Sunday, January 2, 2011

Interviews with Runescape Fan Sites: RuneScript and RuneTracker

Today's interview is with spling, founder, owner and one of the developers of RuneScript and RuneTracker. Both sites/tools are very popular amongst Runescape players. Enjoy!

Q: How would you describe your site in a few words?
A: RuneScript is an automated chat client ("bot") that analyses players hiscores to give helpful information related to RuneScape, including what you need to do to level up, experience gain tracking, rank lookups, skill planning, clan lookups, and much more. We also maintain RuneTracker.org, a website that tracks and graphs users' experience gains over time.
RuneScript's primary medium is IRC, but it can also be accessed with IM services as well as an applet on our website. (Sorry more than a few words.)

Q: Can you tell us about major milestones of your site? A little bit of a history?
A: RuneScript has been in development since April of 2005. In this time we have served over 335 million commands, and processed over 3.6 billion IRC messages. We have over 7000 registered users, and reach over 20,000 users daily. Our bot has over 100 commands available to use.

Q: What inspired you to start a Runescape fan site?
A: Our inspiration to start our site was another service of a similar nature on IRC. The bot "Genie" had already existed for a couple years when we started, but we took the concept to the next level with innovative features and a steady development pace.

Q: What were your original goals for the site?
A: Originally, we started our bot for a small group of people who wanted to have a RuneScape IRC bot on (what was) Tip.it's IRC network. When we started, the other bots of this type didn't connect to other IRC networks. Our goal was to simply bring those same features to our friends.

Q: Had your goals changed over time? If yes, how and why?
A: Yes. Originally we only created the bot for a small group of people. Once we started connecting our bot to other networks, it became a popular tool for many people. We began adding many more features and devising new and helpful ways to analyse user data. Our goals now are to continue to maintain our service and remain the best RuneScape IRC bot in the world. We're always trying to iron out any bugs, and we're constantly improving our features and adding new ones.

Q: Was it the first web site you ever created?
A: This is not the first community website that I have had the pleasure of administrating. However, it is the first one that I've specifically created myself. I have enjoyed the help of many very talented people and by no means is the success of our website a result of any one
person's efforts.

Q: What technologies were used to create the site? Did you add new technologies into the mix after you created the original version?
A: The bulk of our processing is done on IRC through mIRC's built in scripting engine, which is tied heavily into our PHP parsers and synchronization back end. We did have our fair share of scalability issues over the years but we're now running on a nice dedicated server with SoftLayer and managing our code changes through SVN.

Q: Is there a unique feature/service your site provides to Runescape players?
A: The very nature of our service is unique. Our request-response style of service gives players the ability to find information quickly and presented in a clear way. This allows for shorter interruptions while playing while still giving players the information they are looking for.

Q: Which feature/service took the most time and effort to create?
A: The back end of our service has gone through many changes over the years. The bulk of our development has been on improving, rewriting, and updating our back end as we grew in the last couple years, with scalability and optimization in mind. A lot of development time has gone into our experience tracking website RuneTracker, and keeping up to date on any false records that might pop up (due to rollbacks, name changes, or what have you.) A large chunk of the effort we've put into RuneScript is the compilation of our skill databases. Our [publicly available] databases are used to tell players what they can do in a specific skill, and how many of "x" they need to do for a level-up. All in all, RuneScript is made up of many small features that make up a large whole.

Q: Which feature/service was the most complex from the programming stand point?
A: From a programming standpoint, the most complex feature of our service is our synchronization server. This allows us to keep all of our databases synced between clients in real time, so that no matter which bot client you're using it will know who you are and what your settings were. The synchronization server also allowed us to create a web-panel for registered users that allows you to view and modify your RuneScript settings without being on IRC.

Q: Is there a feature/service of the site you are most proud of?
A: If I had to pin it on any one thing it would be the extensive documentation available on our website. More than anything I am proud of the fact that the RuneScript project has become a symbol of quality and professionalism. So much so that many people use RuneScript as the
benchmark to compare other IRC bots to. Complete online and inline help documentation, help channels, active forums, and clear and concise results play an important roll.

Q: Did you start the site alone or with friends?
A: The very basic framework was done by me, as well as most of the early features. However, given the technical inclination of the people who I was writing the bot for, it didn't take long for some of my friends to join me. Shout outs to Cruiser, Micksam7, Cynthia, Matt, Vulcan, Kyle, and the many others who have contributed to making RuneScript what it is.

