Opinion: “RuneScape” and Alexa, High Potential to Flop in a Gaming Medium
Amazon Echo Introduces Voice-Based RuneScape Adventure
The Amazon Echo, the home automation device dubbed Alexa, is trying its hand at playable games using the well-established “RuneScape” IP. The adventure, “RuneScape: One Piercing Note,” is available as a downloadable skill.
That’s right - even your home automation hardware can be utilized for games, and “Runescape” was the first willing to take the plunge.
Before titles like "World of Warcraft" and "Final Fantasy XIV" dominated the MMO genre, there was "Runescape." "Runescape" is a free-to-play, browser-based MMO originally released in 2001, competing with the original "Everquest." Set in the fictional fantasy world of Gielinor, “Runescape” is different from other titles in that players set off on their own and define their own game experience.
"Runescape" was originally designed as a MUD, but graphics were added early in development instead, a huge change in direction. MUDs were the text-based predecessors to the MMO genre, originating with “Colossal Cave Adventure” in 1975. Players use limited text-based commands to control their character and interact with NPCs.
Given its history, translating an adventure to voice-based actually does make sense from a design point of view. The only difference in ordering your character around and interacting with the world and the characters that reside in it is the medium. The Echo resurrected an older quest to test on the new device:
Showcasing dramatic voice acting and atmospheric music wrapped in compelling audio gameplay, One Piercing Note is adapted from a classic quest from the PC game. Players become the voice of a courageous adventurer, tasked with solving a murder at the Abbey of St Elspeth. The crime scene investigation soon takes a turn for the unusual as dark, demonic secrets are uncovered in the seemingly serene abbey. "Runescape" Official Site
However, that’s the extent to which I’m willing to forgive it. Speaking aloud for a game - and nothing else - is awkward in a way text isn’t. If you’re not the only one in hearing distance, particularly if you are the only one in the household who games, playing a game on Alexa has the potential to be super awkward. Other people are going to hear you, and depending on how loud you and Alexa are, possibly without the context necessary for the activity to make sense.
You’re also going to have to rely on memory in a way you didn’t have to before, even in MUDs. MUDs introductory text did disappear eventually as you moved and interacted, but it was both there in the first place and could be referenced later. Text can also be saved locally for quick reference. But with Alexa, you’re not going to have any of that at your disposal, even for the most basic introduction when you really need the information you’ve been given. Even if you do use your computer or pen/paper to take notes, it still relies on you, the user, doing extra work in order to play instead of staying within the chosen medium.
Even choosing an older quest, the Echo is targeting users who are already fans of “Runescape” and may even know it, biasing the type of feedback they receive. But maybe fans of “Runescape” were more likely to try it out anyway - it’s hard to say for sure.
While I’m not convinced the medium is appropriate for an RPG, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying … once. The game is free on the Echo (“Alexa, install the Runescape skill”), and developer Jagex is asking for feedback for those of you that do give the new-old adventure a shot.