Tip.It Living Rock Caverns Interview

With Mod Rathe

Today we have the privilege of interviewing the Content Developer of the Living Rock Caverns update Mod Rathe! Thank you so much for putting aside the time for this!

Before discussing your latest project, how about we get to know about some of your past ones. How long have you been working at Jagex and how many major projects have you lead/been a part of?

I’ve been working at Jagex for just over 3 years now. I started off working in the RuneScape QA team testing and giving feedback on updates from other developers. During this time I worked on a great number of projects, including God Wars where I helped design the boss encounters and their drop tables. After this I moved to the RuneScape Content team where the main projects I have been involved in were Soul Wars, the Autocast Update and most recently Living Rock Caverns.

What part of a project do you find most difficult? And easiest?

The most difficult part of a project is probably getting an initial idea for some content and then working it into a fully formed design document. You can have all sorts of ideas at the start of a project but it’s the process of examining them in detail and seeing what they will bring to the game which can be quite hard. It’s always important not to try to cram too much into a project, as while you may have tons of cool ideas, you’ve only get a certain amount of time to make the thing in!

The easiest part of the project is probably the coding part. Certainly at times you can come across a really difficult problem and spend a lot of time trying to fix it but for the most part once you have a solid design in mind, you can produce the supporting code for it without too much trouble.

Would you have any advice for those who are looking for a career similar to yours?

Firstly I would say it’s important to find which aspects of games design appeal to you the most. For example, some people might find they like coding while others may enjoy 3D modelling or animation more. Play around with some trial development programs and see what appeals to you the most. Once you have a sound idea of what area you like to work in, then try making some practice projects or doing some online tutorials to increase your knowledge in that area. You may want to consider doing a college course if you find an area you are really interested in, but I certainly wouldn’t say it’s absolutely necessary in order to get a job in the industry; it’s your knowledge and ability which is important.

It’s also very important to know that without previous professional experience, it is extremely hard to simply walk into a job. Many companies will require several years of experience from potential applicants – but don’t worry! Good games companies usually have a policy of promoting from within, Jagex certainly does. So while it may be hard to immediately start in a content developer role, you can try getting a job in the customer service areas of a games company to start, and then move up from there by showing people what you can do!

Who do you feel is/was your most influential person within Jagex?

Probably Mod Chris L – I have worked closely with him on a large number of projects. He has a much more extensive knowledge of actually playing RuneScape than I do, and so he always has good ideas and suggestions as to changes which will make a project more appealing for the players.

Shifting the conversation to the Living Rock Caverns update, how did the project start?

Living Rock Caverns started life roughly five months ago with simply the request from senior designer Mod Mark for a new ‘high-level dungeon’. The only constraints I was given was that it needed to be single-way combat and focus on a few skills. I was given a list of skills which could be included and fishing and mining were the two which stuck out for me. From there I started thinking about what updates I could make to fishing and mining, and started playing around making some prototype code to see what worked and what didn’t!

What is the final deciding factor of a project being approved?

Once a developer has formulated their ideas, we have to write them up in a design brief document which then goes over to Mod Mark for his feedback. From here we adjust the design until Mod Mark is happy with it then we can proceed to development.

As the project progresses; how do factors such as the Requirements, NPC levels, quest rewards all get decided?

Generally these aspects will be described in the initial design documentation but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are set in stone. For example if you decide to have a level 200 creature in a quest, when it actually comes to playing through the quest you may find that they are too easy and so the quest isn’t as challenging as you had hoped. You can then tweak their stats to get the quest to the level of challenge you want. It’s the same for the other aspects too.

There always seems to be an up and downside to every update, for the most part player to player specific. A few positive comments that have been commonly said included integration of the fishing/mining/cooking skills. Do you feel this is a pattern for future projects?

Not necessarily. That more came about through the design of the caverns. I wanted to make them feel like an enclosed eco-system. After all, these creatures have been living down there for ages sealed off from the rest of the world and I figured they would have adapted to live off the environment. I did like how the system worked though and maybe we’ll see more of that in future projects given how players liked it; but that would be up to the individual developers to decide.

As the developer, how do comments such as “The Skillers Godwars” and “Best Update of the Year” influence you?

I find them very rewarding! It’s always nice to hear positive feedback on something you’ve worked hard to create. It’s a good boost to morale too, as sometimes you get asked to work on an update that perhaps won’t even be noticed by players such as re-writing some code to make it more efficient, so it’s always nice when a high-visibility update of yours goes out and you can see what everyone thinks about it.

On a more serious note, many wonder why make a high leveled mining area containing mass amounts of coal and gold ore? Are the concentrated coal and gold ore rocks meant to curb price rises?

This was not the intention, no. When I originally started working on the caverns I was given a set amount of time to complete the project in. This timescale didn’t have any room to do a Smithing update, which would have been required if I were to introduce a new type of ore to mine. To this end, I had to go with ores that were already in the game. Similarly, if players are going to be using this area to mine a lot, I needed to give ores which players always seem to need a lot of. This led me to choosing coal and gold.

Looking back on the finished project, would you say it is similar to your original concept?

It is very similar, yes; there were a few changes, though. Originally the caverns were going to be more crystal-based and the creatures down there would have giant mineral outcrops growing on them, but this got cut as people thought it might be confusing seeing lots of crystals and then thinking it had something to do with elves and Seren. Also, fishing rocktail worked differently, in that you would take your living minerals and scatter them in the water to make a rocktail shoal appear, which you could then fish until it swam away, but this was changed as it was hard to get a good rate of XP for rocktail fishing.

How many people are involved through the entire project?

Hmm, it’s quite hard to say as sometimes people just help out for an hour or two here and there, but for the main people involved there were probably around 15 for Living Rock Caverns across the various different departments such as Content, QA, Graphics, Audio, Translation and Web Content. This is, of course, not including the countless other people who are required to get an update out to the live servers!

Do you find it hard as a developer to keep updates confidential and within Jagex?

Not really. When I play the game outside of work people don’t know who I am, so it’s not that hard to prevent any leaks on my part.

What do you do with any free time you may have at Jagex?

During the day you don’t really get free time as there is always another project to work on! Sometimes when you do get a spare moment, say if something goes wrong with your computer, I try to think about cool ideas for new updates and note them down or read the forums to catch up on what the players are saying about the game.

What is you first reaction when your see someone say “Sailing” in-game or on the forums?

“Get over it already!” I don’t know what the fascination with sailing is. I think it really wouldn’t make for an interesting skill. The boats we have in game at the moment don’t actually go anywhere, you just get an interface showing a little boat moving around and that would suck for a skill! You could try to make something a little more interesting like the fishing trawler, but even that isn’t going anywhere, the camera just bobs up and down to make it look that way and I think it would get a bit annoying after a while, especially long before you would get to level 99!

I just want to thank you for your time once again! As a closing question, I ask you to ask a question to the Tip.It and RuneScape community as a whole, feel free to check in on the discussion thread for some of the replies!

What’s the *one* thing you love most about RuneScape? Similarly, what’s the *one* thing you hate most about the game and what would you do to improve it?

Thanks for reading!

The discussion thread can be found here. Jagex has also included some exclusive Elemental Rock concept art with this interview. It can be viewed here.

RuneScape 2007
Find this page on the Internet Archive with a date as close to Aug 10, 2007 as possible.

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