Working my way through Jagex's latest quest, Cold War, the other evening, I found myself giggling like a fool at the various jokes and social commentary embedded in it. The quest itself was fairly straightforward; what made it so much fun was the way the quest team had implemented it. They'd obviously taken the whole "cold war" theme and run with it… checkpoints, identity cards, a military base with all the appropriate trappings: direction arrows, locked doors, the works -- even the KGP (instead of KGB). I also found myself pretty impressed by the quality of the graphics they manage to get into a java-based game.
RuneScape is a pretty simple game to play. Levelling up is repetitive. Combat uses the good old turn by turn algorithm. If you keep bashing away at any skill, you'll level up. It's not difficult to get a decent mid-level character, and doesn't take very long. Getting a high level character takes longer, but is as much as anything a matter of spending time grinding out the levels. There has to be something in the game to keep people playing beyond regular updates giving us something new to do. For me it is the story and, more so even than the story itself, the way it's being told.
Over time Jagex has created a huge overall mythology and history -- no mean feat in and of itself. They have also managed to leave the story sufficiently open so that they can fill in details with quests, add new characters, lands, races, species and so on. This can be a difficult undertaking because if you're not very careful, you end up with conflicting stories as to how things came to be as they are. To some extent, you can get around that by having one group having a different history than another - the Dorgushuun for example, have a very different view of history than the other goblins. You can also have different geographic areas having different concerns: very few people in Ardougne are worried about Vampires and Werewolves, but to the inhabitants of Varrock, they're just across the river. The race/species and geographic spread gives Jagex both wiggle room, to avoid painting themselves into mythological corners, and flexibility to enlarge the story as time goes by.
RuneScape also doesn't take itself too seriously - go speak to the bartender in the Blue Moon Inn in Varrock if you don't believe me. He'll tell you you're playing a computer game. Several quests, including Swan Song and Recipe for Disaster, poke fun at random events, and NPCs like Evil Dave and the penguins Ping and Pong are obviously caricatures or representations of well known stereotypes. There are names that are puns (check out some of the white knights - and then there's always Fairy Nuff) and there are some very interesting comments in the "examine" option of some of the items lying around in game.
You have to keep alert when you're doing quests - the An Enlightened Journey quest is replete with Star Trek references, and I've already mentioned the penguin version of the former Soviet Union. The dwarf corporations in Keldagrim are a fine spoof of the real corporate world. In fact, the whole dwarven race seems to be modeled on stereotypical Victorian capitalism - so much so that I'm waiting for one of them to tell me there's "trouble at t'mill"! Then there's Bob the Cat who sounds a lot like Darth Vader when he tells your cat: "Yes. I am your father! You can destroy Zamorak. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and together we can rule this place as father and son."
There will always be people on whom the jokes are lost. As Abraham Lincoln (who as far as I know has not yet made a guest appearance in RuneScape) is reputed to have said: "You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time". Hey wait a second…didn't I use that quote in one of my previous articles? Oh well, never mind. It's still a good quote, no matter how many times I use it.
Keep up the good work Jagex. I for one am very pleased to have finally found out just what those penguins were up to pretending to be a sheep.
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