Riot’s latest dev blog explores the creative process behind Kled and some early concept art of his:
If Noxian soldiers made memes, what would they look like?
A weird question, maybe, but you can find the answer by cracking open a history book and flipping back to the 1940s, when American GIs were tramping around Europe during World War II. Around that time, a pre-internet meme started to appear as graffiti across the continent—an image of a little bald man with an enormous nose peeking over a wall. His name was Kilroy.
It’s unclear exactly where Kilroy came from or who first drew him. Some say Kilroy was named after a man who worked as an American shipyard inspector in the ’40s, but a very similar drawing is said to have appeared among Australian soldiers as early as the first World War. Whatever the case, American GIs couldn’t resist doodling Kilroy all over territory they’d conquered, even if it got them thrown into the stocks for a night. To the soldiers, Kilroy was an icon representing their victories, their values, their identities. Kilroy was the spirit of those soldiers.
Just like Kled is the spirit of enlisted Noxians.
Life isn’t easy for the men serving among the lowest ranks of the Noxian soldier class. To survive in that job you have to learn to love war, hate cowardice, and seize whatever bloodsoaked glory you can get.
With this in mind, we began to imagine a character who would take those Noxian warrior values to the extreme—an ornery creature that relished riding into battle and chopping off heads. Someone who’d never back away from a fight, who’d always want to go HAM. Who better to represent the ideals of these troops than a murderous, mounted, yordle soldier?
We set to work developing a champ that would encourage hyper-aggressive gameplay. We didn’t yet have any real idea of what the character would look like, so our designers slapped together a prototype using existing assets. The first model was literally Gentleman Gnar riding around on a tiny Hecarim.
“When you got dismounted, the little Hecarim would run away and the Gnar would be left by himself,” says champion designer Iain “Harrow” Hendry. “Sometimes,” he says with a smile, “you need an expressive prototype to sell an idea.”
When it comes to nimble AD champs designed mostly for the top lane (we call them “skirmishers”), your options include folks like Yasuo, Riven, and Tryndamere. Each of these champs is designed for the kinds of players who like going in deep, usually a bit further than they should. All of these characters, says Harrow, are sort of tryhard champs. “These are super-serious people with super-serious swords,” he says. “The goal was to make Kled a little more playful than his skirmisher peers.”
When designing Kled’s abilities, we went out of our way to avoid giving him anything that felt defensive or “safe.” Everything Kled does is about incentivizing and rewarding aggressive, risky actions. He has to charge straight into battle to get the shield from his ult. Even when he uses his unmounted “disengage” move, Pocket Pistol, he’s firing a gun blast to knock himself back.
We’ve always thought about Kled as “light cavalry,” as opposed to Sejuani’s “heavy cavalry” role, but there are other ways we wanted to differentiate Kled from the boar-riding jungler. One thematic problem for Sejuani is that her mechanics don’t emphasize interaction with Bristle, her boar. If we removed Bristle altogether and Sejuani was just a big ol’ lady, it wouldn’t necessarily make a difference to her gameplay.
So, we wondered, how could we fix this for Kled? What sort of relationship might he have with his mount?
Kled may be a yordle, but that doesn’t mean he has to be cute. “Cuteness isn’t valued by the Noxians,” says art lead Edmundo “odnumde” Sanchez. “He’s sort of a weird little goblin, and that was the vibe we were going for. He’s supposed to look very wicked.”
Skaarl, meanwhile, needed to appear a bit more goofy to fit its “cowardly mount” theme. We went through a bunch of animals during early explorations of Skaarl’s design, including a rhino, a frog, and a buzzard. While all of these sound like Donkey Kong Country mounts, the design direction is sort of appropriate given the role Skaarl plays—it’s cartoonish, like a critter that could pop out of a barrel. “I don’t think the Donkey Kong vibes were intentional,” says odnumde, “but we were aiming for whimsical, so it worked out that way.”
There’s one exception to Kled’s “aggressive or nothing” design: the ability to re-mount Skaarl just by returning to base. This was a sort of compromise around player expectations. For every other champ in League, successfully recalling to base offers a complete reset; we felt it was important to preserve that with Kled.
Before working on Kled, Narrative writer Odin “WAAARGHbobo” Shafer had just finished writing VO lines for Jhin. After spending months writing gems like “Life has no meaning, but your death shall,” he was ready to move onto something a little more lighthearted. Yordles are lighthearted, right?
“We wanted them to be a comedy duo,” Shafer says. “The idea is that Skaarl doesn’t want to go into combat, but Kled REALLY wants to go into combat. So Skaarl will run off at some point, causing Kled to freak out. Their dysfunctional relationship is built directly into the mechanics.”
The process works both ways, with the mechanics informing the character as the character informs the mechanics. Once we were certain that Kled would spend time fighting both on his mount and off it, Shafer gave Kled two stages in his voice-over lines.
Kled always wants to go HAM, but once he gets knocked off of Skaarl he actually starts going more insane and more aggressive. Kled may have lengthy conversations with Skaarl, but Skaarl has the intelligence of a dog—mostly Kled is projecting onto his reptilian pal when he talks to it. He loses a part of himself whenever Skaarl runs off, resulting in some way crazier lines of dialogue.
The cantankerous cavalier is more than just a crazy old yordle. All the aspects of Kled’s character—the violence, insanity, and his refusal to back down from any fight—are things that would make him an icon for the soldiers of Noxus. Not just an icon, but a meme. The dankest Noxian meme ever.
Share your worst, most hastily slapped-together Kled doodles in the comments section below.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me at @NoL_Chefo or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.