IronStylus on Sivir's VU and Relaunches/VU in General

Posted on at 9:01 PM by Moobeat
With all this recent talk of Visual Updates and Relaunches , a discussion on the future Sivir visual update has sparked up and IronStylus has stepped in to throw out some of his ideas.
Continue reading for a diary of IronStylus post, in which he shares his opinions a Sivir VU, and a very well put post regarding the process of VU and Relaunches in general.

(  It's worth mentioning this stuff shouldn't be taken as law but rather one of the giving their opinions of this fugly champion. )

Thoughts on Sivir's VU
Sharing his general thoughts on Sivir and what to do with her visual update,  IronStylus shared his desire to give her much more of a personality.

"Something I think that's an opportunity with Sivir is to solidify a personality in her. Much like our more overt characters like you've stated, Sivir needs some personality landmarks. If she's a mercenary, then maybe we mix some Xena with some Han Solo. Maybe we take a bit of Laura Croft in the sort of woman-of-status turned vigilante/adventurer. If she has a sort of "charge!" mentality. Maybe we figure out how to amplify that. 
There's a lot of fertile ground with Sivir in that she's largely a bank slate. That's really good actually, it means we have a lot of room to play and to slot her into a more fitting faction possibly, or maybe just giving her more significance in her current faction. Right now, to me at least, her story and character in general feels like a bit of a one-off. I very much dislike one-offs unless there are eventual plans to further deepen the story with subsequent characters.

Sivir I think has the potential to be a very integral character with a lot of attitude. I love that she's a strong lady, I think we can show that even more with a good story. This doesn't mean she has to lose any sexiness, from costume to concept or content of personality, we just amp up the sort of sexy that she is.

Personally I'm very excited about a Sivir VU. It's a great playground and wonderful opportunity for some real character cohesion."
Elaborating on this point further, he continued:
"Exactly, she's not really a contested territory. She's very flat right now. I choose to think that that's a good thing, it gives us a lot of room to play and make a very cohesive theme to wrap her character around. 
Again, if a theme is decided upon that can override the base elements of a characters look, we construct the higher fidelity base as a skin. That gives us a lot of room to strengthen and possibly redefine a character if we feel there's a compelling direction."
Continuing on, IronStylus sympathized with someone who pointed out all the muddled elements from Sivir's lore; she's actually a successful mercenary who is very wealthy, she originally held several titles and allegiances to Noxus but sounds "good", etc.
"Yyyyup. A lot of confusing elements, right? Or, a lot of elements that have no rhyme or reason to the,, very arbitrary. I hate arbitrary... 
Also, that arbitrariness turns into visual noise. Stylistically, she's iconic but for all the wrong reasons. Large feet, extreme contrast, detail distribution problems. She needs some reason behind her design, and to inject a healthy amount of practicality that will dictate said design. So, factional context, personality. A cohesive fantasy we're trying to fulfill. She needs those landmarks.

Her weapon, the most iconic element on her, desperately needs a reason to be there. Either it's some special thing she's crafted, or an artifact, or something otherwise special. It can't just be a thing she carries around. Anything from Excalibur to Krull, or Leona's sword and shield to Graves' gun, those are all in essence small characters in and of themselves. I feel the same needs to happen with Sivir. She needs reasons to be the way she is, those reasons will define how we execute and how we problem solve."
Elaborating further on Sivir's weapon, he commented:
"A craft she has discovered and home is a reason for it to be there, and it will have significance, visually, that will tell that story. There are a myriad of reasons for it to be there, but one or more of those reasons at least have to be there in the first place. Right now there's nothing that tells you that this thing is important in one way or another. Its just there. Because she's a champion, something extraordinary should allow her to wield the weapon, whether that's skill alone or something else is up for consideration."

IronStylus followed these comments up by responding to a other summoner concerns about Sivir's visual update.

