Red Post Collection: /Dev: Summoning the Worlds Dragon, Quick Gameplay Thoughts: 12/15, & More

Today’s red post collection includes a /Dev on how they brought the Elder Dragon to life at Worlds this year, Meddler’s quick gameplay thoughts for 12/15, and more!

Continue reading for more information!

Table of Contents

/Dev: Summoning the Worlds Dragon 

Here’s Biomajor and Oniatserj with a look at how the Elder Dragon came to life at worlds this year:

“We’ve always aspired to bring memorable and exciting events to Worlds each year, but in 2017 we wanted to see if we could really raise the bar. So when we started laying the groundwork for this year’s Finals opening ceremony, we assembled a team to do something we’ve all, in our nerdiest moments, wished we could do: Summon a dragon. 

BRINGING LEAGUE TO LIFE 

One of our highest priorities when planning global events is paying tribute to the host nation. With Worlds in China this year, the inclusion of Chinese culture was important. Starting in February of 2017, we slowly pieced together this year’s opening ceremony featuring an authentic Chinese Erhu player, Peking opera masks modeled as LoL champions, an appearance by superstar Jay Chou, and a live performance of “Legends Never Die” by Against the Current. But we still felt like it was missing something special—a twist to reflect the size and scale of Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium. 

We brainstormed a couple of ideas and eventually landed on using augmented reality, the art of inserting graphics into the real-world environment, as our weapon of choice. Augmented reality, or AR, is created by having a real-life camera control a virtual camera within a render engine, simultaneously merging the two images to give the appearance of the unreal made real. AR isn’t new to sports broadcasting—forms of AR have been used in traditional sports and in other esports events such as Dota’s International (and even our own NA LCS, MSI, and Worlds)—but we wanted to try creating something at a scale beyond anything we’d attempted before. 

Initial ideas for AR use during this year’s opening ceremony included Ryze shooting magic around the stadium and Ashe firing arrows out of the projection screen. But we also had this long-running joke for years: “Let’s just have a dragon perch on the stage.” We didn’t have a portal to Runeterra to import a real dragon (yet), and when that joke was born, the technology needed to make a dragon feel like it was actually flying into a real stadium at a high enough quality hadn’t quite been developed (or made affordable). But by 2017, AR tech had advanced to a level that we thought might just be up to the task. We formed a team of some of our craziest technology innovators to try and answer the question of, “Can we make a dragon?” 

While television broadcast AR has evolved greatly over the past few years, we were still worried that it couldn’t handle the scope and fidelity needed for the dragon to feel real. The main challenges we knew we were going to face were: 

  • How do we get a dragon to fly into the stadium and land on the edge of Bird’s Nest?
  • How will the dragon cast realistic shadows not just onto the floor, but onto the actual walls of the stadium itself?
  • Will we be able to adjust the lighting the day of show in order to match the weather outside? How?
  • How do we time its entrance perfectly with the live performance? 

DREAMING OF DRAGONS 

We wanted to have a forceful and awe-inspiring presence come to life over the skies of Beijing, and there is no monster in League more powerful, intimidating, and badass than the Elder Drake.

We teamed up with some partners of ours to spin up some brand-new concept art to serve as the base for the custom model and animations needed for this new incarnation of the Elder Drake. We considered a lot of different directions, but as we looked at the concept art, we felt most excited about the concepts that enhanced what was already epic about the Rift’s most intimidating beast. One of the most important things was making sure that no matter what we did, players would still immediately recognize that thing swooping down into the venue as their friendly neighborhood Elder Drake. 

In order to hit the mark on what the Elder Dragon would look like if it were brought to life, we examined every aspect of the dragon in detail, from the head, to the limbs, to the wings.

Through a lot of iterations on each individual aspect, it all came together to form the final concept art. 

With the concept complete, it was time to begin the modeling process. Unlike traditional character modeling for pre-rendered animations, we had to keep a close eye on how detailed we could make the dragon while also still being able to render it in real-time. 

WHAT IS REAL-TIME RENDERING? 

