Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Merlin's Crystal: Breaking the 4th wall

I've rarely seen an RPG break the 4th wall, but Runescape is a game that will happily do so. Merlin's Crystal is a quest found in Camelot, started by speaking with none other than King Arthur himself.

 It's a relatively short quest, involving Merlin being trapped in a crystal. In order to free him I had to find the legendary sword Excalibur and learn the secret spell needed for it to shatter the crystal.

This quest brought in other characters from Arthurian lore, namely the Lady of the Lake and Morgan Le Faye, who were in possession of the sword and spell respectively. It was not a particularly difficult quest, with the only puzzle being about infiltrating Mordred's fortress.

The spell summoned the demon Thrantax, who enabled Excalibur to break the crystal. I had some trouble figuring out how to use the spell as I had forgotten what Morgan told me about it; the bat bones had to be dropped, not buried.

It's only the first in a series of quests related to Camelot, and a good time off all that RPG seriousness we usually encounter in modern RPGs.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Desert Quests: The Tourist Trap

The Kharidian Desert is one of my favorite areas in Runescape, and after such a long break it was a pleasure returning there for some exploration.

This desert has a unique survival system where you must carry waterskins in your inventory to remain hydrated and wear white desert robes to keep as fresh as possible. Run out of water and you'll start losing health until you either find a safespot, such as a town or cave, or until you die.

It's home to a blend of egyptian and arabian themed villages, camps, ancient pyramids and wildlife. The local population worships deities inspired of egyptian mythology. There are even flying carpets you can use for 200gp a ride.

I went for the first quest you come across when entering the desert, The Tourist Trap, and it was one hell of a good quest. It's started by speaking to Irena just outside of Shantay Pass, who is crying because her daughter has gone missing. As with most quests, it's presented in a humorous tone:

Following her footsteps I quickly found out she was kidnapped by local slavers. Crossing the desert is an immersive experience, even for a game with such graphics. It's made me wonder why I've so rarely seen desert themed areas in MMOs.

I had a lot of bribing and persuasion to do, it was the main theme and difficulty. It got quite tricky a few times as I had to not only figure out which dialogue options were the correct ones, but in some cases also explore the environment and speak to other NPCs to unlock those options.

Selecting the wrong options would sometimes cause me to get jailed, and I'd have to break out and run all the way back to the slave camp. Wielding any sort of weapon within the slave camp would also get me jailed, which prevented me from just killing the guards and making it through some parts of the quest easily.

Rescuing Ana wasn't all that easy until I figured out what I had to do. It came with some fun, humorous dialogue as I put her in a barrel which then appeared in my inventory as "Ana in a barrel".

Right after rescuing her and having her reunite with her mother, she immediately decided to become an adventurer and set out to explore the desert. The quest came with the ability to craft darts and some experience in Smithing and Agility (which I could have distributed on two other skills).

The Kharidian Desert is one of the most immersive areas in this game and I've had great fun during this first adventure. There's plenty more desert quests out there and I know I'll enjoy the next ones, namely the very difficult Desert Treasure.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

One Month Milestone

A whole month in and I still haven't made a recap of my levels on Runescape. There's various skills in this game and each of them take a very long time to level. These are my stats as of today:

A quick explanation for anyone who isn't familiar with Runescape:

• Combat skills are trained simply by attacking monsters with the correct weapon and attack style. HP levels up as you deal damage to monsters. Slayer is training by fighting specific monsters assigned to you by Slayer masters.
• Skills like Mining, Fishing, Woodcutting and so on are pretty self-explanatory. You just go out and do those activities.
• Skills like Smithing, Cooking, Herblore and Farming require you to gain materials first from another skill. Smithing requires ores which you must first mine, for example.
• Agility is trained by running laps around agility courses.
• Prayer is trained by burying bones.
• Thieving is trained by stealing from stalls or pickpocketing NPCs.
• Construction is trained by purchasing a player-owned house and building furniture in it over and over again.

I've been training skills here and there with no specific goal in mind, although I've spent a whole lot of time mining while preparing my exams, doing my homework or watching movies. I'd love have both and Mining and Smithing cape eventually. These are capes when you reach the maximum level, 99, but at my current rythm it would take me over a year to get a Smithing cape.

