Preseason runes interview with Meddler

Posted on at 7:35 PM by Moobeat
"This'll be a blast!" Preseason is here and with it comes the new Runes. We sat down with Meddler to talk about the new system, testing such a large update, and the future!
Continue reading for the full interview!

With preseason hitting live in patch 7.22, we had the opportunity to sit down with Andrei "Meddler" van Roon, the lead game designer for League of Legends, and discuss preseason's  new rune system!

Q) Can you elaborate about the decision to move away from the old runes & masteries as separate systems and combining the two into a larger single system?
A) "We believe we can offer a much more satisfying and interesting pre-game system by condensing it down to a small number of really impactful choices. That means more effects you alter your play around during the game. It also means we can offer a range of effects that aren’t possible if each of them needs to be offered in really small fragments like old runes/masteries. When you need to provide 30 segments of something you’re much more limited to doing stats mainly. When you can spend your power and mindshare budget on half a dozen things by contrast you can do stuff like a one time Zhonya’s, a slow on auto attacks, activatable boots, ally shielding etc."
Q) What are some of the inspirations behind specific new runes?
A) "Overgrowth - Came from seeing players enjoy the Bandit mastery. Even though it’s a small amount of gold there’s something satisfying seeing it pop up from every minion kill, even if you’re not the one personally CSing. We figured we could do something a bit more interesting than gold though, and health stacking seemed like a natural fit as a result. It’s prototype name as a result was ‘Health Bandit’ for quite a few months.

Predator - We spent a fair bit of time trying to make a Lycanthropy keystone work, where at set time periods everyone with that rune would get a surge of movement speed, bonus damage etc. Idea there was a Werewolf like feel where you were being transformed by events outside your control. That lack of control meant feedback from playtesters was often pretty poor since, even though many liked it conceptually, it felt like it dictated how you played too much and often just ended up getting wasted. A boots active helped get around that, while preserving a lot of what we’d liked about the previous version.

Demolish - Our starting question for this slot was what strategic outputs can we offer to tanky champions they don’t often have access to, but it would be fine if they did? After identifying tower killing as a possibility we then started thinking about ways to offer it that rewarded being tanky (survive near it for a while, damage scales of HP) and didn’t scale with the stats that already kill towers well (no AD or Attack speed incentives).

Transcendence - Partway through Runes development we had a bunch of pro players offering feedback on the system. LemonNation mentioned he felt there was both a lack of CDR and a lack of early game versus late game tradeoffs present and that simple stats could still offer good choices in those circumstances. That got us looking at CDR over time and, when combined with some observations around CDR overload in some builds we got to Transcendence."

Q) Runes are a large project! Have the new runes always slotted to be the larger focus for this preseason? If so, how long has the team been working on this project outside of the player facing communications?
A) "We had a small team of a few people looking at Runes in early 2016, with a focus on identifying what technical work would be needed to build the new system, how the system overall should work (Are there trees? How many things do you pick? How many effects should you be thinking about constantly in game etc). We’d originally hoped to ship that at the end of 2016 but as we got into the project realized it was a lot bigger than that. The team got larger late 2016/early 2017 and for a while there we were wondering about whether to aim for mid-season 2017. We concluded that wasn’t a good idea though, based both off how disruptive the changes were likely to be in the middle of the year and because there was quite a fair bit of work left still on both the new Rune system itself and the new client (LCU) that Runes was being built within."
Q) What has been the most challenging part of this preseason's dev?
A) "A big challenge we had this preseason was coordinating multiple teams at Riot that hadn’t worked together much before. The development of Runes, leveling changes and the new client (LCU) all had to be done in parallel together, with a lot of coordination back and forth. Most of the time we’re coordinating features between teams that do fairly similar types of work (e.g. Live Gameplay balancing items and Game Systems building new ones). In this case though it was a case of people with pretty different skillsets and context figuring out how to combine their efforts. A great side benefit of that was that a lot of us got to know people in other parts of Riot we wouldn’t normally interact with much. "

Q)  With such a large roster of available champions and combination, it seems like a monumental task to go about balancing something like the preseason runes changes for live! How does the team feel as we approach launch?
A) "We’ve been playtesting the preseason changes with all the champs in the roster for quite a few months now, alongside a lot of work analyzing which champs lose/gain the most from stat changes, who synergizes the best with specific runes etc. That should have caught most of the extreme cases at least, it’s still very possible there’s something out of line day one of the patch though. Preseasons tend to be a somewhat chaotic period and that’s why we do them in November, when the ranked season has finished for the year and Worlds is over. We’ll still want to address anything out of line quickly of course though."

