A chat with Runescape's Andrew Gower

Shawn Schuster
S. Schuster|07.15.08

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A chat with Runescape's Andrew Gower

Recently, Runescape sent along a chat with their Lead Developer and Co-founder Andrew Gower. In this chat, Gower explains the history of the game, what he does for the team and what he sees for the future.

One of the major highlights of this chat is the fact that Runescape is said to be right on target with their initial plan with the game. Gower says that it was always meant to be a graphically-advanced social game, and it has not only exceeded in achieving this, but their plans for the future of Runescape HD is even greater. Check out the complete chat just after the jump.

What led to the decision to start work on RuneScape HD?

RuneScape has been in a constant state of evolution for some time now. Take a look at RuneScape before HD, and then look back to RuneScape Classic: they're near unrecognisable as the same game! By the same note, RuneScape HD will not be the last time that we update graphically – the difference is that, this time, we have taken a far greater leap forward.

This is the policy of RuneScape as a company. Instead of forgetting about our older releases, we continue to bring them up-to-date again and again. Indeed, to stay state of the art and at the forefront of browser-based games, we have to keep this updating cycle running constantly. Our aim is to not abandon our older games and their fanbases in any way, which is a real test when you consider that we still cater for their older computers.

When was the decision made, and by whom?

We had considered using OpenGL quite a few times in the past. This time, we felt that using OpenGL from Java was sufficiently mature, and we were reaching the limits of what was possible with the current technology. So, we set our Tools team the task of a feasibility study, to verify if it was even possible to do what we wanted to do with RuneScape. Once we found out that it was possible, I started working on the product code. The ball started rolling from there.

What was the original aim, and how has that changed?

The aim of RuneScape HD has not really changed since we first put together the brief. We wanted to take advantage of 3D accelerator cards and use them to their maximum potential within Java. We already had a pretty high polygon count, so we really wanted to concentrate on the textures, lighting, shadows and water effects. Since then, we haven't deviated from these aims. In fact, the only difference has been that the game looks much better than we ever anticipated.

The introduction of a fullscreen mode was also there from the start. Doing it was relatively straight forward, but there were still issues with different players' aspect ratios. Indeed, interfaces in-game were at a fixed size, so they were the hardest thing to get completely right when working on the fullscreen mode.

Has the task been a large one?

It has been an absolutely huge job. If you think about the sheer number of models, assets, textures – even the number of map squares that everything sits on – then you are talking a lot of work. I don't think people realize just how big RuneScape is, because it is a Java-based browser game. It is massive! Take the NPCs ingame, for example: we have 40,000 of these, and if you imagine that 10 minutes is spent on each one – and it's certainly more than that – then you have a lot of man hours.

What problems and obstacles have you had to overcome?

Throughout production of RuneScape HD, there have been two persistent obstacles to overcome. The first comes from our desire to allow everyone to play the improvements. We didn't want anyone who can currently play RuneScape to miss out on the ability to play RuneScape HD. This has meant keeping the same engine an hardware as RuneScape, while really taking it to the next level. That has been a real challenge.

The other obstacle has been keeping the download size for RuneScape down to a suitable size whilst simultaneously offering current generation graphics. The download size has to stay very small, since increasing the download size would defeat the object of making RuneScape Java-based. We have definitely overcome these obstacles.

How have you been involved in the project?

I have essentially been gluing all of the constituent parts together! I have been peer reviewing and integrating the separate code elements from everyone, as well as ensuring that there are no compatibility issues with the existing code.

What affect will the changes have on RuneScape and its community?

We hope that they will be absolutely amazed, of course! Even if we do not release RuneScape HD with a large amount of fuss, we expect players to really be impressed with what we have done. RuneScape HD is now much more immersive, and you feel so much more like you are part of the action.

What are you most proud of?

I think I am most proud of the fact that we were able to achieve everything we set out to do. There was always that thought that something might be impossible to do, but we had the capabilities necessary to get everything from the original brief into the game. Altogether, I am massively pleased with RuneScape HD. We still have more work to do, though. As I have said, RuneScape needs to constantly evolve to stay state of the art, so we are already planning the next graphical improvement of RuneScape. We have to keep going – so, if you like what has been done with RuneScape HD, imagine what happens when we improve on that!

Where do you envision RuneScape to be a year from now?

We will always focus on improving RuneScape and adding more depth to it. That said, a year from now, I would expect more of a focus on multiplayer and teambased gaming. We believe that players would benefit from more social content, and we have some great ideas for this. You won't have to be in a clan to do any of this either – we have plans for match-making scenarios where you could meet other players and team up with those that you like. We see RuneScape as a forum for people to meet and get to know each other.

What does the future hold for Jagex as a whole?

We are obviously going to keep focused on RuneScape – it's our priority to keep updating this massively popular game. We do have other projects on the go, however: we have new language projects in the pipeline, and we are designing other games for the future. FunOrb is doing really well too, and if you think you have seen what FunOrb is capable of, then you haven't seen nothing yet.
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