And this is my current bank:

I've been testing out a lot of things and hoarding stuff I probably shouldn't. There's all the swords I've ever used, over 1000 blurite bolts I've yet to enchant and many ores I haven't smelted into bars yet.

It's a very lengthy game, but it rewards commitment and hard work. It's not RGN-intense like GW2. You need to grind for days and days to get the level requirements needed for bosses, but once you get them those bosses have 1/250 odds of dropping rare gear.

* * * * *

Daily Quest: Elemental Workshop

It's been a pleasure returning to this hidden workshop in Seers Village. It's a short quest where you must fix the Elemental Workshop and craft an Elemental Shield.

I had some trouble figuring out how to heat up the furnace, but nothing big. The shield is quite good looking and is iconic of Magic in Runescape. It has a good magical defense stat, but doesn't protect against melee or projectile. I created a gif which shows its equipping animation:

There's a mod on Skyrim Nexus for this shield as well. I used it back in the day, it's truly gorgeous:

You can find it at the following link if you play Skyrim and are interested in it:

Monday, April 10, 2017

DAW: Skelux (Super Mario Star Road)

This year's Developer Appreciation Week has been greatly successful, and in result many bloggers have written several articles rather than one only. I'm taking the opportunity to write one more article for this event as well. This is dedicated to Skelux, creator of the unofficial Super Mario 64 sequel, Super Mario Star Road.

Note that I may be interviewing Skelux in the next few days for a second blog post.

But first, let's talk about Mario 64. It's a game that frequently comes up in top lists for the best games of all time, and I'd have it there as well if I were to make a list of my own. It's a game that delivered so well on our expectations back then: having this 3D open world of adventures, puzzles, bosses, amazing gameplay and mysteries that still intrigue us up to this day. Much like Ocarina of Time, it was a child's dream come true.

It took us months to finish the game back then. I remember spending a whole evening with my cousin trying to beat the first Bowser, we'd take turns switching every time we died and I'll be damned if we didn't die a whole lot of times. We felt proud discovering the Wing Cap level and sharing the knowledge with our friends; we went on to kick every single brick in the castle to try and find hidden levels afterward. The great thing was that we did find such hidden levels. The game just kept delivering on and on in every single one of these expectations we had, and for that it felt very rewarding and incredibly fun.

Above everything, Super Mario 64 seems to have been blessed with immortality. It has hardly aged at all over the past twenty years. Its gameplay mechanics and graphics are still perfectly acceptable as of today. Many platform adventure games have aged horribly because of their slippery jump mechanics or pixelized graphics, but Mario 64 doesn't have any of that. It's polished to perfection, is aesthetically pleasing, has memorable soundtracks and sound effects and is repeatable to no end.

I hoped for a sequel the moment I finished this game. Not a new version with different mechanics and what not, but simply more worlds to explore and new enemies to fight. Fifteen years later, my wish came true: Super Mario Star Road was released by game hacker Skelux, featuring 130 new stars within 15 new levels and 9 new hidden levels. It has all the ingredients that made its predecessor great: nerve wrecking challenges, LSD-inspired map designs and mind twisting mysteries. Skelux truly managed to capture the feel of the original game with this sequel of his.

I didn't make it to full completion yet, but I did make it through all the levels and to the final boss, and it was one hell of a challenge. The platform puzzles are generally tougher than in the original game, and some stars are so well hidden it has taken me whole days to find a single star in certain maps.

It's absolutely mindblowing that all of these maps and their new soundtracks, enemies and sometimes even textures were designed by one single person. Granted, most of the work creating the game's engine and all its base sound effects and graphics had already been done by Nintendo, but this is still an impressive feat of dedication coming from a fan that did it for free.

Even though it came nowhere close to being as popular as the original version - understandably so, as we're comparing an unofficial hacked game to a legendary one, this game has received very positive criticism and has become somewhat of a benchmark for Super Mario 64 game editing. Fans have submitted speedruns, created Wiki fansites, and even modded the game, even though it is already a mod of another game itself. Think of it: a community of thousands based on a game modded by a single person. It's nothing to sneeze at.

