Inside Design: the Evolution of Khaâ€™Zix
The Fields of Justice are about to get even more dangerous, as Kha’Zix, the Voidreaver arrives to claim his place at the top of the food chain. Kha’Zix’s evolution gameplay influenced his entire design, from the abilities down through art, animation, voice, and story. To learn more about this apex predator, we caught up with some of the Rioters that helped make him a reality.
- David “Volty” Abecassis (Champion Designer)
- Steven “Socratocracy” Clay (Associate QA Analyst)
- Alex “CaptainLx” Lehman (Senior Animator)
- Jon “20thCenturyFaux” Herlache (Associate Creative Designer)
- Josh “Huge and Fast” Smith (Associate Concept Artist)
ByronicHero: How did the concept for Kha’Zix originate, and how did it evolve (no pun intended) into the Voidreaver we know now?
Volty: The core idea of Kha’Zix was that this is the guy that evolves. He mutates over the course of the match. We wanted to capture that gameplay. That was just such a strong and compelling thing.
It was so compelling that when we finally got to do it we had like five designers all sit down and be like, “Okay, what is evolution going to mean?” There were all these possibilities and different directions we could take. When would you upgrade? How would you upgrade? Would you be picking one evolution from a first tier and then another from a second tier?
What we ultimately went with was to pick three from four and focus the evolution mechanic around the role. We just decided that Kha’Zix was going to do the assassin role, and you’d pick from fun, cool assassin tricks for him to evolve. Ultimately that seemed more focused and fun than having to decide to pick between fighter Kha’Zix and tank Kha’Zix... that seemed too broad.
What made you want to make Kha’Zix a part of the Void?
Volty: He wasn’t voidy at the start. Instead he was just a praying mantis type monster, but the Void just ended up fitting so well with the story of this creature that is out to consume things to become the ultimate predator. He has these evolution powers, and that’s already a theme in the Void. You have Cho’Gath who grows and Kog’Maw whose range gets larger and larger. There’s that whole notion of increasing power through biological enhancement.
20thCenturyFaux: We all felt very strongly that he should be Void, because a big part of the terror of the Void is that they come into your world to destroy your way of life and replace it with their own, spooky Void way of life. And that really fits with the themes of evolution and extinction. There’s this idea that there are massive, unstoppable big scary things in the Void. Growth into terrifying forms of life is a huge part of the Void.
The idea is that he kills his foes, grows stronger, and then adapts depending on what he fights. All of that is part of his core identity, and it makes sense for the Void to sort of send an infiltrator to coopt the traits of a world they’re going to be invading.
What is Kha’Zix relation to Rengar?
20thCenturyFaux: We were working on Kha’Zix before we started on Rengar, but when Rengar showed up it just made sense to pair them against each other because they’re both consummate hunters, but they come at it from completely different angles. Rengar is ego driven – he wants to kill the most dangerous prey and claim the best trophies. Kha’Zix is very instinct driven. There’s almost no ego to him. It’s more of a story of becoming – almost like the twisted, Void version of becoming a hero. He’s twisting and evolving and becoming different and better in a way that is very in keeping with the Void way of life. They’re opposites, but they have awesome chemistry. They’re each other’s white whale in a way.
Adding a lot of personality to a monster can be challenging. They need to have noticeable, defined personalities. One of the things that we focused on with Kha’Zix was this sense of Void superiority. Because he’s constantly changing and evolving, he thinks that that’s the best way to be, and if you’re not that way, you’re a lesser life form. We don’t hit it too hard in his VO, but it does come across. He’s clearly aware of his place in the food chain above his victims.
ByronicHero: What were some of the challenges in making Kha’Zix’s evolution system work?
Volty: One of the immediate challenges was to make sure that the evolutions weren’t just tied to the skill you rank up. You don’t have to evolve the one that you rank to maximum first. In fact there are many cases where you don’t want to do that. Making that a separate choice was extremely important from a gameplay standpoint because otherwise evolutions don’t really add anything. It’s just, “Oh, I rank my Q, so I evolve my Q.” You might as well just build that into the Q at that point. You wouldn’t actually be creating a second decision point, and evolutions wouldn’t be giving you anything new gameplay-wise. That was our first challenge, and we worked very hard to satisfy the requirements.
