Aurelion Sol, The Star Forger, is joining the League of Legends [official site] roster of champions as part of the game's 6.6 patch. The character has its roots in a far older design – lightning dragon Ao Shin – but ended up morphing into a sort of rock star space dragon as a new team picked up the project and got to work. David Bowie, or more specifically, Ziggy Stardust, was a key reference point for the developers.
I'll go through his abilities in a moment, but I also wanted to say that reading through all the Q&As and character information Riot have published also gives a bit of an insight into how championship development works, or at least highlights some of the challenges involved when creating a new character so I'll highlight some of those snippets too.
Aurelion Sol basically functions as the centre of a mobile galaxy with three stars constantly orbiting him. In terms of how he fits into the League of Legend-iverse, he's a kind of celestial creator with a streak of arrogance which leads to his downfall:
"We devised this story of Aurelion Sol as a proud creature who was given a crown by the Targonians, ostensibly in tribute of his magnificence, but really to force the dragon into their servitude. He was tricked, basically - a victim of his own hubris - and did the Targonian’s bidding before he finally discovered a reason to come to Runeterra: to set himself free."
FYI, I have a crown but I bought it myself while at GenCon so I presume I haven't been enslaved by an in-game faction.
So what does this space dragon actually do then?
This is the three stars which orbit Aurelion Sol constantly. They give a decent biff of damage if they hit an enemy and will probably remind Dota players of Wisp/Io's particle spirits. They can pass through walls which you can use to interesting effect but MORE IMPORTANTLY they are still visible if they orbit outside the brush when you're hiding in it. So your character model is invisible, but if your stars poke out those can be seen. I like this. It makes me think of Aurelion Sol as a toddler playing hide and seek and you can still see his legs and hear him giggling because toddlers are useless at stealth.
Aurelion Sol fires a newborn star in a target direction. He can either detonate it himself or it detonates automatically once it passes the maximum orbital range of his stars (more on that with the W ability).The detonation stuns and damages nearby foes. The thing to note here is that if you can keep pace with the Starsurge it keeps growing and thus has a wider area of effect when it goes off.
W: Celestial Expansion
This one's a toggle that pushes the orbiting stars further away from Aurelion Sol's body and boosts their power. It costs mana to turn on and when it's on it drains mana. When it's off the stars come back into their regular orbit. You can use this to zone, to get extra hits on a fleeing enemy and so on
E: Comet Of Legend
This one is to do with movement and I'd say you'll need to actually play about with the character to get a feel for it. The idea is that going in one direction lets you increase movement speed while sharp turns are bad and lose you movement speed. He's like an unwieldy truck heading down a hill. If you do lose speed on one of those turns it gets converted into an "Escape Velocity stack" because astrophysics. If you max out those Escape Velocity stacks you can activate this ability to take flight. What that means is you fly in a straight line ignoring terrain and enjoying flying vision of whatever you're passing over. You can still use Q at this point so you can chase a Starsurge across the map, detonating it as you land for a gank, but other abilities or taking damage will bring you back to earth. I wonder if you can land anywhere weird?
R: Voice Of Light
Aurelion Sol shoots out a wave of starfire in a target direction which damages and slows enemies that it hits. If you're near him you also get knocked back to that outer orbit ring. It's less of an ultimate and more of an option to round his kit out and give him a bit more wiggle room if his positioning isn't great in a fight as he's not a very mobile guy when in combat.
Okay, so that's the skillset. Ganky dragon, good at pushing lanes, who can get himself into scrapes if he messes up positioning and with a kind of orbiting celestial defence system.
But what of those design snippets? Mostly it was interesting to me how much this champion in particular had prompted questions about how particular elements worked – vision of champions, for example, and balancing the power of abilities in relation to one another. I'm going to post some of the quotes below because I think they're good for clearly expressing how some of the elements of champion design work as well as going a bit deeper into #dragonproblems.