I'm still working on those 130 stars and it's managed to give me some great memories. Like with the old game I also played this one with friends, and as with levels like Tick Tock Clock from the original game I'll never forget the sadistic platform puzzles found in maps like Fatal Flame Falls or Mad Musical Mess.

Once again I'm grateful to Skelux for this amazing game and I'd definitely recommend Super Mario Star Road to anyone interested in Mario games, platform adventure games or really anyone looking for a new gaming experience. The game can safely be downloaded from here:

It also comes as a multiplayer game, which you can download here if you wish to play with a friend of yours: 

It requires an emulator, the standard being Project64, which is also safe to download and use - don't let the names "emulator" or "hack" scare you away from it, these download links have been used millions of times and are perfectly safe:

Jungle Trek Part I

I never finished my "Journey into Maguuma" series back when I was playing Guild Wars 2, but hopefully I'll have better luck with this one.

Karamja is Runescape's tropical jungle themed island. It's not a particularly dangerous place, but it's easy to get lost in it without a good map. I traveled there for my most recent quest: Jungle Potion.

It's a great quest to begin exploring the island, as Trufitus asks you to search for various herbs scattered across the jungle, some of which are a little tricky to find. His hints aren't all that clear, in fact in one instance he'll ask you to head East of the village when the herb is in fact located very clearly North East.

Because of this, I was lost on the island for a little while searching for that Ardrigal, but it was an opportunity to find some mysteries like this hidden door:

I'm not sure which quest will come next, I'll be travelling to the Kharidian desert next time, one of my favorite areas in the game.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Big Chompy Bird Hunting

This was a quest I did a few days ago when I traveled to the South West of Runescape. To the South of Yanille is the land of the Ogres, big brutish humanoids who are generally hostile to visitors and difficult to understand when they happen to communicate. Their land consists mostly of untamed forests and meadows.

It's a shame they still haven't replaced the bland black horizon in this game. It's much better looking in Runescape 3.

This quest, Big Chompy Bird Hunting, was about helping Rantz hunt a "chompy bird" for dinner. It took us through the whole process of crafting Ogre arrows, laying a trap for the bird, shooting it, seasoning it and cooking it.

The arrow tips had to be made of wolf bones, but the quest only mentioned "bones from a canine" so I had some trouble figuring out what I had to do.

The next part was about bloating frogs with air using bellows and laying them down as bait for the birds. I don't remember there being any indication as to where I could find the bellows, so I also got stuck at this part.

The reward was this enormous bow alongside the ability to craft Ogre arrows and some experience in various related skills. Ogre arrows aren't convenient to make, they require collecting a lot of wolf bones, but I might give it a shot crafting 500 or so of them sometime in the future. It's part of all that game content I never got to use, I'd like to try training Ranged with them at least once. It's these small details that have been making my latest playthrough so enjoyable.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Easter & Wester

It's Easter time in Runescape, and with it comes the yearly Easter event, taking place in Wester island. It's an event I hadn't done in a very long time, although I did login for the Christmas event last year. The controversial topic of religion looms ahead.

I couldn't help but notice the growth in nihilism, specifically online, over the past few years when it comes to Christmas and Easter. Ten years ago people would enjoy these events without much complaining, but nowadays I've come across more than just a couple people criticizing them for being "stolen pagan festivities" or "religious rituals".

In Guild Wars 2 there isn't even an Easter event at all, and while GMs will claim it's because there was no Jesus in Tyria for such an event to make sense, there's no China or Jack O' Lantern either, and yet they have Lunar New Year and Halloween events. But then again these are the same mods who will ban you from their forums for using the words "politically correct" or "SJW".

I myself am an atheist, but that doesn't stop me from celebrating Christmas and Easter, and have a minimum of appreciation for the good things Christianity has brought us. It's part of our Western culture. Why would I let my beliefs get in the way of enjoyment and well-being?

This year's event is quite enjoyable event after all. The Easter bunnies need help inventing new recipes for their chocolate eggs, and to help them we have to travel to Wester island and cook various types of eggs for them to test taste.