Socratocracy: Kha’Zix was also extremely challenging to balance. Unlike a traditional character where you have four active abilities that you need to balance, you have these four abilities in concert with four evolutions. So one of the problems that we had to deal with was making sure that all the evolutions were balanced in relation to each other. We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t one that was really a must-have.
Volty: You have so much build diversity because you’re not only choosing your rank-up order. You’re making a second choice about what your evolution order is. That actually made testing really challenging. People play him, and then they’re like, “Oh, what if I evolve W first?” And then they wind up with a completely different character and play style.
We really want to make sure that every combination of evolutions is impactful. We didn’t want to hear people saying, “I evolved Q, W, and R, so now I’m going to do that every game.” And we haven’t been getting that feedback. People seem to be excited by the evolutions that they choose, and even more excited to try different combinations afterward.
CaptainLx: Yeah, when I get my third evolution, it always makes me want the fourth, and I end up playing another round because I want to have the one I’m missing.
ByronicHero: How did Kha’Zix’s evolution gameplay influence his art and storyline?
20thCenturyFaux: Evolving really influences every aspect of Kha’Zix. He even unlocks additional lines in his voice-over as he evolves. He has two extra attack and move lines for each evolution, and he’ll play the summation of them as you evolve new traits.
Volty: That’s actually a lot of fun. We did the same with the animations. It’s really visceral. When you evolve you might sprout wings and start moving around with little hops and flutters and he’ll start saying things like, “My wings are restless!” When you select an evolution it has a huge effect on your gameplay.
CaptainLx: This by far is our most complex character that we’ve animated so far. Usually we have two animators on a champion, but for Kha’Zix we put four. We had one animator focused solely on his run cycle, with all the possible animations, and all the subtleties of the little insect twitches and so forth.
He was probably the character that we talked about the most strategically before we even started working on him. We started talking about this character six or eight months ago. We planned very carefully. There were a lot of ideas, but ultimately, we added a lot of changes to the animation system to accommodate Kha’Zix so that we could animate him through all his different evolutions.
A normal character averages about 22 animations. This character has about 40. Some of them are really subtle, but they make a big difference. For instance, as soon as we put in this little twitch on the antennas, we immediately got feedback that people really started to think of him as a thinking being rather than just a monster.
When we created him, we animated him with every evolution out. We always animated as though the wings were out and the claws were big and the spikes were there. And then, when he doesn’t have those evolutions, we take it away. It seems backwards, but it made it possible to do him with 40 animations instead of say, 80. Because otherwise what would happen is that you’d have to layer everything on top of the low level evolution, and things would start clipping and having issues and you’d have to tweak it.
ByronicHero: What were some of the challenges of capturing all the different evolutions in the Kha’Zix artwork?
Huge and Fast: I decided to render his splash in the state where he has his first three abilities evolved, simply because he’s most recognizable in his base coloring. It helps to show how powerful he becomes if you show him with everything evolved. I worked on the Rengar splash, so it was fun to jump onto this because I knew the backstory involved.
He was tough because he has such a crazy silhouette. It was hard to find an angle that really showcased his body shape and how cool he looks because he has so many pieces to him. And also because, as we’ve said, he has very different stances – he can be upright and menacing or he can be crouched down. The camera angle suggests that the viewer has been chased down and cornered alone in a forest in Runeterra. So there’s definitely this sense that he doesn’t belong there, and he’s really alien. I really liked that, and I think the contrast really helps capture him. I was able to go pretty crazy with the colors because he has so many different iridescent colors, and things change hues at different points on his model.
Volty: A lot of work went into getting him just right, because at the end of the day the animations, model, texture, voice over, gameplay – all of these things are changing based on evolution state. It’s been a challenge, but I’m super happy with the result.
To find out more about Kha’Zix, check out these features: