The weird world of RuneScape

I have to ask: Does RuneScape boggle anyone else? I mean, its very existence and popularity? Some MMOs seem to exist in an extremely sheltered bubble where its community is far removed from the rest of the genre, and this has to be one of them.

It’s one of those games that never gets a lot of press or mentions, save for the rare occasion. Yet it’s been running since 2001 and doing phenomenally well. It’s one of the only MMOs that I’ve seen pull off a “classic” server and seen that become even more popular than the main shard. It pumps out updates at a ridiculous pace, involves the community in all sorts of design decisions, has a yearly convention, contains the largest MMO soundtrack ever made, and just came out with a large summer expansion.

Yet no one ever talks about it! People don’t seem to want to read about it, because RuneScape stories don’t get great hits over at Massively OP. If I do ever hear someone mention it, it’s usually in the context of “I used to play this back when I was younger and couldn’t afford World of Warcraft” or “This game has some of the most involved quests ever.”

Maybe it really does come down to a separation of communities — the RuneScape community doesn’t care for the larger MMO community, and the larger MMO community sees RuneScape as a “kiddie” game that’s to archaic or grindy for everyone else.

Every so often I give the game a brief and half-hearted stab. It does seem like it would take a lot of time to really get into, and that’s not time I have to spare right now. But when I do get into it, it certainly feels and functions much more different than many MMOs I’m used to playing.

So here’s one rather annoying “feature” of RuneScape: You can only make one character per account… ever. And there’s no re-rolling. I found this out when I went back and saw that the last time I was in, I made some ridiculous-looking man as a character, and I wanted to start over as a female character and to go back through the tutorial. But no, there is no option for that. I did some scouting around, and it seems to be the policy of the game to stick you with a single character per account period, maybe unless you subscribe or something. But why can’t we restart?

It’s a boggling question made more aggravating by players who defend the setup with a “well, why would you NEED to?” Other than I might just want to, I might have been away for a while and would like to experience it fresh, and I might not like my character’s looks? It’s a ridiculous limitation that I don’t see elsewhere. And sure, I could create a new account (and might, some day), but that just annoyed me so much that I logged out feeling mildly disgusted, then sat there and mused about how “other” this game comes across to a non-RuneScape player.

I wonder if that’s how that community sees us?

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Hat Trick Friday: RuneScape

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Welcome to Hat Trick Friday, in which I pull a game that’s not part of my normal rotation out of a hat to play for an entire evening. Today’s title is RuneScape, the long-running free-to-play fantasy sandbox MMO.

According to the login screen, it’s been 939 days since I last logged into RuneScape. Way to lay the guilt on, Jagex! I’m assuming that was for one of my previous experiments, perhaps the month where I was trying to play 10 MMOs that I never had before.

So, my first Hat Trick Friday. Gotta say, this might be tough. I really do get set in my ways, and jogging myself out of my normal routine to play a different MMO for a single night feels… alien. Interesting. Going to require some patience as I settle in.

Aside from making me pick a new name (aw) and a combat style, everything’s as I left it nearly three years prior. However, I just want to start over since I remember nothing and want to see the experience fresh. Apparently that’s not as easy as it sounds — from doing some quick searches, I’m told that the character and account are one and the same and there is no reset, so I’d need a new account to start over. Fine.

Obviously, he looks totally like me. There’s a maxim that I follow in character creation, which is if I’m playing a male avatar and there’s the option to give him a handlebar moustache, I have to take it. Well done, sir.

I use a fantasy name generator, which spits out Wigbald. Wigbald it is then!

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Aw! Wigbald’s first steps into a wider world!

Gotta say, ding RuneScape for it’s cruder graphics if you must, but its music and voice acting is really well-done. Going to take some getting used to using WASD keys to turn the camera instead of moving.

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Ha. Anyway, this old coot takes me through the island tutorial before I’m dumped into the proper game.

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Zombie attack! And fighting here is about as thrilling as you might expect from the above screenshot. Thanks for helping me out, beardy!

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Spent some time poking about the options. There are scads of choices here, from automating some elements of combat to the robust music collection system. Starting out it looks like I have access to 122 out of the 1065 tracks in this game. You can customize a playlist out of them for the game to go through, even. Man, I wish more MMOs had a music collection system like this.

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Well… that’s a novel use for cows. Giant cowster wheel. Don’t step in the cracks, dude!

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Or, if you like, zombie cows. No discrimination here!

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I gotta say, for all its clunkiness and unabashed love of naked polygons, there’s a real charm going on here. And the polygons? Can be really expressive when animated right. Anyway, we put down a smallish zombie uprising in the church, as Wigbald’s mustache saves the day. I also get her headdress as loot.

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I’m sexy and I know it.

And that was about it for my RuneScape evening! I spent way too much time farting around with the account settings and music and poking around the tutorial to make progress, but fun was had. Hope I get back to Wigbald’s adventures some day!

Hat Trick Friday: The Prologue

Okay, so I’ve had this idea kicking around in my head for a couple of weeks now and I thought it was about time to pull it out and do something with it.

You all know me — my gaming eyes are bigger than my time stomach has room, and while I wish I was playing ALL THE MMOS I can only handle a few at a time. With that in mind and the fact that I’m guessing that readers would like some variety on this blog past an endless stream of WildStar and SWTOR posts, I came up with something called Hat Trick Friday.

The idea is that one night a week — usually Thursday but I’m giving myself leeway for schedule changes — I will play a game outside of my regular rotation for the entire evening. No rushing through it to get a post out of it before heading back to my main games; I’ll be plopping my butt in a chair and giving one game my undevoted attention for the whole time, screenshotting it to chronicle on Friday.

I’ve written down around 30 games — mostly MMOs — on cards and put them into a hat, from which I will draw once a week. All of these are games I’m willing to play, so some titles won’t be represented, and while most are MMOs, there are two “Steam Mystery Cards” in the bunch that will let me choose a game from my Steam library to tackle for kicks.

The cards will go back into the hat for future weeks (unless I really hated the game), so there’s a possiblity of continuing adventures and characters.

I had my three-year-old pick blind from the stack, and this is what he chose for me to do tonight:

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This’ll be interesting — I haven’t seen that game since RuneScape 3 came out.

Battle Bards Episode 42: RuneScape

knightTalk about a challenge!  How do you pick a handful of tracks to represent a game that’s been around for so long that it has over 1,000 pieces of original music in it?  Fortunately, the Bards are up to the challenge as they tackle RuneScape, that free-to-play game that probably deserves more respect than it gets.

Episode 42 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Theme B” and “Royale”)
  • “Dune”
  • “Breeze”
  • “The Reaper’s House”
  • “Honky Tonk Medieval”
  • “Barking Mad”
  • “Supreme Champions”
  • What did we like?
  • Mail from Adrien
  • Mail from Thoroughmas (and the video link he mentioned)
  • Speakpipe from Scott
  • Outro

Listen to episode 42 now!

The 10/10 Project: RuneScape (Day 1)

rs2To kick off my 10/10 project — 10 MMOs I’ve never played in 10 days — I decided to go back to a title that pioneered free-to-play and browser-based online gaming, RuneScape.  It’s amazing how long this game’s been out there and how popular it’s remained.

Making a new account and getting into the game was exceedingly easy.  Just an email address and password, then about a minute for a loading screen, and I was in.  I’ve got to say, that was a huge plus.

I guess RuneScape doesn’t really do classes so much as a skill-based system, so character creation was picking the visuals for my toon.  There’s only the option to be a human (boo) and the graphics, well, let’s talk about the graphics for a minute.  Even with so many years of development, RuneScape’s visuals still skew toward 1997-era PlayStation 3D blockiness.  Seriously, I haven’t seen this type of primitive chunky polygon design in a long, long time.  Whenever the game zoomed in on character faces it got downright ridiculous how bad it looked.

Yet there are two factors that overcome mere looks.  The first is that it allows a full-fledged MMO to run in a browser, and that ain’t nothing.  The second is that there is a ton — I mean, a ton — of personality in the animations.  It adds up to a cartoony feel that made me look at the game as a cartoony style, and that was that.  I was OK with the looks.

What I was less OK with, and never quite resolved, was how RuneScape handled.  It’s click-to-move with arrow keys moving the camera, either pulled back in an isometric view or swooped in to over-the-shoulder.  It felt slow and unresponsive to me, particularly movement but also whenever I’d ask the game to perform an action, as there’d be a second of lag.  Combat was also rather underwhelming, as I couldn’t really tell if my character was attacking with her magic staff or if her abilities were doing much at all.

But what I found is that RuneScape isn’t primarily a combat-centric MMO, which I guess I knew but didn’t really realize until just then.  The opening zone moves you through the different types of activities that your character can perform, including combat, gathering, and crafting, as you level up your various skills.  I had to outfit a soldier by making him a helmet and gloves, exercise my thieving skills on some snooty rich merchants, and fry up some crawfish for hungry soldiers.  Actually, aside from the opening scene and one point where I had to kill a cow, I wasn’t engaging in combat at all.  That felt different and not unwelcome.

What I probably liked most of all is the cheeky dialogue and sense of humor that ran through it all.  RuneScape made me chuckle at least twice in this first play session, and I was pleased that the NPCs had memorable personalities (and occasional voice-overs) instead of being boring cutouts.  At one point, the game had me deliver a poison pie to a fat jerk, and I had the option to listen in on him barfing everywhere or not.  Of course I did.

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That’s another nice aspect: choices.  The game kept throwing me little choices, either in dialogue or actions, and it was quite effective in pulling me into the world.  Do I fire a baby troll out of a cannon or save it?  Saving it netted me a cute little pet, but I had to wonder what it would’ve been like to see that cannon fire.

Would I play it again?  The question I’ll ask myself at the end of these articles is if this initial foray into the game was intriguing enough to make me log in again.  With RuneScape, it’s probably a no.  The clunky controls are a big deal-breaker.  If I was a poor kid in the early 2000s with no other alternative, however, I could see myself getting into it.

Free music alert!

Chalk this up to the “probably has been there forever but I just found out about it today” column, but RuneScape’s made a huge amount of its soundtrack available for free.  Right here. There are even remixes and shanties.  SHANTIES, people!  The second best word in the world that ends in “anties”!  I wish every MMO studio would do this for their music.

Update: And here’s some for Ryzom that’s also free!

And yes, I’m adding that to the MMO Music page on this here site.  As always, if you know of any MMO scores that are either (a) for sale through a digital download somewhere or (b) being given out for free — legally — by the studio, let me know!