Red Post Collection: Champion Updates Dev Blog, Maokai Update to PBE soon, and more!

Posted on at 6:08 PM by Moobeat
Tonight's red post collection features a dev blog on Champion Updates, including mention of upcoming and future visual updates for Maokai, Tristana, and Poppy! You'll also find  Ququroon with additional information on the Maokai update, Riot Silver with context on the removal of Graves' cigar, and another Cassiopeia update from Riot Stashu.
Continue reading for more information!

Table of Contents:

Dev blog: Champion Updates

Here's Fruity Sebbles with a dev blog on champion updates, including  a look back at recently released updates and a heads up on upcoming or future updates for Maokai, Tristana, and Poppy.
"Hey guys, Seb “Fruity Sebbles” Rhee here – Product Manager on the Champion Update team but really just one of a number of Rioters dedicated to showing love to League’s oldest but still beloved champions. 2014 has been a busy year for the team (though we’re not quite done yet!), and in the wake of our most ambitious project yet, the Sion update, I’d like to chat with you about what we’ve learned this past year as well as where we’re heading with future updates.

What We’ve Learned

We started off 2014 with a key adjustment to the team’s approach to champion updates. Previously, we’d often pursued the gameplay, story, and art segments of updates in isolation from each other, which sometimes limited our adaptability (VUs were exclusively cosmetic, while GUs were exclusively focused on gameplay). Heimerdinger is an example of this older approach - development of the gameplay and art elements of his update were so disconnected that their releases were more than four months apart.

We decided we needed to do a better job of treating champions as cohesive packages. By updating characters like Heimerdinger in piecemeal fashion we were certainly delivering new high-quality assets into the game, but we could have potentially even better served Heimer players by delivering a single, unified update. Ultimately we want champions to be distinct, cohesive, and well-executed realizations of their various elements - which requires that art, story, and gameplay all feed into and support each other. With this new philosophy in mind, we did some experimentation in the course of this year’s projects, focused on finding new ways to both maintain a high release cadence and deliver the best possible updates.
The first step was better integration of gameplay as a fully-fledged part of the team’s repertoire. Earlier gameplay updates were often limited to addressing how champions negatively affected the game, such as with pre-update Xerath, Kassadin, and Rengar. Since then, our approach has evolved from fixing gameplay problems generated by champions to taking a broad look at their overall thematic in order to guide us in implementing the best version of that character’s gameplay. Nidalee, Sona, and Soraka are examples of updates seeking to better fulfill the gameplay promises suggested by champion identities - Nidalee’s shapeshifting is now a core part of her gameplay loop, and Soraka is dishing out heals every two seconds! And we’ve found that tackling gameplay updates in this fashion still lets us solve the deep-rooted gameplay issues of previous implementations, while maintaining the feel of the original character.
Another key development was realizing the potential for greater variety in visual updates. Back near the end of 2013, we took some texture-only passes at Rammus and Anivia while investigating new ways to quickly deliver updates to players. As non-humans with rather…polygonal looks, they were obvious candidates for some safe experimentation. To our surprise these minor updates received really high levels of positive feedback, and in 2014 we decided to try out further low-scope art updates. After Skarner’s new visuals received a similar response, we decided to next take a crack at a non-creature texture in the form of Sona, even experimenting a bit further by packaging a quick model update along with her new textures. Once again, players reported satisfaction comparable to that of previous full-scope VUs - yet more evidence of the potential for low-scope but more frequent art updates to become an important part of the update pipeline.
Finally, Sion represented a whole new level of comprehensive update. In a lot of ways Sion is the culmination of all of the changes we’ve made to the team and its approaches. Instead of over-focusing on the issues with his previous implementation, we took a hard look at what Sion should be and worked toward that goal from the ground up, across all aspects of the champion. Sion is the biggest project we’ve taken on as a team, and we hope it sets a new standard in terms of what to expect from the largest-scale updates.

