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If you were playing Runescape back in 2007, you probably heard of Moparscape. Almost 15 years after launch, it still gets mentioned in various player communities, but very little information has been preserved from the golden era. A lot of people don’t know what Moparscape was all about, and the name has incorrectly become synonymous with “Runescape private servers.”
Thankfully, I played it, along with several successive private server clients. The purpose of this post is to reconstruct some history, relive some funny moments, and help make preserve this relic of Runescape’s past.
Note: I’ve done this type of research for a myriad of topics. I like preserving niche history. I’m happy to collaborate with others to help grow this article. One addition I will make here is that if you’re a Runescape Youtube content creator and you’re wanting to use this article to make a video, give me a heads up!
Really, What was Moparscape?
Moparscape was a client built to access Runescape private servers. As far as I know, it was the first software of its kind available for RS2, the most popular version of the game engine which launched in mid-2004.
The Moparscape domain was registered on June 3rd, 2006. By my estimation, the project started getting popular around December 2006. It was a desktop app that opened to the old Runescape login screen with a Mopar car in the background, playing the original Doom theme. As a kid, this was cathartic. You knew you were about to do something “bad” so to be met with an electric guitar riff instead of the melodic medieval Runescape theme was unforgettable. Memorable to the point that anyone who never played Doom would still recognize this as “the Moparscape song.”
It was difficult to find a legitimate download of Moparscape; it was even harder to actually access the private servers. Remember, a huge chunk of the player base at that time was 12 or 13 so the technical knowledge was minimal. After I finally found a copy of the software, I remember having to install some type of LogMeIn server application just to try to connect to one of the advertised servers.
When that didn’t work, I did what everyone else did. I just logged into the local Moparscape game. From what I remember, it was a late-2006 rip of the game where you’d spawn near the Varrock mine. It was single player. While it appeared to be an accurate copy of the game, any interactions that involved motion didn’t seem to work well. Even things such as opening and closing doors or NPC animations seemed to have been lost.
The most exciting part of Moparscape was the in-game scripting language that allowed you to execute commands. You could spawn monsters, change your skills, spawn your favorite items, and walk through walls. If you’ve ever seen old screenshots displaying absurd amounts of wealth, there’s a good chance they originated in Moparscape.
Nice Moparscape LOLCommon refrain for circa 2008 bank videos
Moparscape bank pictures became infamous in part because, over time, the Runescape UI was updated. Moparscape wasn’t. It’s easy to look back on a picture now and say “that looks real but must be really old.” If you were an active player at the time, something missing in the UI would be an obvious sign. There were more subtle tells that more experienced players could sniff out whenever jokers posted their full banks (which was common). I don’t think that the boots from the Stronghold of Security (released mid-2006) were present in Moparscape. Yet, every single player in the game had them. So if you saw a “new” mid-2007 bank picture without the boots, it was likely a Moparbank.
Many people have such a strong memory of their very first time playing Moparscape. Why is this? The adolescent brain would be tricked and you’d find yourself overwhelmed by dopamine when you finally were able to wield that barrows gear and party hat while admiring your level 99 skills. Then, quickly, reality would set in. There was no sense of accomplishment or achievement. No PvP, no high scores, no friends. The base game barely worked without a connection to Jagex’s servers. A lot of people just snapped a screenshot and logged off.
I’m sure that, in the same era, there were plenty of kids having fun playing Elder Scrolls: Oblivion only to lose any sense of accomplishment once they found out you could cheat within the single-player game. Achieving anything on Moparscape was fleeting in much of the same way.
Did Anyone Actually Play Moparscape Servers?
Moparscape was a primitive client which allowed you to connect to other private servers. My remembrance is that this was difficult, sometimes requiring installing 3rd-party server tools and opening ports in your firewall. I never actually played a Moparscape server. I’m sure they existed, because I remember seeing lists of them and I remember trying to access them. However, in talking to my friends and scouring the internet, I can’t find video evidence of anyone playing on a Moparscape private server back in the 2006-2008 era of Runescape.
What’s the Purpose of Private Servers?
As far as I’m aware, Moparscape was the first attempt to build a clone of the game. Now, when I say “build,” it wasn’t like these guys programmed it themselves. They did some type of reverse engineering that provided them with static assets and included some parts of the game engine. Still a feat and you’d still need serious programming ability, but whoever created Moparscape wasn’t a prodigy.
