Every once in a while, there comes a champion so controversial that even the executives can't agree on what to do with them. Some might claim that the combination of two awesome elements can only yield up an even greater awesome of truly epic proportions, while others might cling to the superstition that too much awesome isolated in one particular being can only lead inevitably to disaster.
The two awesome elements that we're talking about in this case are, of course: bears and gigantic suits of armor.
For many of you, Volibear, the Thunder's Roar is no doubt the best news you will get in the time of your natural lives. For others, we understand the anxiety that might accompany the thought of facing down a massive, armored bear. If you're one of those summoners afflicted by a phobia of bear armory, we've arranged to include the following comic to help you face down your fears.
Ursine enthusiasts everywhere rejoice! Your bear in shining armor has nearly arrived!
Nathan “Riot Lutzburg” Lutz, Gameplay Designer: Volibear is one of my most played champions, so I'm thrilled to work on him! My goal is to preserve the spirit of current Volibear, allowing him to do cool bear things like chase down and maul his enemies. I'd also like to integrate his “thunder god” aesthetic into more of his kit while finding new ways to explore the bruiser role. Insert bear pun here.
Justin “RiotEarp” Albers, Concept Artist: I'm very excited to get to help bring new life to League's ferocious bear champ. I've been thinking about a Volibear VGU for a long time, and I know we're going to do his current design justice while creating something new and exciting for him. We have a lot of unique ideas that I'm already doodlin' and noodlin' on, and I hope Volibear mains follow along and get as hyped as we are. Time to get to work and bring the thunder! The Freljord calls!
Rayla “Jellbug” Heide, Narrative Writer: I can't wait to dig my claws into Volibear's story. I'm excited to show how he exemplifies this untameable, tempestuous force as the unforgiving leader of the formidable Ursine. In the Freljord, wild nature can be just as dangerous as magic, and Volibear embodies both elements to a frightening degree.
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.
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.
What Does It Mean to Be a Bear?
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!
Concepting the Bear Necessities
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!
Exploring the Complex Mind of a Bear
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.
In the last dev blog, I mentioned that we were still exploring directions for Volibear's gameplay design and hadn't settled on anything yet. Today I'm happy to say we've found an exciting direction for Voli's update, one that preserves Volibear's current gameplay identity while also giving him some unique new tools. We moved away from the permanent unstoppability idea and have instead been testing a new direction, making Volibear feel more like a god of storms, bringing thunder down on his enemies and the structures they hide behind.
One common thing we heard—especially from Volibear mains—was that the more grotesque-horror visual designs felt like they strayed too far from live Volibear, so we've refocused our explorations on versions that feel more true to current Voli. The horrific version of Volibear from recent lore was seen through Udyr's perspective, where Volibear was called forth by the most extreme Ursine. For his VGU, we want to show Volibear as he is to himself, in his most prime, original, godlike form.
Hey all, hopefully you've recovered from the psychological terror that is the Fiddlesticks VGU because today, we're diving into the second champion you chose for an update last year: Volibear, the Unforgotten Storm. I know it's been unbearable to wait for more information, but on the bright side, the time between this /dev blog and Voli's release will be shorter than it was for Fiddlesticks.
Since Volibear isn't too far away, we've decided to keep in-game footage under the veil of the storm and will instead be diving deep into our progress on his VFX, SFX, VO, and gameplay design—plus an early look at his reimagined Northern Storm skin.
A Storm is Brewing
Before we jump into the new stuff, here's a quick recap.
From the start, our goal with updating Volibear was to fully deliver on his promised theme of “lightning-fueled Freljordian demigod” and create satisfying, modern gameplay to match his legendary status in the Freljord.
One of the early challenges with Volibear was figuring out how to bridge his personality as he appears in game with how 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 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.
We explored some of these more grotesque-horror visual designs at first, but one common thing we heard—especially from Volibear mains—was that these designs felt like they strayed too far from live Volibear. We decided that, for his VGU, we wanted to show Volibear as he is to himself, in his most prime, original, godlike form.
Still, some players really liked the “Eldritch Horror” direction, so we've decided to take that concept across the finish line and release it as a skin. When Volibear launches, we're going to give this skin to anyone who already owns him (or picks him up that patch) for free. After that it will join his collection as a regular, purchasable skin.
