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Dote Night: Squirrel Design And Ratatoskr Art

Norse tales and tails

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart. THIS WEEK, however, she will be sharing concept art for an upcoming Smite god and asking questions about the design process!

The most recent character reveal for Hi-Rez's MOBA, Smite [official site] was for Ratatoskr, a little squirrel from Norse mythology who carries messages up and down the world tree Yggdrasil. Ratatoskr is already scurrying about on the test server while the developers see how he functions in the hands of real players but I wanted to take a look at the earlier bits of the process, particularly the early concept sketches as the artists and animators tried to figure out his final form.

First up, here are some of the concept sketches – just click on the picture for a bigger version:

In terms of what I gravitate towards I'd pick the first and third options from that top row, the final one on the second row, the first and third ones on the third row and the third guy – alert and on all fours – on that last row. I think generally I'm more into the squirrely squirrels for my Ratatoskr.

Then there are the more worked-up sketches here:

Of those I really like the last ones on the first and second rows.

I asked artist, Brian Wells, to give us a bit more detail about the design process:

Which elements of Ratatoskr's legend did you want to bring out in his look and which did you choose to leave out?

When we started to look into Ratatoskr, we found his lore is actually pretty sparse. This was a different problem to the likes of Apollo or Loki where there is a wealth of lore to choose from. In the end we used most of what we were able to dig up on Ratatoskr.

Particularly, how did you work the messenger aspect into the character?

We didn’t really highlight this overtly in his design, rather it was referenced in a few subtle traits of his character. For example, Ratatoskr's high speed and 'psychic' flight are both related to his ability to quickly scale Yggdrasil on his way to deliver messages. One of the most obvious references is that he carries a messenger bag on his side to store his acorn, and presumably gossipy notes.

Why did you opt to maximise the cute factor?

We always try to give players something a little different with each god, so with Ratatoskr we’re ramping up the cute. While Smite has a number of animal characters (such as Fenrir or Anubis), all of those characters were more regal or intimidating. Making Ratatoskr cute was a way to broaden our range a little, and get players excited about someone who is different to what has gone before.

The cuteness is something which the animators had to then factor in as they brought the character to life. "For Ratatoskr, we were able to devote the largest amount of complexity to his face and expression areas, which was a big help in making him as cute as he is," explained Daniel Lilleberg, Director of Animation. "There are limits on how many bones [they're the individual bits that make up the skeleton or rig - sometimes they correspond to actual bones, but sometimes they're bits of a headdress or an ear...] we can have on a character. The base body was set up to make the tail expressive, then the rigging team creatively applied the rest of the bones to his face, ears and such. They did a fantastic job and even gave us cheek expanders and a nose twitch - all great stuff. This allowed us to give him as much personality as we could in the game environment."

Now back to Wells:

What sort of skins do you think he will suit?

Sorry, you’ll need to wait and see. :)

Were there any challenges in making a small character - did you have to amp up his visibility?

There was definitely concern about Ratatoskr's size, but it’s worth noting that he isn't Smite's smallest character - that honor belongs to Cupid. We also made a decision to give him a large tail and glowing stripes, which enhance his visibility. In addition, an energy sphere surrounds him in combat, again serving to make him seem larger than he is.

Ratatoskr is also the first character in Smite with a god-specific item. In his case it's the acorn. He spawns with the acorn in its basic form in his inventory. These acorns are then used in several of his abilities – Flurry of Acorns is basically a radial damage ability using 12 acorns while Acorn Blast shoots 4 of them in a cone to deal damage. Over the course of the game you can upgrade the acorns in order to achieve different effects. For example, picking a blue acorn upgrade applies a slow to foes you hit when you use Flurry while a yellow acorn would increase the damage dealt. Going further along the upgrade paths you'll find cooldown reduction and penetration options, stuns, heals and AoE explosion effects.

Designer Rory Newbrough had this to say about how the item works:

We wanted Ratatoskr to feel nimble in every way, including his game play. Though he is one of our more mobile gods, we wanted to go a step further and make him agile in play style and itemization as well. The addition of the acorn is a brand new mechanic for SMITE that allows any Ratatoskr player to play him in their own unique way, building into his adventurous nature and tying the game play to his personality. The goal with the design of his acorn was to make each game with Ratatoskr feel different from the last, and with the purchase of the acorn being permanent it locks you into a certain style for the rest of the match.

London internet means the test server is installing so slowly that there's a chance it's actually gone into reverse and is deleting my own drawings of squirrels rather than providing me with a playable one of my own. If it does manage to appear on my PC before Dote Night goes up I'll pop a few of my own thoughts here. If this paragraph is still here then just know that I tried and that you should mourn me and my deleted squirrel pictures.

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