Aurelion Sol has been in and out of development for a long time - years, if you trace him back to his roots. We’ve already discussed the problems with the initial Ao Shin pitch - check out our post here - but here’s what happened after we headed back to the drawing board and set about creating the cosmic creator getting ready to crash into Runeterra.
Despite previous challenges, we still thought the dragon archetype was a really cool, ripe space for a champion, so our first order of business was to try and figure out the theme or style of dragon we were creating. We tried out smoke and earth themed dragons, then slotting him into a few of the Runeterran factions. But whether we dressed him up in Noxian gear, hextech threads or Ionian attire, something just didn’t feel right - our dragon didn’t feel particularly unique to Runeterra. We started thinking bigger, and as we did, received new artwork from the Foundation team - Rioters who were already in the process of redefining Mount Targon’s look and history.
Something clicked instantly. Instead of slotting our dragon into one of our pre-existing factions, we could have him come from the universe beyond Runeterra! Mount Targon was already something of a bridge between Runeterra and the celestial world - Leona and Diana in particular - so aligning our skeleton of a champion closest to it made a ton of sense for us. If nothing else, it meant we could go big, upping his scale way past anything else we’d made before. And let’s face it: when it comes to dragons, epic is the cost of doing business.
With the foundations starting to take form, we started thinking about how exactly a space dragon would operate in a game of League. Would it attack with its tail? Would it fly? Did it have wings? Scales? Would it breathe fire? These were all questions we needed answers to, so we mocked up an early demo version of a dragon, and sent him on to the Rift.
We ended up turning to the night’s sky for inspiration, using the idea of a comet - with its burning bright body and faded tail - for our dragon’s body...
Even before he had his abilities down, his shape and size gave him characteristics that didn’t tally up with the champion we were trying to create. Our dragon’s early tail snaked around after him, and made it super easy for enemies to hit him with skillshots. We tried running with that, thinking of dragon as a tanky champion to match his tanky shape, but it didn’t hit the space-faring magical dragon fantasy we were leaning toward, and we started running into weird art and gameplay issues with his tail. On top of looking more like a snake than a dragon, he could head up to the top lane triple brush area and have his head in one section of brush, the middle of his body in the open, and the tip of his tail in the next brush over. What did that mean for visibility in our game? Our concerns led us to trying out other body shapes, and we ended up turning to the night’s sky for inspiration, using the idea of a comet - with its burning bright body and faded tail - for our dragon’s body. Our dragon would start out solid, but gradually become more and more ethereal - with stars peppering his body - as you got closer to his substantially shortened tail.
Feedback was solid. We were on the right path. Next we tried to figure out what our dragon would actually look like in-game. We were super cognizant of the various dragon interpretations around the world (dragons are huge, flying, fire-breathing beasts in Western mythology, and serpentine water-based creatures in the East), so looked to tread some ground without leaning too far in one particular direction. At the same time, we started to tackle the dragon’s character. It was all well and good creating a colossal space dragon, but who was he? How could we realistically slot this potentially galaxy-sized cosmic thing into our world? How or why does he interact with the denizens of Runeterra?
So, who exactly was this giant space dragon? We started out thinking about space itself, and why this dragon was there in the first place. After a few failed directions, we started thinking about him as a celestial creator, someone who literally created entire galaxies as he meandered about the final frontier. Instead of a Rek’Sai-style beast, he was an artist - a beautiful, magical being who’d for centuries created the constellations that peppered the night sky. The idea slotted in well with his burgeoning look, so we ran with it. But we needed that spark, that wink that’d catch us off guard, a square peg for the round holes we’d found in his character. So we gave him a sprinkle of pomposity along with his magnificence.
We needed that spark, that wink that’d catch us off guard, a square peg for the round holes we’d found in his character...