As for gameplay, we started by exploring the idea of “feeling unstoppable” and tested a kit where Volibear couldn't be stopped by immobilizing effects (only slowed). We moved away from this design in favor of making Volibear feel more like a god of storms, bringing thunder down upon his enemies and the structure they hide behind. (For the latest on gameplay, check out the section below.)
NOW FOR THE NEW STUFF!
To kick things off, here's a sneak peak of Volibear's current in-game model, and let me tell you from experience, it is terrifying to see this guy running at you in-game!
“Relentless.” This one word drove my inspiration as we started to work on Volibear's abilities. My hope is that each one feels savage, unforgiving, and inevitable. Volibear's role sits somewhere between a Juggernaut and a Vanguard, allowing him to dive and disrupt teamfights while ramping up his own threat level over time. While he doesn't have the perma-unstoppability and slow-conversion we originally tested, there's still no escape from Volibear. He WILL catch you, and only death can stop him.
So just what are these abilities? We hope you'll be pleased to learn that most of them will feel like modern takes on his live kit. He still runs on all fours and locks down a single target. He still has a targeted bite, only this time it's both his opener AND his finisher. He still has ramping attack speed and chain lightning, only now it lasts for as long as he remains in combat. We've worked hard to bring in more skill expression to Volibear's kit, which should make both fighting as (and against) him more satisfying.
Our biggest innovations came from his E and R abilities. With the “savage bear” angle locked, we really wanted to push his fantasy as the Freljordian god of storms. These abilities will grant Volibear several new utility tools he's never had before, and aim to give players more to master over time. We're really pulling out all the stops for Volibear's ultimate, and we hope you don't find it too shocking.
Neal “Riot Nailock” Wojahn, VFX Artist:
While we aren't quite ready to reveal what Volibear's E does, we are going to show you what it looks like… through its VFX. Let's break it down!
First thing you'll see is a Freljordian rune carving its way through the earth. This appears with something known as an “erosion map.” Now this might not look like much aside from rainbow puke, but when we separate it into the respective channels, it becomes more clear.
Basically the way these channels work is that anything that's shown in black is invisible, and anything white is visible. We then run a graph through these channels, and as the value progresses—or goes from light to dark—it reveals more of the texture starting with white and ending with black. The end result looks something like this:
After these runes glow, the storm begins to gather. This storm is represented with three elements. One is a pretty simple particle of clouds that fades in and erodes out; these orbit and move downward. You'll notice that there are four different clouds on one sheet—this particle system is set to randomly pick one of these four to help create organic variety.
The second element of the storm is the static that arches up. Those sparks are created by modeling simple meshes and spawning them in a random rotation. Again, we put a lightning texture on them that randomly picks one of four cells.
The last element of the approaching storm scrolls a windy texture over the mesh as it fades in to create the sense that air is rushing downward.
Next we have the lightning, which is represented by this bolt texture that flashes in at high opacity, then quickly scrolls downward to create the crack of the bolt.
Then we have a shockwave that lets us know the storm has struck. This is achieved by spawning in arches of wind and shooting them out in a radial direction as they change scale to fit the circle shape. Little things like this can go a long way to clarify gameplay.
After the shockwave flash, there is a glowing crater that's left behind. This uses the same erosion techniques we used for the Freljordian runes, wiping in the shape of the glowing lightning and cracked earth. This then fades away, giving the feeling of rocks sinking back into the ground.
If you put all those VFX together, this is what you get for Volibear's E ability!
Jayvon “Riot Jirsan” Rymer, Sound Designer:
With every champion, we want to find a unique sound palette that makes them instantly recognizable. VGUs are always a fun challenge because we need to update something that's existed for years while staying faithful to what it was before.
