On playing the big bad spider: Elise

League of Legends features a champion known as Elise, the spider queen. Yes, that’s her actual in-game title. I have a lot of happy memories associated with Elise, even though she has fallen out of favor lately and I’ve been playing her less. I began playing League on the patch in which Elise was released, and picked her up as my second champion (after Mundo, who is bae). I’ve always had a soft spot for her as a champion, and have recently been trying to build her in a relatively unorthodox way (if you’re a LoL person we can talk more about this).

Elise’s schtick is that she can transform between human and spider forms, and therefore has access to a greater variety of spells than most other champions. Elise is not unique in this; I can think of Nidalee and Jayce who also transform between ranged and melee forms.

Elise has three skins which allow her to appear slightly differently. In the image below, the picture on the top left is Elise’s default appearance, and the other three are the alternates. The picture on the top right represents a skin that was given as a reward for achieving a high level in ranked play (Championship Elise).
All four (including the base) skins for EliseElise is also described as an archetypal femme fatale/black widow, and her basic character design supports this. From her lore:

Elise’s entrancing beauty and grace conceal the pitiless, black heart of a deadly predator. With ruthless cunning, she lures the unsuspecting with promises of favor from the spider god. Having exchanged her humanity to become something far more sinister, Elise sacrifices the innocent to maintain her power and seemingly eternal youth. No one can fathom how many have been caught in her web, slain to feed her insatiable hunger.

Biggest Pet Peeve: Despite the fact that she correctly has eight legs and that some of her skills depict this, one image for one skill depicts a spiderling with six legs. 😦

Image Courtesy Riot Games

Image Courtesy Riot Games

Elise is an example of a spidery champion designed to be vaguely terrifying. If we look at an interview with some of the designers, we can see that they intended to tap into a widespread cultural arachnophobia. In fact, some of the designers suffered from this same arachnophobia:

When our animation director RiotBamDragon goes over animations for review, he looks at everything for little fixes. I found it weird that he only had suggestions for the female-form, when he’s usually more comprehensive with feedback. I quickly realized that he never looked at the spider form because he’s terrified of spiders. “The spider’s fine. Spider’s fine. Just ship it.” I asked him, “Did you even look at the spider?” “Yeah, I’m sure it’s fine,” he hastily replied.

– “Inside Design: Weaving the Spider Queen’s Web,” Post to Riot Forums, 19 October 2012 (Retrieved 10 June 2015)

In fact, the designers mention having to put effort into editing Elise’s design in order to make her less scary to view and play. Mike “ohmikegoodness” Laygo, –Senior Animator, says in that same interview, “I had to de-creepify her a bunch … reduce a lot of the twitchiness because it was just too frightening and unnerving.” Similarly, Mark “Riot G Mang” Sassenrath,– Game Analyst, remembers, “She actually became too scary, so we had to tone it down.” Despite comments like these, it is clear that being terrifying is part of Elise’s character design; perhaps the real challenge was making her scary without being unplayable.

As a side note, one thing that emerged from that interview was a meditation on the challenges of cross-cultural design. Sassenrath mentions in an aside that “something that I didn’t know was that arachnophobia is pretty much a uniquely western phenomenon. In China, for instance, there isn’t the widespread association between spiders and scary that we have here.” Designing a game for a worldwide audience makes some of these culturally-specific fears apparent, waggling an eyebrow at socialization as a means of intensifying a small fright.

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