Talking Targon with the Foundations team

By Rumtumtummers

Mount Targon is one of Runeterra’s most famous locations, a place with strong connections to League’s champions and rife with immense storytelling potential. The folks over on the League Community Podcast recently sat down with some of Riot’s Foundations team to gain insight into how its work helps build the framework for these stories, and to learn how champ bios, faction deep-dives, and art come together to create deeper worlds.

Not the podcast type? No worries—we’ve distilled the chat into the (slightly) shorter roundtable below.

So what’s the deal with Mount Targon, and why visit it now?

Ant Reynolds, lead Foundations writer: Targon is one of those places that gives us just a lot of storytelling opportunities. It’s got characters we all love and there’s some great stories around it, but we haven’t ever gone into it with too much depth. So it was a bit of a blank slate for us. It gave us a really good chance to dive in and start creating something truly unique.

Graham McNeill, senior narrative writer: Mount Targon is this enormous Everest-type mountain in Runeterra. It’s very much a place of pilgrimage in the world. Those who go there are drawn to the mountain. It’s a journey they feel they have to make. And when you get to the mountain—which is in itself an arduous and life-threatening journey of months or years—there’s a sense that this is just the beginning. Even though you’ve trekked for years and sacrificed everything just to get there, that was just the preamble to starting your climb.

Reynolds: Eric Canete, one of the artists on the Foundations team was doing some concept-type ideas just looking at some of our Targon champions and doing different versions of them, and some of the images were super striking. It was kind of bringing in a lot more of the celestial feel to it, looking at some of these characters as though they were almost myth-like. You could imagine someone looking up at the night sky, seeing things like constellations and the movements of the different planetary things—you could imagine them creating these myths.

What makes Targon interesting, from a storytelling perspective?

Reynolds: One of the things we really liked was that in the pre-existing story, you’ve got the power of the Lunari and the Solari. So this is where the power of Leona and Diana comes from—one represents the sun and one represents the moon. We asked, ‘Well, what if there’s more out there than just that duality?’ There’s all these different astral things going on up there; what if each one of them could effectively have an avatar on Runeterra? What would that mean?

McNeill: Looking at the existing background for champions (like Diana, Leona, and Pantheon) raised a great many questions. Where does their power come from? What is it? How did they get it? Why them? These questions unlocked a lot of potential stories for us and a lot of imagery for the artists, and those two things working together made for a really interesting space for us to explore.

How does the Foundations team approach updating known locations and existing bios?

Reynolds: We’re always coming at things like this from a point of respect for what’s there already. Not changing things for the sake of changing things, but building upon what’s already there, deepening the stories, deepening the characters. Players already love League’s champions, but how can we make players really fall in love with them, love them even more?

McNeill: The essence of everything we’re doing is evolution, not revolution. It’s, ‘What’s the essence of this civilization or this character, what’s the DNA of it,’ and then finding ways to strengthen and build upon those things to add layers, add depth, and add realism. We’re trying to make these places and characters relatable in some way and to develop hooks for future stories.

    If you’re writing something about a particular champion and you don’t want to go off and then play it, you’re doing something wrong.

Reynolds: We love this world and its characters. If we didn’t, we shouldn’t be writing them. It always comes across if somebody is really excited about what they’re writing; if you feel like they don’t really get the character or the place, the stories don’t ring true. We have to fall in love with these characters and locations before we can write about them.

McNeill: When writing the new bios, we met up with a lot of the folks who originally designed the characters, just so we could get a handle on the original thematic behind them and make sure we weren’t taking them in a direction that the original designers hadn’t intended or that would be contrary to what a lot of the fans and players out there would think a character should be.

Reynolds: What we’ve started to do is sort of go around the office and say, ‘Okay, who are the super-fans of Pantheon?’ and show them some of this stuff and sort of gauge their reaction, like, ‘Hey, is this cool, do you like this, etc?’ And I think that’s a really good way of doing a sort of sense check to make sure we’re not straying too far. Every one of these pieces aimed at creating something that someone who loves the character will read and go, ‘Yeah, that’s my Pantheon, he’s awesome,’ or someone who doesn’t play him would read it and go, ‘This guy is so cool, I really want to play him now.’

McNeill: If you’re writing something about a particular champion and you don’t want to go off and then play him or her, you’re doing something wrong.

Are there plans to create more Shadow and Fortune or Bilgewater-type longform stories? Are bios the best way to help players get closer to League’s lore?