Q: Are you the only developer of the site's code?
A: By far no. There are separate developers for many areas of our service. Most of our PHP and SQL work and nearly all server maintenance is done by Micksam7. Our code guru Cynthia is knowledgeable about many different areas and very involved in optimizations and maintenance to existing code. My areas of expertise are pretty much limited to mIRC scripting and a touch of PHP tweaking here and there, as well as project management. Last but not least Vulcan develops new features for the bot (and improves old ones) as well maintaining our existing parsers and creating new ones.

Q: How much time do you normally spend supporting the site? A few hours a day? A few hours a month?
A: For the most part there isn't too much support to be given. Our extensive help documentation allows a large amount of self-help for our users. On my lunch breaks I usually try to clear up the RuneTracker name change request queue. Support is also provided in our help channels from the developers and a handful of "RuneScript helpers" that can answer your questions. Bug reports are usually handled pretty quickly, and for the most part not many of our features require support.

Q: What is the most difficult/challenging task you have to do to maintain the site?
A: When someone changes to a name on RuneScape that has already been used, it is impossible for us to validate the name change automatically on RuneTracker. This is what we call a "soft fail," and it has to be reported to us so that we can split the old user off appropriately and complete the name change. These requests typically take a few minutes each, which can add up to a lot of time if we let it get too far behind!

Q: How many staff members do you have? How did you find/chose them?
A: There are currently 18 people who have staff access to RuneScript. However, some of them aren't very active in the project anymore but haven't been removed. There are currently 4 active developers. None of our staff have been added without proving their mettle. Usually, a person who is interested in becoming staff for RuneScript first becomes involved in our community. Contributions through suggestions, discussion during development, as well as becoming part of our community are all part of our staff selection process.

Q: Are there aspects of web site management you were able to completely delegate to others?
A: Yes. I don't handle any of the parsers or online help documentation. We have a separate team of people (currently Cowman_133 and deskjethp) that maintain the RuneScript help docs. Server administration, including the setup and configuration of our websites, forums, and various other services is handled by Micksam7.

Q: Did you even had to deal with hostility and/or attacks from other fan sites?
A: We've never had to deal with hostility from other fan sites, however we have suffered attempts at DoS attacks on our IRC network and IM services before.

Q: Did you ever consider making money with the site or is it just a hobby?
A: I never considered making money with RuneScript. There isn't a very good way to monetize a service that has low (read zero) entry cost, no unobtrusive ad delivery method, and a plethora of almost-as-good alternatives. For the first 4 and a half years our project was funded out of my pocket and through donations. However, I am happy to share that for the last 6 months we have actually been able to fully cover our costs with ad revenue, and start to offset our past losses. The vast bulk of our ad revenue comes from RuneTracker.

Q: What do you think about the current Jagex's fan sites support program? Do they do too much, too little? Is there something you'd wish would go differently?
A: Unfortunately, Jagex declined to recognize RuneScript as an official fan site. I am unable to comment on their program since I am not involved in it.

Q: Do you still play Runescape? If yes, how often?
A: I don't really play anymore. I log in once in a while to check out new updates and such, but mainly only the bare minimum to keep my project up to speed. I'm still a member, though!

Q: What kind of Runescape player are you? Which Runescape aspect is most appealing to you: quests, role-playing, skilling, pking, minigames etc.?
A: I'm the kind of RuneScape player that's more interested in the community surrounding the game. ;) When I do play I'm usually working on my skills.

Q: Are there other Runescape fan sites you personally use as a Runescape player?
A: I personally have always used Tip.it. My website started out as a spin-off from tip.it's chatroom. We're also affiliated with them - they share data with us the help make our service better because they use it, too!

Q: Is there something you don't mind revealing about your RL (age, country, hobbies etc.)?
A: LOL A/S/L!?!!1 22/M/Canada.


Thank you very much, spling!

4 comments:

spling said...

Cheers!

Alex said...

I love you Spling <3 Moar runetracker and trends info plz.

-A fanboy :D

NeobotXP said...

I love the interactive version!
It is fun to see the exact days I went on holiday, when I did revision, how long I was on the front page and how long I have managed to quit scape for at a time :D

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