I wanted to explore how to visually represent the animal spirit energy he channels.
From there my goal was to organize his thematics into three visual pillars (at least in my mind to help me understand his thematic hierarchy):
I'll be first to admit Udyr’s hair was a bit off in the first spread, and lots of you called us out on that! The intent was to give him a cleaner style, almost like that of a fighting game character in order to denote his melee combat abilities, but in doing so I strayed too far from Udyr's shamanistic wandering lifestyle. He's out in the woods, not in the streets, so we explored some options that were more influenced by his lifestyle and wild man aesthetic.
In refining his overall design, we thought it would be way cooler and more unique if Udyr had tattoos of the animals whose spirit energy he channels. The antlers around his head add a lot to his silhouette, and is a very universal shaman visual. Although we tried versions where he had the antlers on his shoulders, it felt more like an armor set and less interesting than when they were around his head, so I also needed to work out how that attachment worked. Also, he’s a hairy dude!
Next we will be figuring out what each stance will look like—we want to make each stance as powerful-feeling and indicative of the Freljordian animals as possible. Lots to do still, but we wanted to share where we’re headed!
Dana Luery “griddlebones” Shaw, Narrative Writer:
One of the first things the team discussed when we started working on Udyr was that he’s got some really cool lore already. Skiptomyluo’s short story “A Walk with the Voices” and WAAAARGHbobo’s “Silence for the Damned” both paint a picture of a man in conflict with spirits, humans, animals, gods, and himself most of all. He’s a man who struggles to walk the line between animal instinct and practiced mastery, between the physical world and the spirits, between overwhelming connection and icy isolation. He lives in this interesting in-between space, where all of these pieces of himself are in conflict with one another and yet he has managed to find the balance within that conflict, to find himself among the endless voices of others.
To me, that’s not a champion that needs a rework, that’s a champion that just needs an update.
We’re not changing much of Udyr’s lore, but we are diving deeper into who he is, how his mind works, how his abilities work, why he fights, why he fights the way that he does, and what his connection to the Freljord looks like. I’d like to bring that idea of “balance within conflict” to the forefront, with his belief that the Freljord thrives on struggle and obstacles and combat, and that peace would be its ultimate undoing. When Udyr fights, he’s fighting to keep the balance of the Freljord by using two sources of strength and tension—physical prowess and spiritual power.
But if Udyr is fighting for the Freljord, with the spirits of the Freljord at his beck and call, you wouldn’t know it from his current stances. Most of his current abilities are linked to animals that sound Ionian, which, sure, he spent many years training there. However, he came of age in the tundra, intensely familiar with its mystical landscape and needs, and has returned to his homeland. Isn’t it time that Udyr’s abilities reflected his home and his heritage?
We’re exploring a few options, but the one I find most compelling is linking his abilities to those of the most powerful spirits in the north: the demigods. Volibear, Anivia, Ornn, and… did you know that there were others? The lore names at least two more. Udyr wouldn’t be drawing on their power directly (“Silence for the Damned” illustrates why that would be a bad idea—Volibear, at least, can exert control over people who tap into his power), but perhaps the animals that most closely resemble the demigods are enveloped in their spiritual energy and can lend him their own enhanced strength.
And though the demigods are the most powerful beings of the Freljord, they aren’t necessarily the most powerful beings in the Freljord. Those would be far beneath the ice, under the watchful eyes of the same people who killed Udyr’s tribe when he was young. Perhaps there’s a connection there, another path for Udyr’s story to walk...
We’re planning to release Udyr in 2022, so you can expect the next /dev blog towards the end of the year, once we enter full production. In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you think so far: What excites you? What would you want to see more of? Does anything feel untrue to Udyr? We’ll be reading through your thoughts and feedback, as we want your help in making the best warrior-animal-shaman-martial-artist-monk possible.