As part of Riot Games’s tenth anniversary as a company, the developers have put out a digital League of Legends [official site] art book. There’s also a physical version which will set you back $75 or $150 for the (out of stock) collector’s edition, but the digital version is free.
There are actually some really cool sketches and pieces of concept art included – I’ve popped some of my favourites below – plus you do get some insights into how particular champions developed, but I’d say it also doesn’t seem to dig particularly deep or offer up meatier reflections on the decisions made over the development of the game.
For example, there’s this gorgeous piece of Ekko concept art:
And this fantastic black and white sketch of Heimerdinger:
I also really like this series of sketches showing Vi in motion:
And then this sketch of her at home in civilian mode:
There’s a ridiculously cute Gnar series as well:
But there are also a number of moments which offer up an idea and then don’t really follow it with any meaningful examples or explanation. One of the artists mentions their background in comics and how they had to change their methods to better fit with the time constraints on League. But it’s just a passing observation – I wanted to know how their comics background affected their work, or how you transition from pencil sketching to purely digital processes.
There’s a quote on the Miss Fortune page which offers “We wanted her to feel like more than a pin-up” and then follows it with this:
After those images there’s a tiny paragraph with a bit more flavour text about Miss Fortune – smart pirates fear her, she prefers solitude but sometimes needs a crew, and she owes another character, Gangplank, a bullet. But coming off the back of the other pieces of artwork it can’t help but be undermined. At the very end of the page there’s a storyboard with events from her life which I really liked but on the digital version you only see the thumbnails at first and they’re buried away after those other images.
Here she is cauterising her own shoulder wound:
In terms of character art, obviously I’m not expecting this to be a treatise on the role of visual art in gaming, nor to want to get its teeth into some of the thornier subjects, particularly around character representation, but the book feels like it only really hits its stride with the final two champions included: Braum and Sona.
It feels like those tell small stories about the interesting aspects of the characters – why Braum ended up being a guy instead of a tiny lady called CeeCee, how particular shapes are associated with particular music styles for Sona, and how to make sure skins which depart dramatically from a character’s base design are still recognisable to players.
There’s also imagery from Summoner’s Rift, character splash art, pro-team-themed art and so on. It’s pretty general so I’m imagining it works better as a print version where you’re expected to spend a while with the images as they’re printed rather than swiping them on a tablet or clicking them on a PC.
For me the book (and I’ll stress I’ve only seen the digital version) kind of veers between interesting, stunning, generic, gloss, problematic, thoughtful and unquestioning. There’s a lot that I think the casual League fan will find interesting, particularly if they haven’t kept up with the art-related dev blogs Riot put up every now and again, or if they don’t know anything about artistic techniques.
But I also can’t shake the feeling that it’s not really offered me much in terms of insights. One section is just a collection of splash art which I’d mostly seen before and no context to any of it except the final image. For me the balance of imagery to information seems way off, which I think is why the whole thing seems skimpy. I wonder if the paid-for version is the exact same content. When the project is free of charge and you get what you’re given I’m more inclined to pick out the interesting bits and talk about those, but here it feels like it’s being billed as a book with more substance so I wanted to point out where I think it’s not really offering that. The URL for the free version calls it “Volume one” though, so I’m hoping further versions might delve a bit deeper.