Hoo boy, I'm sure this isn't going to be a controversial one. This quest looms surprisingly large, considering how new it is (we just passed its six-month questiversary at time of writing), because it was the first quest released in almost a year (nine months between it and Desperate Times), and it was seen as something of a disappointment. But let's do this properly.
We begin by talking to Peter, in Rimmington.
Off to a good start. Okay, Peter: what didn't you do?
...I'm sorry, what in Guthix's name is a King Slime? This moment gets to the heart of what annoys me the most about this quest: I don't mind that it's short, that it's low-levelled, or that it's free-to-play (I'd have killed for a quest meeting those criteria back when I was first playing the game). I'm not even annoyed that it's canonizing a Treasure Hunter promotion. What annoys me is that the foundation of the quest is a time-limited event that I have no way of experiencing. And I don't mean this hypothetically: I, Xurdones, was not playing Runescape when the King Slime TLE happened. I only know what King Slime is because of the semi-recurring Treasure Hunter promo featuring him. As far as I'm concerned, this quest is built on nonsense.
I'm only slightly mollified by the fact that the quest gives a summary of the TLE for people like me, because it means that the King Slime TLE is now relevant story content I will never be able to experience. That's a piece of lore, not a big piece but still a piece, that is permanently unavailable to me. As a lorehound, this vexes me greatly. I feel similarly about the World Events, but at least remnants of those exist in the world: I can go and watch the cutscenes from them, and go play Cabbage Facepunch Bonanza. I'm not permanently locked out of that lore content. But I am with King Slime.
Okay, rant over, back to the quest. King Slime is back and, despite the fact that he seems to be just sitting there, the people of Rimmington would rather he be somewhere else. So, how are we going to accomplish that? Peter's plan is to acquire a Queen Slime from...somewhere:
...that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
Well said, Twoie. Unfortunately Peter was pretty sure we'd love the idea, so he already went ahead and...made(?) Queen Slime. Despite the absurdity of the dialogue, I actually kind of love the comedy of this scene: Twoie takes a moment to try and soothe Peter's hurt feelings and come up with a better plan, meanwhile a massive pink gloop is shuffling past in the background. It's a good joke, and well-timed, and I found the moment overall very effective. It's just a shame it had to happen in this quest, of all things.
Also, sidenote: how was Peter able to acquire a Queen Slime? For that matter, where did King Slime come from? I feel like these are questions that were answered in the TLE, which just makes me mad about that again.
Sidenote to the sidenote, I checked the wiki and discovered that the TLE did, in fact, reveal that Peter created King Slime via crimes against food preparation, so it's reasonable that he could have created a Queen Slime in a similar fashion (though how gender applies to either of these creatures, or how Peter could have influenced gender deliberately, is not addressed). This is extremely obliquely explained in the quest itself, but is presented so cryptically that I don't think you'd catch it unless you already knew it, meaning that this question is left completely unanswered by the narrative for anyone who didn't participate in the TLE like, oh, say, for example, me. This continues to vex.
Anyway. Now that we're kind of stuck following Peter's plan, we need to know the next steps: this apparently involved getting King Slime dressed up for his date, by finding him a top hat. Fortunately this doesn't require Hard treasure trails, merely going to see Thessalia in Varrock. Okay, I can do that.
That is a damned lie, but I don't mind it so much because it's really just narrative contrivance disguised as background storytelling. It's more in-your-face than the Yeti Village sign from last time, but it fulfills the same function; it doesn't irk me as much as the King Slime TLE largely because I know it was never intended to be larger than this one reference. But there are another couple of nuggets in this conversation that I want to draw attention to:
- Thessalia calls attention to how big of a deal the King Slime event was to Gielinor, which just renews my irritation at the event for locking me out of it. It's also a bit annoying because it's presenting this TLE as being World Event-scoped, which is frankly ridiculous
- I didn't get a screenshot, more's the pity, but there's a very oblique reference in this dialogue to Peter creating King Slime. But I'm not retracting my earlier rant, because I don't think I'd have caught it if I hadn't already known what it was referring to; it relies on a lot of contextual information about Peter as a character, which is not well-established in the narrative so far, so I think it would go over most people's heads unless they got the reference
Hat in hand, I'm now back to Rimmington. I feel like I should mention at this point that Peter's plan feels especially pointless, because King and Queen Slime are separated by like twenty feet of space:
Surely they can see each other from this distance, yeah? They probably don't need our intervention to get acquainted, fall in love, and do...whatever it is slime royalty do for fun?
Whatever. I guess this can be explained by Scale Theory, except not really because Rimmington is supposed to be a small town as it is, and I struggle to imagine these two not being aware of each other. But whatever, let's move on.
Peter is unimpressed with the top hat we've acquired for him...I think?
