Here is a compact, comprehensible excerpt from the recent Freljord AMA on Reddit, featuring Morello, IronStylus, Runaan, Brackhar, 3PEET, Meddler, Nome, Kitae and Entropy!
IronStylus: Around 9 months ago I’d say but nothing concrete was ever said, like, WE WILL MAKE A FRELJORD EVENT, until Lissandra evolved. That sparked the fire for Freljord.. or made the idea.. snowball. HEH!
Kitae: What iron stylus said. We knew we wanted to do a faction themed patch that would be bigger and better than Shadow Isles. When Lissandra started to evolve, we all got really excited about making Freljord that event.
IronStylus: It was a HUGE effort but one that occurred very organically in the teams across design, features, art, creative, etc. We all were inspired by each others work and it really fed itself. It was indeed a tough push, there were producers in charge of owning the project, but it was a very, very big collaborative effort.
Brackhar: A bit of it was a result of timing – we were discussing the idea of a Freljord event back even while we were working on Twisted Treeline, and given that we wanted to upgrade Proving Grounds in general we saw a nice opportunity to tie it into a larger event as a whole. Additionally, a big icy bridge over an infinite abyss seemed like a pretty cool idea in general.
IronStylus: We have tons.. like.. TONS of concept art. Most of what you saw in the mini-doc was done for that component of our IP development. We’re deep in the process of fleshing our the world of Runterra. That process was expedited by the Freljord event and that created a wealth of very polished art that inspired everything from champions, skins, Howling Abyss, etc.
I’d love to see how we can make this art available, I’ll check with our art director to see if there are any plans!
We’re not specifically setting out to consolidate factions, but we are looking to tell stories involving multiple champions, and we want to establish relationships between champions. We will shuffle things around occasionally to hit this goal.
Kitae: We are definitely going to progress the Freljord story and big changes are totally possible. We could see champions switching tribes etc. In the end there will be only one Queen of the Freljord.
Kitae: We don’t think new maps are a requirement for faction lore events. We have more factions than maps by far! However, with the Howling Abyss we had a cool opportunity to upgrade the map and set it in the Freljord, so we took it.
We’re really open about how we will do further Freljord storytelling. For the patch we had: a video, multiple voiceovers, lore shopkeepers, Quinn’s journals. Nothing is off the table for future storytelling.
IronStylus: I really want to see us expand upon the world and make it a living breathing place. I’m not really sure about integrating it into maps, that can be a big task. However, I really want to see us at least do this sort of thing where we do the website treatment, maybe something through the client, interactive maps, etc, that really show us a peak into the world.
We wanted all three tribes to be appealing in their own way. What we’re seeing is broad support for all three tribes. That’s awesome, it makes their conflict way more interesting!
RiotRunaan: Demacia has acknowledged that the Freljord could potentially become a threat in the future, but as the war there is just beginning to unravel, they’re not going to interfere just yet. So long as the Freljord is busy fighting itself, Demacia has no need to fear a united barbarian front crashing down on their borders. Jarvan will certainly be keeping an eye on the Freljord, though, and maybe Quinn will go on another scouting mission eventually.
If Ashe is victorious that would be the safest outcome, due to her diplomatic nature, but even then Freljord is a dangerous sleeping giant.
Can you explain the rationale behind the following balance changes to ARAM?
- Shop buying range. On PG you could walk back to the shop and buy as long as you didn’t pass your inhibitor. This gave defenders a chance and made the map less one-sided. A lot of people are unhappy about this change.
- Warmogs removal. (Warmogs countered poke teams and gave melee a chance. Why would you remove it?)
- 5 pots limit. Did anyone ask for this? Was this an oversight? This also really seems like a buff to poke teams and to teams with healers.
- Poros showing you if bushes are occupied. Some people like this and some don’t.
- Fountain laser range is still not clearly shown.
- Perspective changes (the camera is zoomed out further and more straight vertical).
- Shop range visibility. The shop fails to clearly communicate that it is no longer usable. It can take a while for grandpa to walk away on purple side, and blue side shop is kind of confusing as well. PG immediately showed that the shop was closed when the blue walls came up.
- Will ARAM matchmaking be improved? I would never join a custom ARAM game that didn’t kick all non-30s. Why am I forced to carry level 25s by this matchmaking system?
