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GDC09: What Jagex has in store with MechScape

Shawn Schuster

We've been hearing some new info this last week concerning Jagex and their latest MMO project. The company has enjoyed wild success so far with their free-to-play browser-based MMO RuneScape, and they hope to replicate that success with their sci-fi project entitled MechScape. We had the opportunity to sit down with a few members of the company's top development team for an interview during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to discuss this new project and the current state of the company.

So what is MechScape? Well, first off, it's important to note that MechScape is not the game's name, only the project's code name. It is a sci-fi MMO project that has been in development since 2006. Although it will be running on the RuneScape HD engine, Jagex is very determined to point out that this game will not simply be RuneScape in space. It will have its own mechanics, its own storyline and a planet-based, non-linear game experience unlike anything they've tackled before.

When the project was first conceived, the team started out by analyzing the current sci-fi MMOs and discovering why they weren't truly successful in the market. They discovered that these games were nothing more than fantasy mechanics dressed in a sci-fi wrapper. Having a set of skills that you level up through grinding is basically a fantasy mechanic. So from here they identified what game mechanics make a good sci-fi game, and they've developed most of these as completely unique features that have never been seen in any MMO before. Of course any real details on that are yet to be announced.

The game centers around the tension among four distinct species, each with their own look, abilities and back stories. Throughout the game, players can choose their alliances, which shape the path of their adventure. There are hints of cloning, player-built vehicles and even spaceship building eventually.

One of the greatest advantages Jagex has with this new project is the experience behind the team. With RuneScape boasting 150 millions users since their launch in 2001 (and the Guinness World Record for the largest free-to-play MMO in the world), they've had the chance to learn from their experiences, both good and bad. While each development team has their own core developers, the technical side of things are run by the same folks, allowing them to learn and grow together. In fact, RuneScape's newest HD launch was made possible by the advancements in MechScape.

In addition to MechScape, Jagex is enjoying what may turn out to be a great year for the company. RuneScape is still played by over 5 million players a month and their gaming hub FunOrb is constantly gaining new hosted games.

We look forward to hearing more details on MechScape and what Jagex has up its sleeve to keep the largest free-to-play MMO so wildly popular.

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