Real-time rendering is being able to produce an animation that is rendered so quickly that it looks like it’s being generated live. This differs from pre-rendered animations, where it can take hours to render a 10-second scene (Toy Story 3, for example, famously averaged seven hours of render time per frame). Even if you’ve never heard of real-time rendering, you’re actually super familiar with it—it’s how your graphics card renders games. 

In our situation, we had to be able to render in real-time the dragon flying into the stadium to freely move our cameras around and get our entire opening ceremony in the shot. This meant we had to keep track of the poly count, or vertices, that were being used to form the dragon so that it wouldn’t glitch or lag on-air. This isn’t much different from keeping track of the poly count for in-game models when designing a game; it’s always a careful balance between quality and performance. 

Here’s a quick progression of the modeling process: 

While all of this was going on, we had a separate team working on the actual animation of the dragon flying into the stadium. We looked at some of our favorite dragons from Game of Thrones, DragonHeart, and others to really get an idea of how a dragon would interact within an environment like the Bird’s Nest. How would it fly around? How would it land? How would it react with people at its feet? 

The very first animatic concept had the Elder Dragon bringing in the Summoner’s Cup with it and placing the cup on the stage. Ultimately, the idea of bringing in the cup was abandoned once we opted for the 16-meter inflatable trophy rising up as the dragon circled the venue. Also, the real Summoner’s Cup is too heavy for even a dragon to lift.

We tried having the Elder Dragon land on different parts of the stage and maybe having some sort of interaction with the performers, such as the dancers being scared and running away or ducking out of fear. In the end, we felt that if an actual dragon flew into its den and saw thousands of people there, it would want to make sure everyone knew it was in charge. It’s the Elder Dragon after all, so putting it front and center seemed like the only way to go.

As the animation started to take form, we ran into another issue: The dragon was a bit too big. Basically, its wings glitched through the stadium during its descent, completely ruining the illusion. We also couldn’t see its shadow, which we needed to properly overlay onto the audience to help make the image feel more real (basically, this is what makes it look like the dragon’s shadow is being cast on the actual people in the stadium). We thought about scaling the dragon down, but then we tried doing what a real big-ass dragon would do: Change the flight path. We adjusted the descent in order to make sure the shadows looked right and the scalyboi wasn’t merging with the walls of the stadium.

REAL-LIFE HEXTECH 

Next, we listed out the things we’d need for the animation to play smoothly and keep the fidelity we tried to create during the design phase:

  • Guarantee animation runs in real-time at the same frame rate as our broadcast, 59.94fps
  • Ensure dragon can cast soft shadows on geometry the size and scale of the Bird’s Nest
  • Create 3D masking so that the dragon can appear behind the stadium as it enters and leaves, and behind the player sleds when it lands
  • Be able to adjust scene lighting at any time, in real-time, in order to accommodate whatever weather scenarios we may encounter
  • Include the ability to color correct the dragon in real-time to match the exposure and contrast of the actual cameras
  • Use two cameras with tracking capabilities sent to two different real-time render engines
  • Be able to trigger the animation at the same time on both engines in order to be able to seamlessly cut between cameras
  • Have the animation triggered at a specific point to line up perfectly with the music of the opening ceremony
  • Plan and rehearse enough so that camera operators get perfect shots in an environment with so much going on

In order to test that we were able to do all of these things, we got all of our equipment together and summoned the Elder Drake to our parking lot. Here is the test (excuse the dirty camera lens) that got us really excited:

Once we got onsite at the Bird’s Nest, we had only one week to set everything up, make sure network connections were safe and stable for tracking to be seamless, ensure audio for the dragon was sent to the right place, check that the animation trigger was working properly, and, most importantly, see in-camera that the dragon was lining up perfectly in the stadium—all in addition to the usual hectic setup that accompanies any live League event. 

We also practiced with the dancers and dragon around six or seven times, during which we discovered that if the camera move and the choreography of the performers weren’t timed perfectly, the dragon would squash the dancers on the stage (not a big deal to him, but sort of a bad look). The dancers had been practicing this timing for a few weeks at this point, so any changes coming from us could potentially throw everything else out of sync. 

