Old Shcool RuneScape: Apparently, You Can Come Home Again

The year was 2007. I was almost done with high school, and MMOs were the big thing with my gamer friends. By this time, most of my friends had moved on to World of Warcraft, but I was still sticking around the first MMO I ever played, RuneScape. I had played for nearly three years at this point, and would continue to do so for a few years after. As updates rolled by, I never thought I’d be returning to this simpler time, at least in some fashion.

Ten years later, I’ve long since moved on, and so has the game. I go back and revisit most MMOs and other games I played in my younger days, but RuneScape, for whatever reason, has never been one of them. I’ve tried a few times, but every time I do, I feel like the game has changed too much to appeal to my nostalgia, and doesn’t have enough to offer beyond that to keep me there. I heard a few years ago that Jagex had found an old full backup copy of the code from 2007 and had set up some “Old School” servers for members. Apparently, at some point, it was also made available for free-to-play players, which probably would have had me back a long time ago, but whatever. Twitch Prime’s free-thing-of-the-month last month included a month of subscription time to RuneScape and I thought to myself “what the heck, it’s free. Sure, I’ll go poke around Old School for a month. I’m only playing three or four MMOs right now, what’s one more?”

I had 99 fishing and cooking in the live game. It’s weird fishing for level 1 shrimp again… and burning half of them.

The copy of the Old School code did not, sadly, include characters, so I had to start over with a fresh character. Honestly, though, as much as I miss being able to teleport around the world and kill anything under level 100 without thinking twice, I think I prefer it this way. All of those little noob experiences–killing chickens, mining copper and tin in the Dwarven Mine, getting two-shotted by the dark wizards at the south entrance to Varrock–are part of the nostalgia trip. As I’m wandering around the game, I realize how awful the new player experience really was. They dump you off in Lumbridge after a tutorial that covers about five skills, and doesn’t really tell you where you can go to practice them after the tutorial is over. From there, it’s really easy to die, and when you do die, you lose all but your three most valuable items (by vendor value). There also isn’t a fast or even automatic way to get from place to place. Sure, things aren’t super spread out, but click-to-move gets old after a while. The graphics are awful even for 2007, the controls are functional but awkward, some of the skills are worthless (seriously, who thought “firemaking” was a good idea for a skill? Especially in a world with always-on cooking ranges that a have better chance of successfully cooking stuff?), and those that are useful require more mindless grinding than any reasonable person would be willing to put up with before they can do anything cool. Even combat isn’t that fun; it’s mostly watching your character auto attack the other character, eating food to heal when your health gets low. The map isn’t even available in-game; you have to download it as an image from the website. If I had never played this game years ago and I came across it now, there’s no way I would stay more than an hour or two. So why am I playing it? Because it simply feels like home. I know every corner of this world, and even now I can navigate it better than my home town in most cases. I remember the badly synthesized MIDI music so vividly, and so much of it makes me smile every time it comes on. Also, back in the day it seemed only natural to have to spend large amounts of time doing repetitive tasks, and I think the game would feel somehow cheapened without it.

Old School RuneScape is also a little surreal, since it’s no longer an exact copy of the game I played in 2007. New features have been, and continue to be, added to keep the game fresh. So there are some things that I remember–such as the dungeoneering and summoning skills–that aren’t in this version of the game, but there are also some things that are in this version of the game that I’ve never seen before. It’s like playing a parallel universe version of a game from ten years ago.

This experience gives me a new appreciation for players who are fans of emulator servers for EverQuest, classic WoW, Star Wars Galaxies, and the like (though no sympathy for those who do so against the wishes of the IP holders). I don’t know if I’ll stick around Old School RuneScape, but at the moment it feels really tempting.

RuneScape: The Best Awful Community Ever

I’ve been perusing the history of Runescape eBook that was recently released by RSHistory, and it’s got me feeling a lot of nostalgia. I played RuneScape from 2005 until around 2010. It was my first MMO, and the one I played for the longest. During that time, I saw every kind of troll, scammer, exploit, vulgarity (despite the hyper-restrictive chat filter), and general player-created annoyance you can imagine. I saw servers that seemed to have more bots and gold spammers than actual players. I watched the rise of a system for stopping gold sellers and scams by forcing trades to be balanced (through dynamic price fixing), and its fall due to constant complains and protests from players, and predicted the subsequent influx of bots and spammers (personally, I preferred the price fixing). I was even a player moderator–a player hand-picked by the game’s developers to have high priority rule breaking reports, as well as the ability to mute players who are spamming or otherwise abusing chat–with all of the privileges and abuse that come with that (mostly abuse; being a “game cop” isn’t as glorious as some people seemed to think). I stuck with RuneScape when all of my friends jumped ship and played WoW, then came back, whined about how it wasn’t WoW, then went back to WoW again.

