The more we think about our past the more we come to realise that our perception of things has changed as the years go by. We no longer view quests as difficult or even slightly challenging unless they involve intricate numerical or logic puzzles, imply complicated fighting mechanics, or in the very least, demand formidable levels to begin.
Looking back, we would perhaps be slightly embarrassed to notice that 'Prince Ali Rescue' was once regarded as a 'long quest with many parts' or that getting from the Chasm mine to Lumbridge was the equivalent of a 10 minute-long journey. Hiscores and capes are now considered sufficient reason on their own to play the game, whereas they were almost non-existent and rarely taken into account during the first part of 2001.
This shift in mentality occurred as a direct response to the changing environment and it is by taking a look at how the surroundings themselves changed that we may get a sense of how and why the mindset evolved.
EARLY MAP AND BOUNDARIES
An early version of the map spanned from the most southerly point, represented by the Wizard's Tower, to the north and desolate areas on the outer edges of 'Ghost Town', filled with empty buildings and roaming ghosts, much like the Wilderness ruins are today. The map abruptly ended to the west of Barbarian Village and at the east end of Varrock.
Early world map of RuneScape. (Click to enlarge)
Where Al Kharid stands today there was only a large ocean; the desert city was added only weeks after the initial 4 January beta release. The fence separating the Chasm mine and Lumbridge did not have a gate and left players with no alternative but to walk all the way around it.
Throughout March a fence with a gate existed near Barbarian Village. No player was allowed to pass through the gate but there was no doubt as to what its purpose was. Upon examining the fence the message received was 'Coming soon - Kingdom of Asgarnia'. It was finally opened to the public on 6 April 2001. The kingdom incorporated such areas as Falador, Port Sarim, Ice Mountain and the Dwarven Mines and represented the first truly massive update by sheer size alone.
Two hours after Asgarnia was released, a rollback occurred, upon which the entire region was basically re-released. The reason this happened remains unknown, however it resulted in some players losing the items they had obtained during that time.
The earliest guild formed was the Champions Guild, on February 13, quickly followed by the Cooking Guild in March. The Monastery, or prayer guild as it is sometimes referred to, was established along with the release of Asgarnia in April. Establishment of the new kingdom paved the road for a fourth Guild to be formed in August 2001, this time related to mining.
Guilds were essentially the first elite content to become available and requirements such as 32 cooking, prayer or quest points (influence) were met by few.
The fence around Asgarnia, prior to its release.
An area which proved essential to RuneScape throughout 2002 and 2003 came surprisingly late, in December of 2001. This was Draynor Village and its neighbouring market, through which the vast majority of ores, logs and fish would pass in years to come, on their way to being traded.
RuneScape used to be structured into classes. Upon creating your character you could choose to become either a warrior, a wizard, an adventurer, a miner or a necromancer. Selecting one of these meant your starting equipment and bonuses were according to your choice of class. In other words, a wizard would gain a wizard hat, staff and some magic bonus, for example. Some experience was also received in the relevant skill, effectively bringing it up to level 2 or 3.
Choosing to be a ranger meant you only had 9 hitpoints to start with; this along with stat-wiping as a form of punishment led to a number of players having below the standard 10 hitpoints in the future, cases which are extremely rare now. Because of the different stats you were given for every class, one's initial combat level could go as low as 1.
Combat was done in a 3-hit system, upon which one could not retreat and evade combat for 3 rounds (3 hits), and they could also not eat. The term 'KO' would refer to defeating your adversary within these 3 rounds, and as such high emphasis was put especially on one's strength level to achieve this.
Player Killing could be done anywhere. Notice upper left corner.
When the game was released everyone was subject to death from another player, everywhere in RuneScape, even in Lumbridge, where you respawned. The entire map was also multi-combat, hence while one player engaged in melee with another, he could very well be targeted with range or magic by others.
As combat levels were not initially displayed, assessing your opponents strength was all the more difficult. There was however a simple 3-color system, by which you would see the 'attack' option: either red, if the person was higher than you, white, if they were the same level as you, or yellow, when they were lower.
On February 28th, 2001, an option was added so that players could choose between Player-Killer and Non Player-Killer modes. This was done by switching between two tabs located in the game options menu. Additionally, Lumbridge and banks were turned into safe areas.
Selecting 'Non Player-Killer' made you impervious to others attacks, but you also did not have the option to engage in any PvP situations. If you chose to be a Player Killer, then you could attack others but were also at risk of death.
Avoiding combat was a tricky business, made all the more difficult by the fact that only one server was available in the very beginning. Basically, you could log out in the middle of combat, yet when you eventually logged back in the same player could still be there waiting for you.