We decided to hide any squashing with coordinated camera zooms:

All of the shots that you see are done live by a real camera person. We ran through the dragon sequence countless times with our camera operators to make sure they knew where to have their cameras start their shot, the exact movements they would need to make, and when to make their zooms. We wanted to shots to feel imperfect so that it seemed like a dragon caught the camera guys off-guard. 

Here’s a view of one of the camera operators getting a shot of the dragon flying over the audience:

Ten minutes before broadcast, we noticed that the position of the masking for the dragon was off (it looked like it was landing inside of the wall, rather than on the edge). This could have been caused by a variety of things—even something as small as the base of the camera being shifted by centimeters simply because of vibrations. Minutes before going live, we had to go inside of our real-time graphics editing application and move the dragon up. We also took this time to adjust its color to fit better with the time of day, so it wasn’t too bright or too dark. Then it was time to send our Elder Dragon soaring into Finals.

The audible gasp from the audience in the stadium when the dragon jumps off of the roof sent chills down our spine. Reading and hearing the reactions from our players regarding the dragon is exactly why we do this. The hope and goal is to always create memorable experiences for our fans and players that they can take home and share with their friends. As long as we can keep working on that mission, we will continue to develop and work on the next great thing. Until our experimentations on our pet eastern indigo snakes produce a successful baby Baron, we’ll continue to challenge ourselves to raise the bar on Worlds and deliver experiences worthy of the passion you pour to this community every day.”

Quick Gameplay Thoughts: December 15 

Here’s Meddler with his quick gameplay thoughts for 12/15, including thoughts on Sightstone, Kleptomancy, Minion Dematerializer, and more:

“Hi all, 

Usual Disclaimers 

These posts will often contain talk about future work we’re doing, or planning to do, that isn’t yet guaranteed to ship. The nature of the work could change or, depending on what we discover, projects mentioned may get put delayed or even stopped. If you’d like to see a Tweet whenever a new one of these posts goes up: https://twitter.com/RiotMeddler 

Sightstone Tweaks 

We’ve got some somewhat experimental Sightstone adjustments that should be coming to PBE in early January. Goal there will be to make it less of a burden on supports in terms of how much it limits their ability to build/choose other items. More details and rationale to follow next month. 

Coming work on Kleptomancy 

Sometime early next year, 8.2 most likely, we’ll be doing a bit more work on how Kleptomancy procs. We want to reduce the difference between great and poor users of it somewhat so that we don’t have to balance it until it’s only a reasonable option for those best able to optimize it at present (mainly melee solo laners with short CDs fighting other melee, plus a couple of others like Ezreal). Might also need to drop its average power a bit too, with one of the current theories being that the amount of mana regen it offers may be a bit too high on top of the other benefits also given. 

More thoughts on Klepto and how this change is testing during 8.2’s development in January. 

Minion Dematerializer 

We’re also working on minion dematerializer. Timeframe on that’s uncertain, with work on Klepto and a new resolve keystone taking priority. One concept we’re currently trying out that sounds intriguing at least is swapping it to an item that mind controls an enemy minion, giving you the gold/XP and converting it to your side. That’s very experimental, so might not go anywhere, figured it was worth sharing to give some insight into the sorts of changes we’re thinking about for that slot though. 

Slow down as the holidays approach 

We’re getting close to the end of the year, with 7.24b (that’s just gone out) our last patch until January. We’ll be working on stuff for 8.1 for the rest of our time in the office in December, with some changes in response to how 7.24b lands. If anything looks exceptionally out of line we’ll be assessing it as a possible micropatch candidate for next week so that it’s not sitting in that state for longer than a normal patch cycle over the break.”

When asked about the reverted Black Cleaver changes that were testing on the PBE, Meddler replied:

“Quote:

Hey Meddler, 

Why were the Black Cleaver buffs canceled? They could be a nice compensation for some fighters that used fervor in old system.