The original developers probably didn’t set out to build and distribute a private server. They probably started by looking for something else–exploits or hacks that they could use in the main version of Runescape. Inspecting whatever code they had access to likely provided some insights. Having a working copy of the game provided a sandbox to test out theories and other exploits free from the watchful eye of Jagex, but also free from the server-side goodies that would underpin the big stuff.
Most obviously, we’re talking about duping or PK-anywhere bugs, which are considered the crown jewels of Runescape’s historical glitches.
My guess would be that Moparscape was created by people who originally had bad intentions. At some point, they decided to go all-in on the private server thing. Blatant copyright infringement probably isn’t the best business model, but it’s also possible that the founding team had a grander vision to build a better community. That didn’t happen. Keep in mind that it was 2006, people were more intrinsically motivated back then.
The founders and those who hosted private server lists sites definitely collected fees for higher placements on the lists. I’d imagine there was a huge amount of corruption surrounding the ordering of those lists.
Anyone hosting their own private server attempted to profit by structuring an economy based on donations and premium membership. You’d pay someone on Paypal for premium membership or you’d just “transfer” some of your wealth from the main game to a representative from the private server. Ultimately, we had these two basic forms of real-world or real-game/private-server swap trading that wasn’t particularly sustainable.
Most servers were centered around PvP activities and there was no guarantee that the server would even be running the next day. Some sold moderator positions for relatively low sums of money. A corrupt mod could often just steal your items. I’m sure some server hosts did have revenues in the thousands of dollars but I have no proof of this.
Why even play on a private server? Why not just play the real game? For a private server participant, playing someone else’s version of Runescape could be much more than a novelty. On other private servers that I played, there were thriving PKing communities. It was a fun way to practice without risking expensive gear in the real game. Also, there were some that had fully implemented skilling except with boosted experience rates. By implementing some rules and regulations, they effectively created spinoffs of the main game.
Were There Clients Other Than Moparscape?
Yes, and the servers I played later into 2008 and 2009 had their own dedicated clients. In comparison, Moparscape could connect to any number of “private servers.” The other providers had clients that more seamlessly connected to custom-built servers.
Rather than just being an open sandbox, most servers were quite focused and had PvP elements. It was pretty cool to log in and have all these different NPCs in Edgeville or even in Yanille selling PKing gear.
What was really unique was that these servers could take on lives of their own. An owner could change the rules and alter gameplay however he wanted. This was especially significant when free trade or PvP combat in the wilderness was removed from Runescape. There was a time during which some amount of the player base had moved on to private servers. While still being able to PK certainly scratched the itch, it’s likely that many found the experience to be fleeting. For me, it was often a Saturday afternoon binge every few months and never equaled the fun I had in the real game, even as gameplay began to diverge.
More about specific private servers at the conclusion of this article.
What are the Risks of Private Servers?
One of the most prevalent sayings about Moparscape and other servers was that they were inherently dangerous. I think this is somewhat exaggerated but many risks were present!
When you logged in to Moparscape or any private server for the first time, you’d probably reflexively enter your real Runescape username and password. Well, if you were twelve years old. This makes you vulnerable to phishing attempts. Simply, even when playing the game in single-player mode, there could be a process running in the background that sent your username and password to a guy sitting in a basement waiting to steal your real account. Totally possible but so easy to protect yourself against that I’d refuse to believe that this was a central point of why the software was released. The private server community did not arise out of a desire to phish people.
The next risk is for someone running or distributing a private server. Jagex could afford a high-powered legal team. They regularly would shut down sites that distributed the Moparscape software. It was risky to host your own server and during certain stretches of time, it became difficult to even find the software to download. I remember having to dig really deep to find it. Granted, I was basically a child and this was before people defaulted to Google for search. Weird times.
Was it illegal to be in possession of a “cracked” version of the game? Probably. Was it illegal to distribute a cracked version of the game? Definitely. Was it illegal to host a private server and attempt to profit from your cracked version of the game? Absolutely. However, these weren’t massive criminal enterprises like we see behind some of the copied/ripped software and games today. These servers weren’t costing Jagex anything. Nobody was mistaking FrugooScape for Runescape at first glance. The amounts earned by these servers were pretty trivial, so it’s not likely that Jagex was going to pay to extradite people in other countries just to hit them with fines in court cases that juries would struggle to understand the significance of. The default action seemed to be polite takedown requests and the understanding is that many owners complied.