Player Killer and Non-Player Killer modes.
The perspective of death meant a lot because only gold could be deposited in banks, thus players carried valuables in their inventory at all times. The common strategy in response to this was to make 'mules', low leveled accounts on which you would place your items out of harm's way. Another method was to switch back to 'non player-killer' mode when danger loomed, yet this had a drawback: one only had the option to switch between these two settings twice before permanently remaining on the most recent choice.
To further aid players, guards were placed across cities and near banks. If fights did break out, these guards would intervene and attempt to stop them. Despite this, quite a few people were not content with this system of combat, which ultimately led to its change in August of 2001.
A notable glitch abused in the first month after the release was dubbed 'Super Strength Beer cheat'. As drinking beer increased strength levels, this glitch made it so that each such increase would stack with the previous and enabled players to end up with a ridiculously high level. It was fixed in January 2001.
COMMUNITY AND HISCORES
The first two months after the release, news and future plans were given to players in the form of a Newsletter. Those who wished would subscribe and receive a monthly batch of information about what was to come, from Andrew Gower himself. The Newsletter also contained the top 25 players in 4 different categories and was effectively the only hiscore system at that time.
Interface from March 2001. Notice the lack of a friends tab.
The Newsletter was discontinued in March 2001 and hiscores allowing you to look-up any player eventually introduced. Whereas hiscores initially only showed the top players in fighting, overall, pk and smithing, they were slowly expanded to include other skills such as cooking, prayer and magic.
Each RuneScape world would initially list all those who were currently playing on it. As the popularity of the game soared so did the number of those who played, making it impracticable to list each and everyone of them. This feature could not simply be removed, however, as it was the only way of seeing which of your friends were online (there was no friends list). Contacting friends was done by typing 'tell (player name)', after which you typed the message and it would be sent.
On April 13, 2001 a 'My Friends' list was added, effectively solving both problems. Players could see who was online and chat more easily with them. This allowed for the stats for each server to be changed to only display the top players in a given skill. The oldest account playing on that world was also listed.
The information shown on the server status page.
Interestingly enough, a full clan support system was in the works as early as February 2001. It was meant to allow player to create their own clans and join others. Possibly one of the reasons that delayed this was the unexpected, rapid growth of RuneScape.
KARAMJA AND DRAGONS
As an island, it was of great importance even in its beginning. One reason was that Fishing and Karamja were released on the same day. Despite only extending as far as the beginning of today's Brimhaven, the scarce fishing spots existent in other parts of the world coupled with the multitude and variety of those on the island, made it an instant attraction. The fact that the highest healing food could only be obtained from the Karamja docks served to further increase its importance.
Prototype of runite armour.
Apart from the cheap labour perspectives that the new banana plantation offered, the other main area was located within the Volcano. Seemingly just another space filled with what were high-leveled monsters at that time (level 79), it was to become the center of attention once more within just a few months.
The first hints about the nature of a new quest came on July 29th, when rune legs were introduced for the first time, as a purchase from the Champions Guild. Rune armour was not yet smith-able as there was no ore for it. Further clues were revealed when an apparently odd NPC called Oziach appeared near Ghost Town. These were confirmed when, come September 23rd, the Dragon Slayer quest was released.
Naturally, on the first day of the release most if not all wanted to start it, however only one player at a time could talk to Oziach. As a result, Paul Gower stepped in and positioned everybody in a line to wait their turn.
The waiting line formed on the day Dragon Slayer Quest was released.
The quest was aimed at 'experienced players', and given that guides were not available nor was there any help system, the statement was very well justified. The various puzzles, formidable starting requirements, and the high levels of monsters that had to be defeated, made this the first truly difficult quest.
Its storyline unraveled across Karamja and Crandor, as well as the mainland, entailing a journey across what was then the entire world map. Upon slaying Elvarg the dragon, the powerful rune platebody became available for the first time for purchase; the definitive piece of what quickly became the most powerful and prolific armour set for months to come.
Fighting Elvarg, level 110.
The difficulty and importance of the quest has been overshadowed since its initial release. Along with the fact that it may be considered as the first master quest, it holds another distinction - it was the last quest to be released before membership came out and as a result the final major free to play content for years to come.
While the decisions that shaped the game throughout its lengthy history may have long been forgotten, the outcome of these exploits is something we live and experience on a daily basis, from the minute we log in up until the moment we close or navigate away from the Runescape.com page.
While writing this article I have incurred many debts of gratitude, and it is my pleasure to acknowledge them: Rarez, Everyonedies, Hohto, M Oldfield, Meili, and Lore.