Next Article

Melting Barriers: Bringing Snow Back to the Rift

A look at how and why we revived Winter Summoner’s Rift

By bananaband1t
Santa Baron and Fluffy Poro

A few years ago, we replaced Summoner’s Rift’s copypasta of textures and landscapes with hand-painted pixels, transforming the outdated environment into a modernized battleground. Because the new map was basically an oversized piece of art, implementing map skins instantly became more difficult. In the past, Winter Summoner’s Rift was generated using the traditional approach of tiling textures, but on the new Rift, this yielded inconsistent (or low-quality) results. In order to really convert the Rift into a winter wonderland, artists would have to spend months painting the Freljordian conditions by hand, only to watch the snow evaporate within weeks. For a while, the resources required to temporarily bring frost to the Rift didn’t seem worth cutting into development resources for other features.

A fiendishly friendly Yordle helped change everything.

Teemo Saves the Holiday

Doom Bots of Doom was revamped for The Teemoing event, but the Rift wasn’t nearly spooky enough to be the summoning grounds for the Little Devil. Halfway through the game mode’s development, artists started experimenting with the lighting on the Rift to try and create an eerie atmosphere. With a few candles and mysterious incantation books, things began to feel much more ominous.

Summoner’s Rift: The Teemoing Edition

The reimagined map had a few flaws, partially because it was created in a couple weeks, but it still helped deepen The Teemoing experience. This also marked the first time any changes were made to the Rift since its update. “Until then, Summoner’s Rift was like a sacred baby,” technical artist Brendon “RiotVitzkrieg” Vitz says, “It was so carefully designed—there was no way we could touch it.”

But Doom Bots of Doom’s positive reception led to quiet whispers: If we can make a spooky Rift, then maybe we can summon a snowstorm, too.

Winter is Coming

The original idea for Season 6’s Snowdown maps was to boost holiday cheer on the Howling Abyss and add festive designs to the lanes of Summoner’s Rift, but environment artist Max “Beezul” Gonzalez suggested they recreate Winter Summoner’s Rift instead—it would be just as time-consuming as designing new lane patterns. The artists on this project knew first-hand how big of an undertaking revamping Summoner’s Rift was, so they were a bit uncertain. Environment artist Jeremy “Redondo” Page says, “This suggestion was actually terrifying to hear because it was like, ‘Oh boy, what are we getting ourselves into?’”

Still, the artists started experimenting on a small corner of the Rift using a new filtering process that was prototyped just months earlier. The technique involved isolating the lightest and darkest tones of all the textures on Summoner’s Rift. With the light, dark, and midtones separated, they could be individually altered using layers and filters in Photoshop. When the modified textures were laid back over the Rift, it created a cold, wintry hue. Every tree, stone and blade of grass maintained the its structural base, but the effect was an illusion of snow.

During development, this work-in-progress image was shared with other Rioters, and their hyped response encouraged the team to keep moving forward.

RiotVitzkrieg explains, “We were building off of really high-quality textures, so they held up, even after we started mucking around with them.” In other words, the Rift’s foundation was detailed enough to still look good, even after the alterations. After the new textures were completed and applied to the Rift, artists smoothed out any rough seams and edges by hand.

This new rendering system allowed a frosty Rift to be created within weeks, an endeavor which if done by manual painting (like the updated Rift itself) would have taken the better part of a year.

Stages of creating a wintery Rift: change textures, add items, add particle effects, add animated props

Festive items and visual effects were later added to buff the Rift’s holly jolly holiday vibes. Some things were created from scratch, such as Baron’s long-lost Santa hat, but many were commandeered from existing materials. Santa Braum lived up to his name and helped deliver presents to the Rift; after muting the colors of Winter’s Bite, the gifts blended right in. A flulft of poros also migrated to the Rift, where animators helped to assemble them into snowmen.

Early in development, artists copied items from the first winter map and placed them in the new one, but the colors were too bright and noisy for the upgraded landscapes.

What’s Next?

During the last year, our mindset shifted from from, “Map skins should be held to the same quality bar as Summoner’s Rift,” to, “Temporary skins don’t necessarily need to be artistically flawless to be exciting or worthwhile.” This change in perspective, coupled with new rendering techniques, means we are working to deliver more thematic maps in the future. We can’t promise the moon just yet, but there may be something just over the horizon.

Next Article

The Visual Language of Hextech