Earth joins us as we talk about Double XP Live improvements, his thoughts on Desperate Measures, and the Lore Q&A. And we theorize about how Guthix knew about Shadow Anima and what a ban on TikTok could look like.
The fine folks at Jagex had released a new beta showcasing a new groundbreaking feature! The last few times they had done this, it was to showcase RuneScape 2, The Evolution of Combat, NXT, or RuneScape Mobile. All of these were pretty big ground-breaking changes in RuneScape that desperately needed player feedback in order to maintain and discover how they could be balanced.
So, what amazing feature do we have a whole Beta server to test out?
You can raise your camera up and down (in addition to UI scaling, but that's another article)!
... yeah. That's pretty much it. You can zoom out a bit more, but otherwise you can simply raise the camera and get a better view of the surrounding world.
Oh, but what a view it is!
Why does something like this need a beta, you may ask? It doesn't change any of the gameplay or anything. What's going on?
Well, see, that's where you're wrong. This looks like a relatively simple change, but there's a lot more to it than you think.
For starts, the very act of raising the camera to an offset means that it will go beyond what was originally a pre-determined height. This means that there's the risk that various polygons of tall models, like building roofs and towers, might end up viewed at an angle they were never intended to be. This may cause disorientation, breaking the immersion, and possibly even seizures if the colors mess around. To help with performance, a LOT of shortcuts are taken with rendering, meaning that it would not be common for polygons to be one-sided and have some sort of behind-the-scenes extras to aid in saving memory. The earlier days of NXT saw the world gradually constructing around the player with texture maps loading and models gradually rendering one after another; this is one example of this sort of thing.
Second, if you guys recall, during the construction of the NXT engine, there was the concern regarding the visibility of Crandor and Entrana from the west coast of Falador and Taverley. This was corrected by a neat sort of "invisible if here" algorithm to make it seem like the islands were not within... well, dog-paddling distance. By increasing the view distance, this may happen again throughout the map, and with RuneScape as big and diverse as it is (not just the overworld, but the underground as well), a Beta can be used to enlist the entire player-base to go exploring and report trouble spots like that.
Third, with the addition of height comes the need for extra render distance. Looking at the picture above, most of that is dealt with by using fog and a limited model sky-box. The trees far away in the fog don't necessarily need their texture loaded; they can just take on a black hue that is influenced by adding the fog coloring around them. This sort of procedure is called mip-mapping, where far-away objects can take on much simpler textures, and they can be progressively and, quite often, secretly updated to more higher resolutions as the player approached. That being said, despite this practice the distance needed to increase, which adds models. Simple models, but models never the less. This threatened performance in select complicated areas like Anachronia and Prifddinas, and possibly even popular boss areas like Telos and Solak. If the game suddenly crashed due to high performance while players were halfway through a glorious battle... well, that wouldn't bode well for the comments forum.
Large-scale, high intensity graphics sorts of games are not so easy to manage. The more detailed the environment, the more processor is needed to render it. A simple act of increasing the draw distance has heavy implications and often requires a lot of optimization work for it to remain in a stable state. As such, think of it more like increased draw distance being a side-effect for the optimization. Rather than "we can see more because it's faster", it's more like "we managed to make it faster, so now we can see more". A side-effect, not a feature.
And as time goes on, and more and more algorithms are figured out and refined, it will just keep on getting better and better. It's a struggle, but it's one that's well worth it in the end.
Until next time,
NOTE: Naturally there will be quest spoilers, so go do the quest first, then read. Think of this as incentive. And if you do, you're doing something wrong if you're thinking that my random improvised gibberish could possibly meet the hype of a fully-developed RuneScape quest.
It's been a year, and we've finally progressed in RuneScape's most dire, most epic quest series to date: the Elder God story-line. At long last, all the build-up from Desperate Times, all the type with Anachronia. The setting. The situation. The unknowns. Is Kerapac really a danger to the Elder Gods? Should we really be trusting a memory of him from so long ago? All of this and more are answered in the newest RuneScape quest: Desperate Measures!
