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Aphelios

The big brain, sad moon boi.

Sometimes when we release a new champion, we’re greeted with a chorus of, “What the heck Rito, you’ve gone too far! TOO FAR!!” 

Aphelios is probably definitely going to get that reaction. And that’s fine. In fact, it’s great. Aphelios is here to test what you’re willing to sacrifice. Are you willing to relinquish control over which weapons you wield? Are you willing to learn around 30 different abilities? Are you willing to blindly trust that the voice only you can hear knows exactly what you need?

If you believe it’s your fate to find victory in the whispers of the moon, then it’s time to lock in Aphelios (and Alune). And the results of your faith can be a thing of beauty.

Faith is Perseverance

Aphelios’ journey from early concept to creation was a long one. Well over a year, in fact. But he started, as all champions do, with a goal. His was to allow creative adaptation by using combinations of abilities, instead of twitch reflexes. Basically, he was designed to be the Yasuo of 200 IQ, galaxy brain plays.

But where do you begin with a goal like that? What path brought the team to Aphelios, the mute Lunari religious assassin with an arsenal of magical moon relic weapons? The answer is obvious: It all started with wizards and battle royales.

“Even after almost 150 champions, League of Legends doesn’t have a wizard,” explains senior narrative writer David “Interlocutioner” Slagle. “It has a shirtless blue guy… Seven versions of him, in fact. But still no wizard.”

To the team, the classic wizard archetype is someone who defeats evil with knowledge. Not fast reflexes, landing skill shots, or perfectly timed abilities. All that matters is the knowledge of what tool to use at the exact moment.

“I don’t know who made the call to turn Aphelios into a marksman,” says game designer Stash “Riot Stashu” Chelluck. “The early wizard idea was really cool, but the gameplay experience wasn’t that unique for the current roster of mages. We thought it would be a really unusual space in the marksman roster. What if instead of an arsenal of spells, Aphelios had an arsenal of weapons?”

Marksmen largely play the same across all champions. You go to lane, farm minions, forget about the mini map, die a bunch, maybe get a kill or two, and build items. The abilities change, but the overall gameplay is familiar.

With a clear role and general “weapon swapping marksman” design in place, the team needed to discover exactly who Aphelios was.

Some early Aphelios concepts including Braum’s mean older brother, one of Quinn’s Demacian Ranger friends, a Zaun Assassin, a Knight, a Shuriman Wizard, and a Zaun ‘Bard’

“I started thinking of different factions in Runeterra that might have a gunswap marksman,” concept artist Sunny “Kindlejack” Pandita shares. “One of them was Braum’s mean older brother, who carried a totem pole that channeled Freljordian animal spirits to swap abilities.”

Zaun was another option: A mad scientist mixing chemicals and conducting experiments to create unique abilities or weapons. And if not Zaun, then what about Piltover?

“Interlocutioner had a really great idea based on this ‘right tool for the job’ concept,” says Kindlejack. “And it kind of felt like a bounty hunter. It was a person you’d hire because they knew how to hunt anyone, or anything, because they had the right weapon for every situation.”

The idea culminated in a Piltovan bounty hunter who had imprisoned his last bounty. His “assistant” rode a sky-cycle around the Rift, throwing weapons down to its master whenever he required them.

But it just didn’t feel like Aphelios.

“I’d been looking at the outfits from the Met Gala that year, and they had combined religious iconography with high fashion,” says Kindlejack. “I thought it was something worth exploring, so I started drawing it.”

The high-fashion-monk-meets-almost-selflessly-romantic-assassin design struck a chord with the team. A champion who believes so strongly in his cause, with unshakable devotion… It was admirable, but scary. It was perfect. But where did he belong in Runeterra?

“I’d been talking to one of the lead concept artists on another project. He told me they’d been doing a lot of research into different factions within Runeterra,” Kindlejack explains. “So he shared the visual explorations with me. The Lunari stuck out because they’re a faction that’s recognisable to players, but still unexplored.”

Until Aphelios, Diana stood as the lone Lunari in our champion roster. And she didn’t offer players much information about her people. What do we really know about the Lunari other than “moon?” What are they fighting for? What do they care about?

“With Aphelios, we had a chance to make the whole world around him spring to life,” adds Interlocutioner. “What’s going on on Mount Targon? Now we finally get a glimpse into that.”

Aphelios is a Lunari assassin who finds no pleasure in killing. But he still kills… and he’s not alone.

Faith is Trust

“Aphelios and Alune are twins, born during a rare celestial event,” explains Interlocutioner. “The moon in Runeterra has an orbit, and the moon in the spirit realm reflects that. Every once in a while there’s a convergence, and the magic gifted to those born during it is incredible among the Lunari.”

Alune spent her life training to be an oracle to harness the moon’s magical light to reveal hidden truths and pathways—whereas Aphelios trained to eliminate any who would do the Lunari harm. The pair represents the two sides of the Lunari faith: magical mysticism and grounded realism. And the connection they share manifests multiple ways in game.

“We were looking for a narrative justification for where the weapons came from,” says Riot Stashu. “Why does the player not get to choose which weapons they use? How does Aphelios get them? Why doesn’t this trained assassin monk have any control over it?”

Because Alune always knows what Aphelios needs.

When a match begins, Aphelios drinks poison to open a psychic(ish) connection with Alune. In order for her to speak to Aphelios and send him the magic-infused weaponry, she must be in her sanctuary fortress within the spirit realm. But the poison does more than create a connection. It fills Aphelios with the night’s power. His muscles tense, he can channel the magic—Alune’s magic. But not without sacrifice.

