Improbable keeps popping up in news stories relating to MMOs lately — that’s thanks to SpatialOS, what the company is calling a “distributed computing platform for building large virtual worlds for gaming.” The platform is now in use on MMOs from Identity and Worlds Adrift to Chronicles of Elyria and Metaworld; its most recent partnership was announced last week with RuneScape studio Jagex, and it’s already working with Google to bring the tech to “hundreds” of developers.
GI.biz has a great interview out with Improbable CEO Herman Narula today that illuminates what the team worth over a billion bucks (an extrapolation based on the fact that Japan’s SoftBank’s half a billion dollar investment bought less than a 50% stake in the company) is focused on. It turns out it’s mostly video games — but it’s also bigger than video games.
“Our long-term objectives, and it is long-term, is to literally create other worlds,” explains Narula. “Not just in the context of gaming, but in the context of being able to solve really important problems. This core problem of massive distributed systems and engaging large-scale virtual worlds, is as important and significant as AI or space travel. It is just as important for the future of what our experience will be like as human beings in the world, and how we are going to solve some of the most pressing problems that we have. […] A lot of people just can’t believe that we think games are important. They are incredibly important and they’re going to be more important. Hypothetically, one day, if 100m, or 1bn, people entered simultaneously into a virtual world, that would cease to be a game, that would be a country.”
Just because RuneScape’s standard skill cap is set at 99 won’t stop the team from busting through that ceiling when next month’s expansion arrives.
On June 5th, Menaphos The Golden City will launch in the game, bringing with it a brand-new slayer dungeon experience (among other features). This slayer dungeon is not for greenhorns; characters need level 88 in the skill to enter it. The crazy news is that with the expansion, the slayer skill will raise its cap to 120 to accommodate all of the action that this instance will get.
The dungeon sounds pretty neat: “The path into the depths of the dark dungeon will take players from the burial tombs near the surface deep underground, where the corrupted monsters and worshippers of the gods dwell. In a shift from typical slayer dungeons, loot dropped by vanquished enemies can be automatically sent to a brand-new loot chest during the course of the adventure, allowing players to focus on combat whilst knowing you’ll be able to pore over all your gained treasures at the end.”
Source: Press release
Add another gaming studio partnership to Improbable’s file: RuneScape developer Jagex announced today that it’s teamed up with the tech company to deploy SpatialOS in “future game production.” SpatialOS, you’ll recall, is a “distributed computing platform for building large virtual worlds for gaming.”
Improbable has been showing up in our feeds a lot lately. Earlier this month, the company picked up a cool half-billion bucks in investment from a Japanese telecommunications corporation. SpatialOS is being used on a number of up-and-coming MMO-related projects, including Identity, Worlds Adrift, Chronicles of Elyria, and Metaworld. Oh yeah, and it’s partnered with some company called Google for cloud distribution – probably no big deal, right?
The PR doesn’t directly say that RuneScape itself will make use of the tech, just that it’ll be used as a platform to “bring new levels of depth and scale to Jagex’s future creations.”
Earlier this week, a studio rep apparently accidentally leaked a stream slide with the logo for something called “Next Gen,” which also may or may not be RuneScape-related as we outlined Monday.
Source: Press release
During a weekend stream of RuneScape, Jagex Community Manager Shaun “Shauny” Akerman appears to have let slip a logo for an unannounced Jagex project called “Next-Gen.” The community is more or less united behind Shauny, who expresses concern on the video that he may be fired. He won’t be, by the by; another mod posted,
“Don’t worry, Shauny! Honest mistake, we all make them. This was a slide from an internal company livestream, so there must have been something leftover from that. God bless you Shauny – we just have to teach you to cut feed when a stream is over!”
Other folks on Reddit are a bit more cynical, suggesting that the whole thing was an intentional leak by the studio in the service of starting up the rumormill on whatever Jagex is working on next.
So what the heck is it? It could be RuneScape Remastered, which Jagex confirmed last year. It could be the VR tech for RuneScape the company hinted at earlier this spring. It could be just a throwback to RuneScape 3’s internal name. Or it could be a new property altogether, though it hasn’t had the best track record there (RIP, Stellar Dawn and Transformers Universe).
