Next week, the latest RuneScape quest, Desperate Measures, is arriving in the game. These story additions are always a big deal to the game’s loyal community, especially considering that this one continues the tale from the last quest that came months ago.
To get some behind-the-scenes information about this content update, we sat down with RuneScape Lead Designer David Osborne, Senior Games Designer Tim Fletcher, and Lead Content Developer James Crowther. In this interview, the trio discuss mission structure, player engagement, and where RuneScape is heading in the future.
Massively OP: For those who are on the outside of RuneScape and might think of its quests like normal MMO tasks, can you explain how RuneScape’s missions are different and more involved?
James Crowther: RuneScape quests are not your typical action MMO affair. There’s no “kill 10 rats” style quests (other than jokes about them); instead our quests are unique narratives told over anything from a few minutes to several hours. Our quests contain unique gameplay interactions, puzzles and combat encounters, whilst telling detailed narratives through interaction with a diverse cast of characters. We tend to look more at single player RPGs for reference to our questlines rather than MMOs, looking at something more like a small campaign in a tabletop rpg than a snapshot of combat.
Tim Fletcher: Although RuneScape has many players who primarily engage with combat content, unlike most MMOs, we don’t really have a “default” gameplay mode — players can focus on many different skills and we even have “skill pures” who refuse to engage with combat at all. Even those RPGs and MMOs which are more story focused will tend to focus primarily on combat – there are characters and stories, but you fight your way between them.
That isn’t how RuneScape is structured, so our quests really have to create that gameplay for you rather than leaning on combat to form the bulk of the content. That means we actually have a lot more in common with something like classic adventure games than more combat focused RPGs.
How long does it take to create a quest like Desperate Times or Desperate Measures for the game? What goes into that process?
Crowther: A typical medium sized quest takes something like three months or more. The bigger the quest the more time is needed. This process includes a detailed design, including breakdown of all the story moments, scripting the various encounters and also writing all of the dialogue between all the characters. This is then refined further through a feedback process with changes/additions made based on that. In many ways each quest is a small game in and of itself.
Dave Osborne: It might seem strange to spend so much time on a game experience that can be finished off in an hour or two, but leveling up to be in a position to even start a quest is a joy for many players. It creates a real milestone that makes the journey worthwhile. We also do our damnedest to make sure there is a shiny reward that has game-changing implications off the back of a quest.
Are these quests for the very experienced and well-skilled player, or can they be accessed by newcomers?
Crowther: Desperate Times can be completed by relatively novice players, but Desperate Measures requires intermediate level skills, which can take a bit longer to achieve. The barrier for entry isn’t enormous though; a dedicated player could get the necessary skill levels reasonably quickly if they wanted to engage with the new quest. But this particular quest is aimed at those who know a bit more about the world of RuneScape than a brand-new player.
Osborne: While Desperate Measures will take a little bit of work to unlock, we have a number of quests that set the scene and include characters that feature in Desperate Times and Measures. Playing those will enrich the experience of playing the ‘Desperate’ series, but they aren’t mandatory.
Fletcher: Content like this aimed at an intermediate player will often assume a level of familiarity with navigating the game world which can be quite challenging for a new player. We set requirements in the mid levels partly so we can be confident that a player who has reached those levels will have a good basic understanding of how our core interfaces and interactions work.
With jungles, old gods, and forgotten lore, Desperate Measures sounds intriguing. How are you tying this quest in with the archaeology skill?
Crowther: Anachronia was once Orthen, the home of the Dragonkin on Gielinor. It was abandoned millennia ago and no one knows exactly what happened. But the secrets are there, buried beneath the soil just waiting to be uncovered. You won’t learn everything, but there’s enough there for Archaeology to uncover some very interesting history.
Fletcher: The island is covered in ruins, so the tie to Archaeology seemed very natural. Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that, because those ruins have been time shifted forward from a period even further in the past. All that is to say, there are some big revelations in this quest.
Will there be new music with this quest? If so, how many tracks?
Crowther: There will indeed be new music for the quest. I’ve been reliably informed by our audio team that there are eight new unlockable pieces of music along with this quest. I’m a big fan of the new pieces and have been shamelessly listening to them on loop for a couple of days. The music tracks will be released on Spotify, after the launch of Desperate Measures.
As your quests are involved, there’s always the temptation to pop over to the wiki for a full solution. How do you feel about quest walkthroughs being so available? Does that rob them of all the challenge?
Crowther: I think that depends on what the individual wants. I personally like to solve things myself, but there are times when I can be lazy with a game and look up the solution instead. I think it’s great that we have a community of people dedicated to engaging with the content so that walkthroughs can be made for those that don’t enjoy problem solving. I’d encourage everyone to play through without a guide first, but I don’t think it’s a problem if people want to look it up. Some people just like to solve different challenges to others.
Osborne: There was a time when we would try to design quests to be almost ‘unwalkthroughable’, and we would have considered a quest a failure if a guide was used. We’re past that now, as James said, players play games for different reasons, and we don’t want to force them to enjoy it in a specific way. That feels counter to RuneScape’s appeal: to be able to play in any way you want, without any class-locking, for example.
Fletcher: It’s tricky because content is always more memorable and rewarding when you’ve had to work hard for it, but forcing players to jump through bizarre hoops like randomised puzzles risks frustrating as much as it rewards. I think I’d phrase our responsibility more as creating content which is engaging and rewarding for those doing it blind, but still interesting and memorable for those going in with a walkthrough.
Story-wise, what direction has RuneScape been heading in the past year? What are you hoping to accomplish with the narrative in 2020?
Crowther: We’re building up to some big reveals. We’ve been tying content much more strongly to the narrative than we have in the past, and we’re using non-quests to tell the main story as much as we’re using quests to tell it. This allows the game world to move on without needing to lock everything behind one type of gameplay. Our hope is that RuneScape can be a game that evokes story in all of its content, not just in quests.
Osborne: Our players know that we’re heading in the direction of the Elder Gods, and their return to Gielinor. They have been sleeping for thousands of years, and with the Elder God Wars Dungeon announced and coming in the future, Desperate Times and Measures will be taking the first tentative steps towards that apocalyptic future. That’s pretty darn exciting!