The point is, RuneScape isn’t exactly known for its exemplary community. Yet it’s the only game I’ve played where I actually felt like I made friends who I’ve never met in real life. RuneScape is unlike most modern MMOs in that it’s pretty hands-free game; combat, crafting, and movement are all mouse-driven, and the gameplay is pretty much nothing but grinding. This frees up players to chat with people who are in the same area killing stuff, fishing, mining, or whatever. Given that the average age of the players of RuneScape was, at the time, probably somewhere around junior high, you can imagine that this sometimes lead to some rather… interesting topics of conversation. But the point is it actually lead to conversation. It blows my mind to think about the fact that I had more conversations in “say” chat (unless you sent a direct message to someone on your friends list, you could only talk to people you could see, and the game’s draw distance was atrocious) than I ever do now in zone chat, or even guild chat in some games. When you found someone who wasn’t a total jerk, you bonded a little. RuneScape had a somewhat unusual user culture in that it was commonplace to add anyone you had a civil conversation with to your friends list. If you didn’t have your 200 friends list slots filled (and a few ignore slots) by level 50 you were probably a social recluse. People would strike up conversations in private messages, be it about the game or something outside of it.

I’ve often wondered what exactly made RuneScape’s community feel different from that of games I played later. First and foremost I think it’s because of the aforementioned mouse-driven grindfest gameplay that frees players up to type while they play. Also, the fact that there were no guilds in the game (well, people grouped up in “clans,” but there was no official system for it back then, and you technically weren’t allowed to tell anyone to go to any website that wasn’t run by Jagex), so a lot of the social dynamics were person-to-person instead of a group. It also probably helped that, with the MMO market being dominated by subscription-only games, players tended to stick with one game at a time a lot more back then. Most of all, however, I think it was just a very different time in the Internet’s history; people still hung out in chatrooms for goodness sake. The MMO genre was still in its infancy, and people were still figuring out the social dynamics of communicating and cooperating with people from all over the world. Come to think of it, people I know who played older games like Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes had similar experiences, so I think the different Internet culture had a lot to do with it. Games have gotten more engaging since then, but are we really better off? I’m not sure.

Anyways, thanks for letting me vent some of my gaming nostalgia.

Crafting: What’s the Point?

There has been a trend in recent years of trying to streamline the MMO experience and get rid of outdated mechanics that only serve to annoy players (see my rant on WoW tapping in the previous post). It’s usually associated with “casualising” games, though I don’t think convenient and hardcore are necessarily mutually exclusive. In any case, there has been a lot of talk about reducing and/or eliminating the “gear treadmill,” that is, the end game mechanic of getting good gear so you can do dungeons and raids so you can get better gear so you can do harder dungeons and raids so you can get better gear so you can… you get the point. Debating the pros and cons of dungeon gear treadmills is beyond the scope of this post. But there’s one MMO mechanic that hasn’t been talked about as much that has me somewhat puzzled: crafting.

My first MMO was RuneScape. Crafting in RuneScape is what combat is in most other MMOs; it’s basically all your character lives for, and everything else is secondary. So when I started playing other MMOs like LotRO and SWTOR, I was a little confused as to why I had to choose just one crafting profession per character. But as I played those games I eventually came to realize the difference. In RuneScape, the whole game, most notably the economy, was centered primarily around player-made items or things that require non-combat skill levels; magic runes, potions, ores, weapons, armor, even most of the quests required high skill levels. In other MMOs, all of those things can be crafted, but you can just as easily get them from drops. In virtually every other MMO, you can get decent gear simply by killing things, anything from rats (where was this rat hiding these platemail pants?) all the way up to fire-breathing wyverns. True, the longer RuneScape goes on the more certain weapon and armor sets come from enemy drops, but there has generally been little to no bind on pickup/equip gear in RuneScape, so once an item has been out for a year or so the exchange is swimming in them.

So back to the original thesis: outside of RuneScape and probably a few other cases where the game is built around it, what’s the point of crafting? Take Guild Wars 2 for example. Aside from endgame crafting which is bind on pickup (which was added post launch), I could easily sell a handfull of materials for the price of a piece of rare (yellow) gear on the trading post, and get exotics for only a little more. Why should I burn hundreds of these mats for the right to make it myself? Better yet, I could simply kill things and get drops that are similar to, if not better than, crafted gear. I know all of the hardcore crafters are screaming at their monitors right now, but really, in a game where I get bags full of good quality drops, what’s the point? Isn’t this just a single player version of that gear treadmill everyone seems to hate so much these days? “Gather mats so you can make gear so you can gather better mats to make better gear, so you can make the best gear, which you have to craft for yourself.” I’m not a crafting hater–I’m just as responsible for the deforestation of Tyria and Middle-Earth as the next guy–and I do get the appeal of being self-sufficient when it comes to gear, but looking at it objectively, I’m not really sure why every game still feels the need to have an extensive crafting system, especially those with a dungeon gear treadmill in place.

Am I missing something?