I definitely wanted to keep some of Voli's key pillars within his kit, such as “God of Storms,” “Primal Power,” and most importantly, “Ferocious Bear.” I wanted it to sound like this really pissed off lightning bear is running at you andwill catch you. To make him feel more primal and aggressive, I wanted to incorporate some wardrum elements, so I took a few recordings of avalanches and started layering in different drum pieces to accent the cool patterns it was producing:
This started becoming layers for some of Volibear's spells, like his Q:
For his Q impact, I used a drum hit that I treated to sound more like a thunderclap and added more bear elements to the cast:
Lastly, while working on some bear vocalizations for his kit, I experimented with layering in elephants. Fun fact, they do a lot more than just the trunk trumpet sound that we all know and love… they sound terrifying doing everything else. I worked in a tiny bit of it into his passive breathing loop:
Plenty more to show later as we get closer to launch, but that's all for now!
The Voice of God
Julian “Riot Zimberfly” Samal VO Designer:
With every VGU, it's important for the champion to feel leveled up, modernized, and boundary-pushing, without disturbing the core of why people fell in love with that champion in the first place.
For Volibear, I started by listing the core adjectives and feelings that the player should get from his voice and narrative. It was clear to me that it was crucial to push that deep, huge, bassy, beefy, godlike aspects of Voli's voice as those elements are central to his narrative and an integral part of him that players love.
The first opportunity to shape the voice begins in the VO recording session. Beyond acting prowess from the talent, different recording techniques, the distance the actor is to the microphone, and the pace and projection of the voice can all have a significant effect on the voice experience. For example, on some of Voli's more solemn lines, like killing an enemy Ornn, the actor gave us deep, sorrowful, and resonant bass in his delivery. But on more violent, bloodthirsty lines, we pulled back on the input gain and let the actor give us a more gravelly, bellowed fury. Voli has a dynamic emotional spectrum, and I hope that is conveyed across the in-game highs and lows.
After the session, I set to work in bringing out the inner god of Voli's voice, starting with a tasteful amount of controlled bass that doesn't overwhelm the gamespace.
I experimented with some huge cavernous reverbs that evoked a Freljordian mountaintop, but mixed very subtly behind the voice, so that you “felt” them more than heard them, but this didn't feel right on the landscape and architecture of Summoner's Rift.
I'm currently experimenting with injecting a more ursine read, and I'm working with some animalistic and bear-related textures, so hopefully I can blend this into a cohesive voice that feels like it's coming from one unified bear god. Here's a preview of how Voli is sounding now, which is probably pretty close to final.
With champion updates, we're always looking for ways to take older skins and make them something really special now that we have a better understanding of our style, IP, and skin worlds. With the addition of Northern Front Swain, we felt like creating a really cool Arctic Ops version of Northern Storm Volibear would be exciting and match the feeling the skin was originally going for.
Using the Arctic Ops skin line for inspiration, + BEAR, + ELECTRICITY, we went for a first round of ideas.
Option “C” immediately grabbed everyone's attention. For a while, we considered keeping some form of the hat since it was a big part of the classic skin, but we felt like the tactical mask, gear, and tesla tech freshened up the existing motif of “cool winter tech.” Now to give him pants…
We experimented with a few different color options to be sure the camo worked on him and didn't look too busy or out of character. We opted for the more white/monochromatic version, as the others started to feel like they could be trendy ski jackets.
We also had to figure out what the Northern Storm version of the frozen lightning spikes on Volibear's back could be. Our idea was to turn them into antennas that would charge up his electricity. We didn't want the pack on his back to be mistaken for an internet router, so we added charges and a “power” lightning symbol to it. Throughout concepting, we had to make sure the patterns and tech gear still looked good when Voli ran on all fours—a challenge throughout all of development.
Next we made a quick 3D proxy model to be sure this skin design would work on his base rig and that the breather mask could open with his jaw, because our bear is a biter.
Our team was stoked to work on Northern Storm Volibear, as it's a vastly different fantasy from base Volibear and felt unique in his skin lineup. We hope you like the final concept! And with that, we're off to continue updating the rest of Voli's skins.
That's about all we have for Volibear today, but be on the lookout: There's a stream storm fast-approaching. Huddle up in the Freljord as we await its landfall. You'll hear more soon.
… one last thing before we go. The “Eldritch Horror” Volibear skin (which will be given out for free to all players who own or pick up Volibear during his launch patch) now has an official name: Thousand Pierced Volibear.
We leave you with a small tease of its horrifying splash art.