David Bowie’s the reference we kept on floating around the office. He ticked all of the boxes we were looking for with dragon: artistic, effortlessly marvelous, and beautiful, and the whole Ziggy Stardust thing was a pretty convenient reference, too. We wanted our dragon to be really smug and pretentious, but, crucially, to get away with it, too. Say some guy walked up to you claiming to be the world’s greatest musician before sitting down at a piano and banging out some keyboard-destroying, world-changing masterpiece. You’d probably pull a face and say something along the lines of “Yeah, fair enough,” right? That’s what we wanted our dragon to do, too, but instead of tickling the ivories, he’d create entire galaxies. Imagine the ego on that guy! He’d be the most condescending and belittling ass ever, but, because he’d earned it, we’d love him regardless. Of course, we had to think carefully about the name. We couldn’t call the most grandiose character in our universe “Steve” or “Gary” - he needed something much more spectacular. After a few weeks of toying with monikers, we came up with the name bestowed upon him by the Targonians. It was suitably artistic, pretentious and… well, big: Aurelion Sol.
So that the who sorted out, but now the other big character question: why? Why was he here? We went back to Mount Targon and started thinking about potential connections between it and Aurelion Sol, and after learning about the Aspects stories , decided that we could tie the two together quite nicely. We devised this story of Aurelion Sol as a proud creature who was given a crown by the Targonians, ostensibly in tribute of his magnificence, but really to force the dragon into their servitude. He was tricked, basically - a victim of his own hubris - and did the Targonian’s bidding before he finally discovered a reason to come to Runeterra: to set himself free. We won’t spoil his full story here, but it lined up perfectly with the character we’d given him.
We went back to Mount Targon and started thinking about potential connections between it and Aurelion Sol…
Meanwhile, Luke experimented with Aurelion Sol’s kit, working closely with CertainlyT to find a really solid gameplay hook. They knew that the dragon would wield strong magical power, but he couldn’t be, as RiotWrekz put it, “just a wizard in a dragon costume”. Looking to really give him a unique spot among the mages, they focused on fluid movement and emphasizing the long tail’s graceful motions. This led (eventually) to the orbiting stars, which put a huge focus on constantly moving to keep your target at the perfect range. Starsurge added another point of interest, changing Aurelion Sol’s back-and-forth dance into a headlong sprint towards danger. For Comet of Legend, CertainlyT was inspired by the idea that taking flight should feel like a reward, and as such it needed to be earned somehow. Building up speed along a runway first before launching into the air turned out to be super satisfying while still offering a clear window for Aurelion Sol’s opponents to interrupt his takeoff. Slowly, ability by ability, we figured out a kit thematically grand enough to match Aurelion Sol’s narrative and art.
We knew that the dragon would wield strong magical power, but he couldn’t be, as RiotWrekz put it, “just a wizard in a dragon costume”.
We decided to use the physicality of the Star Forger’s front half as a way of showcasing the power the Targonian crown had over him...
We started applying the finishing touches to Aurelion Sol. We tweaked his visuals, animating him so that he looked less aquatic, while touching up his face so he was less of a beast and actually pretty handsome. Next came his crown, which we were able to link to his actual gameplay. We already knew that Aurelion Sol’s tail would be much wispier than his head, but decided to use the physicality of the Star Forger’s front half as a way of showcasing the power the Targonian crown had over him, while adding inner stars to the tail end of his body. This doubled down on the sheer scale of the dragon while also reinforcing where players should and should not aim their skillshots when they’re fighting him! Magic. Finally, we picked out the voice actor for the role, and headed to the studio to record Aurelion Sol’s lines. His quotes actually came really easily - Aurelion Sol had plenty to say, particularly to other champions - but, for whatever reason, the deliveries weren’t quite right. After some different takes, we tried something a little… weird, and suggested the actor do jazz hands as he read his lines. It worked a treat, and once we were done recording, we’d just about wrapped up the glorious beast about to hit the Rift.
We’ll be back soon for Aurelion Sol’s Q&A session! Get creating your questions for the team!