This is another joke I quite like, actually. I particularly appreciate how Twoie has the "happy" chathead here; there's a (possibly unintentional) sense that she's barely holding onto civility, and is about to snap the guy in two. I like it, because I'm also pretty annoyed with Peter at present.
Basically, he thinks the top hat is too big. How a giant top hat is too big for a gigantic slime monster is a question Twoie doesn't think to ask Peter, so nevermind. We need to go to Thessalia to get a smaller one, amongst...other things...
Okay, I try to avoid crudeness in these posts (this is a lie, but pretend for me), but in my defence the game itself calls attention to this innuendo.
Back to Thessalia, and she's as perplexed as I am that Peter wants a smaller hat for the giant gloop:
And, alas, but Thessalia has no normal-sized top hats. I mean, in fairness to Peter I think it's a forgivable assumption: Thessalia deals in fine clothes for humans, not for building-sized abominations, so it seems entirely reasonable that she'd have normal-sized top hats for sale. Luckily, she has an alternative for us: someone named Eva, who has set up a shrinking machine in East Varrock. We can use the giant top hat on that to get a smaller top hat. Bit roundabout, but it's true to Runescape's adventure game roots so I'll allow it.
...well this bodes well, doesn't it?
Yep, this is going to go great. Eva is keen to let me try out her shirnking machine, but says that I need to calibrate it. How do I do that? Randomly! Seriously, that's what she says; alas I didn't take a screenshot, but she literally tells me to just try random combinations until it works. Okay, let's see what we're dealing with...
...what the fuck, game?
This is the interface for the only puzzle in this quest: a (barely) repurposed dialogue choice window, repeated six times. After we make six selections, we're told how many out of six we got right, and then we have to enter them again, and again, and again, until the game can be persuaded to continue.
Brief diversion: I'm an occasional fan of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, most famous for the Zero Punctuation series of caustic video game reviews. Before he started making Youtube videos, he was an indie game developer (still is, in fairness), and made his name making point-and-click adventure games in the LucasArts/Sierra model. However, at a certain point in his development career he got bored of adventure games, and wanted to branch out; one of his attempts at different gameplay styles was called "Adventures in the Galaxy of Fantaboulous Wonderment", a space exploration sim in a similar vein to Frontier Elite: you fly around a sci-fi galaxy trading goods and fighting pirates, and there's an adventure game-style story threading everything together.
The trouble is that, at this stage of his life, the only game development tool he was familiar with was an adventure game engine, and he was (by his own admission) to lazy and/or stubborn to learn anything more flexible, so he created GFW in this adventure game engine. Consequence: all of the space exploration management interactions (buying/selling commodities, ship upgrades, etc.) is access through dialogue trees. Massive, sprawling, enormously tedious to navigate dialogue trees. I've never played the game myself, but I've watched Let's Plays of it (here's Yahtzee himself doing a playthrough, with his friend Gabriel Morton now of Keep 'et Classy), and it looks nearly unplayable. The dialogue tree interfaces are so incredibly inconvenient to navigate, and you have to do it so much in the course of the game.
Yahtzee can be forgiven for this poor design decision, because he made the game completely on his own, code and art and all, when he was in his early 20s. Jagex, on the other hand, is a massive game studio with dozens of experienced developers and artists on their payroll. If this quest was released in 2005, or 2008, I'd have been miffed but let it slide; call it a teachable moment. But this quest came out in 2020. This interface is unforgivable for a quest released in 2020.
Actually, that's not entirely true. 2020 has been a strange year, with the pandemic and the massive work-from-home shift. That's disruptive to operations, and I'd be willing to forgive quite a lot if this quest had been released early in that period of confusion and (I would have to imagine) reduced capabilities for employees. But this quest was released in February, long before the UK instituted mandatory work-form-home. So, sorry Jagex, you don't get the benefit of the doubt on this one.
There's no justification for this except thriftiness, which is very obviously the throughline of this quest: there are almost no new assets (and several of the "new" models are just palette swaps of existing models, see Queen Slime herself for instance), few if any new animations, and clearly no new interfaces.
Let me clear: I don't mind Jagex trying to save money on quests; the economics of them is not good, and I appreciate them doing what they can to keep making them despite that. But they can do that and still have a good quest, or at least a quest that doesn't feel insulting to the player: Curse of the Black Stone was consciously designed to re-use as many assets as possible, and it's a good quest (though I disliked it for the PVM, but that's a "me" problem not an "it" problem). You Are It is another that heavily reuses assets, as does Sliske's Endgame of all things. You can make quests that engage players, without condescending to them, without spending massive buckets of money on new environments, animations, models, whatever. Not everything has to be Plague's End.
But it shouldn't be this, either.
