We Interview: Rowan Parker, Creative director of Riot Forge!

We had the honor to sit down with Rowan Parker, Creative Director for Riot Forge recently to talk about their new game Convergence! During that time, we talked about everything from Riot Forge’s relationship with their partner studios, the reason they choose the characters and locations they choose for spin-offs, and more! Rowan clearly loves working on these projects and you can see that in his answers! Let’s jump in:

We Interview: Rowan Parker, Creative director of Riot Forge!

Adam Moreno: Hello and welcome back to our “We Interview” series here on gaming Today, we have the ever talented Rowan Parker, Creative director of Riot Forge. If you’ve played a Riot Forge product of any sort, you’ve probably seen his work. Welcome, Rowan.

Rowan Parker: Thanks for having me, Adam!

Adam Moreno: You ready to get going?

Rowan Parker: Yeah, let’s do it.

Adam Moreno: OK, with the storied world that League of Legends has after all these years, is there a favorite character or favorite moment that you just, you just love?

Rowan Parker: Right, so easy. Easy one to start. I’m trying to think. There’s a few. I’ll cheat. I’ll pick two. I’ll pick a recent one and I’ll pick an old one for a recent one.

Adam Moreno: Sounds good!

Rowan Parker: I think some of the stuff that we did with Ruined King in particular when that first came out in 2021 and building through the characters and building through like an art story across multiple products, you know, there were some different executions or different versions of the stuff that we did with them, but weaving together a story like that, I think was, something that we hadn’t really tried doing before. It was a lot of fun! For older example though, I think a slam dunk for me is when we killed Gangplank. In 2015, so for people that maybe haven’t played League for a long time or weren’t around back in the day, we did an event back in 2014 called Burning Tide. Oh, sorry. 2015 called Burning Tides, which was themed in Bridgewater and it was using a lot of our Bridgewater characters. Miss Fortune, Gangplank. And the character Gangplank, who’s one of our pirate captains. It was myself, and I think Paul Bellezza, were in a meeting and we pitched the idea of what if we actually kill the champion for real and we switch him off for a couple of days. And it was kind of a new thing at the time. I remember we were referencing, the argument that we used, remember when Aeris died in Final Fantasy 7. We could do that with the League of Legends champion. We should do that and we totally did. We killed Gangplank and I think it’s a pretty memorable moment for players. Obviously, you know we brought him back, but then when we brought him back, he died in the story. But he also died in the game, and when he came back we used the opportunity to update his visuals and his character. So when he came back, he actually had new geometry, had different animation. He had lost his arm and had to replace his arm so it matched what was happening in the story in the MOBA, which was, I think, pretty different at the time. So. I remember that fun thing in 2015 and that was when Paul and I were pushing uphill. We were trying to convince a room of people like no, this is gonna be great. Don’t worry. Trust us. It’s a great idea. We’re gonna literally kill one of the characters and disable them for a period of time, and people aren’t going to know what’s going on, but it’ll be good and it ended up working out.

Adam Moreno: It’s absolutely gutsy, absolutely gutsy.

Rowan Parker: It worked out!

Adam Moreno: You said something that threw me off for a second because I really love the fact that you guys have multiple ways of telling stories because there’s, like comic books and there’s the game itself and there’s like side stories and there’s shows. And there’s all this kind of stuff. So there’s literally a way to enjoy League of Legends in any kind of format that you want, and I think that’s great.