“The poison causes Aphelios’ throat to tighten. It’s why he doesn’t speak. But there’s more to the poison than that. The connection allows Alune to know his thoughts, their souls converge,” explains Interlocutioner. “I think if we ever knew exactly what someone else was thinking, we’d get hurt most of the time. There’s a rawness to our realities that often doesn’t match someone else’s. And Aphelios and Alune have to face this every time they connect. They can’t lie to each other. Or themselves.”

“From our fortress I will guide you... I promise”

Aphelios’ silence presented a unique challenge—would players feel emotionally connected with a champion who doesn’t speak? Would the connection be hampered if they heard the voice of someone who doesn’t really appear? How do you approach the sound design for someone who’s speaking telepathically from another realm?

“It was really important to get the ‘voice over the walkie talkie’ part of Alune’s VO right,” voice over designer Julian “Riot Zimberfly” Samal explains. “It needed to communicate that she was in a remote location without being too intrusive. Because if it was too jarring, it could cause confusion and interrupt gameplay.”

  • Aphelios first move sound effects
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  • Aphelios move sound effect
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To accomplish this, Riot Zimberfly processed unintelligible incantation-esque whispers from Alune’s voice actor and used them to create the “walkie talkie” sound effect. The implication is that a few of Alune’s own thoughts are escaping through the lunar conduit to Aphelios. Her fragile, but still strong, reassuring voice uses textural and musical layers to create the feeling that it comes from within your head.

Guidance comes in forms other than Alune’s magically gifted weapons and gentle words of encouragement.

“When we decided on Aphelios’… unique kit, we all piled into a room to discuss how to explain his abilities to players in game,” explains Kindlejack. “I’d wanted to create a custom HUD since we started experimenting with Ultimate skins. And Aphelios gave us a real reason to do it.”

Aphelios has a Q, an R, and… another R. No Passive, no (real) W, and no E.

Weapon swapping in Aphelios’ HUD

League’s never had a champion that required an entirely different HUD. Some of the Ultimate skins offer addons, and champions that evolve their skills require extra love. But a champion that doesn’t level up in the traditional sense, has “fewer” abilities, the ability to weapon swap, and uses an “ammo” system requires a little bit more than just some extra love.

Different versions of Aphelios’ HUD

“It was a really cool and scary moment,” Kindlejack explains. “I’d never done anything like this before. But I think his bespoke HUD creates this unique experience for the dedicated, true believers. (And none of this would have been possible without the work of Bryce “The King of Rad” Mercado, the HUD’s engineer.)”

With Alune watching over you, giving you guidance, encouragement, and, most importantly, a deadly host of celestial weaponry, you can use that bespoke UI to focus on what really matters… Big. Brain. Plays.

Faith is Unwavering

How do you ensure that a champ with five weapons remains cohesive? How do you make the weapons feel unique but still recognizable? And how do they fit in with the Lunari when Targonians use spears and swords?

… Aphelios’ weapons aren’t exactly as they seem.

“These aren’t traditional projectile weapons with magazines,” explains Kindlejack. “Instead, they’re like sacred Lunari artifacts. When I was designing them I imagined they were normally on display in a temple. It’s the combination of Aphelios’ and Alune’s gifts that turns them deadly.”

Because of League’s top-down perspective, the guns’ silhouettes would be difficult to see. Their design needed to feel familiar, so we somewhat imitated silhouettes of other guns to help communicate gameplay—for example, the long-range weapon looks similar to Caitlyn’s rifle. But even with this, guns can be pretty difficult to read in-game, so Aphelios’ stance and animations do a lot of the heavy lifting. His posture and movements vary with each weapon to make them distinct and intuitive so players know which abilities (and basic attacks) he has access to.

Pose explorations for Aphelios’ weapons

“After we landed on ‘Lunari assassin’ for his character design, we just went with it,” laughs Kindlejack. “There was some refinement, but compared to most champions his visual design didn’t really change. But his arsenal? I redesigned it about 10 times over the course of a year.”

A few of Aphelios’ weapon ideations
A few of Aphelios’ weapon ideations
A few of Aphelios’ weapon ideations
A few of Aphelios’ weapon ideations

Every time a weapon was changed, added, or removed, the art needed to be updated to reflect that. The colors and shapes all had to be unique, along with the way Aphelios held them. But the need for clarity didn’t just stop at the weapons’ physical designs.

  • Moon sound explorations
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  • Aphelios switching to his secondary weapon
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“It’s really hard to make guns sound magical,” shares lead sound designer Brandon “Riot Sound Bear” Reader. “Aphelios isn’t casting spells. He’s shooting guns. But they aren’t traditional guns, so they still had to sound… magical.”

But why does Aphelios need to switch weapons at all? Because of their moonlight “ammo,” obviously. And because Alune’s magic eventually wanes, the weapons fade back across the veil to be recharged with the moon’s might. That means you need to adapt and react.

“One of the benefits of not being able to choose which weapon you have is that we could make the combination of his weapons super OP in different situations,” says Riot Stashu. 

“Because of the ammo, you force players into a scenario where they need to recognize their strengths at that exact moment. You can give them this combination of weapons that’s really strong for dueling so they think, ‘Oh damn. I have to fight RIGHT NOW.’”

This is the galaxy brain moment. Aphelios’ unique weapon combinations create opportunities for him to set up his teammates to engage, or to siege towers and objectives, or maybe even to go toe-to-toe with some of the best duelists in the game. It requires players to recognize and even predict their strengths to be the most effective sad moon boi out there. If not, you’ll limp away and (hopefully) use your given weapons more successfully next time.

The Faithful Shall be Rewarded

Just as Aphelios trained for years to become a Lunari assassin, so too must you train to understand and trust your own abilities. Aphelios knows how to do the job, and eventually you will too.

When a time of darkness comes to Mount Targon, will your faith see you through?

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