Okay, I've gone and worked off some of my frustration, and I'm back now. Let's finish this up, quick as we can. No additional guidance is provided for how to calibrate the shrinking machine, or if there was I was too angry to go looking for it, so I start out just mashing options randomly. Apparently I got 2 of 6 correct. The way to solve this puzzle is to start with a random pattern, then change one option until the number of correct answers changes. If the number goes up, you know you've got that one right and don't have to touch it again; if the number goes down, you know you had it right last time and don't have to touch it again; if it stays the same, you know it's still not right and needs to be changed.
That's tedious, but since there are only six panels and at most three choices per panel, it's not that annoying. I still took a shortcut, though, because I happened to remember that the first letters of the correct choices spell out "SHRINK." That's almost cute, but it's the kind of easter egg that's hard to pick up on until you've either already finished or very nearly finished, so I don't give points for it. Now that we've got the shrunken top hat, we go back to Peter and get King Slime all dolled up for his date. Unfortunately, Queen Slime takes one look at the King and decides to nope right out of dodge, so we're back to where we started.
You said it, Twoie.
At this point Peter has the bright idea to try talking to Queen Slime, to figure out what her problem is. Rather than braining him and sorting this problem out sensibly, which is sadly not an option, Twoie reluctantly agrees. Alas Queenie isn't very talkative, but we do acquire a lump of pink slime from her. At this, Peter has another I-hesitate-to-use-the-word-idea:
This "makes sense" in the same way homeopathy makes sense, but I'm too
drunk tired to argue, so let's do it. What follows is an unbelievably frustrating warm-cold puzzle, which as far as I can tell has only four states:
- Cold, i.e. you've left Rimmington and are on completely the wrong track
- Tepid, i.e. you're within Rimmington
- Warm, i.e. you're standing next to Hetty's house, which is the actual solution
- Hot, i.e. you're standing inside Hetty's house and next to her cauldron
It is, in fact, the cauldron that's the solution to the puzzle. What's frustrating here is that there's no feedback about where we should be looking other than "not here", so the only solution is to examine the slime while standing at random points within the town. I seem to recall Making History using a similar mechanic, but in that quest's defence it came out in 2005; there are 15 years of lessons on game design being ignored to use that same mechanic in this quest.
Once we've identified the cauldron there's no further feedback on what we should do, so I use the bucket Peter gave me (oh yeah, Peter gave me a bucket. Why did he do this at the time? Don't worry about it) on the cauldron, and fill it with whatever Hetty's cooking up. Back to Peter, who has the gall to seem surprised that this actually worked.
Clearly he was not, which begs the question of why he told us to do it in the first place. But no time for that, we have to proceed to the next phase of the plan, which is apparently to splash King Slime with the contents of the bucket. This succeeds in getting Queenie interested in him...and she responds by eating him.
This is actually a scene I kind of liked, because the focus is on Peter and Twoie, and we don't actually see King Slime get devoured; we see the aftermath, of Queen Slime re-coloured as a green/pink blend, but the actual devouring is experienced entirely through Peter and Twoie's expressions. It's a good way to save money (because you don't need to animate the more complex scene) while also letting our minds fill in the horror of what actually happened. It's effective, or it would have been if I wasn't thoroughly done with this quest.
After this, Twoie is more than slightly upset at Peter, but he notes that Queen Slime appears to have left after eating her erstwhile partner.
How could you possibly know this? This is actually the potential for really interesting storytelling: Peter displays frankly absurd confidence in knowing how these slime monsters will behave, and he's invariably correct in his assumptions. So...does Peter speak Slime? Is he controlling them somehow? I'd kind of like this to be revisited with Peter as a straight-up villain, which is how he comes across already in a lot of these interactions. Just, give the quest a bigger budget, yeah?
But, as Peter notes, Queen Slime didn't eat all of the King:
Returning to the notion of Peter as a villain, why do I get the feeling this was his plan all along? That he orchestrated all of this just so he could get a swell hat to up his dating game? I repeat: I want a sequel to this quest where Peter is explicitly a villain.
And that's it, quest complete.
Structurally this isn't a bad quest; it's short, it's very back-and-forth (ping-ponging you from Rimmington to Varrock and back again), but it's not horrible on those grounds. It's strange and silly, but that's perfectly fine. Where the quest falls apart are some questionable narrative decisions, a very patchy plot, and treating the audience with total gibbering contempt. I already discussed the issue I have with the obvious corner-cutting, but here's another issue I had:
In a post on the RSBandB blog, Cireon went off on the Desperate Times quest for railroading the player down a particular solution against the logic of the actual player character; his complaint was (and I'm condensing wildly) that in Desperate Times the game forces us to trust Kerapac even though Cireon the character has no good reason to do so, and Cireon the player very obviously does not. That problem is on display in Once Upon a Slime a hundred times over, because in this quest our character doesn't just lack a reason to trust Peter, they're audibly and explicitly protesting the plan every step of the way. So...why are we going along with it? Because this is a video game, and we're not allowed to do whatever we want.