- Are we going to see ARAM-specific balance changes like you promised for TT and Dominion? Like map-specific nerfs to Janna, Jayce, Nid, Yi, Soraka, etc. and buffs to Shyvana and Trynd?
- ARAM ranked?
- Did you take into consideration how many champions each of the three factions has, for purposes of the icon contest? It’s a lot easier for someone to want to side with one of the five Avarosan or four Winter’s Claw champions than the two Frostguard champions (and one is brand new and the other has brand new lore – so basically people don’t know either of them). I ask because many players are assuming there will be some sort of “most picked faction” reward, like with Ionian Boots.
- Is there a solution in the pipeline for framerate issues on HA? Many people have much worse framerates on HA than they did on PG.
- We’ll be expanding the shop buying range in a future patch.
- Warmog’s didn’t counter poke teams; poke teams dominated early game, and used that advantage to snowball into late game. What Warmog’s did was counter ranged teams, and allows melee champions toeventually become useful, but among good players, almost always win. We added the Guardian’s Horn to fulfill the niche that a health/regen item should have filled early, but still remain useful mfrom mid-to-late game.
- They’re a gameplay mechanic now, and it’s intended
- The perspective is different from Summoner’s Rift, but should be identical to Proving Grounds. Regardless of its differences to other maps, it was a judgment call we made very early. It allows players to see more of the map art, but also gives a slight nerf to long-ranged poke champions.
- Shop visibility will be much better once the range is properly extended.
Additional answers… * It’s unlikely you’ll see any ARAM-specific balance changes immediately. We may decide to come back and do slight adjustments in the future based on data and how well the TT/CS changes are received.
- I believe the icon contest simply requires you to win 10 games wearing the icon. You don’t need to play a champion of the faction.
- We’re working on performance!
In my experience the removal of Warmog’s has made all AP teams a lot more powerful in general than a team with such an obvious flaw of being stacked to one damage type should be.
Would you consider changing Banshee’s Veil to the dominion version - Odyn’s Veil on HA to give more options to counter these kinds of team compositions? The passive on Banshee’s Veil feels extremely underwhelming on this map and I think the way Odyn’s is designed for constant aggressive play would better fit the pace of HA games.
RiotNome: That’s not a bad idea, actually. Now that Howling Abyss is done, we do plan on revisiting both TT and CS from a design standpoint. There’s a lot of work to be done, and large item overhauls are a big part of it. The HP/MR options are a bit sparse on Howling Abyss, so we’ll keep that in mind for future changes!
What about overall vision? Once your two towers are down you can’t see far down the lane at all.
RiotNome: This likely won’t change, as there’s not much use for greater breadth of vision on the map. On the topic of vision though, I will say that we experimented with some additional gameplay mechanics very early on. One of them involved detaching allied vision during the high winds (think Nocturne’s ultimate). The idea here was that the periodic high winds would blind your character, creating a state of frenzy that would break up the monotony of long-range poking. It’d also allow melee characters a great chance to run in and capitalize on disorganization.
RiotNome: That’s still going to happen; it’s just not going to happen for ARAM immediately. There’s a lot of reasons we’re not going to do it; unlike CS and TT, HA isn’t as far removed from Summoner’s Rift. We may come back and make small tweaks eventually.
The Howling Abyss
RiotNome: Summoner’s Rift is our most popular map, so it means we’ll have to do a lot of performance investigations and research before porting a change like this over. On Howling Abyss for example, there’s a fairly complex logic system that swaps out the current turret mesh with the appropriate destructible/destroyed mesh at the appropriate time. There’s performance considerations for every little bit of visual flair we do, and we’d want to make sure we do it right.
The rework of Twisted Treeline was a good step in the right direction. We implemented a lot of new techniques and technology and worked with creative to push the Shadow Isles lore.
With Howling Abyss we tackled a lot of tough challenges such as pushing depth, destruction, weather, ambient creatures, unique shop keepers and many other aspects.
We will continue pushing the quality bar while answering as many tough questions for what we can and cant do in our game. I don’t have any specific details about Summoners Rift, but I can say we will eventually be overhauling everything that is not at the highest quality.
Kitae: Shopkeepers were an unobtrusive way for us reveal lore and backstory to players without interfering with the game. We’re always looking for ways to combine lore with gameplay, but never at the expense of gameplay.