Reynolds: Some of our bios need love, so we’re trying to come back to the ones that haven’t been touched in a little while, or those that are a little lacking in depth, and slowly just getting them caught up. We’ve got a lot of champions to get to, but every champion is someone’s favorite. You don’t want all those players to sit there and think, ‘I haven’t had something for my champion in years.’

McNeill: We’re looking for the best stories to tell and the best ways to tell them, and we have a million and one ideas for types of stories and various formats. Figuring out the best way to deliver them is still something we’re working on. Whether something works better in prose, or in a comic, or in a video game, as long as the person reading it goes, ‘That’s still Pantheon’ or, ‘That’s still Leona,’ you can make those choices.

Reynolds: We all want to tell great stories, and I think we’re getting there, but it’s not something that will just suddenly happen overnight. We’re on that track, and the opportunities are so, so huge. We’ve got a world here that we’re continuing to delve into and deepen our understanding of, which is a really amazing place to tell stories. And we’ve got this huge big range of characters—good storytelling is all about good characters. I’m excited for what we will do going forward.

What about players who don’t care about lore? How do things like new Targon stories impact them?

McNeill: Even in a competitive game, something about a particular character draws you to them. Maybe it’s how the character plays in the game, but perhaps it’s their visuals, or perhaps you read the story back when you were choosing which character you liked and thought, ‘Oh she/he is quite cool, I’ll play this one.’ I think at some level we’re all drawn to story, even if it’s just because you like how they got their sword, or something small like that. You can be a super hardcore competitive person who’s playing to win and crush your enemies before you, but still be someone playing out the story.

    Everything you see when a champ finally hits is the tip of the iceberg to all the stuff that’s gone into establishing who they are, what they sound like, what they look like, how they play.

Reynolds: That is really important. Even the players who say they aren’t into lore, they’ve soaked up so much of it through osmosis. They get to know these characters anyway, just through playing them and hearing their VO lines and stuff—they’ve already got a pretty solid understanding about what our champs are. If you put one of those characters into a story, even players who aren’t super lore-focused are still going to think, ‘Oh, that is the Pantheon I know’ or ‘Actually, that doesn’t feel like Pantheon.’ Just through playing the game you’re automatically getting to understand these characters.

McNeill: Everything you see when a champ finally hits is literally the tip of the iceberg to all the stuff that’s gone into establishing who they are, what they sound like, what they look like, how they play. Every line in League of Legends tells you something about that character, and every part of a story, like the background, the voiceover, the context, the look, the gameplay style—that all helps. You can main Pantheon, love him to bits as a champion and how well he plays in the game, and then you can read his story, because there’s some great context that any hardcore Panth player can connect to. If we can get just a tiny little hook like that, it feels like a job well done.

What’s next after Targon? Any personal favorites?

Reynolds: I’ve always loved things around the Shadow Isles, and I’m really excited for things around Piltover and Zaun and the stories there. I like them all—there’s also some great storytelling to be done around our Freljord characters.

    We want to craft a world for people to play in. It’s not designed to say, ‘Here it is, and that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it always will be.’

McNeill: Runeterra is a great setting where you can have the down and dirty stories in the guts of Zaun, the cosmic stories told through the background of Targon, and everything in between. The Freljord has always appealed to me. I love that whole icy tundra, civil war, barbarians thing. That’s always spoken to my inner Conan; I want to dive deep into the ice and the drakes and the longships at war. But like Ant, a lot of the worldbuilding stuff we’ve been doing recently has given me a real yearn to dive into something for Piltover and Zaun. We could go anywhere.

Reynolds: Just think about all of the interesting stories in our own (real) world, and then realize that Runeterra is a world with magic and this kind of stuff. We can have so much fun with that. We never want to be too restrictive. We want to have lots of room to go in different directions. We can flesh out the world a little bit more and understand it a bit more, but we should always leave lots of room to play, lots of room to introduce new characters, new races, new places. There should always be heaps of room for creativity.

McNeill: Everything we’re doing with Foundations is designed to inspire creativity at Riot and amongst players. We want to craft a world for people to play in. It’s not designed to say, ‘Here it is, and that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it always will be.’

Reynolds: That’s why we call it Foundations. It really is just the foundation that players and Riot teams can build upon. It’s like a sign that says, ‘Demacia is kind of in this direction, now go play and create cool stuff.’

3 years ago

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