The whole island is made of chocolate, except for the grass and the few trees growing on its surface. Yes, it has banana trees growing on nothing but chocolate, I couldn't have dreamt up a better utopia myself! The goal of this event is to gather several ingredients and test various different tastes of Easter Eggs. There are various ingredients around the island: bananas, salt, papaya and even some oddities such as ashes, beef and chicken feathers.

My favorite part was getting the "rich taste", which was a mix of chocolate and gold, but not just any gold. It was produced by the golden Easter bunny, Goldie, and by "produced" I'll let you imagine what I mean... Here's some of the in game conversation:

The ending isn't all that bad, I won't spoil it, but the item reward was not very aesthetically pleasing. It's fucking hideous frankly!

I went on to do some Slayer and some Mining. I need to make a skilling log one of these days. It's enjoyable while working on something else. The next holiday event will be Halloween and that's a long, long time from now...

What are your thoughts on the Christmas and Easter events in online games?

Enter Morytania & Livestreaming

I'm dedicating this blog post to some questing and my experience with livestreaming.

My time for gaming has significantly shrunk these last few days. With the upcoming exams and my usual outdoor activities, I've hardly had time to play Runescape any more than an hour or two per day. In result, I've only finished two quests since my last post, but that's fine. I don't have a train to catch.

This hasn't stopped me from livestreaming, but it's a rough beginning. I'm not sure how one is supposed to get his first viewers as a Twitch livestreamer. It's definitely a more comfortable format than vlogging, but unlike a video, which remains there forever for people to see, a livestream is a one time event and getting more viewers feels much more difficult for that reason.
It's also different from blogging in how it's inherently meant to be something to do for an audience rather than for oneself. I've almost always written for an audience of one on this blog: for myself. Therefore I can never feel discouraged to continue writing, even if I don't have all that many readers. But with that livestream it just feels pointless to continue when the viewer count is zero. Yet the only solution is to persevere. I'll keep doing it until something comes out of it, as this is something I want to experience at least once.

Anyhow, the quest I'm blogging about today is Priest in Peril: a quest at the entrance to Morytania, the region to the east of Varrock, which is home to vampires, werewolves, zombies and other such horror creatures. This quest involved freeing a priest of Saradomin from captivity by monks of Zamorak. It begins with our gullible character getting fooled into killing the dog that served as the guardian of the only passage between Morytania and Misthalin.

 And obviously, the king isn't too happy about it... These dialogues are part of what makes quests so fantastic and memorable in Runescape.

Setting the priest free was no easy task. He was jailed and guarded by a vampire, who could sense his presence, sleeping in a coffin nearby. I had to find the key and think of a way to incapacitate the vampire. I'm glad I'm finally delving into these real quests with difficult riddles and what not.

After finding the right items and getting the priest out of there, I finished the quest and gained access to Morytania. It wasn't a very long quest, although I spent a lot of time searching for the various items, and served more as an introduction to Morytania's theme and storyline.

Next up is Big Chompy Bird Hunting... a rather unusual quest involving an ogre and his favorite meal: chompy birds.

Monday, April 3, 2017

DAW: The Old School Team

Yesterday, to my delight, Ravanel asked me if I'd participate in the Developer Appreciation Week event, and while I'd currently find it hard to say anything appreciative of Runescape's community, I'm more than happy to say a few nice words about the Old School Team, the name given to Jagex's team of developers in charge of Runescape 2.

And yes, I know I should be calling it 2007Scape or Old School Runescape, but I just call it Runescape because it is Runescape as most of us know it, and nobody plays Runescape 3 anymore. There's twice as many players on RS2 as there are on RS3, get over it already RS3 lovers!

It's a good thing I'm heading in with that because if there's a good reason the old school version has more players than the original version, it's because of its awesome team of developers. The Old School Team is simply the most honest and communicative developer team I have ever seen. They've decided to make of this game a democracy and keep it free of microtransactions, which they call "MTX". In doing so they've provided us with one of the fairest, least corrupt online gaming environments. I'll leave here this quote from one of the developers, Mod MatK (they all have names starting with "Mod"), and guide you through how an update is processed on Runescape 2 to show you how it all works.