Gameplay designer Luke "Rabid Llama" Rinard on why Aurelion Sol's passive works the way it does in brush:
"Aurelion's stars do a lot of damage - enough that getting hit by an invisible one out of a brush would be a pretty big deal. This presents us with a choice - we can make the spell both strong and invisible, which is unfair (we don't like unfair very much), we can make the spell weaker and invisible, which is lame (we wanted Aurelion's stars to be a big deal), or we can make the spell strong but visible, which isinconvenient (Aurelion can't hide in bushes). That's an oversimplification, but it's the sort of spectrum of choices that we have.
"Given that, I decided to lean hard into the "strong but visible" camp. Present the counterplay clearly to the opponent at all times, and if they fail, or Aurelion succeeds, then Aurelion gets to win."
Rinard adds that part of the decision was also about testing how different gameplay experiences work (although they will re-evaluate if it's awful):
"So what happens to the game when a character can't hide? What kinds of things can their kit do instead to compensate? What happens to their playstyle when I tell the player that standing still, ever, is a bad idea? What gameplay comes out of being out of vision (so, not targetable) but having your position given away? I'm excited to find out :)"
Rinard also addressed the fact that the dragon's ultimate feels more like another regular ability than an ultimate:
"For this kit, we wanted to focus as much on the Stars of his Passive and W as we could. We found that we had a lot of fun, novel gameplay in a simple mechanic, but that it needed to hit pretty hard to be satisfying. So, when it came time to pick an ult, we didn't have a lot of power left to spare."
Basically, characters have a power budget which you need to distribute amongst their abilities. If you want a showstopper ultimate it means you need to tone down other abilities and that would have meant those stars packing less of a punch. For me it's interesting when the power distribution is less weighted towards an ultimate because it affects when power spikes for characters occur in the game. It's not necessarily about when they have access to their ult.
"After much gnashing of teeth (muuuch gnashing of teeth), I settled on the current ultimate more for game design reasons than for character design reasons - it had the mechanics the character wanted. Burst damage, check. Long-range damage, check. Added safety (so you can screw up that positioning game a little and not instantly die), check"
Regarding why Aurelion Sol can't just fly all the time:
"Unfortunately, it does gross things to melee opponents, since they can just never hit you more than once. Going over walls is so powerful that having a character that 1) can ignore walls and 2) has a vision radius is already like 80% of a champion's regular power budget."
On the problem with tails:
"Our dragon’s early tail snaked around after him, and made it super easy for enemies to hit him with skillshots. We tried running with that, thinking of dragon as a tanky champion to match his tanky shape, but it didn’t hit the space-faring magical dragon fantasy we were leaning toward, and we started running into weird art and gameplay issues with his tail. On top of looking more like a snake than a dragon, he could head up to the top lane triple brush area and have his head in one section of brush, the middle of his body in the open, and the tip of his tail in the next brush over. What did that mean for visibility in our game? Our concerns led us to trying out other body shapes, and we ended up turning to the night’s sky for inspiration, using the idea of a comet - with its burning bright body and faded tail - for our dragon’s body. Our dragon would start out solid, but gradually become more and more ethereal - with stars peppering his body - as you got closer to his substantially shortened tail."
This art note by Gem "Lonewingy" Lim also adds a bit of tail info, explaining how it ties into the lore regarding the crown:
"We already knew that Aurelion Sol’s tail would be much wispier than his head, but decided to use the physicality of the Star Forger’s front half as a way of showcasing the power the Targonian crown had over him, while adding inner stars to the tail end of his body. This doubled down on the sheer scale of the dragon while also reinforcing where players should and should not aim their skillshots when they’re fighting him!"
And just to round off, here's a bit of trivia about the voice acting which tickled me:
"After some different takes, we tried something a little... weird, and suggested the actor do jazz hands as he read his lines. It worked a treat."
Now, as tradition dictates, we must listen to Imagine Dragons: