200 million RuneScape users can't be wrong, but Ogilvie will make that a certainty when RuneScape 3 releases next week.
My nephew is 15, has a Bieber haircut, and spends almost as much time working out for his soccer team than he does playing RuneScape. I asked him if was going to play the new version when it releases on July 22nd and he said, resoundingly, "Hell, yeah." The design director of RuneScape, Mark Ogilvie, believes a big part of why fans like my nephew are excited is due to the improvements the Jagex team is making to the browser game which will help bring the stories of RuneScape to life. Oddly enough, the skills Ogilvie draws upon to make RuneScape 3 so vivid don't come from programming or game design, but from his love of theater.
"Being involved in theatre gives you the luxury of being able to look at entertainment and the way that we make computer games in a slightly different way," Ogilvie told me. I had an inkling Mark was a theater person after I saw him deliver a speech expounding on the wonders of his game at the RuneScape 3 event in May. We theater folk can spot our own - the booming voice, the exaggerated movement of his hands and Ogilvie's use of props were a dead giveaway.
But how exactly does theater impact gaming? "I think it is really important to visualise your space when designing games - I think a lot of people look at that as a level design-specific capacity - but also it is when you are setting the scene," he said. "When you want to design an environment, when you want to take a good cut scene or something like that - you have to think about the game as a stage and how you can use that space to engage your audience."
Based on my time with RuneScape, I can certainly see Ogilvie's influence in how the non-player characters position themselves in the world. It's a subtle difference from other MMOs, but you never really feel like there's this talking head barking quest orders at you. "We don't want to make content where players feel like they are walking around helping other people, they need to be the driving force. That is obviously very difficult to do in an MMO situation, but we can do those kind of things when we are looking at our individual quest and imagining the player as one of your actors on the stage is one of the ways of making sure that they have that influence and they feel like they are part of the action," Ogilvie explained.
With RuneScape 3, Ogilvie is challenging his designers to draw players in, rather than passively watching the game unfold. "One of the cool things about theatre, people say, is that you can sense the sweat and the spittle of the actors on the stage, you really feel like you are part of the action," Ogilvie said. "A lot of what I have been talking to my devs about recently is making the players feel that they are the director rather than feeling like a passenger. Rather than feeling like a member of the audience, they feel like a principle actor on the stage. They are the hero after all and they always need to have centre stage."
The improved sound design of RuneScape 3 will immerse players in the world. "We have built a new engine which allows us to directly stream audio to the player and allows us to move further away from the midi sound background we have and really offer something truly immersive," he said. "We have full voiceover support and we are doing some really quite brave things with our audio team. We are moving the game into the next tech age, almost, and that gives us a lot more that we can play around with regarding music and a lot more different styles of instruments we can use. We are still keeping true to our medieval roots, but we are beginning to play with some slightly different ideas for sounds which all help with player immersion."
Graphics-wise, RuneScape 3 will be able to offer a much more robust visual experience in your browser. "The new tech also gives us the power to play around with bigger draw distances, better textures, water effects, richer colour pallets and also a lot less down time, resulting in less loading time," he said. "All this helps ensure that you don't break that fourth wall so much and the player can be truly immersed in the experience."