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|Blog written by Mod Pi on 27th April 2012|
|Mod Pi describes how he came up with the concept for the Runespan.|
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I’ve always enjoyed the minigames in RuneScape and the way they create their own little community after a while. A minigame is as close as you get to creating a game from scratch, so getting to make one is always a special affair – to get one that the players have asked for makes it even better. Normally when updates go out we hope that we are giving you guys what you want. However, if you have asked for the content, that puts us, as developers, in the nice situation of not having to worry.
While analysing why you guys asked for a Runecrafting minigame, it was obvious to us that there was more to this suggestion than just you guys wanting a minigame based on Runecrafting. Afterall, you already have one with the Great Orb Project. We saw that you were telling us that you didn’t like training Runecrafting at all and that you wanted it sorted out. Well, what better opportunity to do just that?
There were 3 concepts of what the training method could be. I’ll quickly explain each one with a diagram that I have made myself (with skill like this, who needs concept artists?)
The first was one that was sketched up at RuneFest with the players; it’s what I now call the “1-Runed Bandit”. It was a giant contraption made by the wizards to combine runes by stamping them with new symbols. The idea was that you put the runes that you had made in one end, and then used this machine to stamp runes 3 at a time. The stamps were on giant rollers, though, and stamping one rune with a good symbol could cause another to be a bad one. It revolved around Runecrafting being all about efficiency.
The second idea was more akin to what the Runespan is. I came up with the idea that runic energy could be stored in more of a natural state. For example, wood could be made up of earth and water runic energy and, somehow, you could pull that runic energy out of the wood and into rune essence, making runes! This idea actually got turned into a bunch of minigames based around the idea that barriers – made out of concentrated runic energy – have to be broken down by siphoning the energy out of them. I gave this the name, the Rune Run. Quite a lot of the early Runespan concepts came from this idea.
The final idea was a skilling area based around the idea that runes could be taken out of naturally growing pockets of runic energy. This area couldn’t be Gielinor; if mages could create runes as they went along, that would be crazy! It wasn’t until I was sat in the Runecrafting Guild for inspiration that the penny dropped. Outside of the Runecrafting Guild are floating islands in a sea of nothingness, which would be an awesome place to train! From this idea the Runespan was born. We didn’t have the name 'the Runespan' back then, though; we referred to it as 'the Smarties cookies idea,' for reasons that will be obvious from my next diagram:
Once we had chosen to do the Runespan, the idea had to be expanded to cover all levels of player. It wasn’t long before we had so many items that we had to think, “Where are we going to put all of this?”. It was obvious that the amount of graphical assets we would need was huge, and we might need to speak to the graphics department before we got too carried away. It was a good job that I got carried away and excited about the idea because explaining what the Runespan was in my head seemed to excite the graphics department too; they really wanted to help make it come to life in the game. After that, I got down to writing the design document and the concept artists got to work.
The blue blobs on that diagram got turned into naturally occurring pockets of runic energy.
The red blobs got turned into living creatures imbued with runic energy that you can pull out of them.
And the connections between the islands got turned into magical platforms that shot you over to other islands in a number of magical ways.
One of the biggest parts of this graphically was the environment. Since the layout of the environment was closely linked to the balancing of this, I worked very closely with Mod Chilly and Mod Stead to ensure that what we got was both graphically impressive and suited the gameplay. What we got from them was something that was so out of this world that it couldn’t fail to impress.
I loved the idea of this giant living expanse of a nebula-like environment for you to explore. This is where the gameplay for the Runespan had its roots: a giant network of floating islands with pockets of runic energy appearing in random positions. As a player in the Runespan, you should search for the best node that you can siphon from. The Runespan is a dynamic environment; unlike woodcutting or fishing, the skilling spots move about, and if you want the best XP you will have to hunt it down! I liked this idea; it kept some of the original efficiency-based skilling that you get with Runecrafting, but in between that players could call out where the best nodes are and even chat while siphoning. The nodes in the Runespan will not go down faster with large amounts of players using it, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t get your friend to tag along and enjoy that high-level energy node you just found!
I didn’t want players to have to use their own essence while training in the Runespan, especially since they do not get to keep the runes they make. That is why I added small amounts of floating rune essence and the creatures in the area. The creatures are made out of rune essence and are bound together with runic energy, like the rune guardians are. The higher the level of the rune, the more intricate the creature could be. In fact, only the low level creatures even look like they are made out of rune essence.
Once I had the player happily making runes, I wanted players to be able to use these runes. That is where the idea that players could use magic to shoot themselves over to another island came from. This added another mechanic for players to get their teeth into. Not only are you having to collect rune essence to turn into runes, and having to hunt down nodes of high levels for meaty XP, you also have to collect lots of different rune types to make sure you can travel about with ease.
As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to add a distraction and diversion to keep things varied and get players talking to each other. This is where the runesphere came from.
Once the alpha build of the Runespan had been made, it went out for feedback. That means the design leads (Mod Mark and Mod Chihiro) and a group of QA testers (led by Mod Slayer) play the content and tell me what they like and dislike. Everyone liked the idea of exploring this vast area but while playing it was too easy to camp one area and get a decent XP rate. To make sure that it wasn’t too easy to get the best XP we changed a few things to get players moving about more.
The first was to make the elemental nodes move about faster meaning that players had to search for longer.
Another was to reduce the costs of the bridges to make the area easier to traverse. Initially, the bridges cost (100-your level) runes, this was reduced to 10 runes and eventually went down to just 1of each required rune type.
Finally, to give players more of a reason to move around the Runespan, we introduced the wizards. These are wizards who have not managed their inventory well enough – don’t worry, this can’t happen to you – and have stranded themselves on an island. If you help them out and give up some of your runes, they share their experience of Runecrafting with you for a nice XP reward.
Having to balance XP rates over a whole skill was no mean feat. We started with what we believed to be the best XP in the game: the ZMI altar. Then, we looked at what kind of XP increase we wanted on top of that, and smoothed out a few bumps in the XP curve to get our target XP rate. Once we have our target XP rates we get to work on the mother of all spreadsheets. It is a simulation of all things in the Runespan that give you XP. We set it up so that we can alter how much XP you get from successfully siphoning from a node or NPC, how often you can get that XP, and how much time you spend on each activity. With the help of countless test runs by Mod Slayer and the balancer for this project, Mod Jennie, we managed to get values that matched what we were expecting on paper, ready to test it out once it was made.
Once it was made, the QA department spent a huge amount of time playing on the Runespan, logging everything: how much XP they got per hour; how many points they got in an hour, how it felt to play; what they spent their time doing, etc. Using this, we updated our spreadsheet with a more accurate model of the Runespan and got the XP rates we wanted.
With the help of a huge number of people - be they concept artists, environmental artists, character artists, UI artists, animations, balancers, designers, developers, QAers, editors, translators and many others that I’m sure I’ve forgotten - we took your request and evolved it into what is now called the Runespan. This is a new training area that can only be described as one of the best looking environments in RuneScape to date, and a way of training Runecrafting that isn’t running between your bank and an altar over and over again. Every mod who has seen or played the Runespan is excited for its release and I’m looking forward to seeing players enjoying the Runespan. I will see you there on my personal account, as I now want to train Runecrafting too!