Taken together, these various projects confirmed the potential for pursuing updates of varying scope. In addition to mammoth projects like Sion, we were able to fill the gaps with more focused updates and constantly deliver value. Viktor is a great example of the latter - he received efficient, relatively low-scope art and gameplay updates specifically targeted at bringing him up to current standards.

Of course, this means we don’t always get to finish the lower-scope updates with a shout of ‘IT’S PERFECT!’ and tears of joy. The animators may hate some of the old animations, or the sound designers may desperately want to incorporate expanded VO or new tech. But delivering high-quality, incremental updates on a regular basis can help make sure we’re able to take a look at more players’ favorite outdated champions and move consistently through our backlog. This approach will be especially important as we look to finish off 2014 in strong fashion and move right on in to 2015.

The Plan Moving Forward

The challenge remains vast – dozens of champions could use some level of love right now, and others might have taken their place once we’re done with them. So, how best to meet the task? Essentially, our latest thinking boils down to two overarching principles:
  1. The scope of updates will vary immensely, from Sion-level projects to minor texture and gameplay polish efforts, all based on each champion’s specific needs and place in the overall roster.
  2. Following from the first, we’ll simultaneously pursue multiple updates of varying scope. Several pipelines will exist so that no champion is left behind because its unique needs don’t fit the current mold.
These principles are actually already in play - Sion, Viktor and Soraka emerged nearly simultaneously and with varying degrees of change. Moving into 2015, we plan to do updates in the Renekton to Sona range much more often than in the past, but in addition to Sion-level updates (not in lieu of them).

In line with this thinking, we’re moving away from our past attempts to strictly define update categories (older terms like relaunch and rework as well as the newer TU, MTU, VU, GU, etc). Visually-focused updates will often include gameplay tweaks or quality-of-life changes, while gameplay-driven updates will frequently include opportunistic or even necessary visual adjustments like new ability effects. Updates don’t all need to fit a predetermined template, and each will be different in scope based on the champion’s needs - our goal is simply to get every champion up to the quality bar that players can expect of a modern League champion.

But how will this play out in practice? Let’s take a look at these concepts through the lens of several current projects that demonstrate the breadth of scope we’re pursuing with updates.

Maokai is the next update in the Singed / Renekton vein, as he’s mostly in good shape and just needs some targeted work to bring him up to date. His gameplay’s looking good after a kit rebalance earlier this season, so we’re focusing on some low-scope visual buffs aimed at making him even more exciting to play. He’ll sport a whole new model and texture across his base and skins, and we’re also taking a pass at his visual effects. Look for him to hit PBE soon!

Tristana’s a consistently popular champion and might not seem an obvious update candidate, but she’s got a couple areas where a bit of work could bring her right up-to-date with current standards. As one of the game’s "intro" characters (you can unlock her for free on our Facebook page), we think it’s about time Tristana received a buff to her visuals, especially given that Yordle style has evolved a bit over the years. While we’re at it, we’re taking a light pass at her gameplay focused on adding a bit of new spice to her E, increasing her ability interactions, and fleshing out her strategic niche among the roster of marksmen (errr….markswomen...marksladyyordles). She’s a moderately-sized project with significant investment and time commitments, but still focused on the specific areas in need of an update rather than more sweeping changes.

Everyone’s favorite hammer girl has been on our scopes for a while, as she’s one of those older champions in need of across-the-board work to bring her up to current standards. To be clear, we LOVE her core identity - who doesn’t want to play the fearless Yordle striking hammer-induced terror into enemies across the map? In fact, the gap between her awesome premise and lackluster execution is exactly why we’re working on her.

Artistically, Poppy will still look like a heavily armed and armored ball of golden death. We’re looking to preserve her thematic and color scheme while bringing her art up-to-date both technically and stylistically. Similarly, there’s a lot to love in her story, we just plan to bring it up-to-date and cement her more firmly in the world and among her fellow Yordles. On the gameplay front the challenge is a bit bigger, as Poppy’s kit is pretty archaic at this point. Nevertheless, we’re looking to keep her current fearless style of gameplay and core dash-and-smash mechanics - we still want her to have that same diver mentality.

