In addition to being home to the 32 colleges that make up Cambridge University, the small English city is also the birthplace of Jagex and its free-to-play massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Runescape. With over 220 million registered players, the fantasy MMO has grown over the last 13 years, culminating in a complete graphical upgrade last year. Now Jagex, which offers weekly updates to its players, has unlocked the doors of Prifddinas with The Lost City of the Elves, a brand new section of the game that will currently only allow the top 20% of gamers through its prestigious gates.
Mark Ogilvie, design director for Runescape, discusses the evolution of Runescape and what’s in store for those players who have invested the time exploring the game world in this exclusive
How did players vote for this Elf City?
At the beginning of the year, we made a poll which asked the players to choose between the Lost Elf City and the Inventor skill. This is quite an apt subject for me because the Inventor skill was something that I came up with. It was something that we decided would be a good addition to the game. The Inventor skill is a brand new skill all about customizing your own gear. However, up against that was the Elf City. The Elf city is something that the players have expected for the last ten years.
We’ve always talked about adding a new city to the game, a home for high-level players. It was also the potential to finish the elf storyline, which has been in the game for a very, very long time. It was a tough choice and it was really close with the Elf City winning with about 54 percent of the vote.
How have the players helped with the development of this new city?
Once the voting ended, we started discussing the ideas with the players on all of our social media channels like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and on our own forums. We talked about the ideas that we had for the things that we wanted to put into the Elf City. We released five design documents with different areas of expertise within each and we invited the players to give us feedback, comment on the things that they liked and didn’t like and give us suggestions about how things could change. It really was an incredibly open process. We wanted to give them complete transparency of everything that we wanted to do, but also give them the ability to influence all of those things.
A lot of the ideas from the get-go came from the forums. It wasn’t like we came up with the ideas and asked them to comment on them. Sometimes they were their ideas in the first place and we tailored them to make them fit with Runescape and then consulted with the players to find out what that they really wanted with not only with the design documents but also with the graphics. With a lot of the character art and our original sketches, we asked them to give us feedback on. We asked for their opinions on all of the skill content that’s in the Elf City, which is massive. It’s eight different sections and each section has two skills in it. We asked them to help us choose what skills would be in there. We asked them to help us choose what levels those skills would be targeted at. We ask them to help us choose the kind of rewards that they would get from interacting with the content. Absolutely everything has had player influence on it, and this whole player power thing isn’t just a bold statement. It’s something we fundamentally believe in.
Was there anything that surprised you that the players wanted and the dev team maybe wouldn’t have necessarily gone that direction?
Yeah. We had some quite bold ideas in terms of giving players access to difficult pieces of content. It’s an interesting thing with a game that evolves as much as Runescape. It becomes a badge of honor doing things that are really difficult. So we came up with some ideas to make it slightly easier to get access to those things and to complete some of the older pieces of content that we have in the game, because we knew that a lot of players just hadn’t done those things. Interestingly, the feedback we got from the players is please don’t make things easier for them because it’s that badge of honor for those people that had already done it.
I can totally understand them not wanting other people to do those things that they have done, but for the players that haven’t yet done it they were saying they want that challenge and that level of difficulty. So instead we changed the ideas so that it was easier for them to get access to those high level challenges, but not necessarily easier for them to complete them.
What role will the Elf City play within Runescape?
The Elf City represents a spiritual and social hub for high level players. It gives them somewhere to congregate and talk to each other and chill out. Since it’s within the boundaries of the Elf City it gives them faster access to a lot of the key pieces of content in the game like the Grand Exchange, where they can swap their prayer books rather than having to scatter them all over the game world. It’s much easier for them to do the things that they need to do to prepare for the bigger challenges that there are out further in the game.
Also it gives high level players new places to train some of their skills. Within Runescape some of our skills like thieving content caps out around level 91. Within the Elf City there are different groups of elves which you can go and pickpocket and steal things from and they occupy a lot of the higher levels skills. That’s also the case with things like mining. We’ve given a new central mining resource, where players can level up their mining skills in a different way to how they used to do it.