I’ve noticed that the music in the Howling Abyss has a lot of really cool stingers added in for different in game events, for example taking a tower brings in some massive drums and dying fades in some drones and creepy whispers. What else did you do to make the music in the Howling Abyss so fluid and seemingly endless?
In the Freljord theme, at the latter half of 00:06, there’s this low sort of war-like brass sound. What instrument/combination of instruments is that?
RiotPraeco: 1. Basically, apart from the victory/defeat and the death-track, there are 5 different music tracks and phases with different intensity to support a conscious emotional development of the individual game. The music shouldn’t just feel the same throughout the whole game, but progress with it. We also added a few other ambiences to glue the whole sonic experience together, so the sound effects have a nice “cushion” to sit on.
2. That instrument actually had a very conscious concept, thanks for asking, I like talking about that one. Basically, I talked to Sam Estes, one of my good friends, and told him “Hey, can you develop me an instrument that sounds like an ice giant carved out a gigantic tree and then blew air through it, to create this huge and intimidating tone, that still sounds very organic and natural?” – And that he did. He’s a very talented instrument designer.
3PEET: The environment art team had a meeting to discuss the overly aggressive feel of the map. We decided we needed some some whimsical elements to balance it out. We did some simple concepts and Poro came up.
RiotNome: Unintended! We weren’t entirely attached to the name “Poro” until it leaked on PBE because someone pinged it. We had no idea that was possible. I suppose, as someone who really loved that name, it worked out well.
RiotNome: Well, our animator CaptainLx made a death animation, and we wanted to find a way to use it, so naturally it turned into “how many awful ways can Poros die”. We threw around ideas like “what if the Poros got squished when the turrets crumbled over them” and “what if they ran really quickly, so if you actually caught them, you would step on them and they’d explode.” Brackhar vetoed them those ideas… blame him. Poros exploding after eating snacks ended up being a pretty innocuous way to use the animation.
IronStylus: Lissandra had always been a topic of discussion. We had two Freljord sisters, where was the 3rd? Initially she was “The Ice Dervish” and was envisioned to be more of an assassin, with ice blades growing out of her. She was regal and almost “good” looking. She had some elemental aspects to her but she was very traditionally human.
Not much traction was gained with those particular concepts. It just wasn’t really striking a chord with anyone. One of our newest concept artists at the time, Trevor Claxton, tried to take a stab at her soon after he came in. He proceeded to create something truely unique, and almost alien. His image of an otherworldly type woman carried upon a trail of black ice was a spark. It was that concept that spurred new ideas of how super-natural and strange Lissandra could be.
What worked about this concept was that this person felt like a queen, but not in the standard crown wearing way. She was indeed regal, but she was terrifying. She was almost abstract in her anatomy and shapes. It was this real breath of fresh air that spurred something that everyone could get behind on. It created a lot of momentum in helping Lissandra turn out as amazing as her concept.
I’ll have to ask Trevor, but Elesh Norn might have been inspiration!
RiotMeddler: Visually we wanted something with a somewhat alien, no longer human look, hence the unusual proportions, head dress etc. On the gameplay side we really wanted to capture some of Lissandra’s personality in her abilities – vicious, manipulative, dominating. We also wanted to explore a niche we haven’t used as much, a shorter range mage with strong initiation potential, whether in lane, team fights or ganks.
RiotMeddler: We were aiming for a few things with Lissandra’s ultimate. The first was to try and create an interesting choice between two different uses (self cast/enemy cast) to add some extra tension to fights as both the Lissandra player and as the enemy.
The second was to try and create a gameplay link to a key element of Lissandra’s lore, the desire to see the cold return and everything freeze. The final big reason was that we wanted to give her a high impact, short range ability, that, when needed, would allow her to survive in team fights, so that she could continue to build/play more like a mage than a tank, despite having both initiation capability and short range CC.
Kitae: We used to put one liners in bios to describe why champions joined the League. These weren’t satisfying, and they weren’t good stories. Our focus now is on telling compelling stories that help players understand who a champion is. If you look at all of Lissandra’s story elements (bio, login screen VO, howling abyss easter egg, video, Quinn’s journals) you can build a complete understanding of her character and motivation.
