Riot Games released a dev post today detailing the work and thought processes that went into its flagship autobattler, Teamfight Tactics.
The small team of developers gave themselves “an aggressive timeline” of 18 weeks: eight to build a prototype and see if it actually works, 10 to push it out as an actual product.
Now, TFT has established itself as one of the most popular and polished autobattlers, complete with faithful remakes of League of Legends‘ champions and an adorable roster of Little Legends. It wasn’t so clear cut in the beginning, however.
It all started with Dota Auto Chess. Just like how Dota fanatics used to log in to Frozen Throne and Battle.net simply to play the custom game, droves of fans and high-profile streamers downloaded Valve’s Dota 2 client to play Auto Chess, even sending the game to a player peak over one million. It went from a custom mod to a gaming phenomenon and the world took notice.
It was little wonder that Riot, most famous for League and honestly not much else before announcing a long list of projects like Legends of Runeterra and VALORANT, decided to expand its video game library with an autobattler of its own.
Thus, the idea for TFT was born. Just like a newborn baby, it required cultivation and nourishment—and a small team of 12 developers stepped up to the plate.
“We went through all the pitches for a League autobattler and formed a high-level outline,” said Andrei “Meddler” van Roon, a design director on League and one of the developers for TFT. The team even rebelled against the open office concept that Riot had, shutting themselves off in a corner to better workshop their ideas internally and prevent outside influence.
The aim was to create a game that would prove irresistible, even for people who didn’t touch Auto Chess.
The team started by ripping off League‘s assets for a barebones build. Unfortunately, they quickly realized that League is so “hyper-optimized” for a 10-player experience that the overwhelming amount of units lagged out practically every match.
They started by scaling down the size of the League map so that they could actually play. They cobbled together a basic UI and got to work porting League’s champions into the game.
The team initially wanted trains and stations that ran to bring champions onto the board, but the idea was quickly abandoned due to it being a resource sink.
Since League forced people to “load into the game as something,” much like how the original Auto Chess allowed players to have Dota 2 couriers as avatars, the crew chose Scuttle as a placeholder. It “added a layer of fun and interaction” that was cherished within the group, which formed the first basis for Little Legends.
A huge part of autobattlers is building up synergies between units. When the team got done porting champions and their signature abilities into TFT, they also had to figure out what squad they belonged to. LoR uses the champions’ factions, like Demacia and Ionia, which was what TFT started with as well. But senior game designer Jordan “Wrekz” Anton admitted that “it didn’t always make perfect sense.” The team eventually decided to leverage League‘s lore and alternate universes to figure out synergies that felt more organic.
With all the hard work spent on actually making the game work, it was also necessary to make the game pretty to look at. Game design Matthew Wittrock said that the team “wanted it to feel like you’re observing a Bronze teamfight” where units were fighting in a way that “kind of makes sense.”
The devs also actively slowed down the animations of the units to help improve visual clarity. While League is all about snappy and responsive hits that register with every keypress, TFT was much more about visual fidelity and actually being able to see what was happening with up to 18 units clashing.
The team ended up with a prototype that was a lot of fun. It was still just an internal release, however, and while the people at Riot enjoyed it, there was more work to do before the game could be published.
Riot will post part two of the diaries on TFT’s development process tomorrow at 12pm CT, so check back if you want to learn how the autobattler went from a rough blueprint to finished product.
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