Back at the start of May, I was invited to attend a global press event for an early sneak peek at Runescape 3. Traveling from my home on the Isle of Wight, I had to get up at five in the morning to get to Peckorton Castle near Crewe for an overnight medieval experience.
Last year was a big time for Jagex; they practically doubled in size, all gearing up towards this latest build. What had started as a bedroom project in Nottingham 12 years ago has now grown into as free to play browser game with over 200 million players.
I remember ten years ago when I first played Runescape, back when every time you wanted the internet you had to endure the dial tone screaming at you, and you just hoped and prayed that no one needed the phone line while you were busy browsering. Back in Runescape 1, I mainly only remember mining ore veins and chopping down trees. The idea of combat was terrifying, and mainly involved trolls in caves. I was young and lacked the patience, but playing the game again at the hands on event, it was all different.
On the bus to the castle, I remarked how it felt like a school trip. Everything about it all was nostalgic, and when we got to the castle, the theme hit us. Banners hanged from the castle, and as we were guided into the main hall, and given our lanyards and swag bags, we were treated to a finger-food buffet and a presentation about the latest build.
Mark Ogilive (Design Director) told us that the narrative future of the game was in the players hands. That the community had the power to determine the choices made within the narrative. This will surely break it away from the many MMORPG where you are just another faceless hero in a mass of individuals that have no impact upon the game other than to just turn the wheel. This medium is really only available to Runescape due to its browser based format. It allows quick and seamless updates to the game, unlike WOW where the servers need to go dark for a few hours and for a massive patch to be downloaded. With plans for weekly episodic content released over 3 month’s periods, you can expect the story to move in a casual pace, so that everyone may enjoy the teams hard work.
Mark boosts that the game is striving to provide a journey rather than just create more end-game content. This again is unlike other MMMRPG’s that feel like they are just adding more and more end game content. That and the ease to which you can just plug in means that you can either play it on every so often like a casual gamer with their Facebook games, or like a hard-core fan like the massive, engrossing, EVE:Online.
The rest of Mark’s presentation was broken down into three sections, technology, game play, and story. Three things that Mark said would set Runescape 3 apart from the rest of the crowd. Though in fairness the technology and game play parts of the presentation kind of merged into one.
The first big thing that we were told about was their inclusion of the cutting-edge new script, HTML5. That they’ll be one of the first to utilise this, with an expected launch date of 2014 for most browsers. Though Chrome is already compatible. What this means for the game is better loading times, which even now are next to non-existent. Greater camera-flexibility, which also includes better draw distances, lighting, and an actual sky box. Currently the camera is stuck looking down at the ground. The new script will also allow them to make use of a greater colour palette, something that is needed with its currently blocky colours.
Though with all this talk of new technology, they were very conscious to keep the legacy alive, keep Java and backward compatibility. Joking that the game would still be able to run on a ten-year-old PC, accessing the game via a 56K modem. Jagex seems to be running with the no-gamer left behind mentality, even bringing back an old school server after nearly half a million voted for it. And this fits in with their philosophy that every customer is a spiritual shareholder.
Jagex’s future aim for Runescape is to bring it to tablets and mobiles, to anything really connected to the internet. An achievable feat for a game that is browser based, and requires no client.
The team also boosted that the game will now run its own dedicated audio server to produce a much greater musical grandness to the game. Though this was missing from the build we were allowed to run around in, the audio from the trailer did perk my interest.
Another piece of technology that caught my attention was their claim of a fully customisable UI with a tear and share feature. This means you can pick what goes where on the screen, something that hard-core gamers always want from a game, or you can just use some the pre-sets if you are more of the casual variety.
Though we weren’t told much about the new story to come, we were told it was to be based in the sixth age. With the gamers becoming less of an audience, but taking more of a director/acting role within the game, with world events set to take place every three months with David Osborne saying that they have the next 5 years worked out. And that unlike Cataclysms, the players will be the change, rather than the change be forced upon them.
It was also mentioned that some skills will be revamped, and some will be introduced based upon the story that is coming with the sixth age. They also hope to expand upon the world ownership, making the players own more the world, and making it theirs rather than just renting it.
After the presentation we were guided to massive room full of computers for our use, all linked together on the same alpha build server. To help us get the most out of our time, we were given a Runescape 3 helper to play the best bits, as picked by the team. And are characters were already maxed out, so we were denied the gratification of the levelling up and experiencing the joys of hearing that “ding!” sound. Though this did allow us to explore the world without fear of encountering any obstacles, like trolls… that I have now learnt are fairly low-level monsters compared to the dragons and werewolves that I fought.
The first place I went to was to a vast desert area to explore with an abbey, which houses a quest line to investigate who killed one of the sisters. After a bit, I tried my hand on the more PVE aspect of the game in an area of the game called Slayer Tower, where I came into conflict with a bunch of hands, and received a challenge (a members only feature) to kill a whopping 80 of the things. Safe to say I decided to abandoned this quest after I found out that I could fight a dragon. After quick travelling to the area, I witnessed another one of the players die in a stream of fire and flames, and I charged forward to quickly dispatch the beast.
The next thing I jumped to was a troll invasion (which I have now learnt is actually the first quest of the actual game), and this is when the very British humour jumped out at me and made me chuckle in a room of other people. I had just discovered the examine feature to gain some insight into the world, and decided to use it on a few things. Firstly, a dead troll “He is very dead!”, then I examined a baby troll “A big angry troll. Not.” This was when I first encountered when of the many moral choices in the game, keep or kill the baby… Truth be told, I tried to kill the troll by firing it out of a cannon, but instead I adopted it as a pet. My revenge for my misspent youth had to wait.
I usually follow the motto; you get what you paid for. You pay nothing expect nothing. Runescape doesn’t follow this, apart from the graphics (which are still pretty impressive for a browser game) this game seems to be on par with WOW. And I suppose that if I started with a new character I’ll be able to enjoy the RPG elements more. But everything I saw on the day seems to suggest that Jagex knows what they are doing, and they truly do care about their fans and about the story.