RiotRunaan: As one of the oldest champions in League of Legends, Ashe had a very limited VO script. We wanted to bring her up to the amount of lines we give our new champions (similar to the way champions like Twisted Fate and Annie got updated scripts with their visual upgrades) as well as give her tie-ins with other champions for the Freljord event. Her voice actress is the same.
As an avid player of the old Sejuani I have a lot of questions involving the rework:
- I have an interesting question regarding player perception. The Sejuani rework was actually a pretty decent nerf to her numbers wise, and slight changes to risk and reward. Yet everyone I’ve talked to that hasn’t played the old Sejuani too much thinks that the new Sejuani is way stronger. I think that this is very interesting that people’s opinion on Sejuani changed so much despite the main changes being visual. What is it that makes people see the new Sejuani as more powerful? Is it the new looks? Her new feel? (because in-game she has a very hefty feel to her) or is it that Sejuani was always pretty powerful and the rework just turned attention toward her?
- The old Sejuani had a very nice kit in my opinion, everything had really good synergy with everything else in her kit. It feels like the new Sej doesn’t really have that, especially her new Q. The problem with the new Q is that it is now only single target, which feels off in many situations. What was the thought behind the decision to change the Q to a single target skill?
- Piggybacking off my previous question about Sej’s kit, I’d like to ask about the removal of frost’s slow. The old passive on Sej was actually extremely useful, but it didn’t have too much of a visual effect in game. It allowed a Sej with only 350 movespeed to keep up with an enemy with 389 movement speed. This was a big deal in keeping on your enemy and making sure they kept taking your damage. With the new Sejuani, there is really nothing keeping them near you after the 2-3 seconds of E, and unless you burn ult they’re free to just walk away if they’re faster. What was the thought behind removing the slowing part of frost from Sej’s kit?
- When Sejuani first came out there was a saying about her that said after 30 minutes she was just a walking ult. This later got proved wrong, but I actually feel as if this is true of the new Sejuani. I feel that the reason for this is the decent nerf to her w, which when calculated with 2000 extra health bought comes out to about 500 less damage, this includes the 50% extra damage on frosted targets old Sej had. Late game there really isn’t much reason to focus her in a teamfight, unlike a lot of other tanks in the game. What are your opinions on this subject?
- Continuing off the previous question, I am pretty unhappy with the changes to her W. The old W felt very responsive and was simple in its application. In contrast, the new W feels very clunky and unnecessarily complex. My main gripe is with the second delay between activation and when the aoe damage starts, even if you decide to double tap the W. Beyond that I dislike that the modified auto attack doesn’t scale with health, unlike the rest of the skill. I feel like these are slight problems because there isn’t anything beyond the E and R if you decide to burn it that keeps them near you, so it feels like you need to pack all the damage you can into the 3 seconds that E is in effect. What was the decision making process in giving her a delay in her aoe, and making it also have a modified auto attack as part of it?
- Her ult had a couple of changes involved with it, it got an extremely slight range buff, I’m not 100% on this but it feels like the aoe of the burst was shortened by a good amount, now everyone within the aoe is stunned for a full 2 seconds instead of 2 for the person hit and 1 for everyone else, and now if you miss hitting someone it applies a slow within the aoe. I feel like this change added on an extremely substantial risk, for only a small change in reward. What are your views and thoughts regarding this?
RiotRunaan: 1. Our goal with the Sejuani rework was to shift power around, make it more visible and increase her risk reward on a couple of skills a bit, not to nerf or buff. I believe that the change in perception of Sejuani is a combination of some successes there (the addition of the knockup on the charge for example, in exchange for harder to perceive damage on the W) and all the extra attention she’s got due to the Freljord event/her visual rework.
2. Primary reason for making the charge single target was power. While testing the rework internally we had Sejuani consistently dominating games and removing a bit of AOE damage helped bring that under control. A secondary reason was consistency, having enemy champions take the damage but not the knock up felt odd and making the skill an AOE knockup wasn’t an option.
3. We’ve found permaslows to be really difficult to make both satisfying and balanced when they’re available throughout the game and not gated in some form (mana/CDs/something else). Something we wanted to do with Sejuani was increase her high moments but also give a few more options for counter play for the enemy in exchange, and the removal of the permaslow was a part of that trade off. Having said that Sejuani still has a knockup, one of the strongest multi target slows in the game and an AOE stun/slow, so she’s still pretty sticky compared to most champions.
