Here in dear old Blighty, we don't really do "geek" culture too well. Our attempts at comic or science fiction conventions rarely stray beyond the realm of Doctor Who, and people's attempt at dressing as a fantasy character usually involve a lot of cardboard, some suspect needlework, and an over-arching message of "I just can't be that arsed". In Britain we just don't do fandom to the extent as you Yanks do; it's just not our forte. That is, except for RuneFest.
In the dying days of October however, things were different. Dotted along the banks of the River Thames are the sights and diminishing glory of a once great empire. We have the tradition of the Westminster buildings, the grandeur of Tower Bridge, the military splendour of HMS Belfast, and for one weekend only, a unicorn. From the 29th to 30th of October, RuneFest hit London, bringing with it scores of MMO fans, each sporting capes, excitement, and enough cardboard weaponry to take on the best of 'em. Equipping my best journalist cap, and with notepad clasped firmly in hand, I went in to have a look.
Live from London
RuneScape is recognised as the world's most popular F2P MMO, and in keeping with such lofty claims, their annual event reflected such gaming clout. Taking up residence in the Old Billingsgate Market, the convention was a huge, multi-floored celebration of all things Rune-related. The lobby area of the building was a fantastical creation, reflecting the games own market areas; medieval tents were erected, as well as tree house cocktail bars, rustic pie vendors, and a plethora of mini-games and distractions littering the opening floor of the event.
To compliment the amount of RuneScape fantasy brought to life, in-game characters wandered around playing music, interacting with the expectant crowd, and generally lending an air of magic to the occasion. Of course spending a good majority of time sat upon a hay-bale eating pie only gave me limited vision, but I can assure you, for the pastry offerings alone, this was a good time.
Moving up stairs and the Jagex team had assembled a miniature art gallery displaying visuals from the game, and next to this sat the most amazing cake I have ever seen (largely this event made me hungry). Made by Charm City Cakes, this hulking behemoth of sponge and icing portrayed a castle/citadel complete with characters, fairy tree houses, and all manner of effects. Truly one of this most spectacular creations that I have ever wanted to eat.
Moving further upstairs and the areas opened out into a small seating area in which developers and fans could sit down and talk future development for RuneScape. Throughout the day designers such as Chihiro Yamada, Mark Ogilvie, and more, sat with the game's community discussing ideas and concepts, whilst taking notes. While we can only guess that most requests were the wild ravings of someone who wants a flying dinosaur pet, it is interesting to see the dev-team interacting and taking note of what its audience wants.
Further highlights on this floor were the VIP gaming areas where players could sit down and play RuneScape live at RuneFest, thus engaging in an orgy of Jagex, and also the Fairy bar. One of the most surreal experiences of my life came from interviewing COO of RuneScape, Daniel Clough, whilst perched upon a mushroom listening to a rather fetching young lady play harp nearby. This fantastical area was as bright and vibrant as you may expect for fairy-kind, and if I didn't move along to try my hand out the Halloween crafting rooms, I may have stayed there forever.
But dazzling sights and attractive musicians can only keep us occupied for so long, and it was onto the presentations that the developer had laid on throughout the day. Taking place in a huge stage area, the RuneFest presentations received the sort of applause an attendance reserved for most rock 'n' roll performers. Co-creators Andrew and Paul Gower stepped onto stage with the thundering ovation normally reserved for U2, and the presentations themselves where techni-colour affairs, filled with trailers, announcements, and interesting discussion of the game.
One of the most attention-grabbing sessions within this area was the live creation of an in-game monster. Audience members could vote for the creature’s race, body form, accessories, and colour palette, and when this poll-taking finished, a designer could be seen sketching it out and creating whilst the presentation proceeded. It was a truly riveting insight to the development behind such creatures, and given that this will end up within the game, a delight for the assembled fans.
After taking in many presentations, it was time to head downstairs and to the dungeon area of the building. Set within the cavernous basement was the great gaming pit, dedicated to RuneScape playing, and live tournaments. Another highlight was that of the Dungeoneering exhibit, in which players could involve themselves in physical adventure, more of which is explained in another article coming up this week.
RuneFest was quite simply an amazing feast for the eyes, ears, fingertips, and gaming mind. Those who play the game got the chance to gain real insight into its development, whilst also actively adding to it with suggestions, feedback, and even voice-recording booths. An event with real splendour, it makes you proud to be British.
It may not be Blizzcon, it may not have the Foo Fighters growling up the place, but it did have a man in an afro strutting around in sunglasses shouting things about Lumbridge. I say Tomay-toe, Tomah-toe. I can't wait for RuneFest 2012.