Smoothment is here and why it’s good that you may not notice it right away. It’s all duty of care in the live stream and why it’s so important in 2019. Plus of course feedback on Yak Track and Double XP Weekend Extended.
I think it is common knowledge that when you watch a movie, or any other video, you are not actually looking at moving imagery. Instead, you are looking at static images that are played fast enough that our brains are tricked into thinking there is movement, and we're smart enough to fill in the gaps ourselves.
Games aren't very different. Whereas movies will have all the static images already ready to go, and just stored in digital or analog format, games have to render these static images on-the-fly to make them interactive. In a small fraction of a second, a device's graphics card produces a static image of the current game state, and projects it on the screen. A common frequency for this is sixty times per second, often denoted 60 FPS. FPS stands for frames per second. "Frame" is just the word programmers use to say "static image that makes up the moving display". This number, 60, is called the framerate.
The rate at which these images are updated really matters. Movies are generally shown at 24 FPS, which is clearly enough to trick us. Yet, when you play a game at 24 FPS (or 30 FPS, which is quite a common framerate), you will find that the game doesn't feel very smooth. Firstly, there is actually a difference - I do recommend looking at some 30 vs 60 FPS videos on the internet to find out for yourself. However, a second problem is the delay between seeing something on the screen, responding to it by using your keyboard or controller, and seeing the result back on the screen. For fast-paced games, the difference is very noticeable. If not consciously, then unconsciously.
So far so good, and most gamers probably know this much. What may be less obvious, is that updating the game also happens in small time steps. Many times a second, the game will look at the current state of the game, do some math and logic, and calculate the new state of the game. The frequency at which this is done is often tied to the framerate, so a game will often update, render, update, render, update, ...
I've mentioned 30 and 60 FPS several times so far, and that is with good reason. They are often chosen as the framerates for games. Let's say our game updates and renders at 60 FPS. This make it really convenient, because each time we do an update, we know that the same amount of time has passed as between previous updates. It is also exactly the same amount of time that passes between updates on a completely different computer (perhaps much more powerful). This simplifies programming a lot. We can just say: every frame, move the player five pixels to the left. This will result in the player moving to the left at a constant speed.
This all sounds perfect, but the reality is often far from perfect. Space Invaders, one of the oldest games, doesn't run at a fixed FPS. Instead, it just moves the aliens and draws them as fast as it can. The more aliens you kill, the less aliens the computer has to worry about, and thus the faster the aliens move! This is by the way how the difficulty curve for games was "invented".
Space Invaders show off a real problem though: the rendering can take a long time. You might already see it coming: on some computers, the rendering may take longer than 1/60th of a second. Suddenly, your game doesn't update and render sixty times per second, but only forty. As a consequence, your game runs a third slower than it is supposed to!
This is where variable framerates come in. Instead of making the assumption that every frame takes the exact same time on every machine, we can instead just measure the time since the last update. Instead of moving five pixels every frame, we make sure we move 300 (= 5 pixels multiplied by 60 FPS) pixels every second by getting the elapsed time since last frame in seconds, and multiplying this speed by that time. That sounds easy, but you have to do this everywhere. If you forget it in even a single place, your entire logic is out of wack. Sometimes you don't even find out until after a long time, when running the game on a completely different machine, and at that point it's often hard to find out where you missed that extra factor in your multiplication.
Variable framerate is hard under the best of circumstances, but trying to move a game from a fixed framerate to a variable framerate, with all the technical debt that you may have, is even harder. Switching from one fixed framerate to another is almost equally painful. So this... this is where the RuneScape tick system finally comes in.
RuneScape is a bit unlike other games. The game renders many times a second, and even updates many times a second locally. However, when it comes to the actual game logic, it's only updated once every 0.6 seconds. The game can't let you update everything locally, because if your computer decides whether you get a rare drop table drop or not, then you can easily spoof that and tell the server you get that perfect loot every single time. So all the important updates are done by the server, and the server simply can't handle updating the game 60 times per second. Even if it could, the sheer network traffic it would require to send you the information would be significant. If that was not a problem either, the network lag would still make updating that fast a bit of a waste, since you would hardly notice it.
This tick system, where the server moves the entire game (and that means everything in the entire world of Gielinor!) forward by exactly 0.6 seconds every time, has been fundamental to RuneScape's architecture from the very first day. If you're walking, the game will move you exactly one tile per tick. The logic has it so you can attack with a whip once every four ticks, at the same speed as you can fish. This assumption of the 0.6 second is baked into every piece of logic ever written in RuneScape. To change the tick length to 0.3 seconds (exactly half), everything suddenly needs to take twice as many ticks. Not only that, but suddenly you can be in the middle of moving from one tile to the next, which is not something the server ever had to handle before (the server "teleports" you to the next tile ever frame, as it were).
Removing the tick system is roughly equivalent between moving to a variable tickrate on the server, and means we no longer multiply all the durations, but have to somehow change the logic to be completely time-based. It is incredibly easy to miss one of the systems, and suddenly your entire game goes haywire.
