1. What were your goals when designing Reaver?
ANSWER by Sean Marino, Art Lead: Reaver was the first prototype skin we made, back when we were still figuring out what skins in VALORANT could be. So really, our main goal was to explore the potential of our skins. Other tac shooters already showed us that color changes or small model changes were possible, but we needed to test if going all-out with custom features could even work in the genre. We knew, even then, that cosmetics were secondary to gameplay integrity. In addition, we didn’t want to compromise the creative vision for VALORANT. It’s a fairly grounded game, and we needed to know if something so thematically different (like a dark fantasy-themed skin) would look out of place. Finally, we wanted to figure out the artistic and creative bar for our skins. Our team needed a clear understanding of how much oomph we wanted to put into them, particularly as we explored the (relatively) uncharted territory of new animations, VFX, SFX, etc. Suffice to say, there was a lot riding on Reaver’s development—and that’s even before we started considering the goals of the Reaver skinline!
To answer all these questions, we needed to start prototyping our first skin. We started with the Operator first and explored runic symbols and imagery within a dark fantasy thematic. Once we started making the skin, we had a lot of fun exploring things like custom animations. There are only so many ways to reload a magazine without it all feeling the same, so we really tried to push it with the Operator and see what a telekinetic animation would feel like. During this animation exploration, we also accidentally discovered the concept of melee archetypes. An animator who came to help us for a few weeks tried creating an alternate animation set for the base melee, which we loved so much that we created the Reaver dagger. From then on, we decided to commit to making different types of melees which we classified into several archetypes that would share similar animation sets depending on how they’re held.
ANSWER Preeti Khanolkar, Producer : Once we finished creating the Reaver prototype, we needed to see how players reacted to evolving skins. The easy part was testing if players liked the idea of evolving skins (they did). The harder answer to find was why—what players specifically liked and didn’t like about these custom features. We started with internal Rioter feedback, which surfaced a lot of negative feedback around custom animations. Specifically, Rioters didn’t like the custom equip animation, in which the skin materialized out of a magical summon animation (similar to a channel). They told us it was hard to tell when the gun was ready to fire, and that the animation felt longer than the base animation, even though it took the exact same amount of time. Even with this feedback, we weren’t sure if it was an actual problem with the animation, or Rioters just needed time to adjust. (They only ever experienced the base animations, and they’d gotten used to them by that point.) So, our next step was testing the skins externally with players who had never played VALORANT before.
We received similar feedback, so we went back to the drawing board: iterating, testing, then iterating again. We eventually got to a spot where animations went from the lowest-rated feature to the top-rated. Finishers were also something that we got a lot of mixed feedback on: while players thought finishers were cool, they also felt really underwhelming. They showed up so infrequently that players expected something more meaningful. During Closed Beta, we received a ton of positive feedback around the very, very WIP Finisher on Reaver. Players loved it. With that, we took a leap of faith and made Finishers for Prime and Sovereign right before the game launched! And now, Reaver has a brand-new Finisher too. We’ve seen a lot of theories online for why we didn’t ship Reaver right away…but the truth is that when we first made Reaver, we did so many things wrong and learned so much from its development process. It really was the best prototype we could have made at the time. In order for us to actually ship the skin, we had to go back and rework it entirely from start to finish: model, animation, VFX, audio, variants, kill banner, and the Finisher. Hopefully it still hits the same good feels of the old Reaver, but shows how much we’ve grown as a team!
2. What did you take inspiration from / any notable concepts you wanted to convey with Reaver?
ANSWER Sean Marino, Art Lead : Our concept artist drew inspiration from very classic dark fantasy themes, such as dark magic, runes, and vampire hunters, when designing the early concepts for Reaver. It was such a classic dark fantasy skin that we actually called the very first concept “Dark Fantasy.” Also, a funny coincidence: when it came to naming the skin, we had chosen the name “Omen” for the skin line (with “Reaver” as a backup), but the Character Team had already beat us to it.
3. Any unexpected challenges or novelty stories you’d like to share when designing Reaver?
ANSWER Preeti Khanolkar, Producer: Bringing back something players love is difficult. We honestly don’t know how players are going to react because there’s a lot of nostalgia for players who were in the Closed Beta (we see so many “bring back Reaver” comments every week). And because the skin had to go through a full update before we brought it back, we needed to make sure it still hit the thematic goals that the original did: edgy, dark, and ominous. It had to be something an edgelord would love. During our first rework attempt, something about the visual effects just didn’t feel right. It sounds silly, but I literally said to Sean “something about this just doesn’t feel like Reaver anymore; it’s not edgy enough.” Sean and I sat down (virtually) to look at some reference images and break down the effects frame-by-frame to confirm we were on the same page for what the skin should feel like. When we did this, we realized that there was too much pink and white in the effects, which our VFX artist then shifted to more dark blues and blacks. This also resulted in us darkening the color of the model too, so now it was really feeling extra edgy. Separately, we also added one more gun to the line so it would have 5 weapons like all the other skin sets. Back in Closed Beta, the Guardian was the third-most used weapon after the Vandal and Phantom, so we thought that players would love the addition of a Guardian (plus it fit the whole “long range guns” thing we had going with the Vandal, Sheriff, and Operator). But we kind of trolled ourselves because players don’t use the Guardian much anymore, so we know we’re going to get memed on for adding another Guardian skin to the game.
4. How’s it feel to finally bring back the Reaver skin?
ANSWER Sean Marino, Art Lead: It’s really cool to finally release Reaver to players for real, because it feels like coming back full circle: creating the prototype, showing it to players in Closed Beta, taking it out of the game, and then reworking it for post-launch release. As we kept working on the skin over the last few months, we accidentally leaked file names into the build, which the dataminers kept picking up on. Likewise, the Store team used the Reaver as a thumbnail placeholder image, which had the unintended effect of “haunting” the menus once in a while, so we’d see countless posts like this and this. We felt bad because all of this just fueled the “Reaver is the next skin line” rumors, when Reaver was still months away from release. The whole “bring back Reaver” call-to-arms inspired us to reflect that passion in the art of the Reaver Card—we joked that the card depicted some dark magic ritual that would summon Reaver back from the dead. The frequent datamine leaks also inspired us to try a teaser campaign where we intentionally leaked some spooky file names into the 1.09 and 1.10 patches to tease the revival of Reaver. We kind of laughed to ourselves at the irony of the teaser because none of the dataminers picked up on the intentional leaks somehow, so our big brain teaser failed.
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