Jagex Laying Off the Java?

posted by on 30th January 2013, at 2:02am

Rest assured the coffee supplies at Jagex HQ will remain unchanged. This is Java of a whole different nature. (It’s probably best they stay caffeinated anyways)

For a gaming studio that derives its name from being Java Game Experts to announce a transition from that tried-and true programming language to an up-and-coming standard known as HTML5 may come as a shock to some. When Mod MMG let Runescape 3 out of the bag in a Live Q&A last year, news of the programming change that would accompany this release has stirred up quite a bit of speculation as to what this may mean in changes to RS. While there is still a lot of unknowns, it’s worth at least entertaining some ideas and making some wishes of what may be different in RS3. While I am no computer programmer, I will try to break down what a change in programming language could lead to; hopefully without getting too technical.

Java is a heavily used programming language for computers and many similar devices. This is largely due to the fact that because of the way Java is compiled, it can work on almost anything.  Android phones largely use Java technology, as do many browser applets and numerous other computer programs. Of course, Runescape uses it as well, with its own adaptation of Java known as Runescript. Runescript was created to allow Jagex employees that don’t know Java to be able to create content. Since the days of DeviousMUD, this language has been adapted and evolved to suit Jagex’s needs and with few major problems. This begs the question: Why the change now?

There are many rumors floating around as to why Jagex is moving away from Java and on to HTML5 and its WebGL graphics rendering, and to what extent they will benefit. Some speculations include: significantly less bots, less lag, and better graphics. Really, the truth of the matter is that none of this is necessarily true, at least, not simply due to the change in language.

Bots will sadly remain a burden that Jagex will have to pour more money into eradicating. Bots running via color finding won’t be affected at all. Script embedded bots merely have to adapt the coding from Runescript to C++ or whatever variant Jagex will use and they are back on board as well. It may very well be easier for bots to run and get back running after updates, unless Jagex does some heavy scrambling of the game’s coding. Even then, it’s only a matter of time until solutions are found and we’re back to where we were on this issue. So that’s a negative on bot busting.

Limiting lag has always been something Jagex has battled. Fact is, graphic induced lag won’t be improved much, as most of us are already running what we’d be running in HTML5 – WebGL. The only thing that may improve is adding multi-core support, but Jagex could do this now if they so choose. As far as server lag, there would also be no improvement. Based on what I gathered from all the sources I searched, Java and HTML5’s engines that read and execute the coding are nearly equally as fast.

So really, what benefit is there for Jagex to go through such effort? For starters, rolling this out under a new name will probably entail even more back end changing  similar to what we saw for the move from RS2 to RSHD, in that Jagex will have to do some extensive code rewriting or even writing code from scratch. This will surely provide opportunity to clear cluttered and archaic code from back in olden times, which will possibly speed up updating in the future and alleviate old code bits from acting up and creating bugs. Secondly, it’ll allow us to move away from Java’s Swiss cheese security. Even at the time of writing, Jagex just released another warning of a threat in Java that allows it to be exploited. Jagex has tried very hard to make Runescape safe and secure, but if the platform has holes, there’s no hope in keeping threats to a minimum. HTML5 does away with plugins, and runs within the browser and nothing else. This will at least make using Runescape safer and allow us to turn off Java support if we don’t need it elsewhere because frankly it’s getting scary to continue to use.

The move to HTML5 for graphics will probably be less exciting than you’d think. As I said, we are already running OpenGL which is what graphic rendering we would have. Sure, we see draw sight increased, but graphically, nothing else based on what Jagex has shown us will improve. RuneTek 7, Jagex’s newest game engine, which is bundled to roll out with RS3, will dictate what can be done more so than HTML5. However, the switch does allow for something that may become very important: vectorization. This is when an image can be shrunk or zoomed in without distorting the picture. Let’s say Jagex wants to shrink pictures down, perhaps the entire field of view,  to be displayed on a smaller screen. This leads to the major reason Jagex must be making the switch.

What about multi-platform and mobile gaming? It’s the only real reason why this much work would be put into this. Jagex wants to make the move to consoles and tablets. I say with confidence that we’ll see Runescape at least accessible on such devices within a year of RS3 being released. HTML5 is expected to be supported by all browsers shortly, meaning it can be brought up on practically all internet accessible devices. You could even be playing RS on your smart-toaster; that’s the kind of accessibility we’re talking about.

Of course, there’s still so much unknown that isn’t being revealed to us yet. In typical fashion, what other improvements will be made are staying close to Jagex’s chest. The switch to HTML5 is just one of many changes that will roll out with RS3. Significant improvements via RuneTek 7,  the release of two new skills, and a buff in graphics will probably overshadow whatever improvements we see as a result of a game coding change, but that’s how it should be. If all goes well, players should notice the upfront changes and be blissfully unaware of what goes on in the backend.

What is important to note that in doing this, Jagex will have the first major game, let alone the first MMO to be running in HTML5. They will make the jump from being looked down upon for being Java-based to being propelled into really uncharted territory as far as gaming is concerned. Jagex will actually be (*gasp!*) ahead of the curve for once. It’s a dangerous place to be, however. HTML5 is still being finalized and accepted. There’s speculation that the language won’t be widely accepted and recommended as the replacement to HTML4 until 2014. With so much still uncertain, Jagex is taking a risk. There’s potential for unforeseen achievements, but room for catastrophic missteps as well. With this, Runescape will remain a game ever changing and pushing the limits of what its scripting language is originally thought to allow. Let’s just hope Jagex doesn’t change one thing about this – their mind.

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