Finding the Spirit of Ionia
The videos that capture two brothers bound by one story.
A few months ago, you all voted on which champion you’d most like to see updated in 2020. The poll was so close that we decided to update both Fiddlesticks and Volibear next year, and today we’re here to share the latest progress on their VGUs!
We started early discovery on both champions around the same time. As of right now, we’ve found what we think is a strong, exciting direction for Fiddlesticks. He’s made it through ideation—which is where we lock down the direction of a champ’s gameplay, narrative, and art—and moved into early production, which is when we start moving towards getting the ideas into the game. Volibear is pretty close to early production as well, but we’re taking a bit more time to make sure we’re equally confident in the Freljoridian demigod’s direction.
Let’s kick things off with the latest on Fiddlesticks.
Blake “Squad5” Smith, Gameplay Designer: When approaching Fiddlesticks, we wanted to focus on highlighting the identity Fiddle already had—a teamfight-winning ambush mage. Crowstorm is such an iconic spell that we wanted to have the rest of the kit support what that ability tells Fiddle to do. That pushed us toward the idea of Fiddle being one of, if not the best, “ambush” character in the game.
For gameplay, this means giving Fiddle players tools to keep hidden and to find (or create) ways to ambush and trick their enemies. When a player succeeds in ambushing their opponents, we want to make sure they’re in a powerful position to win the fight. Fiddle’s going to have some fun new mechanics both inside and outside of teamfights that are going to give him a real advantage… especially if enemies refuse to face their fears and find the scarecrow before it finds them.
Fiddlesticks’ concept artist Sunny “Kindlejack” Pandita is temporarily out and wasn’t able to do a full breakdown today, but he’s still really excited to be updating one of his favourite champions of all time. Here’s the latest terrifying spread of concept art!
Jared “Carnival Knights” Rosen, Narrative Writer: During very early story development, we brainstormed where the “new” Fiddlesticks could fall and what faction or race it might fill. Demon? Ionian spirit? Cursed object? Angry Freljordian ghost? Fiddle doesn’t really look like anything else in the game, so it could hypothetically be placed in the rural wilderness of almost anywhere. Then there’s that name: Fiddlesticks. A necromancer probably wouldn’t call their bloodthirsty new creation Fiddlesticks, nor would a warlock read from the grimoire of Dread Lord Fiddle In The Middle.
“Fiddlesticks” is a name a child would coin; something you might invoke around a campfire to scare your friends.
When we look at truly ancient champions like Ornn or Tahm Kench, they have hundreds or even thousands of origin stories and tales surrounding them, with dozens of names depending on the individuals or cultures that came into contact with them over the centuries. Fiddlesticks could easily fit in among them, having preyed on mankind for godless ages, so it would make sense that there would be nursery rhymes and storybook fables and old wive’s tales about a living scarecrow. Monster? Harvest deity? Eldritch artifact, controlled by some other person or creature? Instead of settling on one, Fiddle could invoke them all, an ancient malevolence with unclear origins, gone from the world long enough for warnings to become stories, stories to become myths, and myths to become simple children’s tales… until now.
Then there’s the question of what Fiddle could sound like. As an utterly inhuman entity (regardless of what its true origins are), Fiddle lacks internal organs, a brain to think, or vocal chords to form sentences. Any type of voice it might have wouldn’t sound like a person, but rather a projection: Just as a scarecrow is the crude facsimile of a human being, its voice could be a crude mimicry of people it has come across/killed. We’re still in the early stages of exploration there, but I did float the idea of having five separate voice actors all whispering at once, repeating odd, overlapping phrases as though Fiddle was trying to appear human at a distance, and a terrifying monster up close.
Turns out that having a cacophony of random people saying things at you is extremely off putting in a gameplay environment (for the player as well as their opponents). Whoops. But on its face the concept was pretty well received, so there might be a way to execute on it more effectively… with one or two little tweaks I want to try, for when Fiddlesticks finally drops the mask, and the odd, thin man standing at the edge of the field turns out not to be a man at all.
(Oh, and don’t worry. I’m also thinking about surprise-party-birthday-clown stuff. Honk honk.)
Now let’s talk about the lightning-fueled Freljordian demigod. As I mentioned, we haven’t settled on a design direction for Volibear just yet, but the team has been exploring some exciting hooks to set him apart from the rest of the champion roster.
Nathan “Riot Lutzburg” Lutz, Gameplay Designer: “Feeling unstoppable” was one of the first goal statements I wrote when outlining the Volibear VGU. After trying several iterations which attempted to capture that feeling, the team encouraged me to push the envelope and really go for it. As a result, one of the concepts we’re exploring right now is the idea that Volibear refuses to be stopped by immobilizing effects. Instead, he converts effects like roots and stuns into self-slows, which scale based on the strength of the crowd control that hit him. My current challenge is figuring out the specific rules and balancing levers we’ll need to ship such a unique mechanic, but so far our playtesters have referred to it as “surprisingly fair.”