Follow Up: Are there any standout champions you feel work too well with new runes or that you will be keeping a close eye on?
A) "We’ll be watching champs with particularly extreme power curves especially closely. Champs who are really early game focused need to be able to bully their opposition a fair bit, without being completely dominant, while late game champs should have a chance to get to a really strong point, without being guaranteed to do so or not able to at all. The combination of how much pre-game affects early game and how some of the runes scale into late game means both of those cases have the potential to be more disrupted than most. "

Follow Up: Any personal favorites? Is Ziggs with X rune proven fun for you in testing? Any favorite interesting interactions or combos?
A) "I tend to really favour the inspiration tree, with Unsealed Spellbook and Kleptomancy both appealing a lot, particularly since I play quite a lot of support. Summon Aery is also a personal favourite - the optimizations around collecting Aery to send her out again quicker are something I tend to enjoy a lot. I haven’t actually had much of a chance to play Ziggs with new Runes yet, so that’s something I’m looking forward to doing once they go Live."

Follow Up: How has the new runes system changed internal balancing on recent reworks and new champions? Was a recent update like Evelynn tested extensively with the new runes in mind or has the attention remained on live?
A) "Earlier in the year we were testing new champs/updates with both existing runes/masteries and new runes, with around half our playtests done on each. Ornn was the first champ where more of his development was on new runes than not, even then though given he was going to be live for quite a while with old runes/masteries we made sure to get him a lot of testing on them still. Evelynn by contrast was balanced around the new runes world almost entirely. She got enough runes/masteries testing we were confident she’d do ok until new runes arrived, we felt it was best to optimize her design around the world she’d be part of long term though."
Q) Is the team worried about information overload when it comes to a large set of changes like this? How long do you expect it to take players to adjust to the new system?
A) "The amount of change happening at once is something we think about a lot when planning major work like this. We knew going in Runes would be a large project all by itself, with the changes to levelling adding some additional change at the same time. Because of that we deliberately avoided doing any other major changes this preseason, hence the lack of sizable changes to things like items, the map, champion kits etc.
In terms of adaptation period, we’ve generally seen the game start to settle down a fair bit around after a couple of months. Would expect roughly that same sort of cycle here."

Follow Up: Is the team afraid of information overload when it comes to new players and the new runes system vs the old system? (be that effects, visuals/sound effects, etc)
A) "Overall we expect new Runes to be friendlier to new players than old runes/masteries. There’s more to optimize and play around certainly. If you just want to completely ignore the system though (which many new players do, intentionally or unintentionally) you’ll still do ok since you’ll have a default page selected regardless and a full amount of pre-game power. With the old system by contrast new players didn’t have access to most of the slots and often failed to put anything (or at least things particularly useful) in the slots they did have. Visuals/sounds will mean there’s a bit more going on on screen, most of them are pretty subtle and easy to ignore until you’ve got the basics of the game figured out however, especially since a lot of them only show to the player with the rune, not everyone else as well."

Q) As with any large systems change, follow up changes are expected after such a big patch. How many patches do you expect to be doing significant tweaks/follow up for the new runes system following the 7.22 patch?
A) "That one’s hard to answer concretely, given we’ll be working as long as needed. I’d expect 7.23 and 7.24 to have a lot of follow-up in them. We’ll probably make some changes via micro patches after 7.24 goes out before the Christmas break too so we’re not leaving things unaddressed until 8.1 in January. How much Runes followup happens in January by contrast will probably depend on what sort of issues we’re seeing (e.g. do we need to make additional runes to help underserved champs, or are we mainly looking at balance changes?)."