Rowan Parker: So the world is called Runeterra for people that don’t know. A lot of people don’t realize that League of Legends and Runeterra probably has a lot of like pretty deep story and lore. Or maybe they didn’t realize until recently. And I think, you know, PvP online MOBA game is not really the best place to do compelling storytelling and to, you know, dive deep on the characters and their backstories and all that. So it is cool that we have other avenues and other ways to tell stories and really, bring the camera up close to our champions. That’s part of the philosophy of what we do on Riot Forge, you know the games that we make on Riot Forge are great canvases for us to narratively execute on our champions, our world, our stories. We can do things in single player story games we can’t do in the MOBA. The game that we just released recently, Convergence, which features around Ekko. We can really tug the threads of the character Ekko for people who don’t know, or maybe who haven’t played the game. Ekko is a character that can rewind time. He’s a 15/16 year old boy who can rewind time. That’s kind of an interesting thread to tug for maybe consequence in growth as a teenager though, you know, how do you deal with consequence if you’ve never actually had to deal with any because you just fix everything every time you rewind stuff and you fix it. You know the whole thing we get taught is you fall off the horse, you get back on again. He’s never had to deal with that. So what happens when he comes to a thing in life that he actually can’t change, no matter how many times he rewinds and he actually has to learn to deal with consequences and move forward. We can’t tell a story like that in the MOBA, but we can totally do it in a game like Convergence in a single player game. So we get to have a lot more fun with storytelling.

Adam Moreno: That comes directly to my next question, with all the characters in League of Legends catalog, why did you choose to focus on Ekko and what came first: the idea of the game itself, or the choice of that character being used?

Rowan Parker: So when Forge works with studios, we don’t have a pitch in mind when we go to the studios, you know, we’re not licensing our IP to these studios. It’s a deep collaboration together with them. Very, very early on, sometimes the studios are a little confused with like, “what do you want us to make?” And we’re like, what do you think would be cool? These studios are already wonderfully pedigreed studios in whatever genres they make. So we’re leaning on their expertise for these genres. So in the case of Double Stallion up in Montreal and Canada, they have a great pedigree of these cool action platformer games, so we knew that they probably wanted to push the boundaries of their action platforming, but it was a discussion on what kind of mechanics do you want to explore. What kind of gimmicks work, Eric, the creative director there, was initially drawn to Ekko for the rewinding mechanic, and we started to explore what does cool rewinding gameplay look like in a platformer and I love that they got not just combat. They got a lot of parkour running gameplay sections in the game too. It’s not just combat rewinding, there’s a lot of platforming rewinding that you can do. And then from there forge helps them with IP. We bring them into the world. We don’t just ask these studios to suddenly learn all of League of Legends on their own, we’re there to support and we help them with all of the back story and the world and the environment. So games like Convergence end up being not just a great exploration of the character like Ekko, but they also let you explore Zorn like the actual city of Zorn. And you can go to places that you haven’t been able to go and touch and run around in before.

Adam Moreno: Well, you mentioned it. You have a big world to play in. You kind of touched on it. But what for you is the most important aspect when choosing what games or characters are being used and being greenlit when it comes to the development and concepts? What makes you choose to focus on something for a spin off. Or a non-main MOBA game from the entertainment aspect?

Rowan Parker: So like I mentioned, the studios, they have a lot of experience and pedigree with certain genres and there are certain gameplay fantasies or aspirational fantasies that probably work well to certain genres or they’re drawn to it a little easier. And we have 166 plus champions at this point. So it’s very fluid early on when we’re prototyping and building the games together where we’re talking about the kind of gameplay that they want and the kind of stories that they want to tell. Sometimes it’s the studios, the kind of stories that matter to them. They want to tell the coming of age story or they really want to tell the story about overcoming adversity, or dealing with tragedy or the kinds of stories you want. Then Forge brings our knowledge of the IP and all of the characters in the world. We slowly start to circle around a cast of champions or a section of the world which line up with the kinds of gameplay and the stories that the studios want to tell. It slowly sort of circles in on some characters or areas that work. Also though, sometimes the studios are huge League fans and they have characters that they love and they come to us and they say, “hey, we think this character would be really cool. Can we use this character in the story” and that’s how we get stuff Braum like Ruined King. Because Joe really loved Braum.

Adam Moreno: I love that and it’s so interesting that you guys have given so much freedom to your partners in this thing where it’s just like, hey, you guys are the experts in this, like we’ll be here. Any questions that you have we’ll be here, but you go and do your thing, has there ever been a time where you had to pull somebody back and then, “are you going a little too far here?”.

Rowan Parker: I mean, not in the case of the IP, I don’t think because, those you know for gameplay and for you know, building the games, obviously the studio is what they’re doing. But for IP we often bump into blank canvas areas in the world of Runeterra in League of Legends. You know, we just don’t have enough arms and legs at Riot to tell all the stories and fill in absolutely every single piece of the world.

