Since 2001, an MMORPG Runescape has been – literally – running quietly in the background. Unlike most massive fantasy games, Runescape plays in your browser, so there’s no downloads, upgrades, and most importantly? It’s free to play… Which means a LOT of people play the game. Enough that the Guinness Book of World’s Records called it the world’s most popular online free MMORPG. Hey, it was that, or “Most Bicycles Eaten,” so take your pick.
The biggest, most fractious event in the game’s history, though, wasn’t some new upgrade, or a change from free to pay: it was the first Runescape novel “Betrayal at Falador,” written by T.S. Church, which looked into the back story of the game, and made a ton of subtle, tiny little changes as it fleshed out the mythology. The fans freaked out… Until they read the book. And liked it. So much, in fact, that a second book was commissioned, and will be hitting stores this week. To find out more, we talked to mysterious author T.S. Church about how he ended up essentially cold-calling Jagex, the makers of Runescape, and a little hint as to whether there will be a third novel (spoiler: yes, probably):
MTV Geek: We’re going to talk about the Runescape novels in a bit, but first… Who is T.S. Church? You seem to be pretty mysterious about your identity.
T.S. Church: It's not a deliberate choice in all honesty. And it's my real name too. No hiding under any aliases for me!
Geek: On your website, you say you went from business, to writing in your spare time, to writing the first two official Runescape novels. How’d that happen?
Church: I used to be a gamer a long time ago, before the age of the Internet. In 2006 I was working in a marketing agency and stumbled across RuneScape. It was interesting, seeing how the pen and paper role-playing I used to indulge in in my early teens had been adapted to the Internet. The interactive options between a novel and an online game had been something I had been thinking about for years beforehand in fact. Going back to my experiences as a youngster in the role-playing genre, I used to love the stories based on the world's I adventured in - they really brought the place alive. Then I thought, if it worked for them, then surely it will work for an online community too?
I wrote the draft version of Betrayal, initially calling it The Woodcutter's Daughter, in six months, a 1000 words a day. Then I had it printed and bound and we sent in copies to Jagex with a proposal.
Geek: Are you going to tell us what the S stands for? If not, we’re going to assume it’s, “Slytherin.”
Church: It's nothing quite so cool as that I'm afraid. It is in fact Sutherland. It comes from the Scottish side of the family on my grandmother's side. It's nothing to be embarrassed about . . . is it?
Geek: Okay, on to the novels – what was the fan reaction to the first one, particularly as it was “in continuity” for the game?
Church: When the novel was first announced, and before it had been made available, there were those who were highly critical of Jagex for going down this path. There are some fans who see anything outside the game itself as irrelevant and a minority of these took a hostile approach to it. But thankfully, when the books were available and actual reviews started coming in, the vast majority were happy with the read. We ended up with sixty-plus pages of reviews, the vast majority being very complementary.
Geek: What – to you – makes Runescape different from other fantasy worlds? You’ve said you’re a fan of Tolkien, so maybe using that as a point of comparison?
Church: RuneScape shares quite a few similarities with other fantasy worlds. It has to. It's a game and newcomers to it won't want to spend hours getting to know complicated situations. Therefore, in general, goblins are still the weaker foot soldiers of darkness, there is a pantheon of gods ranging from good to evil, and there are wizards and priests and monsters. However, RuneScape is delightfully subversive from there on in. If you play long enough you will find that not all goblins are bad for example. It is also written with a very distinct sense of humour that blends modern day trends/culture.
Geek: The first novel took place five years before the game… When does the new novel take place?
Church: Return to Canifis is set six months after Betrayal at Falador. The main characters have gone their separate ways to re-unite in the summer of the following year.
Geek: We know that we’re, er, returning to Canafis, just based on the title – but what else is coming up? What can you tell fans?
Church: The story will reveal more of Morytania and Mishtalin's eternal war. Also one character in particular will have his past fully explained. And in book 3, a direct sequel to book 2, there will be a great deal more explored on the other side of the Salve...
Geek: How much give and take – particularly since these are in-continuity – is there between the novels and the game?
Church: There are some necessary differences between the novels and the game. For example, distances is a key change that has been made in order for the books to be more realistic, and in general some things that work in the traditional gaming medium such as eating food to recharge your health isn't really applicable in the novels, or certainly not in the time taken at least. I know that if I tried to eat a lobster in under three seconds I would end up with a claw lodged in my throat.
Geek: Do you play Runescape yourself? If so, give us your stats.
Church: I have had an account for a long time - since 2006. I don't play as often as I did at the moment because I'm busily writing about it, and my visits in game are now more akin to fact-finding missions for future books and scene descriptions. As for my stats, I have a combat level of 73, and my highest skill is 69 - woodcutting. I used it early on in game to make money.
Geek: Lastly, what else is coming up for you? Are we going to see a third Runescape novel?
Church: I am in the process of doing that now. It's shaping up very nicely.
Read an exclusive excerpt from the latest Runescape novel, Return to Canifis -- hitting stores today from Titan Books -- below!