Outside of that, I’ve been focusing on how best to preserve and enhance Volibear’s unique focus on basic attacks. While subject to change, I’ve moved his chain lightning ultimate to a passive effect to make room for a more explosive and variable high moment on his R. Finally, I’ve been experimenting with ways to modernize some of his other hallmark mechanics, such as his health regeneration and lightning roar. Over the next month, my plan is to keep pushing on Volibear’s relentless ability to chase down enemies as a unique gameplay hook—stay tuned!
Justin “RiotEarp” Albers, Concept Artist: We’ve officially kicked off development since that first batch of initial concepts, and I was ready to really get into it.
Things got a little dark at first—the bottom spread of Volibears went the more “demon bear” route. For D, I was thinking it’d be interesting if Volibear developed some sort of coarse, hardened armor, potentially on his head (forming the shape of a skull) and on his torso. I wanted it to give him a primal, ancient look. He’s wearing strips of bandages and ripped clothing as a way of breaking away or “hulking” out of his Freljordian parameters.
For E, I wanted to get pretty ferocious with Volibear, with the weapons sticking out of his back and lightning striking all around him—I wanted to simulate him raging out against humans/civilization trying to bring him down with the only means they know. He wears a slight headdress/Freljordian embellishment to bring back a bit of that cold culture, and he has the lightning scar tattoos on his back.
F Voli is maybe the most monstrous, simulating nature’s chaotic fury and death.
For the top spread, my aim was to explore a few different personalities for Volibear to try to find the right tone. In A, I was going for a more veteran, grizzled, powerful elder bear, with hundreds (thousands?) of years of experiences and warfare behind him. He’s got the storm mane, and after the innumerable lightning strikes, he’s developed a callous sort of armor on his skin.
For B, I wanted to get super primal and feral without getting demonic, bringing back the weapons on his back and showing him in a roaring pose. I was thinking those blue shapes coming out of his head would be lightning strikes frozen into true ice to connect back to some iconic Freljordian characteristics. The fur on his back is burned Freljordian striped patterning where the lightning has seared across his back.
For C, I wanted to go back to the idea of Volibear as a Freljordian deity, and bring back some of the armored “warbear” feel of current Volibear. I was referencing images of ancient Chinese deities with the floating scarves around their heads and shoulders, and thought it would be cool if instead of a scarf it was thundering storm clouds! I added in some braiding in the beard and hair to add a bit more humanity and emotion to the more bear-like qualities of this iteration.
These are all directions we’re still exploring! I’ve been playtesting the kit when I can and have really enjoyed my experience so far—there’s been some super exciting kit ideas to go along with these visuals and the developing story thoughts. I think Volibear players will be excited to see where we are heading!
Rayla “Jellbug” Heide, Narrative Writer: One of my current challenges is figuring out how to bridge Volibear’s personality as he appears in the game with Volibear as he appears in the stories on universe. His current voice has a calm resonance that gives him a certain honorable dignity. But he’s also a ferocious, ancient god of the Freljord and a literal bear who can overpower you in a fight with the wrath of a storm. In the lore, we’ve seen Volibear as the terrifying entity with many eyes, a monster whose back is studded with the swords of lesser men, people who have tried to take down the beast and failed. But I suspect Volibear is not the type of warrior to run away from his foe and get stabbed in the back—he faces his enemies head-on with fearless instinct.
I’m also exploring Volibear’s relationship with nature and mankind. Does his power come from his human worshipers in the twisted Ursine, or from nature itself? Or perhaps he believes in the rewilding of mankind, that humans have become weaker and less true to themselves with the growth of civilization. I don’t expect that he wants to destroy all of mankind, but perhaps he thinks men need to pay penance for their mistakes.
In some ways, Volibear has an opposite philosophy from Ornn, who crafts weapons for warfare but doesn’t care to meddle in human affairs and prefers to be left alone. Volibear does not seem to craft or create—instead he destroys human creations and their falsehoods and does get involved in their wars, and he certainly does not care to be ignored. Perhaps he resents the fact that humans have become less dependent on their demigods, to the extent that they have forgotten their roots. Perhaps he wants us all to return to the old ways of lost myth and unsung ritual.
In any case, I seek to bridge these seemingly opposing aspects of his personality—his wisdom and wildness, his nobility and violence, his calmness and ferocity. We have seen how Ornn sees him, how tribes of the Freljord see him, but we have not yet seen Volibear’s tale as told from his own perspective. I’m excited to give a voice to the ancient demigod who will not be forgotten.
We’ll be back in a few months with another progress update. Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below!