Changing anything about the tick system means touching virtually every single system that exists in the game. Apart from it being a colossal task, any mistake made in the process is really hard to find, but can have big consequences on the final result. It is for this reason that it is unlikely we will see any big changes in even the next few years. Until then, all Jagex can do is become better at faking. Make the client predict parts of what happens on the next tick, and make the game more responsive and smooth as a consequence. But for those holding out for an end to tick system related frustrations: this is one of the most complex problems you can have in game development, and it is not one that is solved overnight, so you'll just have to deal with it for a while longer.
One of the biggest updates to 2019 was the advent of 120 Herblore and Farming. Just to get some of my bias out of the way, I love boosting skills up to 120. As a player who has been maxed since early 2016 and a Completionist since the summer of 2017, I’m constantly thirsty for new content. Part of why I became so obsessed with PvM content is that for several years its felt like the only end-game content that came with tangible rewards. Achieving 5.4 billion total experience, the 120 skill level cosmetic capes, and other miscellaneous rewards like title collection and RuneScore are certainly worthwhile pursuits for many players, but for me they’ve never had the quite the appeal of a big drop. The trend towards moving skill caps from 99 to 120, beginning with Slayer and then moving to the most recent Herblore/Farming update is a way to breathe a lot of life into the end game. I finally felt like there was a real reason to train these skills past 99 other than cosmetics, and hope this trend of increasing levels and filling in 100-120 with useful and engaging content continues. One of the few downsides people have discussed about for this update is the relative paucity of improvements to PvM in terms of ease of use and damage improvement. While this is debatably an accurate assessment, to me this is a god thing.
Seemingly every few months since the Evolution of Combat, power creep has rapidly changed the way PvMers interact with content. Switching, 4TAA, changes to the berserk aura, Invention, rune pouches, bakriminel bolts, mutated melee abilities, the Seren Godbow special attack change, and many other factors have all contributed to a monumental increase in overall DPS. Fights are being finished faster than I would’ve ever thought possible, survivability has never been higher, and the combination of new gear with min-max methods has significantly reduced the challenge of even some of RuneScape’s most challenging content. My biggest fear with the 120 updates, particularly with Herblore, was that the new potions would once again contribute significantly to power creep. Unless something is changed about damage calculation or new, more difficult bosses are released, the overall health of the game would have been negatively impacted if potions such as Elder Overloads had been a massive buff, or if the new power bursts didn’t set adrenaline potions on cooldown.
In terms of what boosts we did receive, the most obvious is the Elder Overload Salves. At the relatively minor cost of a Fellstalk – congratulations to everyone who successfully merchanted these! – and the new Primal Extract, overloads boost stats (at 99) by 21 instead of the previous 19. At places where you’re below 100% accuracy, this culminates in a small, but noticeable, change to damage. At places that are highly profitable anyways such as Telos or Vorago, this small boost to damage and accuracy is absolutely worth it, and even if you splash one fewer wild magic per hour at telos, I think these potions are worth the whole update on their own. For most cases, the damage boost provided by these potions don’t really make them worth using, but for the best possible results I’d recommend using them everywhere, particularly if already using Salves.
The place where some feel a lot is left to be desired are the power bursts. While none of these are game-changing boosts to PvM, they all provide a fun and unique method of interacting with actions people were already doing. I like that these powerbursts come with a trade-off. Previously, Jagex would consistently release new items into PvM that had no discernible downside, which both created what I’ve often referred to as “lossless power creep” but also instantly made them a mandatory part of any setup. This has led to the universalization of load outs, strategies, and elitism at the high end that has caused many learners to feel dissuaded from attempting to take their game to the next level. In this case, each powerburst triggers the 2-minute cooldown on using an adrenaline potion, which is a HUGE set back given how prominent adrenaline potions are to modern PvM rotations. In fact, adrenaline potions have become so ubiquitous in their usage that they almost feel mandatory. While this downside certainly discourages the use of powerbursts at the high end, they’re fun!
The Powerburst of Vitality, which doubles the users current and maximum life for 6 seconds, can give learners a much higher degree of survivability. Learning small teams at RoTs, phase 4 and 5 of higher enrage telos, and hard mode Vorago are all places I can instantly see these powerbursts being the difference between getting successful kills or not. While long term it’s far better to rely on high DPS and Soul Split to reduce damage taken, these can save you in an emergency. The powerburst of acceleration doesn’t have any PvM applicability I can think of, but it’s super useful for clue scrolls and is a lot of fun. The powerburst of feats currently does the same thing as Summoning Flasks, but without the tradeoff of resetting the adrenaline potion cooldown – this is maybe the one powerburst that I wish they would change. The last one is the powerburst of overkill, which is the one I was most excited about coming into this update. This is an interesting case, because for the most part it functions as a slightly worse adrenaline potion, particularly when compared to the enhanced version, but at the same time, if it didn’t share a cooldown it would be far, far too good. The places where this powerburst is interesting, however, it really does make a nice difference. It makes no-shadow realm phase 4 Solak, a method where both players berserk on phase 4 rather than having one player enter Solak’s mind realm, a bit more consistent, and has some niche applicability at Vorago and Araxxor. None of these will dramatically change the way I PvM, but I think that’s perfectly fine.
