This summer, UK-based developer Jagex will release RuneScape 3
, the largest update the MMORPG has seen since 2004.
While the update introduces a new audio engine that allows for dynamic music, a new fully customizable interface that can be snapped into place around the screen at the player's choosing, and other upgrades on top of this, the most notable change is the switch from a Java client to HTML5.
The HTML5 lanaguage hasn't had the kindest of receptions to date. Wooga
are just two big companies who haven't exactly been in favor of the platform in the past, although more recently there has been a fair amount
on show too.
Most developers believe that HTML5 will be truly ready to go by next year -- and yet here Jagex is jumping in at the deep end early. Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard saw that the market share for Java was dropping, and was very conscious of being left behind.
"There needed to be a move," he says, "but there were no clear answers as to where. Flash doesn't have the power. Microsoft's got something interesting with Silverlight, but it's only on Internet Explorer and there are no standards there. We could deploy our own custom plug-in, but then we'd see a cut on the install base."
"So there are no easy answers. And the more we looked at HTML5, we saw it as the future language."
Of course, Jagex is fully aware of the fact that HTML5 isn't quite there yet -- "It's premature, obviously, and early adopters are usually the guinea pigs who are experimented on and suffer," admits Gerhard.
But as the company continued to work with HTML5, making sure that the new technology could work in parallel with RuneScape
's existing tech stack, the more excited the team became about the platform.
Notes Gerhard, "We had our own board say to us, 'We spent some time with the Google team - they had King.com in for six months and they said it couldn't be done. So you guys are wasting time.' And we said, 'No no, we've done it.' And they said, 'Oh! We should probably talk to Google then!'"
Talking to Google is exactly what Jagex has done, leading to a couple of HTML5 releases from Google that address some of the instruction optimizations that Jagex put forward. Jagex is also working closely with Mozilla to help the company proof Firefox such that it can be more purpose-made for games.
As for Internet Explorer, Gerhard says that it "is still very much out there, but I think they'll close ranks at some point."
And the Jagex CEO had some interest stats to share too: "Interestingly, we profiled the systems of our players, and we found that 70 percent of our players have systems capable of this. I thought it would be the other way around - I thought maybe 10, 20 percent would be able to run it.
During my playtest of RuneScape 3
, I noticed a fair amount of slowdown in framerate, especially when in built-up areas of the game. Executive producer Phil Mansell assured me that Jagex only recently began the optimization phase of the project, and that by the time the game is released, Jagex is aiming for a smooth 30 frames per second throughout.
"We're going to plow the first furrow here," adds Gerhard. "The closed beta has been running live with players for a week now, and we're working super hard - there's still lots to do over the next two months."
RuneScape on the move
There's another plus side to implementing RuneScape
in HTML5 -- the cross-platform possibilities, including on mobile devices.
Of course, it's not a simple case of dropping the browser game onto touch devices and that's that. A new control scheme needs to be implemented that best suits mobile devices, and even then it often doesn't work out, as Clash of Clans studio Supercell found recently
. Jagex R&D is working on making the game conducive to the mobile experience, a transition the company knows will be difficult.
"We're working insanely hard to make sure it's ready for Q4 this year on tablets," says Gerhard. "I think that's a risk in that there's a lot of unknowns, there's a lot of R&D going on, and there's still some tech questions, but right now the team is laser-focused on RuneScape 3
. I think once we've gone beyond that, and that's been a success, this will be the very next nut we'll crack."