Remember Runescape: Idle Adventures? Probably not, which is probably a good part of the reason why the game is rather quietly shuttering its doors on May 15th. The farewell letter to the community explains that while the community for the game was solid, people weren’t sticking around to justify the cost of developing new content, which meant the title fell into that perilous trap where there’s no new content, so people leave, so there’s no reason to develop more, etc.
The spinoff launched into early access back in September of last year with microtransactions and a free-to-play business model. Multiplatform development was planned but never materialized. Our apologies to the players who are losing a game they enjoyed and the developers forced to pull the curtains on the project.
RuneScape fans anticipating the free Menaphos: The Golden City expansion launching June 5th just received some juicy info about the upcoming adventures that’s sure to please their inner tomb raider. Jagex unveiled today a new skilling activity set in procedurally generated catacombs, The Shifting Tombs. What’s the object of the raiding The Shifting Tombs’ ever-changing catacombs? Why, loot of course! Players have five minutes to smash urns for treasure, mine giant crystals, and solve puzzles in order to open (and loot) sarcophagi. OK, so they also are clearing out the dark corruption that is spreading throughout the world, but still — loot!
The Shifting Tombs adventure, which can be delved into either solo or as a group, is open only to RuneScape members who have reached level 50 or higher in a specific set of skills (namely Agility, Dungeoneering, Thieving, Construction, Prayer, Divination, Runecrafting, and Crafting).
Source: Jagex press release
Looking for a new challenge in RuneScape? Jagex has opened up the Shattered Worlds, a chain of islands that contain ever-fiercer (and stranger) foes. Players can jump into this new solo mini-game around level 40, battling through the worlds in an attempt to rack up as great of a prize as possible.
Without friends and access to vendors, it might get tough: “As you progress through the worlds, not only will the difficulty increase, but mutators will be applied — persistent effects which change how you and/or your enemies behave for the duration of your run. You might find yourself vampyric, able to leech the life force of your foes, or you might find that enemies explode into hordes of zombie chickens when you kill them.”
Zombie chickens, people. The threat is real.
Have you ever noticed that while there’s an entire world out there, most all of the MMORPGs we discuss and play tend to either be ones crafted in the USA or imports from China or Korea? We even have a shorthand for this: “western” and “eastern” MMOs. We’re usually not talking about entire hemispheres with these references, but rather about categorizing three countries that are big into the MMORPG business.
But what about the rest of the world? Are all of these other countries so uncaring about this genre that they’ve never tried their hand at making an MMO? Of course not; as I’m about to show you, there are plenty of online RPGs that have been made in countries other than China, the USA, and South Korea. It’s just that for various reasons, those three countries ended up fostering concentrations of video game developers who knew how to create these types of games.
So let’s take a tour around the world and see if we can’t give some credit to other countries for their contributions to the MMORPG genre past, present, and future. Before you click the link, see how many you can name off the top of your head!
Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say, and certainly don’t go making assumptions about the difficulty levels of MMORPGs by how gritty or cutsie its graphics are.
This is a good lesson for us today as we look at Tale of Toast, an upcoming indie MMO that might look like a chibi version of World of Warcraft, yet it has the beating heart of a hardcore, old-school MMO. The two-man development team (including one former Blizzard dev) is attempting to create an online game in the spirit of the original RuneScape, sprinkling in open-world PvP and loss upon death to keep the challenge level high.
One of the game’s interesting concept is its combat system: “When you initiate melee combat with a player or enemy, both players are locked for three rounds of fighting before they are able to run or stay fighting. Rounds are handled automatically by the game, and the decision you as a player have is what type of combat stance you want to fight in during the fight.”
Tale of Toast was recently greenlit on Steam and should be headed to early access by the second quarter this year.
Deep in the comments of the MMOs-vs.-survival-sandboxes thread from last week, reader miol_ produced a beautiful comment about how MMO players have become a minority in their own genre, which he then expounded upon for us in this provocative email.
