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The path of an exile.

From sand mages to precise blade-legs, each of League’s 136 champions started somewhere. This is Riven’s story.

A Noxian Fighter

These days, new champions are released every couple months—with six new challengers approaching in 2016—but 2011 was a different story. Back then, new champions hit the Rift (almost) every patch. Our goal then was to expand the game by aggressively adding new champs to League’s roster, and the entire development process usually took under six weeks from concept to launch.

Many of the champions designed that year were meant to fill out the missing subclasses for each region of Runeterra: What would a tank from Bilgewater look like, or a mage from Ionia? “We wanted to show how factions would express certain playstyles,” says senior game designer Kuo-Yen “Xypherous” Lo, “while making sure the regions didn’t feel too one-dimensional.”

A lot of early Demacian characters fell into that cookie-cutter mold, and it was starting to seem like the region was full of perfectly moral citizens (which is fine, until everyone is like that). In an attempt to show that Demacians are more than just lawful ninnies, devs set out to make a Demacian champion with a wild side.

Around the same time, Xypherous designed a three-part melee ability that led to sick combos (now fondly known as Riven’s Q). The team set out to create a Demacian fighter who could use this new ability but realized there were already multiple melee brawlers from Demacia (Garen, Jarvan, Xin Zhao). Keeping the same goal of breaking a faction’s typical mold, they shifted to designing a Noxian fighter who could show that not all people from Noxus are insufferably evil.

Noxian Capital

Inspired by the story of a wandering monk in Planescape Torment—whose weapon changed based on his state of mind—Xypherous envisioned a character whose sword was as fractured as her mentality. Riven was once a dedicated soldier of Noxus who believed strength (in any form) was the ultimate measure of someone’s worth, but she lost faith in her convictions during the invasion of Ionia, when Singed fired bombs against Noxians and Ionians alike. It caused massive destruction without the need for strength or skill, yet the Noxian leaders still rallied behind the biochemical warfare. “Afterwards, Riven basically said, ‘F- this,’ broke her sword, and deserted Noxus in the hopes of finding herself,” artist Anton “RiotManton” Kolyukh says.

Riven’s two release skins were meant to show two possible outcomes of her wandering: Redeemed Riven forged her own path and became semi-holy, while Crimson Elite Riven returned to Noxus and became a commander.

My Spirit Is Not Lost

When RiotManton began sketching Riven’s concept art, it was unclear whether the character was going to be a boy or a girl—so he drew both. They ended up going with a female character for two main reasons: 1) Most of the previous champs with melee weapons were males. 2) Many female champions in League were scantily clad and pretty sexualized, so this was a chance to deepen League’s portrayal of female characters. “I was passionate about Riven being a female because she’s a badass and she’s covered up,” RiotManton says.

Male and Female Concept Exploration

Since Riven was a soldier, she probably once wore a full suit of Noxian armor—but after choosing the life of an exile, it was unlikely she’d continue to wear the gear. Still, it seemed Riven would keep parts of her old armor as a way of remembering the past. “Ultimately, the decision of which pieces to include came down to what looked best in game,” RiotManton says, “which was the bulky shoulder pad and the leg piece.”

Noxus’ colors weren’t always shades of red and black. Green and purple were once the primary colors of Noxus (Swain, Cassiopeia, Urgot), which is why Riven’s armor and sword are both green. The original Summoner’s Rift was also quite green, so RiotManton moved towards a more teal color palette to make her character pop in-game.

Riven Concept Art

Bonus fact: Resources for champion development used to be much more limited. To save time, some of the drawings of Riven’s runes were used as the basis for her VFX, and some of her particle effects were basically copy-pasted textures from concept art.

Exile Turnaround Redux (2)

Reforging the Blade

Even in the earliest of concepts, Riven’s shattered sword re-formed during her ultimate. Initially, her runes were going to glow a different color while the outline of her sword appeared, and then *VFOOM,* the blade would become whole again. To really sell this transformation, a good chunk of in-game time was needed for the VFX and animation to take center stage.

In-game mock-up of Riven’s sword during her ultimate.

When it came down to actual gameplay, there was only about half a second for the effects to take place, so the dramatic transformation was scrapped. Instead, Riven was given unique voice over lines that only play while Blade of the Exile is activated—the first time this VO tech was used in League.

With Riven’s sword restored, it was time to figure out her ult’s gameplay mechanics: What could she do during the transformation, and what could she do after? Stay awhile and listen as we present a list of ults-that-didn’t-make-it, with commentary by Xypherous.

  • Definitely-not-Shyvana: Riven had a “rage” bar that charged up when attacking; the more aggressive she played, the more she could stay in her empowered form. Why it didn’t make it: “That was just overkill—she’s already an aggressive champion.”
  • Wait, WTF?: Riven’s abilities reset her auto attacks, and her auto attacks reset her abilities. Why it didn’t make it: “It was just…kind of terrible.”
  • She-Woman: When Riven activated her ult, a sonic boom of power knocked back everyone around her. Why it didn’t make it: “That was like, ‘Oh…everyone’s gone now, and I have to attack them in melee form.’”
  • LASERS: Beams of light shot from Riven’s blade every time she used an ability. Why it didn’t make it: “This was just too much…so we condensed it into one move.”
Riven's Launch Splash Art

Riven was designed to play like a character from a fighting game—with lots of combos and fast movements—and allowing her to cancel animations fit into that gameplay pattern. (Plus, she’s a well-trained Noxian soldier, so of course she’s a master of fancy swordsmanship.) However, the extent players have been able to cancel Riven’s animations was never intended. Riven was only supposed to be able to cancel her longer animations, like Q and E, but the coding system used back then also allowed her to cancel auto attacks. “The engine just wasn’t well-designed for animation cancelling,” Xypherous says, “But if we ever decided to change it now, we’d look to adjust her numbers or add new combos.”

Auto-attack cancelling and all, the Noxian exile was ready to duel on the Rift, where she’s since created button-mashing, salt-inducing fun for everyone.


ORIGINS is a series where we deep-dive into the development of champions. Feel free to drop some thoughts and feels on the series below and let us know which champs you’re most interested in hearing about!

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