When asked if she will become muscular and bulky, he responded:
"I wouldn't make her too bulky, but I'd get her away from the spagetti syndrome she has going on at the moment."

Another summoner questioned if she will remain "sexy" as her current default is rather revealing  to which IronStylus replied:
"Yes. Sivir, if we're to adhere to her base look currently, needs to retain the sexy battle princess thing."
He continued:
"I'm actually cool with her being sort of ostentatious to some regard. That's attitude and personality. "Hey, I'm warrior princess lady, ready for battle, but I do love to flaunt some style." At the very least that's an angle. That's a reason for jewels, or other spoils, to be worn by her."

Following the same sort of theme, someone also questioned if her other skins will also remain "sexy" or would be changed with a visual update. He explained:
"Skins have to pretty much stay in-line with what we've established, but their execution level can rise. Small geo changes are usually ok if we can strengthen the theme of the skin."

Continuing the line of skin questions, another summoner asked if we will be seeing a "Traditional Sivir" skin, that is an updated skin that resembles the old base model because the new, post VU theme is drastically different or reimagined.  ( For an example, see Karma vs Traditional Karma ). IronStylus responds:
"Depends if there's a theme in Sivir that can be embraced on a deeper level that would resonate enough to override any standalone elements of her current base."

When asked about potential game play and ability changes, he reminded us that that isn't the kind of thing he deals with directly.
"Gameplay tweaks are beyond the scope of what I deal with personally. It might be in scope of the team as a whole, but I'm not aware of any major mechanical changes."

Down the line, another summoner made the remark he was surprised that Riot didn't decide to relaunch Sivir as a Freljord champion. In response, IronStylus teased:
"I have a better idea."

Relaunches and Visual Updates
Fair warning this is a massive wall of text but it is well worth the read. In the below novella, IronStylus shares his thoughts on the relaunch / visual update process - what goes into it, why they need to be done, the difficulty of pleasing everyone, the important of a cohesive story and context, how the community influences the finished product, and so much more.

"Here's the thing, and this is probably going to be essay length here, so, ya know, strap in. 
The VU and Relaunch initiative will always be contentious, it will always be passionately debated and it will always leave some feeling disenfranchised. That, unfortunately, is the nature of content creation in League of Legends. This goes into base champion development, skin development, features, maps, balance, everything. Managing expectations is key, and we can only do so much to front load the process, mitigating feedback, selectively incorporating the actionable feedback, all wrapped up in shipping something on time, to millions of people. 
To be blunt, we cannot practically crowd source the work that Relaunch has to do. We can collect a certain amount of data (Davin has a much better perspective on that than I do), we can take a look at community feedback, and we can trust our guts as developers and players ourselves. This will never be perfect, and yes, sometimes hearts will be broken. This is unavoidable, but there's necessity in upping quality, making cohesive themes, and adding to our universe where there's opportunity.

We realize certain champions are iconic and lovable but honestly, some of those iconic associations relate to sub-par execution. A character has gone awry and ended up to be not what was intended, and it’s become so niche due to execution that it’s creating problems with the development of the roster and the world as a whole.

Back in the day we didn't have as many resources as we do now. We were not able to take on the Herculean task of IP development. We have the opportunity now where we can make decisions in a non-one-off basis and instead on a much more holistic level, where we're treating each character as a part of a diverse and deep universe. Right now that's pretty easy with new content, but it leaves gaping holes in old content. Older content feels clunky, low fidelity, and not cohesive. That does need to be rectified if we hope to maintain and strengthen a universe that has depth, breadth, and contrast. We now can construct the framework we will abide by and execute going forward and retroactively. This is a big initiative, it can be a painful process, but its for the health of the organism as a whole. 
Let's take for example Zac. He's a fantastic example of all the current guidelines in place. He has a cohesive backstory with grounding in a faction, a relationship with that faction, a relationship with his family in that faction, and a corresponding or reactionary personality in relation to that faction. Personality wise, he has a reason to be what he is. Mechanically, this strong foundational storytelling makes him feel exactly like th e product of his story, and the embodiment of his theme, gooey blob guy who's misunderstood and despite is icky outward appearance, due to his upbringing, has a heart of gold. This is concise, this is complete.

