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Project L demo: "We're here to learn from the players" The story behind Riot's unexpected hands-on showcase

A sudden surprise for attendees at Evo this year – Alex Jaffe speaks on Yasuo and the merits of the demo.

Project L custom header with yasuo and Riot Games Logo
Image credit: VG247 / Riot Games

Project L exploded onto Evo this year with a public demo – seemingly out of nowhere. For years, those interested on the mysterious goings on within Riot HQ have been left with crumbs, occasionally getting real news but left with little else to do than speculate and create lists of characters we'd like to see in a game we knew very little about. Yes, we were guilty of that too.

But within the course of a week, we went from background information to real hands-on impressions of Riot Games' next big release. I was curious on the decision to suddenly drop a demo on people, and the philosphy behind the surprise fourth addition to the roster: Yasuo. To help guide me through these points, I sat down and talked to Alex Jaffe at Evo 2023 to find out more in our third and final Project L interview piece from Evo 2023.

"We've been working on this game for many years, but we started to become aware that we would be working on an Evo demo in the last year or so." states Jaffe, resting his legs while sitting on the carpet of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. "This Evo demo – there are some specific things we built for it like the flow of the build and how you get in and out of the game – but honestly this is the first crystalization of the way we want the game to play. So when we say we were working on the 'Evo build', we were really working on locking down systems in the game so they're working pretty close to how we want them.

"We also wanted to get four characters pretty close to complete (like, past 90%) to really realize what this game is like at its potential. So it's been a huge push. We've worked really hard to do that. But Evo has been the reason to move the game forward, not a seperate concept."

Evo 2023 Project L player shot
People seemed to be having a good time with the sudden addition to the Evo show floor. | Image credit: Riot Games

Speaking of, what about that sudden fourth character? A genuine surprise to many considering the prior glimpses we've had over recent months / years of Jinx, Katarin, and Illaoi. What's the story behind Ionia's most popular swordsman? It turns out, Yasuo is tied quite heavily to one of the genre's most stylish combo connoisseurs.

"So Yasuo was designed by MarlinPie, and it was his first champion that he kinda owned himself," says Jaffe. "He had kind of trained a little at first, started on another character that he was helping with for a while, but after that Yasuo was his character." This, according to Jaffe, happened prior to his position as lead champion designer, placing him in a hands-off position at a distance from development. However, he notes that alongside Clockw0rk and other members of the team, they formed Yasuo into a "character with a lot of tools, a character that was fast and dynamic, and over-the-top technical complexity absolutely was going to be important."

There's an interesting design challenge – one explored in a previous interview piece we published earlier in the week – on adapting characters. It's the polar opposite problem that the Legends of Runeterra team has been battling against for years now. With that game, the design team has to boil a League champion down into a core card game mechanic (and some lovely VFX). With Project L, the team has to expand rather than concentrate, all without diluting the characters they get a hold of.

"We also wanted him to be bold, I'd say. When you think about Yasuo in League he's a character that can do a lot but also can get himself into trouble," elaborates Jaffe. "So that was one of our goals; we wanted a kit that made you want to take bets and go hard and wild. In the end, I think we ended up with something that's partialy that, but also a character who can play defensively or straight neautral with a variety of options. That's the essence of what we want: wild openess with creativity on how you approach the character."

Project L arcade cabinet at Evo 2023. Source:
The Project L cab was sneakily tucked away a good distance from the official booth. Image source: Evo TwitterImage credit: Evo

Fun fact: Yasuo isalso the only character in the game (at the moment) who can combo two supers together – a direct reference to the knockup/ult combo Yasuo can do in League of Legends. Jaffe explains why little nuggets like this are key: "I love when we create texture in our champions and distinquish them from one another. We don't want the same rules for eveyrone. We have some global rules, in terms of certain cancel systems work or certain input systems work, but we try to break rules where we can, even those shared ones, if it can add something unique to a character that feels right for their fantasy."

Talking to those walking away from the game at Evo 2023, a shared feeling is surprise at the level of polish on the demo in regards to both the four playable fighers, and the gameplay itself. For a game with no official name or release window (let alone release date). Why put in the graft to get a public demo playable in this manner? A decision that surely would have required extra QA effort to scrub the game clean of issues that an internal build may have ignored. The reason – according to Jaffe and a post-Evo blog from Tom Cannon – is feedback.

"It's actually at the perfect point where we think it's far enough along that people can have fun wit hthe game, but there's still room to make changes based on feedback. We're not just here to market the game, we're here to learn from the players. We're making the game for the FGC - and also anyone else who is interested in fighting games! Anyone here has a great perspective for us on how to improve the game, how to make it more as people want.

With a wave of new feedback and probably endless questions on when a beta will be available now that people have touched a stable build, it's back to the regularly scheduled program of waiting for official updates for the general public. For now, all we can do is kick our feet up and speculate on good additions to the roster like the good ol' days.

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Connor Makar avatar

Connor Makar

Staff Writer

Connor is VG247's roaming reporter, with 3 years' experience in the field. A passionate fighting game fan, he is glued onto the genre and its community. He is tragically a grappler player. And likes gacha.