Combination of concern around changing too many things at once and that Black Cleaver buffs also help a number of champs not in need of further power. Might revisit the idea depending on how things look after these changes settle.”

Meddler talked more about Minion Dematerializer:

“Quote:

With regards to Dematerializer becoming a mind control item, Would the mind controlled minion give your opponent gold/xp as well? I feel that it shouldn’t or else your giving the opponent and extra minion in lane to cs.

Maybe 5g or something around that mark (as per other pets). Certainly not full gold/xp.”

He continued:

“Quote:

That would be really interesting — interesting enough, honestly, that I’d be rather sad to be limited to only six charges of that all game, since it has some really cool late-game potential. Just probably not enough to be worth an item slot. 

Would there be some possibility of, since this is unlikely to need twitch reflexes in most situations, implementing this as a feature that doesn’t occupy an item slot? Either with a clickable UI element, effect when you target a minion with your trinket slot, or something else? I’d personally love to see something like this on a cooldown, storing maybe 2 charges at a time, and usable throughout the entire game.

Version we’re currently testing is a regular active item, reuseable/with a CD, that can be sold or upgraded into Banner or Zz’Rot.”

When asked about future changes to the rune trees, Meddler commented:

“Quote:

With the changes to resolve, is it likely that every tree gets a new keystone at some point? 

Thanks for this post and the new patch by the way – the micropatch has been a great way to get changes out. I’ve seen rumours of bigger 4 week patches and smaller patches in between. If this is the way you end up going, I feel that 7.24B is a great example that it has worked!!

I suspect we’ll end up with 4 keystones eventually in each tree. That’s not a rigid rule we’re aiming for or anything though, depending on what’s needed and which rune ideas work out possible some trees get to 5 while others are still at 3 if the 3 is functioning well already. Domination seems to be in a pretty good state keystone wise for example.”

Meddler continued:

“Quote:

Has there been any discussion or thought either in development of the runes or currently about getting rid of rune tree passive stats, and having some form of choosing which stats we want to take. For example going domination/resolve but taking attack speed as the stat boost? 

It could be like a point buy system for AD/AP/AS/HP/Armor/MR

We’ve talked about additional changes to the raw stats from Runes as possibilities. There are some benefits to tying stats to trees picked though. Tree/stat combos are a balancing lever (if you want X rune, you need to be willing to take some of Y stat) which can let us offer certain effects in places where they’re not as crazy on some users as if they also came with the most desired stats. Stats by tree also helps create more distinct identities/experiences between the trees. 

That’s not to say we’ll never make any changes, it’s something we’re still actively talking about, with the upcoming Resolve HP/other tree stat split being a testing the waters as to the impact of one type of change. There are just some downsides to free stat choice in addition to the upsides.”

On Lucian, Meddler replied:

“Quote:

What is consensus on the state of Lucian? 

One of the worst looking ADC right now.

I dunno, I think he’s a pretty cool looking dude personally. 

Power wise he could do with some work though certainly, offered in a way that doesn’t force us to balance him around mid only like we had to recently. We did have someone looking at that earlier in December, top lane/fighter stuff for 7.24b ended up being the higher priority though so that investigation ended up on hold.”

Quick Hits

“ok 

Animation: ehlBoy https://www.youtube.com/ehlboy 

Animation: Jomm https://www.youtube.com/FlashJ0mm 

Music: Domics https://www.youtube.com/D0MICS 

Effects: Miccool https://www.youtube.com/micshower 

**Created in collaboration with Riot Games**”

Reminders

To round out this red post collection, here are a few reminders on current promotions or limited time events!

  • Snowdown is here through January 8th, including new DravenJinx, and Poppy skins, returning legacy skins, missions & rewards, summoner icons, emotes, Poro King and + Snow Battle ARURF, and more!
  • Just in time for Snowdown, the Riot Games Merch store has been updated with a variety of new items including a preorder for an XL BRAUM unlocked statue, new shirts and plush, a free holiday ornament with purchase, and more!

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