... and it lasted me about 3 hours.
I won't tell you exactly how it's done or where to go, it's pretty cut and dry as the quests usually are. You go to a bunch of places, talk to some NPCs, there's a bit of searching and puzzle solving, some new game-play mechanic, and of course, a fun boss fight at the end. Classic standard questing formula.
So, as an avid quester since RuneScape circa 2001, what are my thoughts of it?
Truth be told, they're kind of mixed. There were some really epic moments in the quest, but then there were some 'eh' moments. And one moment in particular that, I felt, really REALLY could've been done better. The big take-away, though, from this is:
It lasted me about 3 hours.
I mean, Mourning's End Part 2, which remains my third most favorite quest behind One of a Kind and One Small Favor, was entirely one big puzzle that lasted me an entire day of struggling, deciphering, and figuring things out, and it was developed in probably a month. There wasn't much story to it; it was basically you accessing the death altar and sealing the temple up. That was it.
This quest... lasted me... about 3 hours. I waited a YEAR... and it lasted me three hours...
Oh, but what an awesome three hours it was. Thok, Charos, and even Hannibus. all joining forces with you to fight against one of the most powerful Dragonkin on Gielinor! Flashbacks to the Mahjarrat Ritual right here where you team up with some well-developed key figures.
I mean, forget the prior two for a sec here; Hannibus has been on a whole journey all on his own. As a character, he's been developed so wonderfully that he easily stands as one of my favorites right now in-game. Like, he's been through a lot. Originally a humble shepherd, he was enlisted to fight in Zaros' army on dragon-back (Shakorexis, the King Black Dragon's back, to be precise [freaking awesome!]), having been petrified for decades, struggling to keep his entire race alive, and coming into the world to find out he has a daughter who's been raised as a soldier and can barely respect him. And despite all that, he still sees the world as something beautiful and plans to do the most with his life as he can. Jagex Developers, for crying out loud, put this guy in a nice little place on the map somewhere! Stop making him disappear after each quest!
Sorry, needed to get that out of my system. Hannibus is a great character. OK. Enough about him (for now).
Let's walk through the quest a bit!
It started off with a Thok story, which is always a delight. The guy is always so delusional, putting hilarious spins on the Examine option and creature names and telling over-the-top stories... I loved every moment of that one. Having the wise Charos continuously interrupt was funny too, but... dang it, Charos, I KNOW that's not how it really went; shut up and let me hear the Thok story in peace! Then you can tell me your version of the event in a nice quick wall of text. Or in the form of a riddle. Really, your call.
Then, we got to implement a little Archaeology into the mix, finding a dragonkin keystone and tablet. Charos tells you what they might be (cryptic as always), but of course it's up to you.
We are asked to seek out Hannibus to decipher the tablet (yay!), and we find him at the Ranch Out of Time, of all places. Again, true character development right here, I wish he stayed post-quest. Would've taken all the selfies.
From there, you and Hannibus go on a classic adventure, the two of you, to probe the minds of lizards. Sound familiar? Yup, it's an age old formula. The puzzle itself is pretty simple and it introduces you to dragonkin-letter combination locks. This is important for later. Going into a dragonkin's dreamworld is not, however; this only happens once. This is also important for later.
Then, lorehounds rejoice, we get to learn a lot of cool stuff about the dragonkin! Cutscene, tension, epic fight scene where everyone teams on Kerapac who's invincible, and then back to questing.
You actually leave Anachronia for a while to learn more about the Needle. You learn it has some sort of intelligence of its own; the need to defend itself from an unknown weakness. Now this is interesting. Maybe there's a way to appeal to the needle itself and it takes research into some other Elder Artifact, or even introduce a new one, to figure out how.
But screw that! We're gonna fix everything by talking to JAS, baby!
I was super-hyped at this part. This was a great mechanic. You had to choose what you said super carefully, and knowing Jas's character from Endgame, it became a game of 'how do I show respect to an Elder God'? Brilliantly played!
