Kalista began development just as the smoke cleared from Jinxâ€™s launch. The champion team faced a new challenge. Years of female marks(wo)men featured similar shape language and gobs of guns, bows and even bow-guns. A consensus formed: the time had come for a different approach to a female marksman.
Most champions begin life as an amorphous idea blob. Someoneâ€™s inspired and does what inspired people do: bring their thoughts to life and share them like crazy. If that idea resonates, artists draw, designers noodle and storytellers write. When that happens, a new champion is on the way to becoming an identifiable embryo.
Concept artist Larry â€œTheBravoRayâ€ tackled the post-Jinx conundrum. Inspired by Zeus and his lightning bolts, he imagined a tall, athletic woman throwing a spear over and over again. But given that marksmen attack repeatedly all game, every game, he needed a conceit that kept her spears supplied.
Larry spoke about his approach to the issue, â€œI wanted to do the archetype of the fallen warrior.â€ He sketched a few undead representations of martial females to explore the idea. â€œI wanted players to think, why is she in this state? Why does she look like a wraith and howâ€™d those spears get in her back? Whatâ€™s the major momentum for this character going forward? From there I think we kinda knew. Brad â€˜CertainlyTâ€™, the champion designer, started talking and throwing ideas in and that helped drive the concept as well.â€
In early days, in-development champions earn codenames by what makes them stand out. Shortly after Larryâ€™s concepts began making the rounds, Spectral Legionnaire entered active development.
Teams in teams
Champions spring from tight-knit teams of craft-experts, where two people rarely have the same skills and expertise. Within the broader champion team, there are multiple, fully-functional teams and each is focused on one particular new champion at a time.
Even if these teams carry the responsibility to understand exactly who, what and why the champion should be in the game, they share their work widely, soliciting opinions and expertise from tons of Rioters. Even Ryze and Tryndamere pop in to see whatâ€™s being cooked up.
Kalista was still taking her first steps when Anthony â€œAnt in Ozâ€ joined Riotâ€™s narrative team. Sheâ€™d be his first project and he leapt right onto a charging train. â€œWe sort of knew she was betrayed and that was like a quarter of who she was. So my first task was to try and write a few stories to flesh out some ideas and see which of those stories resonated with everybody working on the champ. You can see very quickly when people get excited about a story and that gets them re-enthused about the champ… Thatâ€™s when you know youâ€™ve hit a good mark.â€
On Bradâ€™s (design) side of things, heâ€™d been prototyping cooperative gameplay designs with the hope theyâ€™d find their home in Kalistaâ€™s kit. In co-op, the funâ€™s in accomplishing objectives together, not simply doing similar things while standing near each other. This rule of thumb meant the relationship between Kalista and another champion required shared purpose and an even footing. The idea thematically lined up with Kalistaâ€™s martial bearing. Soldiers train to fight as a unit with common objectives–similar to the peer relationship in duo lanes.
When Anthony saw the early designs, he jumped. â€œThis was a good example of the background and the story getting inspired by the gameplay direction. I think that goes back and forth between gameplay, narrative and all the different artists. We all feed off each other. I think thatâ€™s a really healthy, natural way for things to work.â€
What began with Bradâ€™s exploration of how players could cooperate evolved into The Pledge that allows another champion to yield their soul to Kalista. With a thematic and narrative conceit in place for Kalista, Brad solidified how duo lane players could best work together to farm, score kills and save each otherâ€™s butts.
One particular problem still hovered over Kalistaâ€™s gestation. There was consensus that she would be a wraith, but striking the balance between who Kalista once was, a proud warrior, and who she is, the Spear of Vengeance, proved difficult.
Larry talked about a particularly dark time, â€œThere was a lot of feedback when people (internally) started seeing the character…they said, â€˜She looks too much like a zombie.â€™ And that was the key word, â€˜zombie, zombie, zombie.â€™ It was okay that she was undead, because that was the point, but the non-intelligent zombie was not what we wanted.â€ The artists on Kalistaâ€™s pod cooperated with illustrators on the splash team to rejigger her face, helping her become the purposeful, relentless hunter they imagined.
Anthony spoke about another breakthrough on the identity front. During VO (voiceover) development, â€œThere was a realization that she wouldnâ€™t say â€˜Iâ€™ very much because sheâ€™s more than one entity, really. So it became, â€˜We are the Spear of Vengeance.â€™â€ This shift allowed the team to make a clearer statement about who she is and explore the relationship between Kalista and the souls she bonds with. In seldom instances, when she remembers her past life, she still says â€œIâ€, providing a small glimpse into her harrowed past.
Brad emphasized trust as the key to navigating Kalista through difficult challenges and into the game. â€œWe were constantly faced with problems. Solvable problems that we worked through together, but meetings were less jokey. There was more spit-balling, more discussion on how to solve things…If I list the things that Iâ€™m proud of this team for, itâ€™d be a long list for this champion in particular.â€
Larry continued the line of thought, â€œItâ€™s all a bunch of professionals collaborating together… Every guy and gal is a pro at what they do and when we get tough feedback we trust. Like if itâ€™s gameplay feedback, I trust Brad is gonna understand and act and do things properly. Same thing with stories, or art or animation…â€ Offering a final comment, Brad said, â€œItâ€™s just something you have to be really excited about, you know? Not making a champion, but making this champion.â€