Poppy is definitely a hefty undertaking - not quite a Sion-level project but pretty close to it. She’s still a ways out and is going to take a lot of work, but will hopefully offer an awesome experience for players once we’re done with the job.
As I’ve mentioned, these and other updates will vary tremendously in scope as we tailor them to each champion’s unique needs and opportunities. Keep in mind that this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of our current projects, and if your favorite older champion isn’t included, fear not! He/she/it is somewhere on our radar, and we hope for an even better cadence in 2015 as we continue to incorporate our latest learnings.

We’re incredibly excited about the future of Champion Updates, and we hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below!"

Ququroon, a member of the champion update team, also popped on to reddit to touch on a few common questions following today's dev blog.

When asked if visual updates for Taric are still planned, Ququroon commented:
"Taric is a troublesome one, like Evelynn. Trust me, there is no shortage of ideas on him, but it's about wading through and figuring out just who our Gem Knight should be, and how to make him the best he can be. 
IronStylus has been having some chats with players over on the Boards about him, so don't think we've forgotten Taric, or Taric players."
When asked if this comment means Evelynn's VU is still on the way at some point, Ququroon reiterated:
"Of course. There's no way we'd be satisfied with what's currently in game."
As for the Warwick visual update that has been discussed in the past, Ququroon explained:
"So Warwick is a different issue. We know he has a lot of jank right now, and believe me we want that gone. However, Warwick is a matter of gameplay. I spoke to some of the designers about this, and this is how I understand it. 
You may have seen a Warwick kit posted in the past from our favorite ZenonTheStoic, and that was good! However, we still had a few things we're looking to solve on it. Warwick is interesting for a few reasons, because we'd want to maintain his low skill floor, while increasing the ways that he can meaningfully outplay his opponent. Currently he can mostly only outplay his opponent by either passing the lifesteal check or through his itemization. 
We want to solve his gameplay problems in a meaningful way, and since that's on the horizon, we don't want to do new art assets, then have to turn around and do them again. We could do a completely different champion with work like that. We have some concepts ready and roaring for Warwick, but these things take time on all sides."
ZenonTheStoic also chimed in on Warwick, explaining:
"Yup, that's pretty much it. When I made my changes early this year, Champ Up was a fledgling team without a clear understanding of what the scope for champion updates can be. My WW changes definitely addressed some of the problems, but crucially they didn't answer the "why should I pick this guy over other similar champions" question. 
I'm currently gearing up on whatever my next champion is going to be (the first step is figuring that out ;P). I REALLY love WW though, and I want to see a rework. I'm cautiously optimistic that some of my kit can be used; for instance I think my take on WW R was a straight up upgrade in terms of clarity, gameplay, epic moments etc. I don't know that I'll have the time to work on WW myself (as much as I would love to)--my primary commitment is as a champion designer who designs new champions from scratch. However rest assured that if Champion Updates starts work on Warwick I'll contribute as much as I can."

Ququroon also replied to a summoner concerned with the lack of new or updated animations for some of the visual updates such as Renekton or Singed:
"We did formerly do exclusively complete packages, but we also did less in the past. It's a balancing act of quality vs quantity. This gives us a world where Maokai is updated though, rather than not any time soon. 
We have a lot of things to get through. A looooot. We do plan accordingly on the champion though. Whereas Maokai needed less animation love, someone like Blitzcrank would need much more. 
I hope you can understand. >u<"
He continued:
"Animation isn't neglected, but I can agree with your fear that things that receive partial updates won't have it updated until later on. With some exceptions, we generally try to hit the worst offenders, then move on to another offender.

I'll use Singed as an example here. Singed needs updates on his VFX, Animation and VO (though this one works a little differently). His model WAS his worst offender, and that's no longer the case. He is now a much better character by bumping up his bottom line, but that doesn't change the fact that he needs updates elsewhere. However, I can point to several characters that are much more offensive than Singed is on those areas. This doesn't change the fact that Singed needs the work, it just means that we have to change our focus onto those that do.

