Online Games News arrow Runescape arrow Runescape introduces Summoning - Part 2 22 September 2023  
Runescape introduces Summoning - Part 2 E-mail
Monday, 10 December 2007
Here is the second part of the article describing how summoning will work in Runescape, once it will be released in January 2008. The first part is available here .

Summoning: Part 2 - Development

In the last Summoning Development Diary we focused on the new skill's concept stage – how and why it came to be and what changes it went through during its inception. In this second part we'll be taking a closer look at the content development process. We will give you an insight into how the awesome new Summoning non-player characters (NPCs) were designed and also explain how they were then implemented into the game. We'll even be tackling one of the world's most problematic evolutionary conundrums! So, without further ado...

Where to begin?

Creating an entirely new skill is no small feat. From start to finish it takes months of work, sometimes years, and every team makes a huge contribution. Summoning is unique in that a huge part of the skill involves interacting with new NPCs - Summoning familiars and pets - rather than having a new resource or equipment set. For concept artist, Mod GG, this meant creating dozens of sketches and designs for new NPCs: "I love illustration, especially when RuneScape Content give me a blank canvas to work from. Over a year-long period, I have created over 700 concept sketches!"

By his own admission, Summoning developer Mod Wilson was so confident in the Graphics team's ability that he left much of the design work in their capable hands. "For the new NPCs, Graphics just went wild! I can't draw for toffee, so I'd usually give them a short description and say 'Go for it'. They really outdid themselves." Mod Woody of Graphics supports this sentiment: "With something as big as a skill, you don't just want to make it look good, you want to push the boundaries."

An update we made to RuneScape this year saw the introduction of diagonal movement to NPCs. Although this had been planned for some time, the creation of Summoning meant that the update was brought forward, as Mod Woody discovered: "We avoided making larger familiars for Summoning at first, because they would often become stuck while trying to fit through small gaps. If we stuck with regular movement, we'd have limited what we could do with the skill, and we wouldn't have been able to create the huge NPCs we now have in production."

The introduction of diagonal movement has allowed for some fantastic game improvements. Not only can we create bigger and more elaborate monsters, but also things like multiple followers, like in the Another Slice of H.A.M. quest. Changes like this aren't always so easy to implement, however, as Mod Woody explains. "It's difficult when we can't tell players all the reasons we make a change, particularly if it's not well received. We always want to be open with the players, but at the same time we have to ensure we aren't spoiling our plans for future content."

Concept art for one of the larger Summoning familiars.

It's alive! Alive!

While the Graphics team were busy creating concept artwork, Mod Wilson got started on bringing the NPCs to life "I started with chickens", he explains. As a first character test, code was borrowed from pet cats and the old Halloween zombies, creating a working version of an undead chicken. The code for this Fenkenstrain-like creation then became the basis for NPCs' artificial intelligence (AI). Once the AI was working (in a very rudimentary state), the first five prototype NPCs were put into production - the macaw, granite crab, gecko, dreadfowl and vampire bat.

These first five prototypes represented the beginning of the Graphics pipeline, which began with design ideas and concept art. When the first five had been conceived through Mod GG's concept sketches, they were then sent to modelling while he went on to concept five more. Once the modelling was complete, the NPCs were then animated – a process that involved more than a little 'method acting'. "It's kind of embarrassing", Mod Woody admits, "but we have to act things out. I had great fun doing the facial expressions of the pet monkey chat-heads. I looked at lots of videos of monkeys, and mimicked their expressions into a mirror on my desk". This process made the animations much more fluid and realistic, not just for the in-game movements, but also for the NPC chat-heads.

The target animation for one of the monkey chat-heads.

Amazingly, throughout the entire graphical development process, almost every single member of the Graphics team has worked on some aspect of Summoning, whether it was animating a new NPC, or simply adding some textures to an already existing model. In total, it took 12 months of solid, hard work to concept, model, and animate all of the new Summoning NPCs.

It's good to talk

Even when new RuneScape characters are designed, animated and coded, they still lack something vitally important that really brings them to life – chat!

"Creating the chat was probably the hardest part," says Mod Wilson, who was tasked with creating unique chat for over 70 familiars and pets. The challenge came in keeping the chat for so many NPCs interesting, and making them distinct enough from each other without relying on stereotypes. He continues: "For a quest NPC there's no problem with chat because you've got the topic of the quest to talk about."

After writing dialogue for around 50 Summoning NPCs, Mod Wilson passed the reigns over to Web Content, whose team of writers helped complete the chat for the remaining characters. "Mod Wilson had done an incredible job coming up with so much unique dialogue," says Web Content's Mod Kinder. "After being used to writing character chat for Postbag from the Hedge, it was a great change of pace for our team to be writing in-game dialogue."

Once all the work was complete, the word-count for the skill ended up exceeding an enormous 50,000 words! When asked about his favourite Summoning NPC, Mod Wilson answers immediately. "That's easy; my favourite familiar is the karamthulhu. It's just so amusing – this evil squid, in a fishbowl, attacking your enemies."

Which came first?

And now to that evolutionary conundrum: what came first, the chicken or the egg? In the case of Summoning, it was eggs that came before chickens, as Mod Mark explains: "When we initially concepted the bird nests, they were designed to add some variety to Woodcutting, similar to getting gems in Mining. The main aim was to add the tree seeds, but we also wanted to add other aspects, like shiny jewellery that a magpie may have stolen, or even an egg that a bird may have laid. At that point - back in the concept phase of the Farming skill - we knew that these special eggs would need to be used as part of the Summoning skill. So, although the skill went through a variety of different designs and focuses, the decision to add eggs in the skill was actually made almost three years ago!”

What purpose will these eggs have in Summoning? Find out soon!

As we come to the final stages of development, Mod Wilson has some parting words. "The scripting has gone smoothly, but most players are going to be more interested in how the skill looks...and the visuals are brilliant. The people that stick with the skill are going to get vast rewards."

Next week, we will release the second wallpaper in our Summoning series, followed a week later by the third of our Summoning Development Diaries, where we'll be exploring game testing with the Quality Assurance (QA) team, balancing and some other interesting things.

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