And then... came the battle.
Ho boy, where to begin...
I'll start off by saying it wasn't bad as a minigame. You control yourself and 4 other NPCs in a sort of tower-defense sort of minigame where you all auto-attack enemies with pre-selected weapons, and you defend the base lodestone from 5 waves of progressively more difficult dinos. That's the synopsis of it, and really, it was fun at the end of the day.
But the execution of it was just absolutely terrible! You are not AT ALL introduced to the mechanics prior to it. You are instead shoved into a lengthy wall of text with some somewhat poor demos, and then thrust into the actual battle without even really knowing what you were getting into. It was on wave 2 did I actually figure out how my own character worked in the encounter (just have him stand next to a dino to smash). From there, only Hannibus had a means of slowing the enemy down; the others basically just powered through whoever was defending, ignoring the obvious threat, and instead wailed on the middle. I ended up shifting my careful strategy and placement to just piling everyone close to the middle and letting the ranged attacks take them down. Basically, I felt I had to take the strategy out of the game and attribute it to brute forced luck. And that's just not good.
If I were to fix this encounter, there are three things I would do:
1: Have my character use their normal combat abilities. I'm talking being able to use Ensnare and Weaken, or AOE attacks, or even just Surge to get around faster. I mean, what else is the point of a custom hero if you can't use them to their full extent in a situation that desperately calls for it. RuneScape doesn't have much of a Tower Defense game in it, and it would've definitely made the Ensnare spell much more valuable.
2: A preceding precursor battle to help the player learn the mechanics. And believe me, there was ample opportunity for this. Remember the excavation part at the start where we get the crystal and tablet? That should've been the precursor; Thok and Charos defending the excavating player from... I dunno, distracting Jadinkos. This would've given the player a sort-of warm up to this mini-game where they only control two basic characters (melee and ranged), and they get to position them accordingly and get used to letting them stand around and defend. This way, not only does the player get accustomed to the mechanic in a less dire, less stressful situation (distracting jadinkos as opposed to saving the lives of innocents), but there's much less of a wall of text to contend with, as all you'd need is Hannibus and Laneaka talking about their specialties.
3: I believe Charos mentioned that he was going to highlight the dinosaur's path or something so I would know in advance what needed more defense. That never happened. Might've been a bug, but considering how slowly the characters move, that's a doozy of a bug. There was almost no preparation time when they waves stacked up, and often my heroes were still walking around trying to get to their places as the dinos rushed by them.
I know, I can't really fault anyone for this. I imagine it was meant to be something that someone tried over and over until they got it right.
Of course, I beat it on the first try like a boss. Neener.
Then you meet up again, run around the volcano hunting for Charos, and you learn something pretty darn scary about... yourself. The player is infused with shadow anima as part of Guthix's gift to us. It didn't have as much of an impact as I imagined it was supposed to because there wasn't much to really convince me that it was actually bad (no real examples, just hypotheticals), but it sounds like it's definitely something that warrants investigation in future quests.
Then you get into Kerapac's base, where you are alone. Alone to explore. Alone to solve a puzzle.
And what a puzzle it was! See, THIS is how you do things! No immediate explanation, no big wall of text. Just rudimentary exploration and pattern deciphering. I had to grab a pencil and paper for this one, and I'm proud that the game made me commit to it in that fashion. It was wonderful! Expertly done.
Heck, I'm not even mad that they reused a boss for the end fight. Black Stone Dragon's an epic fight!
But then came the final cut-scene.
Long story short, after one final attempt to negotiate with Kerapac (wishing my character would've mentioned that it wasn't a plea, it was a threat), we dish out Jas's gift, and...
... now, see, I'm used to this by now. At least a third of the quests involve the player getting tricked in some ridiculous fashion. Priest of Peril, you're tricked by Zamorakian cultists to kill a guardian stopping Morytanians from storming Varrock. Devious Minds, you're tricked by a monk who gets you to make a sword-bow that despite promises, never gets implemented in the game (this was pre-EOC, so it would've been epic). In Search of the Myreque, you're tricked by Vanstrom into leading him to the rebel group and nearly wiping them out, resulting in deaths that you even commit to creating a whole circle of memorabilia for. Even in Sliske's Endgame you're tricked by Sliske.