From an aspirational level, how long would it take for someone who’s starting the game now to get to the point that they can enter this city?
Fundamentally, it’s designed to be aspirational content. We knew that we had a lot of high level players and players just below those levels that can and will soon get access to the Elf City. For a new player to get access to the Elf City, that’s a lot of work. I won’t lie to you, but it is that way on purpose. Truly aspirational content should be something that people have to work for in order to achieve. We’re quite lucky in that a lot of our players have grown up with the game and they have a lot of experience that counters just shy of getting the levels. We also have a hell of a lot of dormant accounts, people that stopped playing over the years that are just about ready to get to the Elf City. But a brand new player would take thousands of hours. I won’t lie to you.
There’s probably 40 or 50 quests they would have to complete. they would have to raise up their skills to at least level 75 just to complete the quests, and you have to have 16 skills at level 75. And a lot of content within the Elf City is specifically tailored to players who have skill levels about level 90. I don’t’ want it to be too easy for people to access it because it loses that exclusive feel that we feel like we’ve generated with it.
Once you enter the city what are the different factions and different areas people can interact with?
The Elf City is divided into eight areas. Each area is represented by one of the clans of the Elves. So there are eight Elf clans, each of which you have to interact with when you’re completing Plagues End, which is the story finale of the Elf storyline. Each of those clans also represent a couple of skills like mining and smithing, magic, wood cutting, and combat and slayer. There are five sections that we’ve released with Batch 1 of the city. We’ve got three more sections that we’re releasing later this year.
We also have a brand new combat mini-game called Rush of Blood that is specifically combat-oriented and can be played daily. It’s a wave defense combat mini-game, where you have to try and stay alive for as long as you can. There are different difficulty levels and you’re fighting hoards of monsters. That’s something that the players have been talking about on the forums for quite some time and just spending some time in-game today most players said that was their favorite piece of content.
Interestingly, other players have been saying they really like the skill content that we’ve added to the game. With the mining we’ve given them a new way of leveling their skills from about level 78 onwards. It’s a little bit more relaxed. They can earn these serran stones which gives them even more experience points in mining. It’s like a new social hub for miners that want to work on those last few levels to get up to level 99.
Having just released Batch 1 of the Elf City, what will be coming in November with Batch 2?
The reason we’ve decided to release the city in two parts is so that we can adapt the ideas that we’ve got based on the experiences that the players have. It’s all well and good giving feedback on design documents or artwork, but it’s very different when players actually get their hands on the content and they’re moving their own character around the world and interacting with the content. So we can respond to the feedback that we get from Batch 1 of the city and make sure we implement that feedback for Batch 2. It may well be that the layout of the area isn’t quite right. It may well be that some of the balancing isn’t quite there. It may well be that they feelthat there are skills or certain types of activity that are missing and we can incorporate those things into Batch 2. It’s all about player power and allowing them to get their hands on the content.
What has the new game engine you guys introduced last year opened up for building this city?
The new game engine has given us so much more potential. To start with--and one of the things that’s close to my heart--is our audio. We’re able to do a hell of a lot more with the audio that we offer and for me the audio is a key part to the immersive qualities of Runescape. If I want someone to lose themselves in a fancy world, I need to make sure I’m assaulting their ears as well as their brain and their eyes. We have a lot more acoustic instruments that we can use and a lot more voice acting within the game that really helps. From an engine perspective, we’ve got a hell of a lot more stuff that we can do in terms of the draw distance that we have in the game giving people a much wider, bigger experience. They already feel like they’re in a living and breathing world. You don’t lose things so quickly in the edges of your player view.
You can see the walls. You can see the expanse of the city. Another really key thing that we’ve done is being able to play around with heights. The Elf City is built on top of a crater. You can look down into the center of the crater and see a lot of the things that you got involved with when you completed the quest in order to grow the city. It’s a much more immersive experience from