28/11/2021

League of Legends spinoff hints at Netflix Gaming’s plans for more show tie-in games

If League of Legends fans enjoyed getting a mobile version of the game, Wild Rift, earlier this year, they’re probably overwhelmed by the explosion of new content following the release of the Netflix series Arcane (based in the same universe starring its most famous characters). Among them is Hextech Mayhem, a new game that’s available now on Nintendo Switch and PC – which is also coming to Netflix.

Hextech Mayhem is a bit of a hybrid: a side-scrolling runner featuring rhythm-like mechanics, which sees players jumping and diving to the beat of the soundtrack. The beat prompts, in whimsical League of Legends fashion, are explosions: players control the tiny but chaotic Ziggs as he bombs his way through the industrial city of Piltover while trying to evade the orderly and naysaying Heimerdinger. 

Both characters are among the hundred-plus champions in the original League of Legends, but take center stage in Hextech Mayhem, which is one of several spinoffs currently being produced by Riot Forge, the publishing arm of Riot Games. And while there’s no date set for its release on Netflix, Hextech Mayhem gives us an idea of what the streaming giant’s plans are for expanding into gaming. In short: what makes a Netflix Game?

The answer isn’t clear-cut, at least right now. Rather, it seems Hextech Mayhem has several qualities that ended up fitting Netflix Gaming’s appeal: it draws from the world of an already-established IP with a tie-in show on Netflix, and has casual gameplay that likely appeals to streaming service subscribers.

In other words, both giant companies are reaching to frontiers of entertainment that are new to them, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that their demographics overlap. Streaming content fans are also gamers – especially if the show they’re watching has a tie-in game playable without leaving the app.

(Image credit: Riot Forge / Choice Provisions)

Riot’s publishing arm, a partner studio, and a less serious League of Legends

Riot Forge selected Choice Provisions for its project that would become Hextech Mayhem, noting the studio’s work on the BIT.TRIP series of lauded rhythm-based auto-runner games. While there’s clear influence of the latter in Hextech Mayhem’s gameplay, Riot Forge Creative Director Rowan Parker assured that the publisher worked with Choice Provisions but allowed the studio to find their own way to interpret League of Legends to its gameplay.

“The game wasn’t decided when we first met though, it was after a long period of discovery that we eventually arrived at Hextech Mayhem, which translated perfectly to some good light-hearted fun,” Parker told TechRadar over email. “The result in Hextech Mayhem is something that stays true to League’s universe and champions, but has the heart of a Choice Provisions game.”

That ‘heart’ involves taking simple core gameplay – auto-running and rhythm prompts – and making it compelling without making it more complex. The studio has “historically taken casual genres and ‘hardcored’ them,” as Choice Provisions Co-Founder and Design Director of Hextech Mayhem Alex Neuse put it. Over email to TechRadar, he and the studio’s other co-founder Mike Roush, Creative Director of Hextech Mayhem, explained what went into making the new game – including implementing some key parts of old games. The Quake III rocket jump, one of Roush’s favorite mechanics, inspired the bomb jump used by players to navigate and engage the rhythm system of Hextech Mayhem.

Not that Neuse would call Hextech Mayhem a rhythm game – it’s more accurate to call it a ‘Music Game’ tying your inputs to the melody, verses, and more, as he explained in a featurette:

Go behind the scenes with developers @TotallyChoice and sneak a peek at the musical madness that went into crafting Hextech Mayhem, plus get some bomb gameplay tips while you’re at it! pic.twitter.com/MExMj7w9K5November 16, 2021

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The studio also found their muses among League of Legends’ roster of colorful characters. While Netflix’s Arcane tells a more somber story rife with betrayals and tragic backstories, Choice Provisions pitted two of the sillier stars of Riot’s MOBA against each other for the right whimsical tone they wanted for their auto-runner…which is also the tone around Choice Provisions.

“Our studio also has an aesthetic that leans cute and wacky. Ziggs fit into this mold perfectly with his explosive nature and stunning personality. Heimerdinger is of course part of the package, being the antithesis of Ziggs,” Roush said. “Having Ziggs come up from Zaun to Piltover to basically troll Heimerdinger gave us a lot of opportunities to expand their relationship and I think fans are going to love it.”

“We also wanted to expand the League of Legends oeuvre to include forays into less serious territory. If we’re expanding the universe, let’s go where it has never gone before, you know?” Neuse said.

🎮📱 Let the Games Begin📱🎮Tomorrow, Netflix Games will start rolling out on the Netflix mobile app. First on Android, with iOS on the way.It’s early days, but we’re excited to start bringing you exclusive games, with no ads, no additional fees and no in-app purchases. pic.twitter.com/ofNGF4b8AtNovember 2, 2021

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Riot’s multiplatform ambitions and Netflix’s gaming overlaps

A game like Hextech Mayhem seems like such an obvious fit for Netflix’s nascent gaming platform, which launched in early November, that it must have had the service in mind since its creation. But the game was already in development when discussions started with Netflix, according to Leanne Loombe, Head of Riot Forge – and talks started in the same way the studio began them with Microsoft, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo.

“It’s very important to talk to the platform holders early and often so we can understand which platforms the games make sense to release on based on the type of players that play each type of game. Ultimately, our games will go wherever players are playing, including PC, Console and Mobile,” Loombe told TechRadar over email, noting that not every game would be released on all platforms. “We aim to ensure that each of our games is designed with the right platform in mind for the best possible player experience.”

The streaming platform has been in talks with Riot and Riot Forge over the past year, a Netflix spokesperson told TechRadar over email. The timing is auspicious: Netflix gaming launched with only five games, two of which are tie-ins to Stranger Things, one of the streaming platform’s most popular original series. It’s not clear when Hextech Mayhem will be added, but it’s the only other game we know is coming to Netflix Gaming.

Netflix did say that its gaming offerings won’t all be spinoffs of its popular shows, though they do hope to find more opportunities for fans to engage with content they love. Given Netflix Gaming is only available on Android (and soon iOS) phones and tablets, there’s little likelihood you’ll be able to play them via remotes on a smart TV or Apple TV. We can probably expect more games that play well on smaller screens with simple yet compelling mechanics, like Hextech Mayhem – and there are plenty of other Netflix shows we can imagine fans would love to explore in tie-in games.

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