Follow Up: We've seen a lot of micropatches lately (such as Galio). Do you expect to micropatch emerging outliers quickly or let the dust settle patch to patch?
A) "We’ll probably micro patch extreme outliers fairly quickly once it’s clear they’re out of line (as opposed to just popular or unpopular choices). Our focus there will more likely be on Runes than individual champions. "

Q) How do you feel about this preseasons communications? The loads of information has come with a lot of Dev blogs, red posts, videos, and more between everything preseason has to offer. Any takeaways for future seasons? Did any article or piece of communication feel like it reached players more than others?
A) "We’ve been really happy with how the preseason communication’s gone overall, particularly the way starting to talk much earlier in the year than usual has worked out. In cases where things are locked down enough to be talked about I expect we’ll take similar approaches in future, though it’ll be a while before we’re doing anything on the same scale as this preseason again. In terms of effectiveness the Runes Corner posts, both those talking about the system overall and those previewing individual runes, seem to have gone really well, especially since they’ve been fairly easy to translate into other languages too. "

Follow Up: How do you feel your quick gameplay thoughts has functioned to smooth over preseason talks and emerging issues?
A) "I’ve been pretty happy with the Quick Gameplay Thoughts posts I’ve been doing this year. In terms of preseason impact I think they’ve been more a supporting piece of communication than anything else, helping anyone that’s missed our other preseason info find it, or clarifying the occasional thing. They’re a pretty informal set of posts generally, so will probably be particularly useful for talking about emerging stuff once preseason’s out. "
Q) Any scrapped concepts or ideas from preseason you'd like to share? Where there any interesting rune concepts that made it to internal testing but ended up being too powerful or canned for current/PBE iterations.?
A) "The predecessor of Unsealed Spellbook was a Rune called Summoner Roulette that, whenever you used a Summoner Spell, would replace it with a randomly selected new one on a shorter than usual cooldown. It created really interesting moments as you made use of a range of summoner spells you wouldn’t normally take on a particular champion and worked to adapt to whatever came your way. Unfortunately it also created situations that felt randomly unfair, either because you got screwed by the summoners you ended up with, or because your opponents got lucky with what came their way. It was a real love/hate Rune with our playtesters internally. Eventually we concluded, with some sadness, that even a pseudo random approach still wouldn’t hit the needed level of telegraph and fairness for LoL though.
The happy ending to that story though is that it did provide the seed idea for Summoner Specialist which, while it lost some of the excitement and forced adaptation of the random model, addressed the major problems and still delivered well on the flexibility and creativity side of things. "

Follow Up: Any funny or notable bugs while testing such an interconnected set of changes?
A) "We’ve had a lot of bugs crop up during Runes development. A few personal favourites: 
Biscuit Delivery adds an item to your inventory every so often, regardless of where on the map you are. When it was first added we also had Ornn in development who can build items anywhere on the map, but has to channel for a few seconds to do so. That meant a both amusing and frustrating playtest where Ornn would suddenly start hammering away at his anvil in the middle of combat, unable to act for a few seconds, when the biscuit arrived, because of the way his code was set up to trigger that channel whenever he gained an item outside of the base. 
Another was for a Rune we didn’t end up shipping that had the placeholder name ‘Tiny Luden’s’. It was basically a miniature Luden’s Echo, dealing magic damage to a target and then bouncing to another one nearby. For its first test however someone forgot to put a limit on the bouncing, so after it bounced to another target it would look for another nearby enemy to bounce to. That could include the target it previously came from in the first place, so it would basically just bounce back and forth grinding people down until they either died or moved far enough away from each other. 
The Guardian Rune lets players add a shield to an ally by being close to them when they take damage or hitting them with an ally targeted spell. In one of its earlier versions it unintentionally did a lot more though. Instead of just adding a shield it was accidentally set to also add the entire Guardian Rune to the ally as well, so that they could then apply shields too, in addition to whatever Keystone they’d already picked. The Guardian Virus playtest was a fun, if short lived and not productive, test. "

Q) There has been a lot of community concern around the optimal number of builds for each role. Looking ahead, are there plans add more runes or rune lines in the future?
A) "We’ll be looking to add more runes next year, both keystones and non keystones. Some of those will be targeted at champions not served well enough by the launch set of runes, assuming that’s a problem. Others will be designed to offer new experiences and more options to champions who already have a range of choices. It’s also possible we eventually add an additional Rune path, going beyond the current 5, though that’s very much a long term possibility, not something we’ll definitely do or would do in the short term. Main priority’s going to be getting the system stable and polished.
In terms of optimal builds per champ/role we’re expecting some of that to naturally happen for specific champ/rune combinations, given how powerfully some effects will synergize with particular kits. Our goal there’s to ensure every champion has meaningful options in at least some parts of their rune page, not that every slot is open on every champion, given doing that would mean avoiding doing a range of unique things because they’d bind hard to some champs. "

For more information on Preseason, Runes, and Patch 7.22, check out these links:

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