Due to all this whack-a-mole with sites being shut down, there was a huge risk that you had to download your Moparscape program from a site that wasn’t even owned by the guys who created it. This was before people cared about checksums … most people still don’t understand the significance even today. The point is that there was a great chance that your Moparscape download didn’t work or that it came bundled with a keylogger or trojan. Remember trojans? This is what gave Moparscape such a bad reputation.
Next, this is more of a concern in modern times, but by connecting to any of these servers, you’d be exposing your IP address to people who already indicated that they were interested in flouting the rules. Today with all the swatting and DDoSing you don’t want to mess around with that. Additionally, as I said, I was having to download LogMeIn and open ports on my firewall to connect to some of the servers. Was this a legitimate way to connect to home-made Runescape servers back in 2007? Sure… it was also quite dangerous.
How Were Servers Built?
This is a real mind-bender. Did the private server people code Runescape from scratch? No.
Most of this is done through a process called reverse engineering. If you can build a layer of software that sits between a “real” client or app and a “real” server, you can analyze the web requests, determine common patterns, and programmatically download assets. It’s eerily similar whether you’re talking about a video game like Runescape or a popular app like Instagram. There’s a surprising amount of functions and server “routes” with names that are easily understood by humans.
Of course, Runescape has significantly more functions than Instagram or Snapchat. Moparscape didn’t seem to have everything implemented. But it’s also worth mentioning that since the game was written in Java, it could be possible to decompile the program and extract source code that way (though not as easy as it sounds).
It is highly doubtful that there was some type of leak or that code was stolen from Jagex. Likely, the game was reverse-engineered through commonly-known methods. Once the assets were out there and the codebase came together, this was more-rapidly iterated on by contributors to the private server community. I’m not going to link to it, but you can still find some *scape code samples on Github.
What Happened to Moparscape and Other Private Servers?
There are still websites hosting private servers and the original Moparscape site is up. I don’t know if the original client is still available or if it’d even run on modern systems without setting off all kinds of security warnings.
When investigating the fate of other popular servers, it became clear that, whenever Jagex felt like it, they’d come through and ask the servers to shut down under the threat of legal action. Many shut down and morphed for various reasons. I don’t necessarily support the private server community, as I’d imagine a ton of shady stuff, such as gambling, is front and center. But, for the sake of preserving something bigger than me, I’ll provide some information on popular private servers.
Want to do a table? We’ll do a table.
Private Server History
|Near Reality||“Where legends go when RS got shit” pretty much says it all.|
|2006Scape||This was a popular “OSRS” server before the game was re-launched. Hilariously, a Jagex employee posted a “Happy New Year” message to the owners of the server after forcing them to shut down.||2010 -2013||Shut down by Jagex|
|Arrav||Another popular RSPS that likely went through several iterations. Claims 1000+ average active users.||2021 – 2013||Shut down by Jagex|
|FrugooScape||Early RSPS, significant development and divergence from main game. Claimed 8000 concurrent players at peak.||2007 – 2010||Shut down by Jagex|
|Hyperion||A circa-2010 open-source server/suite that was used as a base for many other servers.|
|BattleScape / PkIsle|
|Misthalin Kingdom||Of all the stupid early RSPS names, this one always stuck out to me as a good one. Unfortunately, there was so much imitation that I can’t find clear information on what happened to it.|
|GodzHell||Another popular RSPS around 2010. Was rebooted/reborn several times.|
Is There Any Proof of Jagex Actually Shutting These Servers Down?
One conspiracy theory over the years has been that Jagex doesn’t really care about private servers. Owners of servers, either out of money or short on time, would claim they were getting shut down as an excuse when they just wanted to shut their projects down. Going out while being able to claim this certainly gave the servers some amount of notoriety.
As far as I know, we’ve never been presented with definitive proof on either side though there’s no way it’s some massive conspiracy. Jagex certainly has been requesting server shutdowns since the beginning of time, but with renewed vigor whenever they are making major game changes (such as re-launching OSRS or bringing back popular features to RS3)
Well, I hope you found what you were looking for here. As for me, I plan to continually build up this post as I do more research and hear from readers. Thanks for reading and feel free to submit information about your experiences. There are quite a few gaps to fill.