In RuneScape we have come to expect some sort of update from Jagex pretty much every week. Indeed, they give us advance notice every month with their Behind the Scenes announcement. So let's take a look at updates, and what they offer to the players.
Updates fall into four main classes: new game content, upgrades to existing game content, game engine updates (which can be transparent to players) and bug fixes. There's also a slew of miscellaneous ancillary updates such as website changes, back story additions, etc. which are not required for game play and which I shall mostly ignore for the purposes of this article.
First up, the thing that all established players look forward to: new game content. Yes, I said "established players" – after all, until you've tried out all the skills, explored most of the map and got a few quests under your sword belt, new content is just more of the stuff you already have plenty of. It's the established players, the ones who've been everywhere, done everything and are wearing the Quest Cape to prove it, who need new content. This is an area that Jagex generally handles pretty well. Over the past couple of years we've seen quite a substantial expansion of the game. The "known world" has grown quite a lot bigger, new skills have been introduced and new monsters, weapons, clothing and other goodies have been added to the game. Most of the time the new content follows the existing story arc very well. Occasionally it expands it, and very rarely we get a complete non-sequitur. The Cold War quest was a bit of a non-sequitur, penguins hadn't really been a big feature of the game before, but now they appear in this isolated instance behaving quite unexpectedly. I'm sure that in time, Jagex will flesh out the connections between the penguins and the rest of civilisation – probably with another quest or two. Of course, as the game gets bigger and the civilisation more complex, it becomes harder to insert new populations – one can only play the undiscovered territory game so many times before it becomes no longer believable.
Occasionally though, they miss the mark and miss it good. There was much fanfare accompanying the introduction of bracelets into the game, but they turned out to be fairly inconsequential and not really worth the bother of making. Oh I'm sure there are people who love them and make them by the dozen, but I'm not one of them. It would have been nice if, as well as giving them substantial powers, Jagex had added a bracelet slot to wear them in instead of forcing us to choose between gloves and a bracelet.
Crossbows too, are another item that haven't really lived up to the hype – their only advantage appears to be that they can be wielded with one hand, allowing you to also use a shield. Useful when dragon slaying, to be sure, but that's about all. However, this could be fixed, should Jagex so desire, by way of the second category of updates: upgrades to existing content.
We've seen a series of upgrades to existing features of the game lately. Varrock is the latest city to get a makeover; the assorted monsters and NPCs are being re-imaged one group at a time, and the in-game sound has been improved with better background noises. We've also seen a major re-vamp of the way that treasure trails work, which included not only a lot of new clues, but also a large number of new rewards, some of which turned out to be quite valuable. This sort of updating of the "look and feel" of the game is something which really needs to be carried on almost continuously. There's almost always something that can be done to improve the gaming experience. This is either because new content has brought into play features which require existing abilities or items to be updated to match, or because adding one ability has led to the realisation that another ability could be handled in the same way. The long-desired ability to "cook all" is a prime example of a skill (cooking) which lacked an ability (cook all) which was available for other skills.
The third class of updates, game engine updates, are usually the least interesting to the players, even though they are almost always a huge benefit to them. Much of the code that runs RuneScape is proprietary to Jagex, and thus if they decide to take on an upgrade to the game engine, it's a major undertaking. Suffice it to say, Jagex does a pretty good job in keeping their game engine nicely tuned and running well.
This brings us to the fourth category: bug fixes. There are always bugs in software. While the development and testing process weeds out most of them, from time to time one or two will slip through. Some of the ones that have eluded detection and made it into the game have been interesting, to say the least. Especially those surrounding the massive Player Owned Houses updates. Considering the amount of new content that Jagex adds to the game, the number of bugs that get through is surprisingly small – proof of very good QA in the development process – but each bug discovered requires an update to fix it.
I wasn't going to say very much about updates to features outside the game, to a great extent the website content, forums, etc., since these are not necessary to play the game. However, the addition of the Knowledge Base greatly increased the utility of the website – there's a wealth of information there, some of which can't be found anywhere else, even on Tip.it! Then this week, Jagex gave us a more in depth look behind the scenes when they added the development diary section to the website. While this does nothing to improve the gameplay experience, it does give an interesting look at just how much work goes into the creation of a new quest, minigame, skill, or other feature.
But there's still one more category of update that I haven't mentioned yet: updates we need and haven't received. There are several continuing issues that many of us have with gameplay which Jagex seems to be ignoring. One of the most popular to gripe about is bank space. Several people have suggested alternative ways of organizing the bank - no one ever has enough space, yet Jagex ignores our pleas for more space and better ways of organizing that space. One of the game engine updates I keep hoping for is a better path-finding algorithm. I would be very happy if my character gave up his horrible habit of running round in circles, in favour of a more straightforward way of getting from point A to B. There are better path-finding algorithms out there, but I guess that Jagex has decided that they like to keep us running round in circles.
Most importantly, Jagex needs to find a way to notify players when there is a server outage issue. Last weekend there were two periods when either all or most of the servers were down – I was told it was the result of heavy weather in the UK – however with no notification from Jagex, we were left in the dark and had no way of knowing what was going on. Posting to the forums is not an adequate means of notifying players of server outages – especially when the forums themselves are down. A notice on the front page of the website might be better as we stand a better chance of being able to get there. Of course if the power is out at Jagex Towers, then they can't update the website. Perhaps they need an offsite emergency office in a different city that can perform that function for them. It's very frustrating to get the message that you're already logged on when you were kicked out of the game while in a combat situation. I'm just very happy that I had a working ring of life on that day!
Overall, Jagex does a pretty good job with updates to the game. They manage to feed our never-ending desire for new content, keep the game engine and existing features running well, and most of the time notify us of problems. Occasionally they release an update that just doesn't fly with most players, but fortunately, most of the time, they get it right. Perhaps they could consider some sort of player feedback forum: get together a representative group of players and run ideas for changes to the game past them to see what they think. Sort of like a gaming focus group. The group could also be used to get feedback on changes they've already made. Players involved in such a venture would obviously be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement and not mention their participation to non-group members, but that's not that big a deal. Journalists and beta testers sign non-disclosure agreements all the time and they generally work well.
And while I still have your attention, I'd like to mention that switching to a monthly publication schedule gives your humble editor a little more time to research articles and thus comment a bit more in-depth than previously. I hope to be able to bring you some slightly longer, interesting, and hopefully thought-provoking articles over the next few months. Till then – Happy 'Scaping!
Did You Know...
...that if you lose your Treasure Trails watch or sextant, you can make your own replacements? Provided you have a high enough crafting level, you can make a replacement sextant and watch at a level 4 Crafting Table in any Player Owned House. Refer to our Crafting Guide for more details.
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