Ask Riot: Star Shards and Choncc
It’s all about TFT today, including the most difficult champs to bring to Fates and some fun stats.
Editorial note: Welcome to the final installment of our look into Spirit Blossom’s development. We hope you’ve had a great time so far. In case you missed them, check out “Crafting Spirit Blossom,” “Creating Spirit Bonds,” and “Finding the Spirit of Ionia” for a deeper look at everything Spirit Blossom.
Much of Spirit Blossom revolves around the event’s greater spirits—like bone-crushing Cassiopeia, handsome Thresh, and YELLING Wolf. When the sound design team started bringing their art and stories together into League, they stumbled upon a crucial question: What sound do spirits even make?
“When we first got started on Spirit Blossom, we all met up in a room, looked at the art for the skins, and started talking about what inspired us,” explains sound designer Daniel “Riot KDan” Kim. “We talked about the overall core feeling for the event, and then the individual things that we could use to differentiate between the akana and the kanmei.”
The sound team had a few constraints: Even though the akana and kanmei are different from each other, they still had to feel cohesive, like two sides of the Spirit Blossom coin. And Spirit Blossom as a whole had to feel unique as well. We’ve already ventured into the East Asian-inspired world with Mecha Kingdoms, Blood Moon, and Immortal Journey, so the team needed to find the thing that would set Spirit Blossom apart sonically.
“Spirit Blossom utilizes a lot of traditional East Asian instruments throughout all of the skins,” says sound designer Oscar “Riot Zabu” Coen. “By changing the way we blended wispy, airy sounds, we were able to differentiate between the akana and kanmei. But beyond that the biggest difference is that the kanmei have more consonant sounds, which are relaxing and happy. Whereas the akana rely more on dissonant chords. But they both use breathy elements, the akana’s are more scream-like, versus the more gentle exhale textures with the kanmei.”
Although the akana are the more malevolent of the two, they’re still a thing of beauty. Where Blood Moon or Nightbringer used more harsh screaming elements in their sound design, everything under Spirit Blossom’s umbrella needed to be pleasant to listen to.
Using this as their base, the sound designers just... leapt in.
Because Spirit Blossom has ten champions, and the sound designers all put lots of love into each of them, we’re going to break this down my champ, so feel free to look for your favorite.
Riven was the first of the Spirit Blossom champions to receive the sound design treatment. And like nearly every creative can tell you, the first drafts can be a liiiittle rough...
“When I started on Riven I was using her concept art for inspiration,” says Riot KDan. “Because her skin has so many purple tones, I was using that as the base for the sound effects. Her Q initially sounded too void-like because of this. It was really similar to Kassadin’s E. Luckily the rest of the team was able to help me find the right course for the sound palette, but I ran into some other difficulties along the way.”
One of the most challenging things when designing sound effects for champions in League is ensuring that the sounds don’t bectome muddled. Understanding the way a champion is played in the hands of a one-trick can be absolutely vital. And as Riot KDan was beginning to learn, Riven one-tricks have some pretty insane mechanics.
“I never realized what Riven mains did before I started working on her Spirit Blossom skin,” laughs Riot KDan. “She has some of the most complicated mechanics I’ve ever seen. There are combos and auto attack cancelling... It was really confusing. So I went to the RivenMains subreddit to learn how I could pull off the combos to test the sound effects. I also wanted to understand which skins Riven players liked the most so I could make sure the sounds were pleasant to listen to.”
After some “studying,” Riot KDan decided to focus on the transient parts (the first second) of Riven’s abilities. This left her with a punchier feeling and made sure that Riven one-tricks wouldn’t be blasted with a cacophony of sound.
“Teemo was a fun challenge for me because he’s kind of an outlier in the Spirit Bonds thematic. He’s a kanmei, but he’s really just this guy in a forest who pranks people,” laughs Riot Zabu. “He also has a very physical kit. He has his blow darts, but he doesn’t have that many magical moments where I’d normally inject the sound palette we made for the kanmei. But luckily his weapon is a flute. So I focused on that.”
Let’s be real, Teemo is the bane of many top laners’ existence. So making the annoying little monster a flute-playing menace seemed... perfect?
Riot Zabu leaned into Teemo’s newfound musical prowess and made his autos and abilities follow the pentatonic scale. The result is a happy song of Teemo murdering people.
The musical cues created a fun way to make Teemo’s gameplay more readable. His autos are a flute and his Q is an even louder flute that plays an octave higher. But there was still something missing, everyone’s favorite Teemo ability: the mushrooms.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the sound of Teemo’s mushrooms bouncing off one another. It’s a pretty distinct sound and I was having a hard time finding the right thing,” Riot Zabu says. “And then I found parrot sounds in our internal database and they sounded great. I ended up using only the low-end part so it doesn’t read as much like a bird, but there’s almost no processing involved. It just kind of worked.”