The current pace means that we'll keep pushing up our worst offenders, be that offense on a specific area of art, thematics or gameplay. As that bottom line increases, the ones that we hit as a partial will become the new bottom line in that area, and will be hit with it. We absolutely love shipping complete packages (really! It gives a much bigger and better impression, which leads to players enjoying all the work more as a whole), but we also want to get through everything. As we move on, we'll continue to explore ways to address the backlog in different ways, including hitting partial work.

Also, we'll totally hit TF's icons at some point. They're currently used as an example of bad icons in the game. (Though I'd want to keep that ult icon in somewhere)

(Also, because I touched on it. VO works a bit differently, because while it can be a bandwidth issue, it also requires much more exploration and diving into the character. This can cause it to take much more time, especially on characters with more beloved VO.)"

Riot Xiphiase also added in:
"Just wanted to jump in and add that at the heart of this is just a complicated resource allocation problem. I'm seeing a lot of "no x champion? and what about y champion?" We hear you guys and know there's a lot of stuff to modernize. We're reminded of that every day when we play ourselves. 
The problem is that there are only so many Rioters able to work on these updates and we don't have 30 hours in a day. We want to ensure that we're tackling pressing issues and to the extent we can maybe address a few offenders immediately at the expense of a different larger, more comprehensive update is a tricky balance we have to manage. 
At the end of the day, just because we didn't call out a specific champion doesn't mean we aren't aware that they may need a little bit of love (or even a lot of love). There's a lot to get to but we're doing our best!"

Maokai Update on a PBE near you

As mentioned above, Maokai is set to receive visual update soon and Ququroon has already posted up a thread on the PBE boards concerning an upcoming updates to Maokai!
"Edit: PBE issues! Sad day. Maokai should be good on Monday. Sorry folks.
Branching out to the PBE is Maokai, the Twisted Treant! 
Having gone through a growth spurt, Maokai now looks and feels more like the character he was meant to be. With an updated model and texture set, crisp new visual effects, new sounds to crush your enemies with and more, this plant come to life now feels more alive than ever. As usual, all of the above affects his skins as well. 
One of the other major goals on this project was to increase visual clarity for Maokai, his allies and his enemies. His ultimate is massively powerful, but was it ever really the most noticeable? Did his snare ever really feel as effective as it actually is? Could his saplings be even more awesome? We pushed these a bit, so hopefully you'll be able to feel the effects! 
We'd really appreciate it if you'd take a look at Maokai, and hit us with any bugs and feedback that come your way. Your feedback helps to guide changes we can make, as well as helps us grow as a team. 
Between the update to Summoner's Rift and now this, it certainly is a great time for our trees.

He continued:
"To answer a few things from the get go...
  • New models on all skins EXCEPT Haunted (new textures on this though) and Goalkeeper. Those were modern.
  • Very light animation work. He got a new run cycle, and some cleanup on his other anims.
  • You guys are awfully excited about him coming out in 4.20 for some reason."

As for the general update process and if these sort of "model and texture" updates don't typically include many new animations (including recalls), Ququroon noted:
"Unfortunately, they will not. Projects like this are a bit more surgical, hitting on areas where they need the work the most. This allows us to work around workflows and times when we don't have the most amount of dev bandwidth. 
To explain with an example, there was a ton of animation work that that was done on Sion that required a good amount of time. During that, however, our character artists weren't as tied up, and were able to work on additional projects. Lo, Singed and Maokai. 
I agree with you that getting recall animations where there isn't one would be extremely nice, or even saying that getting X where there isn't X would be extremely nice. It just isn't applicable in every instance. :<"

C3Sound also commented on the sound changes, saying:
"Hey all,

His sound fx are getting a slight update, no crazy changes like his sapling voice or whatnot - just a polish over to match the new visuals. There are a couple additions that should allow for better gameplay feedback.

However, all sounds are being held as of right now until he is stable on PBE. There was an issue on the patch to PBE that delayed audio implementation. Stay tuned, he will fire up soon enough. Err, sound off. Dont want the tree to go up in flames."

