Hey Summoners!Chris "Pwyff" Tom
Welcome back to another entry in the dev blog! Today we're going to be taking a time machine back to the creation of Vi, the Piltover destroyer of all things squishy. There were a lot of challenges involved in the making of Vi (including thinking up words that begin with Vi-...), but there's a lot to share here, like how we design cohesive champion kits and how many different ways there are to punch things in League.
So without further ado, I'll let Gypsylord take it away!
On my first day at Riot I saw a concept art by RiotZeronis for a female "Piltover Enforcer" on the ideation wall with a post-it note that read: "OMG I WILL COSPLAY THE *%&$ OUT OF THIS!" I immediately fell in love with the concept, so I begged Ziegler (the Lead Champion Designer at the time) to let me work on her for my first project.
Six months later Vi was released to terrorize the live environment, much to the dismay of every ADC player ever. In this blog, I'm going to discuss the evolution of Vi's kit over the course of her development cycle while highlighting the design decisions behind some of the changes we've made.
The first thing I did when I got the go-ahead to work on Enforcer (as she was called at the time) was to think of the core beats I wanted to hit with her gameplay. After staring at the concept art for a few hours and hearing her creative pitch (an ex-criminal turned bad cop with giant gloves she used to bust open bank vaults), I knew she needed three things:
I chose the above three aspects to focus on because I felt they best represented something we call a power archetype. When a player sees Vi's splash, they see a punk girl with an aggressive personality and giant oversized gauntlets that she uses to punch things REAL HARD. Creating Vi meant we needed to deliver on that archetype – a super-aggro-punk, similar to how someone picks Darius to be a brutal warlord who crushes people with his massive axe. If the gameplay doesn't deliver on the character's power archetype, it can lead to an unrewarding experience that's forced to lean on other things to be fun and satisfying (looking at you Sion).
Let's start with a paper kit (a theoretical champion kit) that got scrapped. You'll notice some base ideas for Vault Breaker and Denting Blows that were present from day 1:
Vi's next attack after each spell cast deals bonus damage and shreds her target's armor.
Vi roots herself and charges up her gauntlets over 2 seconds before dashing forward, dealing a ton of damage and knocking back the first champion hit.
Vi creates a spell shield that reflects back the first spell to hit her.
Vi claps her gauntlets together on a nearby target, dealing damage and slowing them. Any enemy killed gets 'gibbed,' dealing Crush's damage and slowing in an area of effect while resetting its cooldown.
Vi dashes to a nearby enemy (range and speed similar to Xin Zhao's Audacious Charge), dealing damage and suppressing her target for 1 second. During this time she could recast Steampunk Assault to select one of three effects:
After some preliminary playtests with feedback from various designers, one thing became very clear: while some of the spells were quite fun to use, they just didn't feel "right" for Vi. Vault Breaker was the sole exception to this, having received overwhelmingly positive feedback from day one.
I ended up taking a step back to examine why Vault Breaker was doing so well. The conclusion I came to was the same point I outlined earlier: all of Vi's other abilities just weren't delivering on the character archetype. Crush was fun but it felt like a ground slam, not a huge punch. Throw made for awesome plays but why use gloves to pick people up? Come at Me was a purely defensive move that was entirely reactionary – it had no inherent aggression. Vault Breaker, on the other hand, was everything I wanted Vi players to feel. It was aggressive. It had impact. It felt very much like something that Piltover's bad cop would do to a fleeing criminal.
With Vault Breaker in mind I decided to scrap much of Vi's kit to start again with this rule: if an ability couldn't be described as a punch, it wouldn't fly. Throw and Crush were a lot of fun, but they weren't punches. A good lesson I learned from this was that sometimes awesome mechanics need to be put in storage if they don't accomplish the goal at hand. I still want to put Throw into the game, but it just didn't fit on Vi.
After a few months of ideation, I ended up with much of the live kit that you see today, except for Vi's ultimate. Here's where she was prior to Assault and Battery:
Vi dashes to a nearby enemy (400 range) and uppercuts them into the air. 0.5 seconds later, she slams them back into the ground, stunning everything nearby.
If you've ever played a squishy champion against a fed Vi, you likely know the terror that is Assault and Battery. So you're probably also looking at Power Slam and saying to yourself, "That spell looks almost fair, why change it?"
Power Slam had two key problems. One, it just felt like a bad Unstoppable Force (Malphite's ult); it was shorter range, it stunned for less time and the AoE was easier to avoid. Second, and more importantly, Vi as a character didn't have a unique strategic niche in the game. With this kit she did the same job as Xin Zhao and Jarvan IV, but unless she could out-stat the both of them (more on this later), there was just no reason to pick her over Jarvan IV, who brings Cataclysm. I felt like Vi's ultimate, if done right, had the potential to solve both problems.
Vi knocks you up for 1.25 seconds. End of story.
In my opinion, all champions should ideally have a reason to be picked over any other within their role. Each champion needs something unique to them that no one else has. When we do this right, we create characters that don't have to rely on raw power to be appreciated and can instead feel good about that one awesome thing they bring to a team. When you pick Twisted Fate, you get his global teleport and you think of all the awesome ganks you can pull off at level 6. There's always going to be the option to run that global comp and, regardless of power (up to a point), TF is always going to feel good in it.
As a counterexample, when you pick Volibear, you can run around and "do things" but you're only going to feel uniquely outstanding when you're simply out-statting your opponents. If your team wants a tank with a flip, you should be running Singed. If your team wants a tanky dude with a crazy single target execute, then Garen seems more viable. Maybe there are team comps who need a single-target execute on a tanky bear with a flip, but Volibear just doesn't have many things that are uniquely his own and, as a result, he's always going to be judged by how high his base stats are compared to the other champions in his role.
With the above philosophy in mind, I went in search for Vi's unique niche, and came out of the lab with Assault and Battery. Why do you bring Vi to a team? Because she provides the best guaranteed ranged crowd-control in the game. You can't flash out of it. You can't cleanse it. You can't dodge it. Vi knocks you up for 1.25 seconds. End of story.
My initial desire was that when someone like Vi goes into the fight, the counterplay was less about avoiding that fear-seeking punch-missile and more about what you do after you get Assault and Battery'd. A Vi who gets to her target and smacks it down over time has counterplay. A Vi who gets to her target to punch them straight into grayscale is less than ideal.
Additionally, I'd be more than happy with Vi picking out her target at 800+ range if she's doing it to set up a fellow teammate for a pick-off, but that's also not happening (see above re: grayscale punching). Vi should love extended fights thanks to Denting Blows, and her scrappy punch-gal motif seems more in line as a brawler than a bursty assassin.
We're keeping an eye on Vi as she continues to rampage around the live environment, but I hope this gives more insight into how we approach champion design and specifically how Vi's kit came into being.