“Also I did something really terrible. I sinned and made Teemo’s recall spammable,” Riot Zabu laughs. “I mean, it’s only slightly spammable. I had a bunch of people playtest it to see if it was too annoying. But if you time it right you can have Teemo just shred on the flute whenever you do something. I’m really excited to see players troll people, and also kind of scared. I’m a Camille main and Teemo’s one of my worst matchups. I actually hope I never see him.”
Cassiopeia’s sound design faced a similar challenge to Riven’s, in that she has low cooldowns and requires you to spam abilities to play her efficiently. While not as combo heavy, her E has a super short cooldown at later levels, and that meant it was tough to find moments to express Spirit Blossom’s audio palette without it becoming overwhelming.
“Cassiopeia went through a bunch of changes over her process,” says Riot Zabu. “Originally we were going for glass-like sounds to emphasize the flowers in her art and visual effects. But we got some feedback from a few Cassio mains at Riot who said there was a big disconnect between the beauty of her visuals and the harshness of the audio. So we had to tone things down.”
To do this, they added more musical instruments and low bells to her kit to give a balance to the harshness of the glass textures. Riot Zabu wanted Cassiopeia to feel like a corrupted beauty—even more beautiful than the rest of the akana champions—so he lowered the amount of dissonance in her sound and tried to keep everything more in balance.
“The goal I set for myself was to create a skin that one of our QA engineers, Rob “Riot King Cobra” Rosa, would want to play because he’s a Cassio main,” Riot Zabu explains. “I injected a little bit of her Spirit Bonds persona into her W, where I referenced Goze No Yurei, a Japanese folktale of a ghost who plays a shamisen to attract a samurai and then... kills him. I felt it was really thematically on-point for where the narrative team had taken her story, and I wanted to add some references to it in her sounds.”
“Kindred is basically two different champions within the same kit. Wolf is akana and Lamb is kanmei, so that presented some interesting challenges sonically,” says sound designer Rachel “Starlet707” Dziezynski. “I had to try to find the right sounds that were unique to both of them, but still make sure that they cohesively felt like one champion.”
Starlet707 utilized drums and smokey sounds to make Wolf feel more akana, while keeping some of his characteristic sounds like howls. And Lamb has chimes and flutes, as well as another more unique instrument.
“I used an aquaphone for Kindred’s ultimate,” says Starlet707. “It has a really mysterious, ethereal quality that fits really well with Spirit Blossom as a whole. And I think it left this really beautiful kanmei feel to their kit.”
“Thresh was pretty similar to Kindred in that he’s another hybrid champion. He’s mainly akana, but he aspires to achieve the beauty that the kanmei have,” explains sound designer JP “Riot Strâtos” Aller. “He transforms in game by luring spirits in and absorbing their energy, and I really wanted the aspiration that he has for himself to be clear in his sound design.”
In order to capture this, Riot Strâtos used some of the building blocks the team created for the Spirit Blossom’s sound palette. These building blocks are essentially custom source material that’s pre-designed to fit within the thematic. And as each sound designer gets started, they add to the building blocks, creating a really cohesive feeling towards the end.
“Something else that I got to do on Thresh that was really cool was help flesh out his lantern’s personality,” says Riot Strâtos. “We got Thresh’s voice actor to give us some nonsensical demony lines that I could use to help create the emotes for the lantern. I also made the song for his dance, which I was hoping would fly under the radar, but it seems like players ended up really liking it.”
“Ahri was one of the first champions we started on for Spirit Blossom, and she inspired a lot of the direction we took with the sound palette,” Riot Strâtos says. “The ethereal world that the thematic development team came up with made me dive really deep into the lore and her story. She sort of charms the spirits, and that was something I really wanted to convey in her abilities.”
Riot Strâtos ended up designing Spirit Blossom Ahri’s sound effects specifically around her lore. Her Q is based on how she influences spirits, and her W is based on her clothing and the bells she wears when in her fox form.
Ahri’s E uses musical references to how she charms newly arrived spirits. And her R is the representation of fox sounds.
“I wanted to add actual fox sounds to Ahri’s abilities. But it turns out that fox noises are very annoying. They actually suck as a sound,” Riot Strâtos laughs. “I tried using a bunch of different animals to create a cuter source sound, and while it worked to make her sound cute, it just didn’t really work well. So I went back to the fox sources and I used frequency envelopes and reverbs, and then removed the parts that really annoyed me. I wanted to shape these annoying sounds into things that actually convey emotion.”
Yasuo’s a really popular champion, and when one champ has that many skins, it can be hard defining a new sound palette that feels unique while still ringing true to the original.
“Spirit Blossom’s sound palette was particularly challenging for Yasuo because it’s very calming and soothing, which is something he’s missing in his skins,” explains Riot KDan. “I really wanted this skin to keep the lethal and deadly feel that Yasuo should evoke, while still sounding beautiful at the same time.”
To do that, Riot KDan added bells and chimes on Yasuo’s Q stab. And while his “tornado ready” sound is aggressive on other skins, Riot KDan tried to make it sound as peaceful as possible for Spirit Blossom by incorporating flute sounds.