Adam Moreno: Or 166 characters.

Rowan Parker: Right. And and you know there’s, you know, 7 or 9 factions or you know how many like places there are. So often times we’re making these Forge games, we run into a part of the world which is blank and initially studios will often say, “hey, what do you want us to put here?” expecting that we would tell them what to put there. We usually have to come back with, “what do you think would be cool to go here,” and then we work together collaboratively on building out the IP and building out the world. And obviously it’s not complete free rein. Forge and Riot are still here to support, and we have all of the institutional knowledge of over a decade of our world and characters. But it’s led to building really interesting new parts of our world, parts of our cities, adding some new characters that we can only do because Forge is here supporting the studios and it gives the studios creative ownership of what they’re doing.

Adam Moreno: That’s so much fun. I can’t imagine how fun it is to just be there and world build. Now our last question, this is something that I like to ask everybody that we have come on and it’s what is one thing in your time working in video games as a whole that will be forever with you as a happy memory.

Rowan Parker: As a happy memory. I need to think of something that’s NDA safe. I’m trying to think. I’m trying to think because a lot of game devs probably have a lot of interesting stories, but we can’t always tell all of them. I’m trying to think.

Adam Moreno: For sure!

Rowan Parker: There’s a back in… so this is back when I used to work on a League of Legends, I used to be the design lead for all our game modes. We made a mode called Doombots back in 2014, which was one of the first experiments on some PVE in League and battling against these overpowered, sort of like nightmare bots or Doombots for the game. We brought this mode back in 2017, and when we brought it back, we took one of our characters, Teemo, and we basically turned him into a little devil Satan boss, which spawned out of the ground. You summon him. Then watching players’ faces and reactions to that. When we did that was pretty priceless because I think everyone knew what they thought was going to happen. And then when we summoned A gigantic devil, Teemo in the middle of the map. Just watching Youtubers and streamers react to that was, I know on the team, we were passing videos around of that for weeks but… I think that I mean League, there’s lots of examples of that from my time on League. You know, the players and fans for League, the videos that they go and make the stuff they put on on Twitter, they might not realize, but devs watch pretty much everything. We watch all of the stuff that people make and put out there. Seeing people play the stuff that you make is kind of the reason we make games. It’s like spending all week baking a cake for your friends, and then you want to watch your friends eat the cake you like. It was good. Did you like the cake? That’s kind of what we do when we make video games, but the devil team on 2017 was good.

Adam Moreno: I don’t think people realize how much you guys watch when it comes to just reactions to the games, because I think that some people are like “ohh well I’m not. I don’t do all that much.” And you’re like, “oh, I’ve I’ve seen it.”

Rowan Parker: Everything, everything, everything. And with League’s audience it could take weeks like, it might be like an hour or so a day where I’ll take some time out and I’ll go and watch reactions or videos or I’ll read YouTube threads or I’ll watch videos that people like necrit or, you know, our our community have done. But it takes a while, but I will go and watch and read everything.

Adam Moreno: That’s fantastic.

Rowan Parker: All the good and the bad, because it’s all valid, right? if it comes from the heart, it’s all valid. If it’s good or bad. So we have to go and read everything.

Adam Moreno: I love that well, Rowan, thank you so much for some amazing answers. What have you got going on right now? Where can people see your latest stuff? What can we talk about?

Rowan Parker: So we’ve just released two games, the start of the year, we released The Mageseeker in April and we’ve just released Convergence in May. If you don’t have them yet on steam or on consoles, you can go and get Mageseeker and Convergence. They’re available right now, and later this year we have Song of Nunu coming.. That’s also going to be on PC and on consoles!

Adam Moreno: And you’ll be able to check out all of Rowan and his team’s work. Thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

Rowan Parker: Honestly, thank you to our studios that we work with, as a publisher for Forge we are here helping, but really it’s the studios that make the games. So thank you to Double Stallion and to Digital Sun for the games this year.

Adam Moreno: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Rowan Parker: No worries, Adam!

Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, Mass Effect, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.

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