All three pillars of art, creative design, and game design are equally strengthened by a cohesive theme and fantasy. Those pillars are not necessarily in place with a lot of old content. That content needs those pillars if its to live up to the fidelity and thematic consistency that were trying to make standard. That process will inexorably rip out the guts of some of that content depending on if we feel there is a much stronger theme or enhancement we can embrace. However, I’m under no illusion that this might be a little troubling to people who feel their favorite characters are under assault. Often though, large scale changes are made only when we feel a character is a little flat. It’s not without really good reason that we do such changes.

That said, no assurances from our side will completely convince everyone, that’s just not possible. Change is difficult, and we understand that. We also however, as developers who are extremely in touch with the product we work on, feel as though we’re trustworthy enough to carry out major overhauls of character which we see opportunity in reforging. We make the game, we do have a little bit of knowledge on its workings. Indeed, we’ll be accused of dismantling that which is charming or endearing, but that’s a particular perspective. One person’s version of strengthening a character is another’s version of diluting. We cannot please everyone, but we can indeed make the best effort to shore up the structural foundation of a character that needs love holistically, and possibly dramatically. 
That might seem like a lofty directive, or significant taking of licence on our part, but we believe this is healthy. This very much can be viewed in terms of balance. We balance mechanically, now we’re balancing creatively and artistically. As the “meta” changes, which it is, we are accounting for that with upping the quality of the content’s visuals, and balancing out the lore and story where it needs to be adjusted. I realize that’s sort of a clinical way of approaching it, but this is essentially a formulaic explanation of a situation that’s very emotional and personal. We do have to do it however, for the health of our visual quality consistency and the cohesion of our IP. 
Also, we have to look globally at this. Realize, that when any dev comes out here on the NA forums, we are addressing a miniscule fraction of the overall reaction to a particular piece of content. Not to diminish the voices that we hear, because every piece of positively framed feedback is sought and mulled over by us, but it represents a small fraction of the overall audience. We don’t want to be guided specifically by the mass sway of the population at large, especially when dealing with niche character types, we do absolutely need to take a global approach, find out what is appealing, and adjust if we feel it’s necessary. That adjustment however is not driven by numbers, or by particular cultural representation in our audience, it’s driven solely by our internal creative vision and desire to balance out the visual and creative quality. We are not ignoring any passionate argument or feedback, we are carefully weighing all of it. We read all of it, and we selectively utilize what we can when it’s actionable.

I realize that this stark analysis of the process can seem disenfranchising, that’s sort of a given in any situation that involves change. You are inherently disenfranchising a segment of the population that is accustomed to the status quo when you make the change, that’s just a fact. We have to mitigate the fallout from that unavoidable damage by creating contingencies such as traditional skins, or other aspect that we can retain in a character to properly give the respect to the existing player base that they deserve. We can try soften the blow to the players who are attached, but in the end, we are dealing with massive changes obviously. I completely understand and honor that feeling of disruption to something they are accustomed to. We are not trying to make unhappy players, we are trying to better the content to allow more people to enjoy that content, and broaden appeal, but not for the sake of broadening appeal.

Dealing with niche audiences is obviously also challenging. When we look at niches, we find that the players who very much enjoy the character are heavily entrenched. They are passionate, they have found charm in places where other players don’t, they take thier love of a character to such a deep level that it’s very painful for them to witness such changes. That’s honestly why we go to the lengths we go to. We do a whole lot of analysis, internally, to consider those most passionate players above all.

