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This Developer Blog is copied verbatim from the RuneScape website. It is copyrighted by Jagex.
It is written by Mod Mark and is dated 23 June 2009.
Feedback and Blue Blocks

The Unforgettable Tale of a Lead Designer

Mod Mark here, Lead Designer of RuneScape. I’m the Mark who has been here at Jagex for six years - not to be confused with Mod MMG: he is the Mark who is now our CEO. As lead designer, I am ultimately responsible for the new content we add to the game. This includes deciding what quests we develop, which new skills we work on, where we put new minigames, what levels they are, how difficult we want them to be, how much XP they give, which areas get new achievement diaries, and what new aspects of the game we should introduce, like the distractions and diversions, etc, etc. I don’t actually come up with the majority of new ideas, nor do I write the content, I just decide what direction we want to take the game and create objectives for the developers, helping them to decide which concepts we want to take into full development. Then, after they design how these things should work and create the code that makes their ideas real, I get to play it through and advise how we can improve it to make it the best it can be, before it is launched into the main game.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by talented, creative individuals who make my job very, very easy! Our relationship is similar to that of a sports coach and a team - the coach isn’t actually out on the field playing with the team but, ultimately, he is responsible for its performance. My job is just like that, except my team this time is Captain Mod John A and his Dwarven Raiders.

Playing through content for the first time is always one of the most exciting parts of my job. When you help someone to sculpt their ideas in the design brief stage of development, you always have a visual idea of what the final product will look like, or you imagine how difficult a puzzle should be. No matter how much you discuss things with the writer or an artist, people often have a slightly different opinion from you, which can have interesting effects on the final product.

Anyway, it had been a few years since the last dwarf quest, so I played through a few of the crucial elements of Giant Dwarf, Forgettable Tale... and Between a Rock and thought back on the first conversations I had with Mod Vincent, the original developer of the Red Axe storyline. Mod John A’s style is very different from his, but there were a few things we were keen to keep consistent, like the camera flyover of the city at the beginning (we have had those in all the dwarf quests - Mod Vincent was big on cut scenes but Mod John A less so) and the whole Red Axe/mining conglomerates/drunk dwarf-baiting plotline.

So, I found Captain Veldaban[sic] in the north-east of the city. I’d had the new concept art for Veldaban on my desktop for ages, so I’d been looking forward to his updated look...

But things were a little...blue. In fact, most of the new areas and quest-specific characters were just blue boxes, as the Graphics team were still working on the new graphics. Sometimes, with content we write, we ask the developer to create the majority of it using old graphics, and ask the Graphics team to work on the new assets after they have seen the puzzles, gameplay and level design. This is always quite an odd experience, dodging level 70 blue boxes or trying to find the blue box-shaped key amongst your inventory of blue woodblock objects.

Offering Feedback

Playthrough thumb

Mod Mark vs the blue, err, orange and black things.

Playing through a piece of content to give feedback to a developer is quite a challenge. Not only are you playing through it for your own fun and amusement (we never release content we don’t find fun ourselves), but you have to think about the core aims of the project - who the content is for, what sort of audience we want it to appeal to, the rewards, target levels, etc. We also had two reward areas planned for this quest and some brand new Ranged NPCs, which we have very few of in the game. These were of particular interest to me, since we had increased the skill requirements for the quest, taking the Strength requirement up to 69, and the NPC combat levels had to be increased to reflect this. However, with the area just using placeholder ’blue box‘ graphics and temporary stats, I decided to leave looking at the reward areas until they were properly finished.

Playthroughs last for about half a day, as I like to play through the content once, then specific sections again with a more critical eye. I look for all sorts of important factors like: Is it clear to the user what’s going on? Do the different sections of the quest flow into one another? Do they keep the player interested during the more tricky sections, like the mine cart-puzzles (which Mod John A has approached in an original way)? Is the dialogue too wordy? Is the quest self-contained? Are the main characters compelling and believable? Is it rewarding enough? All sorts of issues like this can and will come up in those initial playthroughs and trigger conversation between myself and the developer.

One of the most interesting parts of the quest was the point in which Mod John A chose to reveal the plot twist. I was surprised that he chose to reveal it in that way, and it was very different from how I had expected it from the original design briefs. We’re due to have a feedback meeting after he has come back from holiday, and I am really interested to hear why he did it that way. I’m keen to change it, but I always like to discuss these things with the developer and find out what they wanted to achieve. Sometimes it’s just a case of changing a few words, other times we rethink and try a totally different approach. It’s always a very creative time in the product’s life-cycle.

I’m looking forward to chatting to Mod John A about his content and how we can improve it. From what I have seen of the new models and animations coming from the Graphics team, it’s going to look great!

New requirements in full

We've decided to make the quest's skill requirements higher than the ones that we previously released. Here are the new requirements in full:

  • Level 61 Hunter
  • Level 61 Firemaking
  • Level 69 Strength
  • Must have completed Forgettable Tale of a Drunken Dwarf.
  • There will be an enemy to fight, but we haven't quite decided its level yet.

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