I wanted to clear up a misapprehension which seems to be rearing it's head here concerning the interfering of 'external forces'. I am going to assume that these 'external forces' refer too anyone not in the Old School team and that it implies that there is pressure on the team to add things like MTX or EOC etc. This isn't true.
I am not going to lie, there is pressure to create more revenue from Old School, every business has pressure to increase revenue - if they didn't they wouldn't be a company for long. But everyone throughout the company (from the very top to the bottom) understands that this needs to be done in a way which our community accepts. No one anywhere is suggesting that we add MTX.
The biggest method of increasing revenue for Old School is by increasing the amount of members and we know we can do that by continuing to listen to what you want and delivering that.
Over the last few months we have been doing a lot of work with the Brand Director at Jagex to ensure that OSRS's brand is properly understood by everyone (the team, Jagex and the players) and one of the pillars is that we do what the players want (and we don't think you want MTX).
There is a very strong feeling across everyone here at Jagex that one thing we must do over the foreseeable future is maintain the core and ethics of what Old School is and not allow ourselves to deviate from that. With your help I know we will be able to do that.

So, when the Old School Team wants to update their game, what happens? Well, usually they check out what the community is talking about on the forums, in game and on Reddit and come up with something adapted to their demands. Let's take the example of the latest update to pass, The Inferno. The first time we might hear about it is during their weekly Q&A livestreams:

During these sessions, they answer questions submitted by players and adress possible future updates. There are usually two kinds of updates: new content featuring quests, bosses, areas and such, and Quality of Life content (QoL). The latter is usually about making small tweaks to the game to make it more convenient, like interface changes or new ways of sorting out your bank and inventory. The developers then announce the update via Dev Blogs, such as this one:

These show the new content in detail; where it would be located, how it would work, what requirements it would have, and so on. There are several questions at the bottom of each Dev Blog the players may answer for feedback.

The team then sets up polls with various questions concerning the update. Subscribed players vote to decide whether or not the content will be added to the game. It must have over 75% approval from the community in order to pass. Below is the poll for The Inferno.

And this is why I love the Old School Team. They're rigorous, communicative, talented and above everything, ethical. To me, the fact that RS2 has surpassed RS3 is proof that being ethical gets your farther than being greedy. It's the Golden Egg all over again. Microtransactions are a plague in modern MMOs and most online game companies could learn something from the Old School Team.

The Gnomes II

The standard, medieval cities in Runescape are all more or less grouped together at the center of the map; wander off far enough and you'll always end up in high fantasy lands inhabited by magical creatures with plenty of quests for you to delve into. Travel West and you'll come across the land of the Gnomes, short and intelligent humanoids who live under the canopy of gigantic trees. It was the first thing I did when I became a member back in 2009, and after all these years it felt nostalgic to return there.

The Gnome city to the North West is called Tree Gnome Stronghold. It has an enormous tree at the center and is mostly surrounded by forests and meadows. It's home to a minigame called Gnome Ball, and to the easiest of the game's Agility courses. These are courses where you train the Agility skill, which allow you to get across certain obstacles and shortcuts in game, and lets you run for longer periods of time.

I went and started the first quest I could find there, which happened to be the Gnome Tree. It involved the tree being diseased and the goal was to figure out what was causing it. It's an amazing quest with several puzzles around the theme of translation. 

 The quest also briefly took me to the heart of Karamja, the game's tropical island, which is quite a nice place to visit.

This was also my second livestream, and it definitely went better than the first one. I've made plenty of small mistakes during the quest, and one of them was trying to fight this Black Demon with my mediocre level 38 ranged. It was taking me so long to kill that he despawned. I tried again with magic spells instead and it worked wonderfully, so much it inspired me to write something about magic in this game sometime later.

I received some really good rewards from this quest, definitely more than I imagined. It was enough experience for me to get level 40 in Attack and finally wield a rune longsword.

This is the first blog post I actually have an earlier version of from 2009. I try not to do the same quests in the same order, but this is just one of those I had to do again. Hope I won't be losing the blog a second time!