RuneScape Interview: The Dungeons of Daemonheim
Questions by Neil Kewn (Murxidon) – OnRPG journalist
– Mark Ogilvie (Mod Mark) – Lead Designer, RuneScape,
– Chihiro Yamada (Mod Chihiro) – Lead Tech, RuneScape,
– Christoph Vietzke (Mod Fetzki) – Head of RuneScape and
– Paul Mayer (Mod Paul_M) – Community Management Team Leader, RuneScape
RuneScape is a 3D browser-based MMORPG from British developers Jagex. Almost ten years since its original inception, we chat to the faces behind the game and discuss PvP, monster slaying, level caps and that seemingly endless stream of updates. With the hotly anticipated Dungeoneering skill now available for both free and paying players, what’s next for what has become the world’s most popular free MMORPG?
OnRPG: RuneScape has enjoyed phenomenal success over the past nine years. It’s safe to say that it’s the largest, most feature packed browser-based MMORPG out there, you must be pretty happy about that!
Mod Fetzki: Yes, we are proud that we never sit back and say “RuneScape is fine as it is”. We don’t stand still and we will keep adding new features almost every week, polish existing content and updating the graphics on an ongoing basis.
OnRPG: How important is it to keep the content updates original? It must be tempting to snag an idea or two from the more commercial, client based MMOs!
Mod Mark: Hugely important. We have always seen ourselves as trend setters, not trend followers. However we encourage our developers to be inspired by games, books and experiences they have themselves (as any good designer should be) so you will notice some similarities to other things out there, just not necessarily MMOs.
OnRPG: Dungeoneering is a new skill that has gathered much attention. Can you tell us what it is?
Mod Mark: In a nutshell, the Dungeoneering skill allows a player to create a unique experience for them and their friends. It uses a huge library of rooms, puzzles, monsters, rewards and challenges to build a sprawling dungeon complex to explore, culminating in an epic boss fight at the end. For me, it puts the adventure back into RuneScape. No dungeon is ever the same since it uses a jigsaw approach to design, building the dungeon as you explore piece by piece. The skill unlocks a variety of rewards for the new and the experienced player to be used in the rest of RuneScape.
Dungeons in RuneScape
OnRPG: The new dungeon aspect of the game is a huge update for players of RuneScape. How long has it been in development?
Mod Mark: 14 months of design and 8 months of implementation.
OnRPG: Players are barred from using their own gear when leveling Dungeoneering; instead they are provided with equipment. What brought you to this decision?
1. We believe that the action of ‘kitting up’ is a great piece of gameplay. If you’re in a dungeon and you know you have to make kit to deal with the monsters you’re meeting, it’s actually quite motivating and gives you clear objectives within the dungeon.
2. It gives additional value to the secondary ‘creation’ skills in the game, encouraging a player to train skills like Smithing and Runecrafting, or find players that have those skills to help them out inside the dungeons.
3. The dungeon system uses a complex points equation that helps us to accurately measure risk and reward challenges within the dungeon. If we know exactly what the player has been provided with in the starting rooms we can accurately balance the challenge the player will face within the dungeon. If we allowed gear, we couldn’t do that.
OnRPG: Dungeoneering is the first skill that can be leveled past 99, up to 120. What is the reason for this?
Mod Mark: We wanted part of our game to be universally seen as ‘endgame’. We feel that the upper floors of Dungeoneering will provide that endgame feel.
OnRPG: Are there plans to increase other skill levels to this new cap?
Mod Mark: Not currently, but we do have the facility to do that. We are aware that our player base are split on whether that’s a good idea or not and we are weighing up all of the options.
OnRPG: The RuneScape forums are a buzz of activity where players can discuss what they like and don’t like about the game. Has Dungeoneering been a direct response to player wishes?
Mod Mark: We always listen to our playerbase and encourage all our developers to take time out on our forums and engage with the users. The idea of adventure and exploration is a subject we had discussed in the past. A forum post called “Here Be Dragons” was one of my favourites of all time and spoke passionately about the lack of adventure in MMOs because of the inherently ‘grindy’ aspect of XP gain. It was one of the inspirations behind the Dungeoneering skill. That and the fact that many of us here at JAGEX are ‘oldskool’ RPG and board game fans and wanted to add that group adventure-feel to our game.
OnRPG: It’s no secret that many MMO players choose to level their characters by dungeon running, and this is now a possibility in the realm of RuneScape. Is Dungeoneering an attempt to compete with the client-based MMORPGs in terms of team-based gameplay?
Mod Mark: In my experience the dungeons you’re describing are exactly the same map, challenge and overall experience, with perhaps some cosmetic variety in NPC placement and type. That is an entirely different experience to that had within the Dungeons of Daemonheim and the Dungeoneering skill. Our main motivation was to add exploration and adventure back into skills training, not to provide instances to train in. Therefore the jigsaw -style creation system we use, coupled with the risk-reward equation I mentioned above provides a genuinely unique environment every time you play. I am unfamiliar with any other MMO that even attempts to do that.