But here... here, you get tricked by the Elder God Jas. She doesn't take control of the Needle and remove it, she takes control of Kerapac by reapplying her binding curse. Not just Kerapac, but a bunch of presumably unrelated and innocent dragonkin as well.
Let that sink in a bit; you've been tricked by Jas.
... oh, and Ful blows the entire volcano up. You have to run and escape! Made it out with 1 second to spare.
... oh, uh, just ignore that picture. Kerapac doesn't actually escape with us. He sort of stayed behind or something, I dunno. It was unclear. No idea where he went after either; I reckoned he would've had at least some last words for us in the group if he did escape with us. But he didn't. Artist rendition. Pretend it's actually Hannibus. He was there. He helped! Everyone likes Hannibus!
We escaped! We won! Threat averted! Situation remedied!
But yeah, we talk with Seren again, and... well, once again, the situation's been made more dire than it started. Sure, we stopped Kerapac, but now he's back to being Jas's servant, Ful's cheesed off, and to top it off it seems that Guthix did something to the player that threatens their very life that needs addressing. In a few years, at least. Wanna bet they follow through with that promise?
Quest complete! Back to Archaeology grinding!
... so yeah. Three hours. There was good stuff, there was bad stuff, there was fun stuff, and there was boring stuff. All in all, a good quest, but not one that should've taken this long to build. And, I mean, I get it, what with the quarantine and all, it's difficult to build these whole new areas and game mechanics. But folks at Jagex, you don't really have to. Just throw the hero characters out into the over-world, wandering around doing their own things, give them a few new dialog options every couple of weeks or so, and that's all you need to do to keep the story fresh and progressing. Destiny 2 does that; keeps us playing the game weekly. Don't just jam it into one big clump; spread it out a bit. I liked those teasers you sometimes made that hyped us up with upcoming quests. Hidden miniquests, wandering shadow-realm characters, secret lore, etc.
Until next time,
It’s quest week and Desperate Measures is here. We cover the quest front to back. We talk lore, gameplay, differing points of view, and what it all means for the World Guardian. Then we top it off with questions of Elder God proportions.
It's been a long, hot, dry summer in more ways than one this year. With the exception of recent real-world events, we've been here before. Last year in 2019 there was a long period during the summer where we didn't get any substantial updates. Of course, now we know from our interview with Mod Osborne that is was a series of delays that added together left us without any real update until 120 Farming and Herblore in late fall. I bring this up not only to give us a starting point but also to say this was the first time I began to think Jagex may be bringing expansions back. This hypothesis wasn't out of left-field. There were reasons to suspect such a move. In fact, over the course of 2019 and into 2020 I was pretty convinced that expansions would be the update schedule going forward all be it by another name. Jagex had shied away from using that term to describe its update schedule for reasons we'll talk about later. The question of the cadence of RuneScape updates has been definitely answered and it will remain a weekly update cadence. Mod Warden said in a July 9th live-stream that they will indeed be sticking with the weekly update schedule. He then went on to say that they have experienced some delays and challenges working from home during the pandemic. Obviously I was a little surprised. I thought I had put all the clues together and came up with the most reasonable answer, however, this was not the case, expansions were never going to be the direction RuneScape took. I had to ask myself how could I have gotten this so wrong? In a conversation with our very own favorite podcast host, Shane said something that made real sense to me. He said weekly updates were so intertwined with what RuneScape had always been it's proven impossible to change it.