“I’ve reached the opinion, that since the launch of WoW and its clones, the ‘original’ MMO-playerbase became a minority in their own genre. Before, we were but hundreds of thousands of MMO players, but then came Blizzard with WoW and its legions of fans in the dozen of millions at its peak, starting to dictate what the new success of MMOs should look like. Even if we others tried to vote with our wallet and feet, we became a minority, having only a fraction of our initial influence, while many devs tried desperately time and again to find ways to get at least a portion of the new Blizzard playerbase.
“Am I wrong with that perception of history? Am I totally missing something? Or are ‘we’ are slowly becoming a majority again, now that WoW and its clones are seeing steadily declining numbers (instead of us winning more players to ‘our side’)? How do we lobby better for ‘our cause’? Or can we only wait and see, until the genre is small enough again? Or is it too late? Have we ourselves grown too far apart into our even more niche corners of personal taste since SWG, while production costs and our demands for production value have skyrocketed at the same time? How could we come closer again?”
Let’s tackle miol_’s questions in this week’s Massively Overthinking.
Ever hear that expression, “His name is mud?” It applies on every level to the incarceration of one Adam Mudd this week, who received two years of jail time in the U.K. for his hacks and attacks on Minecraft and RuneScape.
When he was 16, Mudd created a distributed denial of service (DDoS) program called Titanium Stresser that he then sold to other hackers to the tune of nearly a half-million dollars. Hackers then used Mudd’s program to perform 1.7 million DDoS attacks on games like RuneScape, programs like TeamSpeak, and other Sony and Microsoft products.
Defense for Mudd said that he had been bullied at school and was looking for online notoriety rather than financial gain. Mudd, who is now 20, was convicted of facilitating 17 million hacks, laundering money, and personally carrying out 584 DDoS attacks. He was sentenced to serve three simultaneous jail sentences (two for 24 months each and one for nine months).
RuneScape’s been teasing its Menaphos: The Golden City update for what seems like months, but today, the expansion’s getting a hard date: June 5th. Jagex says it’s just the first in a series of free expansions on the way for the game, spaced out every three months. This one comes with a level cap bump, new raids, and new quests.
“Menaphos is full of untold riches and stories waiting to be unearthed by the game’s millions of players. However, players will arrive in the city as unknown outsiders and must build their reputation within the city to become both exalted and legendary among the inhabitants. As they explore the city, it won’t be long until they discover the dark secret of corruption spreading through the metropolis. In addition, there will be new quests, a constantly shifting network of tombs that can be raided for their ancient riches and a new Slayer Dungeon, which will see the Slayer Skill level cap raised from 99 to 120 for the very first time.”
The update announcement is getting a bit lost on Reddit, however, where players are still fuming over the newly released Spring Fayre, which apparently rolled out with rather hefty microtransactions (MTX). Jagex, however, posted this morning that it plans to change how the Fayre works, increasing rewards and making play periods fit a global audience.
Following Jagex’s sale to China’s Fukong Interactive Entertainment back in 2016, there’s been some concern and curiosity over the fate of the studio and its flagship MMO RuneScape. In an interview with Games Industry, Acting CEO Phil Mansell revealed that the transition to this new era has been a “relief” and resulted in growth for both Jagex and RuneScape.
Mansell said that the new ownership has been a net positive for the company: “[Fukong] want us to grow, of course, and they’re being supportive. But they are not looking for some crazy, transformative, risky things. They want us to focus on what we’re good at. They’ve looked at RuneScape and said you can do more with that. Can you make more games? Yeah, we can. Can we work on multiple platforms? Yes. It is a measured approach and the right things to be doing.”
Mansell said that Fukong is setting itself up to be a global entertainment powerhouse with Jagex forming the hub of its western arm. While RuneScape 3 and Old School RuneScape remain at the core of the business, Jagex is branching out into other ventures, such as looking at other studios to acquire, VR tech for RuneScape, adding new games teams, and prototyping ideas dreamed up by the team during designated brainstorming time. No matter what, however, he said that the company under his leadership will see projects driven by player desires and feedback.