It guides a lot of our decision making. We want to broaden appeal as I’ve stated, but we want to remain true in any way possible. That’s extremely difficult. So, thats why we do traditional skins, that’s why we do messaging, that’s why guys like me, Grumpy Monkey and Morello get out here to try to explain process and reasoning. It’s not always going to soothe however, and we know that. We’ve prepared ourselves for the storm of feedback, with its share of negative feedback, and we willingly accept the responsibility. Some of us on Relaunch have specifically been chosen to work on the team for the specific reason that we can communicate on top of the ability to execute our craft. We’re highly cognizant of community sentiment, we integrate what feedback we can, and we’re able to explain our motivations. That’s why I say that I’m happy to tank. I’ll gladly shoulder burden and blame, and I’l explain my reasoning, but I’ll also hold my ground where I feel we’re achieving proper goals.

In terms of player communication back to the team, that’s a very excellent question ask which I don’t know the answer to. I’m not sure about what the right conduits back to the team from the public are. We do a heavy audit of the forums obviously, but maybe that’s not enough. We also do data analysis, we consult with Rioters who are close to particular champions, or who may have been there at their creation, and we meet a lot about goals and fulfilling those goals. Maybe we do need to find another way for players to communicate back, but I can’t really speak to that. It’s something I can raise, but again, I don’t think that there will be a panacea here. There will still be discontent wherever we have change. Our task is to mitigate the discontent and explain our reasoning. 
I think a key component we need to rely on is messaging. Documenting and showing our development process. At least that shows that we’re not making these changes on a whim, or without consideration. That will address some of the base’s concerns, but again, will only go so far. My feeling though is that because of the passion surrounding relaunches we need to have a good messaging strategy and good explanations. That’s part of our job. 
It’s going to sound dumb, but people will have to at the end of the day trust us. We’re not operating in a vacuum, divorced from player feedback, making decisions on numbers or other such assumptions. There needs to be a two way street of respect between players and developers. Just like we are trying to honor even the most niche slice of players, and make really sweeping judgements that are aligned with those slices, we need the trust of players to execute as craftsman. I know it’s going to be difficult, I know there will be inherent disenfranchisement, but we do know what we’re doing.

If we do screw up, which we will, we are as I say all the time, iterative. We can in fact try again. We, in the end, are doing this for our players, 100%. These initiatives need to feel valuable, that we’re adding as much love to our old content as we do to our content going forward. If this is deemed unsuccessful, then we have to admit it as such. So far, we’ve seen extremely positive reception to relaunches and VU’s. We see that players feel that we’re investing in content they know and love when we’re not obligated to do, we see interest in those champions rise, we see people theorycrafting with renewed vigor, and we see engagement. Depending on the severity of the VU/relaunch however, we know that there will be touchy aspects. Just like everything, we’re going to analyze how we’ve done in these extreme cases and gague how effective we’ve been, and how the players have reacted. We’re going to act, we’re going to analyse and we’re going to iterate, as we’ve done before and will do again.

We feel this will indeed be valuable, but the players will be the judge."

To supplement this mighty post, davin, a senior user researcher, commented more on the research that goes into these updates
"To add Extra Science Context here (it's a proper noun, I guess), we're always increasing the amount of data and research we support these efforts with. That basically means providing the relaunch team with extra data to inform decisions and extra research to determine the potential reaction to their work. Relaunches are tricky territory, since players (that includes us!) have a bunch of emotions about all sorts of aspects of a character. Removing or changing isn't done blindly.

Of course, just because we do research during the process doesn't mean the feedback loop ends there. Post-reveal discussion and alteration remains an important thing (see: Sakura Karma)!"
When a summoner commented that they often feel their feedback is ignored, davin responded
"If it seems ignored, that is a failure on our part. I can assure you that feedback doesn't just flow into some black hole--whether it's forum posts, lab research, surveys, focus groups, etc., that's all feedback that we hunger for. Heck, I only have a job because there's tremendous value in understanding that feedback (both implicit and explicit). 
However, there is a difference between ignoring feedback and deciding that a piece of feedback is not something to act on. The latter is inherent to any decision-making."

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