Context on Removal of Graves' Cigar

In the latest PBE update, Graves' new splash has been edited (as seen above) to no longer includes a cigar.

Here's Riot Silver with additional context on this decision:
"Hey all,

I can give a bit of context on why the cigar was removed. Essentially, there was a significant risk of censorship or age rating problems in various regions based on the depiction of tobacco usage. This kind of thing is pretty strictly enforced in parts of the world, and in this case it became clear that we needed to remove the cigar in his splash. The relevant laws sometimes apply differently depending on content type, which is why something that might work in peripheral content like a cinematic may not work in content like splashes that are tied specifically to the core game.

I can also speak a bit as to why we wouldn't create multiple splashes in response to this kind of issue. One of our goals moving forward with splash art, compared to how things have been done in the past, is to create content for all regions. In the past we've created modified or entirely different splashes based on the needs or appeal of certain regions, but this is something we've been working to change moving forward. Where possible, we want to stay away from sharding the game unnecessarily for different regions. It may seem like a small thing in this case, but we believe that being consistent with this artistic approach best allows for a common community and common stories for players to experience and share with each other.


[Contunied]] Stashu's Latest Plans for Cassiopeia

Riot Stashu has posted another update to his latest plans for Cassiopeia following another day of internal testing and player feedback:

"Hey ya'll. A little update:

Here's what I'm happy with: Moving Q ms to a static number, though I think it might be a bit strong, having that kiting ability early on feels really good. Also, 0.4s delay seems to be just as dodgeable/hittable as we're looking for, so that's good too. Poison amp on E is testing well, and the mana restore being back feels pretty as well. I think I overtuned her mana numbers a bit, so I'll probably be buffing those (reducing them).

Now, about the less pleasing stuff: I've heard you all loud and clear about how 1) it feels like a shackle until it's finally lifted, and 2) stats are boring. So, been going a little deeper on that stuff. Today, I spent quite a bit of time experimenting with sexier rewards for the passive breakpoints. I've tried a number of things, like adding the mana refund passive into an Aspect of the Serpent breakpoint, moving the MS boost from Q into an early passive breakpoint (more specifically, Cassiopeia gains 25% ms for 3 seconds after poisoning an enemy champion), moving the poison amp on E in there, other crazier stuff like cast time shortening, subsequent E's cost less mana (kind of liked that one), E extends poison duration, etc.

A lot of them expressed some problems that I expected individually, but I figured it'd be worth trying anyway. Generally, the "move mechanic from one part of kit into passive" method worked the best, since adding new sexy mechanics to the kit really just overloads the kit with mechanics, and that just feels bad. Unfortunately, not having access to core mechanics-- mechanics that inform your combat pattern-- until the x'th minute creates even more of the feeling that "this passive is a shackle, I just want my base power at the start of the game." I think the healing on Twin Fang is a good example of a mechanic which is not core, is sufficiently attractive, and changes decision making in minor yet appreciable ways. Ultimately, the heal there is very stat-like (spell vamp), but it comes across in an interesting way. I didn't really understand why this mechanic really seemed to fit in the passive, especially compared to the other breakpoints, but now I think I've got a good hold on it, which should help with brainstorming future changes.

ALSO As a general observation, all of the late game focused stuff we've done for the kit, though powerful, doesn't really allow Cassiopeia to take over a game as much as we originally expected (kit limitations, as many people have brought up, like no dash/blink and unreliable CC really diminish the effectiveness of damage-oriented late game strengths more than we expected them to). Of course, she's still pretty damn good come late game, but a little bit less so than originally projected. Accordingly, there's even more room to bolster that early game. We still don't want the Only-Q-All-Day-And-Win Cassiopeia lane bully back, but there's plenty of room here to find a good place for her, especially with some of the changes we've made since the original update. Basically, Cassiopeia should feel comparable in strength to other mid laners, with her high, consistent, single target DPS as how she expresses her power in the late game (just like other mids have their own unique way of expressing power in the late game-- Ziggs can clear waves, Syndra can 1-shot a guy, etc.).

Alright, that's all for now. 

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