While working on this, he received feedback from some other devs regarding Yasuo’s most frustrating unique ability: his windwall.
“One of the animators told me that Yasuo’s windwall should sound like a magical painting was opening, opposed to regular wind sounds,” Riot KDan says. “It should be this magical moment. Because Yasuo plays the flute, I decided to add some of that—which was actually recorded and performed by Starlet707!”
Because Yone was still in development, his sound design process started later than the rest.
“At the time I was working on Spirit Blossom Yone, I was also helping with The Path, An Ionian Myth, which was in the process of receiving a fully composed soundtrack,” says lead sound designer Brandon “Riot Sound Bear” Reader. “I got to listen to some of the early music and it gave me a really cool idea for Spirit Blossom Yone’s E, when he enters the spirit realm. I thought the vocals from the music fit it perfectly, but there was a slight problem: It wasn’t the final version so it sounded a little rough.”
To isolate the vocal track from the early music, Riot Sound Bear equalized some of the music tracks out of it and presented it to the team. The feedback was... mixed. Initial reactions were really positive, but after playing it over and over, the team thought it sounded too close to a horn.
But Riot Sound Bear stood resolute—he knew that the vocal track fit and wanted to keep it. So once the final version of the music came in, he was able to get the vocal track, and then the team thought it fit perfectly.
Lillia essentially... is Spirit Blossom. And that’s one of the struggles that sound designer Darren “Riot DummerWitz” Lodwick faced when shifting base Lillia to Spirit Blossom Lillia. In a lot of ways the two are already so close—surreal, dreamy, otherworldly. So how, exactly, do you make Lillia sound even more like that without just ending up with Lillia squared?
“I started off by looking at the rattles of Lillia’s dream bough. In her base skin the sounds are very wooden, so I tried adding some very light metallic rattles and bells similar to suzu bells used in some religious practices,” Riot DummerWitz explains. “It kept the dream in and made the sound a little more spiritual. But I think the most unexpected thing I added was water.”
By replacing some of Lillia’s more magical impacts with water drop sounds, Riot DummerWitz was able to evoke a more spiritual and peaceful feeling—as if a single drop of water was hitting a perfectly still pond.
Vayne is a right click machine. Each of her abilities essentially just modifies her autos. So how do you add magical mysticism into such an obviously magicless kit? That’s the exact question Starlet707 had to answer.
“Vayne was more challenging for me despite Kindred needing to balance both the akana and kanmei,” Starlet707 shares. “Vayne’s abilities are very quick and hard hitting, so I needed to really search for opportunities to inject the Spirit Blossom thematic into her kit. One of the areas that I tried to do this was her tumble, and it ended up being quite a challenge.”
In its earliest iteration the ability sounded a bit too close to her base, so to bring it closer to Spirit Blossom, Starlet707 added bells and chimes, but there was a small problem...
“I added some bells to Vayne’s tumble and it didn’t work. It sounded so much like sleigh bells because... they were,” laughs Startlet707. “It’s not a Christmas skin, so that wouldn’t work. What I ended up doing was injecting some smokey elements and that really hit the thematic I was looking for. I also made sure to keep the physical clothing sounds, because it’s an important part of the gameplay read.”
We’ve been talking a lot about sound effects, but that’s only one aspect of sound design. There’s also voiceover design.
“When I started on Thresh’s Spirit Blossom VO, I didn’t take it lightly. He has a chillingly spectral voice that is key to who he is as a champion, and it wasn’t something I wanted to lose when bringing him to Spirit Blossom,” says audio lead Julian “Riot Zimberfly” Samal. “There would have to be some adjustments, though. I mean… Thresh is hot this time around.””
Even with his handsome new appearance, Thresh was his same ol’ sadistic self, and. Riot Zimberfly matched his new look with a different approach to the VO processing.
Thresh’s new voice is made up of three distinct layers, with a fourth that has a reversed reverb to give it the “classic Thresh” feeling.
The first layer serves as the anchor that makes it so Thresh’s words can be understood.
Layer two duplicates his voice, but drops it deeper and adds muffling to give him that ominous, dark feeling (perfect for a hunky spirit husbando).
Layer three adds the beef. It adds bass that should be felt, more than heard, giving him the power and presence he deserves.
And then on top of all of this, Riot Zimberfly added the final layer to give Thresh the spectral reverb feeling to keep him tied to his base fantasy.
“I originally thought when I was starting that I could just use one voice for both Thresh’s spirit and human form—how naive,” laughs Riot Zimberfly. “Once I accepted my fate and committed to doing two versions of his voice, I was able to double down on the spirit and human aspects to really sell each form. I think the end result leaves him feeling unique for each version, and I really hope that players end up liking it.”
And that is Spirit Blossom’s sound design. It’s also the end of our series. We’ve really loved working on Spirit Blossom and we hope you loved it as much as we loved making it. May your past joys bloom and your present sorrows wilt. Happy Spirit Blossom.