The Tip.It Times

Issue 199gp

Jagex and Emergent Gameplay

Written by and edited by Tip.It

We've got something a little different for you this week. Tip.It Community Members often submit articles which are too short to be a complete editorial, but are otherwise excellent. We've decided to run some of these occasionally, with additional content and comments from The Editor appended to them. A sort of two-for-one special. For the first of these we chose Pault's excellent piece on Emergent Gameplay. Here's what he had to say:

Emergent gameplay is when players manipulate gaming software in ways the original creator had not foreseen or intended. For example, in Quake the rocket launcher does a great deal of damage, blasting enemies across the map. Clever players learned to rocket jump -- by shooting a rocket at their feet they could propel themselves great distances (though injuring themselves significantly in the process).

Discovering emergent gameplay is quite possibly the most fun you can have in a game. Some games, such as Deus Ex (a shooter game that you could beat without ever killing an enemy if you had the creativity) rely heavily on players creating their own innovations. In other games, like Quake, it happens quite by accident.

MMORPGs are a genre overflowing with emergent gameplay. It is important to realise that RuneScape is not like many MMORPGs, in that it was originally a small project run by one (later two) people, and the gameplay was tweaked over time in reaction to players' ideas and requests. The world of RuneScape made no attempt to mimic a working fantasy world. You can kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in plain view of a guard, monsters drop relatively random items and reappear a few seconds after you kill them, and (most importantly) in RuneScape nobody had knees.

However, RuneScape originally embraced the unreality of its setting, featuring unpredictable and often humorous quests and NPCs who admit that RuneScape is, in fact, a video game. Interestingly enough, the lack of a developed setting allowed emergent gameplay to flourish. A great example of this is the Wilderness, and PvP in general. Players quickly realised that in the new Wilderness area, their combat level mattered above anything else, and they quickly sought ways to keep their combat level down, such as giving up magic. Very soon clever players began creating new characters that didn't use magic at all, and soon enough players began giving up defense as well. People discovered that with attack and strength alone, they were better than players of the same combat level with attack, strength, defense, prayer, and magic. Pure characters, as these became known, dominated the wilderness. Low level magic pures, prayer beasts, and other classes, completely player created, emerged.

In RuneScape 2, Jagex modified the combat system to make it more "balanced". They destroyed some of the most amazing emergent gameplay the world has ever seen when they shut down RuneScape Classic shortly after RS2's release, because the "balance" comes at a price – the loss of creativity. The truth is that nobody could have predicted how the combat system of RuneScape Classic evolved, Jagex did not foresee how pures would work, and how Player Killing with a capable Pure character would become such a huge part of RSC, and quite possibly, fuel its success. Yet the hard work of creative gamers has been thrown away, giving way to the muddled, inexact, and utterly beginner-friendly RS2 Wilderness.

The wilderness continues to evolve, however, even in the slightly sterilized world of RS2. More and more players are using multiple combat styles at the same time, or switching between different types of melee weapons at strategic points in the battle to turn the tide. New types of pures, such as a divine mage, are also possible. I hope as more and more new players join RS2, the influx of fresh minds will help new techniques and tricks emerge, making the wilderness as competitive and un-friendly as possible.

Now, some commentary from the Editor:

Some of my friends and I have noticed that, rather than encourage emergent game play, Jagex tends to get agitated when players use the game in imaginative ways they hadn't thought of. They call it "bug abuse" and rush to stop it faster than the IRS closing a tax loophole.

According to my friends who play (shhhhh!) WoW, this is called "Clever manipulation of game mechanics" by Blizzard, whose policy seems to be something like: While We Are Surprised and Totally Never Thought of that, it's OK with us and we are NOT gonna change it, heh heh. One such example is summoning people to join your group (RS equivalent: agreeing to "accept aid" for a teleport), normally a harmless event. Except when the summoner is standing at the edge of a cliff. When summoned, the victim does a mid-air Wile E. Coyote and falls to the bottom of the cliff, dead, suffering expensive damage to their armour (they don't lose their stuff though, and there are no benefits to the summoner except the laughs). Needless to say, YouTube has several hilarious videos of this "undocumented feature" in progress. Can you imagine Jagex's response to something like that? There would probably be mass bannings for "bug abuse" and a very fast fix, or removal of the ability to teleport others.

Admittedly, WoW doesn't seem to attract quite so many young players, probably because it's a lot more expensive than RS and there is no free play, but unlike Jagex, Blizzard seems to realise that you can't please all the people all the time.

I suspect that this is partly because RS is still to a great extent under the control and direction of the original authors. Emergent game play gets taken personally and is seen as "breaking" their game. It is this attitude on the part of Jagex that led to the recent third-party client debacle, and it is an attitude that really needs to change if both the game of RuneScape and Jagex, the company, are to grow into full maturity.

MMORPGs are a very special class of game because, unlike single player or even multiplayer offline games, they encourage cooperation, interaction and imagination as well as competition. Every player plays the game in a slightly different way. Every player has different goals. Within the constraints of the game we all customise our gaming experience to suit ourselves. If the author of the game has too restrictive a vision of how the game plays out, then all that imagination and creative energy is lost. The beauty of MMORPGs is their open-endedness, the huge variety of gameplay they offer and the ability of each player to play the game as he or she prefers.

Admittedly, there's a fine line at times between emergent game play, bug abuse, and cheating. I don't suggest anyone cheat, it really does spoil the game. Playing the game in ways the designers didn't anticipate is not necessarily cheating – and can sometimes open up new aspects to the game or provide substantial improvements. In order to do that, though, the designers have to be willing to let their baby grow up and leave home, and that can be a very hard thing for them to do.

Do you have any thoughts or comments about what you've just read? Want to discuss this article with your fellow Runescapers? We invite you to discuss the article in this forum topic.

Do you have any thoughts or comments about this week's articles? Want to discuss these articles with your fellow RuneScapers? We invite you to discuss them in this forum topic.


Will you use Menaphos to train your skills?

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