Mastering several skills
With regards to training, in reality it’s still far more efficient to train specific skills on the surface world – we didn’t want to replace the surface content with the Dungeoneering skill, only complement it. The total XP you gain within the dungeon is comparable to surface training, but then generally you’re only training specific skills on the surface as opposed to the wide range of skills you train and use in the dungeon.
OnRPG: RuneScape has been criticised in the past for not having a particularly welcoming community. Are you hoping that team-oriented minigames, tasks and skills (such as Dungeoneering) improve player relations?
Mod Paul_M: While I do think that team based tasks and games like Dungeoneering do get players together and help build that welcoming atmosphere, there’s more to it than that I think which basically comes down to improving the visibility of what’s already there. Having a stronger presence on the forums, focusing our in game moderators to be more community oriented and holding events to highlight existing communities is all very important. Introducing new players to different styles of play and catering to those styles by making them easily visible and accessible is also key so that whatever you’re into, there’s a community of likeminded players there for you. A quick example for you would be Clans. Clans are notoriously ‘cliquey’ in RPGs but thanks to a month-long series of events that introduced people to the clan environment, we’ve seen many more spring up in RuneScape and existing clans have seen their ranks swell.
OnRPG: PvP is a hugely important factor in any MMORPG. RuneScape has changed the mechanics of its PvP significantly in recent years, what options are available for the more bloodthirsty players?
Mod Mark: We have a variety of PvP-specific servers now where players can battle across the entirety of Gielinor rather than sticking to the wilderness. We also have more focused wilderness PvP servers called Bounty Hunter worlds where players can earn even more generous PvP rewards by chasing specific targets. There are also unique PvP items and equipment currently worth millions on the Grand Exchange – our global trading arena.
OnRPG: Naturally, RuneScape is a browser based game and although you continuously push the boundaries of what Java can do, have there been any updates or features that you would like to add to the game, but have been unable to due to web, Java or other limitations?
Mod Chihiro: Oh, yes. The way the engine works clearly limits the scope of some of the projects we do – but those kinds of limits we understand pretty well now, and we know how to avoid them. The limitations that I come across most often are ‘legacy’ issues. The engine already has features we’d like to use, but cannot incorporate into RuneScape because of the maintenance work that would be needed to implement them.
For example, the engine team came up with a way of allowing players and NPCs to be visible from levels other than the one the player is on. So you could stand at the top of Lumbridge Castle and see the players and NPCs walking around in the courtyard below. It looked great and added a lot of atmosphere. I really wanted to add this to the game.
However, we had to shelve it because of the way our graphics have been built. Historically the game has been modeled and animated assuming a player will never see actors on levels other than their own. So with multilevel switched on we ended up with NPCs or players poking through floors when certain animations were run or when long weapons were wielded. It looked buggy and horrible. The only way we could have prevented this would be either to rework the hundreds of offending models and animations or to remodel all our buildings so that each floor was tall enough for it not to matter. Arg!
Another example is looking up. There is nothing in the engine that stops us from allowing the player to look up now, but we don’t let players do it, because in order to keep the polygon count of our models as low as we can, most models don’t have a bottom. We’re not going to have time to add bottoms to every object in the game any time soon, I’m afraid, so I’m afraid you won’t see the sun in Gielinor for the foreseeable future.
Browser Based but plays smooth, like a client-based MMO!
OnRPG: Despite being arguably the most recognisable browser based MMORPG, are there any plans to bring RuneScape to the desktop in the form of a downloadable client?
Mod Chihiro: It depends slightly on what you mean by ‘downloadable client’ – we already provide one, but it does little more than remove the requirement to have Java installed and a browser window open. If you mean a ‘large’ client that you download once (like WoW or Steam games for example), rather than a thin client that you download each time you log in (which is how RuneScape works now) then I doubt we’ll change this.
We make changes to the client so often that it makes little sense – you’d still have to download patches after each update, and because our client is so small we might as well provide you with the whole thing anyway. Otherwise we’d have to start worrying about patch compatibility, or handling differing versions of the client, which would be more effort than it’s worth.
OnRPG: It seems that free players are getting access to many more features than ever before. Are there any more updates in the pipeline that affect free players?
Mod Mark: All the work we are doing to improve the early game experience applies to the free game. Generally they are reworks to existing content rather than brand new content, but we do have some really corking ideas planned. I can’t say more than that now, sorry.
OnRPG: What can Gielinor adventurers look forward to in the near future?
Mod Mark: In the pipeline right now we’re working on a 3-part quest looking at the various orders of Knight within the game, culminating with the release of a brand new minigame. We are also working on the conclusion of one of our oldest storylines, called The Mysteries of the Mahjarrat.
OnRPG: Thank you for your time!
Mod Mark: No worries!