4. Most tanks fall off late game to some degree and Sejuani does follow that pattern. Her damage is pretty solid/arguably a bit on the high side compared to other similar champions and she brings a lot of utility/disruption to a fight so we’re not currently concerned about her having a lack of late game impact. We are keeping a really close eye on both her and Trundle in terms of performance though and will be tweaking them as needed.
5. We wanted to involve Sejuani’s flail in her kit a bit more, give a small optimisation moment (correct use of auto attack reset) and give the enemy another small moment of counterplay (avoid the auto attack reset, take a bit less damage).
6. The burst radius on the ult hasn’t changed, though both it’s range and speed have been increased slightly. The full stun for everyone versus slow if you miss is a shift towards a higher risk/reward patten. The worst case scenario for the Sejuani player is definitely weaker, a 2 second AOE stun at long range though is incredibly powerful and a substantial increase in power compared to 2 second primary target/1 second others, so we’re happy with that change at present.
RiotEntropy: Udyr’s primal nature and shaman-like abilities felt very at home in the Freljord, so we looked at ways to involve him in the upcoming event. In the end we decided to expand his open-ended origins to the Freljord and empower him as a guardian of the natural order on Runeterra. Lissandra and the Frozen Watcher give him an immediate motive to be involved in the events unfolding in the Freljord.
RiotEntropy: Gragas needed a change. While his original motivation left us room to explore, his old story made him a hermit who did little other than pursue the art of brewing on his remote plot of land and occasionally wander into Noxus to make mischief. By taking away his crutch, the nexus on his land that gives his alcohol power, we could give him agency in the world and even agency into his own source of power.
Gragas is now someone who wanders the world searching to become the best brewmaster in history and he became powerful because he had the audacity to make concoctions no one else would dream of and possessed the constitution to stomach them.
What you see in the bio is one excerpt of Gragas’s life long quest, not the end all be all of his life’s work.
Kitae: Brand – Brand was never from Lokfar, the body he possessed was from Lokfar. While Brand definitely wants to burn the Freljord, that’s because the Freljord is part of the world and he wants the world to burn.
But Brand may know something about Lissandra and the Watchers.
IronStylus: We sort of wanted to explore some “alternate reality” here, showing what champions might look like in an interaction with this event. Sometimes the theme just makes for a nice treatment for the champion!
Morello: Blackfrost Anivia is the vision of a possibility – what would happen if the Frostguard were successful. Specifically, we wanted to make this still be Anivia, but under the shackles of being warped and corrupted. She still wants to protect the land and the world, but her method is twisted…she sees freezing the world solid, so it can’t hurt itself anymore, as the only viable option. It’s a tragic glimpse into what would happen to such a noble character should the land become warped by Lissandra.
IronStylus: We have some stuff in the works As per usual we don’t have time tables because content and context is always evolving. I do feel as though we’ll break out other patches like this, at least if players feel Freljord in particular was valuable. So, thanks for your support! I do very much want us to flesh out areas which are ambiguous and less developed…. especially Mount Targon
Morello: We do a lot of user research on the scientific level (davin leads this up), and pay attention to the forums and feedback, but we factor all this in overall. Sometimes, we’ll do things that aren’t popular, but feedback is important on how to do it better or what pain points players feel when doing it.
Basically, we’re never going to move to a design-by-committee system or anything, but we’re never going to just ignore feedback and trudge ahead. We may disagree sometimes, or there may be a bigger picture that players aren’t able to see, but it doesn’t change that feedback matters and is important
IronStylus: I can answer part of this: I think we want to message Relaunches better. We want to explain goals and the direction we feel we want to go, like Morello did recently on the subject of Sion. I’ve done some digging myself and we also have research initiatives we can do with players who are passionate about these characters and how to retain what is special.
Morello: To me, I think the biggest takeaway is how to more smoothly apply changes. This is something we already have a bit of practice with in game balance, but I think talking a little earlier and getting people’s expectations set before we make changes (and understanding how to both meet our long-term goals and be less disruptive) is a big lesson. See my Sion thread on the forums to see what I mean.
Hopefully this article has answered all your questions regarding the Freljord;
if not, feel free to ask me in the comment section below!