The last items are the poison, sticky, and vulnerability bomb. These potions aren’t particularly useful for those who are already familiar with binds, spell book swapping for vulnerability, and bring weapon poison – however, they do greatly improve the ease of using all three of these, in particular the vulnerability bomb makes the debuff much more accessible for players not used to swapping or using a combat style other than melee. In aggregate, the buffs from the new update aren’t terribly significant, but they’re good enough to make the skills feel worthwhile to train which I think makes this an excellent update.
A date has been set for the final sunset of the Java client. We reminisce and share our thoughts on the past and the future of NXT. We then recap Farming 120 and Herblore 120. And finally, a big offer in the realm of dinosaur breeding.
Farming and Herblore are the two newest skills to be taken to level 120. The intent to raise these skills to 120 was announced at RuneFest and there was a fair share of skepticism in the air. These are my top two favourite skills in game, and from the start I knew what we’d be in for. I had also just written the Farming Money article detailing the Farming ecosystem; what this did for that on top of Herblore was going to be interesting without a doubt. And finally, here's a question that I had on Monday last week; are people viewing this update with a narrow lens?
To garner level 120 in a traditional skill you need about 104 million experience, about 8 times the amount of experience needed for a 99. Slayer went to 120 with the release of Menaphos and not much changed in terms of training nor were there content unlocks at each level. We were told these skills going to 120 would be different and players would have plenty to strive for. All one needs to do is look at the news posts for Farming 120 and Herblore 120 to see that they are jam packed.
The community loved the first Player Owned Farm when it came out and it was so popular that there was a glut of animals in players banks. The sky high breeding rates and relaxed animal welfare penalties angled the Player Owned Farm for a nerf this summer. The point is though that the main training method for 99–120 is going to be the Manor Farm’s successor, The Ranch Out of Time. Couple this in with Dragons, Zygomites, wood trees, and fruit trees, experience rates will be higher than ever.
Herblore on the other hand sees its training method stay the same. Typically for Herblore training one either makes Overloads if they’re not concerned about recovering lost money. But if they want to recover some of that money back, Saradomin Brews, high level super potions, or the tradeable combination potions are good candidates. Herblore 120 doesn’t affect how we train but it does provide many interesting potions we will want to make on the way to 120.
On the whole, these two releases are entirely different than Slayer 120. The Farming side capitalizes on one of the most popular pieces of content out there, the Player Owned Farm. Herblore has some interesting potions that I’ll get to in just a bit, but to hold you over, Elder Overloads when using Maniacal or Berserker will now boost combat stats to 130. To say that from a design or execution perspective that these skills fall flat would require a person to be living in an alternate reality.
The Farming ecosystem isn’t one that many think of all too often. It requires you to have Farmed herbs for your own use. In Farming Money I talked about how it’s entirely possible for 1–2 herb runs a day to fund a Farming goal to 99 and beyond with trees and the Player Owned Farm, this can of course also be adapted to make pure profit. The Ranch Out of Time’s large dinosaurs are looking to take about 10 days to reach the “Elder” growth stage. Jadinkos take about 4 days to reach “Elder” and only net 30,000 experience from baby to elder. While the Ranch Out of Time will provide supplementary experience on your way to 120 Farming, the creatures there are better bred for their produce.
Most everything released in Herblore to 120 requires something from Farming to 120. Shortly after launch, Bottled Dinosaur Roar was selling for 100k GP per unit. The bottled roar comes from the rex family of dinosaur at the Ranch Out of Time. Beak snot from Apoterrasaurs was selling for a similar value. I could go on but what was immediately clear is that the Farming ecosystem that was, added Herblore to it in a tremendous way. This is amplified by the fact that seeds and eggs aren’t dropped like candy. The only PvM creatures to drop the seeds are Lost Grove creatures and Anachronia dinosaurs, what’s more, the eggs for the Ranch Out of Time critters can only be obtained from hunting except for the Slayer based dinosaurs.
On RSBANDBUpdate! 753 - The Deeds at the Ranch Out of Time we theorized that it will be months before the values of the seeds and produce stabilize. There have been those in the PvM community that feel these items will not be worthwhile because they don’t impact high level PvM in a meaningful way except for the Elder Overload. Not everything has to revolve around high level PvM and changing the PvM meta! In fact it appears that most of the combat based additions (bombs and power bursts) appear to help mid-level or up and coming PvMers.
Is the RuneScape community in general viewing this update with a narrow lens? No, in the sense that most everything has been researched and discovered within the week. Yes, in that at launch it wasn’t appreciated just how much this update would cement the Farming ecosystem down and add Herblore to it. We have an economy where Farmers are the exclusive producers of the new produce needed for Herblore! This is something skillers have been asking for for many years. Farming 120 and Herblore 120 continue the tradition of skilling updates that live up to the 5 year skilling plan set out in 2017. For those who haven’t or who are skeptical, I urge you to give the new content a try and step in to the new Farming and Herblore ecosystem.