This is not good game design, and it's not good storytelling. But I'm done talking about why. I'm done with this quest.
More smaller quests. More quests that don't involve the world ending, and can focus on small stories within the world. More silly quests. I like all of these things. Just have some respect for your audience, for fuck's sake.
Coda: Xurdtwos, the Adventurer
Changing gears, this quest marks the end of the Pathfinder section of the Quest List. Xurdtwos is officially an Adventurer! Let's have a quick skill check:
Not bad, not bad. Most of that, of course, is thanks to the August DXPW and the absurd quantity of Protean items I won off Treasure Hunter, but I'll take it all the same. You'll note that I haven't trained either Divination or Archaeology at all; that's a conscious decision, because part of the conceit of this series is to follow the narrative timeline of the world. To put it another way, Twoie is still in the Fifth Age, and those two skills are both explicitly Sixth Age skills. So they don't exist yet, for her. It'll be quite a while before we get to them, too.
Twoie has 66 Quest Points, which so far have been spent on pieces of the Outfit of Trials (though I may switch to the Hub track soon, because that bank chest right by the Varrock Lodestone is much more useful to me right now than T25 hybrid armour).
Next time: What's Mine Is Yours, the rework of Doric's Quest. See you than!
Follow-up: How Much Do I Hate Slime? Let Me Count The Ways
Actually, one other thing first: I have more Slime complaints to make!
So I was talking earlier about the dreadful interface in the shrinking machine puzzle. I was talking about it quite extensively, in fact, and I came up with what I feel to be the optimal strategy for how to solve it.
Well, the second-most optimal strategy. The optimal strategy is, of course, to look up the solution on the wiki. But assuming you actually wanted to solve the puzzle, what's the best way to do it? I submit that the most logical strategy is this: first, choose six answers at random. You'll find out how many are correct, remember this number. Next, for each question, do the following: choose a different answer than what you chose before, leaving the rest the same. If the number of correct answers go up, then you know you got the correct answer and can move on (and never change this answer again). If the number goes down, you knew you had it in the last attempt, and can move on (never changing it from the last-but-one value). If the number stays the same, repeat.
I'm a professional programmer; I have a degree in computer science. My intuition suggests that algorithm is optimal. But is it really? I'm also a massive nerd, so I wrote some code to check.
If you're a programmer-y person, the code I used can be found here (I appreciate that it's not the most beautiful code in the world, but I knocked this out over my lunch break so cut me some slack).
For the non-programmers, I captured my strategy in code and ran a million trials. I also captured the degenerate case: the "guess randomly every time until it works" case, and also ran it a million times. Each trial counted how many "guesses" I made (i.e. how many times we got an answer from the game about how many correct answers). Here are the results:
The top chart is my strategy, the bottom is the random strategy. The top chart is more instructive: it's showing that you're most likely (~18%) to get the solution in exactly 11 attempts, but that more than half the time you'll get it in 10 or less. Worst-case scenario is 15 guesses (~0.5% chance).
The bottom chart is, unfortunately, very hard to read, so I had to do some additional number-crunching in Excel (I could have just run the test again with more buckets in the histogram, but it look like an hour so nuts to that). Following the total randomness strategy, there's a 50% chance you'll get it within 150 attempts, and a 5% chance you'll get it within 11. Interestingly, you're most like to get it in only two attempts, but that was the case in ~4600 out of a million, so your chances are still not great. The other downside is that, randomness being what it is, the random strategy could potentially take you infinite guesses, which is, shall we say, not ideal. Fun fact, the longest single attempt on this run was 3004 guesses.
So I guess that answered my question: my strategy is better than bogosort. This continues to be my shocked face.
All studies have limitations, and this one is no different. There are a couple of behavioural things I wasn't able to effectively model in code.
For one thing, I couldn't very easily model someone being a clever clogs and independently noticing that the first letters of the options could be used to spell out the word "SHRINK." That's pretty tough to model.
The other thing I didn't model was the game giving you hints. I used the Wiki transcript of the quest to collect the set of possible options for the machine, and I discovered that Eva gives you a hint after three failed attempts; she says:
Hmm.... I'm sure the correct configuration had at least something to do with the machine's intended functionality...
This is a pretty opaque hint, but I guess it would have to be, otherwise it would be too simple. Following my strategy from above, you have only about a 1.3% chance of getting the right answer within three guesses, so would this be enough to get you the answer in four or five? I don't know, maybe.
I'm not really sure what the point of this journey was, but thank you for coming with me on it.