For those who may be new here or for those who might've forgotten, in 2017 Jagex tried to go to an expansion update schedule. This meant that they wanted to package large updates together with small and medium-size and release these as a batch a few times a year. This is a model that works very well in other games probably most notably in Elder Scrolls Online. One problem that stood out, in the beginning, was that Jagex was going to try to still release additional content not covered by expansions so that players could ease into this new schedule. They knew for sixteen years at that point RuneScape had been receiving weekly updates and this would be a huge change for the players. Trying to have it both ways was a problem for Jagex and as in many cases of trying to have it both ways, they didn't deliver on either of them. They only managed to put out a trickle of content over the six months leading up to the first expansion Menaphos. Add to that Menaphos' cool reception and expansions were promptly cancelled.
Jagex tried to course-correct but unfortunately never really regained a strong update cadence after expansions. This inconsistency of content finally culminated in last summer's dry spell. After the release of Anachronia last summer we didn't have a significant update for several months. This made me start thinking that with the scale of the game and the quality of updates that it just wasn't possible for them to keep up a weekly update schedule. Towards the end of last summer, we also saw Jagex hire a new executive producer, Mod Warden who began making moves and reorganizing development teams. At the time I remember thinking Anachronia was released in July 2019 then there was nothing significant until 120 Herblore and Farming in mid-November of that year. Then Archaeology was delayed and came out in March. It certainly appeared we were back to expansions albeit by omission.
It wasn't until the July 9th live stream where mod Warden explicitly said they were sticking to the weekly schedule that the question in many people's minds was conclusively answered. Mod Warden explained that they had seen challenges from the COVID19 situation and they were doing their best but he was not in a position to make Archaeology scale updates any time soon. Putting that aside there are several reasons to why Jagex is staying with their traditional schedule. First off, games that use an expansion model usually don't have subscriptions or the subscription-only provides quality of life improvements, experience boosts, and access to DLC. That means you have to buy the expansion but if you want DLC you can buy it or keep a subscription. At first, I thought this would be ideal for both the players and Jagex if they ever adopted this model. What I didn't account for is that players could and would come and go as they pleased then. Jagex wouldn't have that steady subscription revenue coming in. For example, if a new expansion was weighed heavily by new bosses then perhaps skillers would just pass on buying it. Of course, this is how it's done in other games but when Jagex tried it they kept the subscription model so that people kept paying even when there wasn't content coming out. This placed even more pressure on what was already shaky content to begin with. In short, Jagex can't make any changes to its subscription model because it is and always has been what powers the game.
There was still one problem I couldn't figure out and that was how can they possibly deliver the quality and scale of updates that we are used to on a weekly schedule. Honestly, this is yet to be rectified. It would be nice if we could conclusively say that the content drought is all an effect of the pandemic, however that doesn't explain previous content droughts. I think this is where we have to be realistic at the end of the day. The bottom line is the game is bigger and more complex than ever. Updates that once took a week or two to build now can take months or even years. Jagex is still a fairly small studio even though it has grown over the years. The end result looks to me as two patch notes weeks, one ninja strike week, and a small to medium at best, update to round out the month. You can take that as you will but this is what we have been seeing and this is what they are calling weekly updates.
Lastly, the reason this issue was put to bed once and for all was that a weekly update schedule is so intertwined with what RuneScape is and what people expect that it made change impossible. Players have always been cold to the idea of expansions to begin with. When Menaphos failed it just reinforced the majority of player's mindset that RuneScape is a weekly updated game. It remains to be seen if players will continue to accept this cadence as weekly updates but so far it doesn't look good. They don't seem to really want to accept multiple patch weeks in a month.
At the end of the day, players will have to decide whether or not they are getting their money's worth. Now that it has been confirmed that they will keep to a traditional schedule, that also means Jagex absolutely counts patch weeks and ninja strikes as updates. The only question is, do you? For myself, I think as long as the quality is high like we saw in Archaeology I accept it. I understand from talking to people in our production team the demands that are put on people that work in this field. It is also a good thing we know for sure what Jagex's plan is. Even though they never did say they were going back to expansions, there were enough reasons to speculate. I will be enjoying the new quest eagerly awaiting to see if I am right this time or will I be fooled again. Until next time, Happy RuneScaping.