Interviews// Runescape and the Bacon Quest

Posted 10 Jul 2013 12:30 by
If you decide to trot into Runescape this week, chances are you’ll come across a rather curious event. Don’t worry yourself sow much though, it’s snout likely to be a total boar... ahem, sorry. For the first time in the free-to-play MMORPG’s history, pigs will be the centre of attention in a new string of missions dubbed ‘Bacon Quest’.

The action centres on a farmer called Eli Bacon, who accidentally discovers the delicious hangover cure after preparing his prize pig for a wrestling competition, covering it in butter and herbs (to make it more slippery in the ring) and housing it in a barn. A barn that then ceremoniously burns to the ground - cooking the pig with it. The smell entices the townsfolk, and after trying bacon for the first time the local community is intoxicated by the smell and taste.

Eli, of course, fears for the livelihood of his livestock - so has enlisted your help to try and convince the zombie-like townspeople that there is a value in keeping pigs alive. Cue a number of light-hearted and borderline-ridiculous missions that involve crafting worker outfits for hogs and even bringing armour-clad pigs with you to battle.

Bacon Quest is essentially an in-joke - apparent to anyone who has played Runescape for a long period of time. It plays on the idea that low-ranking warriors can level up by attacking cows and chickens, but not certain other creatures (like sheep, which is justified because you can shear these for wool). Early in the game’s twelve-year service, a group of artists added pigs to the world which, for no apparent reason, could not be attacked.

Back then, a promising QA employee at Jagex had suggested the idea of including bacon in the game. That employee’s name was Mark Ogilvie, who is now one of the Cambridge studio’s top design developers. “Yeah, Bacon Quest is the result of something that I have wanted to do for at least ten years,” he admits to me during a tour of the Runescape developer’s office.

“What I thought was really weird was that there was this great fantasy game, yet the developers had put anchovy pizza in it [before something as obvious as bacon]. Of course, it was coded in because the team just happened to be eating anchovy pizza at the time. But I said I wanted bacon sandwiches. I was told that we couldn’t put bacon in the game because the cooking skill was full, and that there was no need for it really.”

Although it’s clear that long-time employees of Jagex have stuck around because of the friendly and inviting work environment that its office provides - outlined in more detail in SPOnG’s Runescape 3 interview - it’s hard not to suspect that with Mark, there was an ulterior motive to his decade-long dedication to the company. He jovially reveals that, as he climbed the ranks, he “started to get more authority and more impositions” so that his bacon dream could become a reality.

“But then [once I had assumed a position where I could make this a reality] I realised, that all the developers before me who had said ‘no’ - they were right,” Mark explains. “I couldn’t afford to invest development time just putting bacon into the game. We don’t need it from a design perspective. But... this nagged at me.”

It wasn’t until the prospect of developing Runescape 3 - with the move from Java to HTML5, the wrapping up of apocalyptic storylines and all - that Mark decided that now was the right time to realise his fantasy. “More recently, we’ve been doing some bold things with our storylines. Big, dramatic stuff. We’ve killed off gods, and made some big changes to some of our oldest storylines. We concluded a lot of long-running things.

“It struck me that we were doing really serious content... and one of the cool things about Runescape quests is that we have the freedom to write a whole bunch of light-hearted material, with a bit of British humour in there. Slapstick, whatever. It doesn’t have to include world-eating demons, you can just have a bit of fun.

“And that’s what I thought was missing. We haven’t done this sort of thing for far too long. We’re being too serious with our storylines. So how could we inject a little bit of light relief? Bacon. What better thing..? I mean, you wake up in the morning and have a hangover - bacon. Boom. It’s just there. It’s the life-bringer for many people.”

During this exchange, I felt as if Mark was channelling his decade-old QA persona, somewhat - excitedly pitching why bacon is just so important to not only the Runescape world, but our own. He’s not wrong though - bacon is pretty damn good. With the time to work on a new update for the game, and the freedom to go as crazy as the team wanted, Bacon Quest became a reality after three or four months of development - “a real labour of love for most of us,” Mark adds.

Jagex couldn’t make a special quest about pigs without including one of Runescape’s most famous porcine characters, though. Lovingly dubbed ‘Pigzilla’ by the player community when the hog was introduced, this particular swine was cursed with an abnormal size - caused by a coding accident by one of the developers at the time.

Mark teases that Pigzilla is involved in the greater conspiracy in some way. “I don’t want to give too much away, but basically... you get to work out why Pigzilla got so big in the first place.” He adds that a lot of the characters introduced in the update - including farmer Eli himself - has a dark backstory that ties in with some of Jagex’s trademark twisted humour.

So, how long can you expect to clear Bacon Quest this week, then? Let’s ask Mark. “I think the content will take an experienced player about an hour or two to complete. But we’ve got post-quest rewards - so you can get bigger and better pigs that can do stuff with you, for you, as you level up. Whilst it’s got low level requirements, higher level players will still get a lot of reward from it. There’s all sorts of stuff I haven’t mentioned as well.”

With a massive grin, Mark concluded by adding, “Oh, and of course, we have bacon in the game now.” Mission complete, Ogilvie.

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