I’ve been directed through a labyrinthine maze of small meeting rooms and temporary walls that represent the barrier between Wargaming’s inner workings and the public spectacle they have going on outside. E3 is fully underway and I’ve arrived at the heart of the colossal structure that is Wargaming’s E3 booth; a veritable two-story behemoth that’s larger than most houses. With the hugely successful World of Tanks continuing to rake in new players every day, World of Tanks 360 proving itself to be very popular among American gamers, and World of Warplanes spreading its wings, Wargaming has set its sights on finishing World of Warships. That’s why I am there; they will be showing me live, pre-alpha gameplay from their latest build of World of Warships.
Christine Yeo, Wargaming’s PR manager, and Ivan Goldensohn, a marketing specialist for Wargaming, greet me at the door to meeting room #8 (mind you, this is on the show floor and I am in a hallway that has more meeting rooms on both sides). After a minute or two of introductions and chatter, the three of us begin talking business. On one wall of the meeting room hangs a giant television on which Ivan begins showing me World of Warships. He has to talk loudly to avoid being drowned out by the realistic sounding explosions. Later I would find out that the explosions sound authentic because the sound design team finds, fires, and records each specific gun and cannon type used in World of Tanks, Warplanes, and Warships. If they can’t find a working model for the gun they need to record, they recreate it to the best of their ability and record the facsimile’s sound.
Ivan talks, almost yelling over the sound of explosions, “So, now my plane has been sent out, I’m switching back to macro-management, as I like to call it, versus micromanagement. My turrets are rotating, I’ll see if I can get one more here… See, but this guy’s in a cruiser, so it’s going to be a lot harder to [an explosion drowns out his words and a siren begins blaring].” In World of Warships, players can send out scout planes to get a view of the battlefield (battle-sea?). These planes are controlled by AI, but players can set waypoints for the planes to follow. As you can imagine, these planes represent a huge combat advantage, so both teams will have to pay attention to who has the most vision in the skies.
There are a number of different tactics to consider when facing down enemy ships. Two of the most important factors to keep in mind are your target’s hull integrity and the hit points of the individual gun emplacements on the target. You can focus on either sinking the ship or defanging it and eliminating its total hit points. Depending on the class type of your enemy and what warship you happen to be piloting, one option or the other might be more effective. To that end, there are different methods of attacking. We were shown sniper and torpedo modes. The artillery mode previously shown in 2013 has been removed from the game since it incentivized players to hang back behind islands and shell each other. This just ended up rendering the game not as much fun. The sniper mode works much as you might assume from the name. Players enter a sniper-esque view and aim their cannons at their intended target and then take into account distance and adjust accordingly. Torpedoes are one of the most deadly weapons on the seas and can easily destroy an unprepared ship. They can be aimed quickly and will travel in a straight line until they hit something. Players can adjust the spread and aim of the torpedoes; a narrow spread will equal more damage, but is more likely to miss, while a wider spread will more likely score a hit, but do less damage.
Ivan continues to show me the various features of World of Warships, “You’ll notice at the top we are seeing some base capture icons. Similar to World of Tanks, we have this Capture the Flag style game. I don’t think they have anyone who’s fast enough to catch up with us, but this looks like torpedo central to me, so I’m going to lock on to him. I’m going to increase my spread to have a greater chance of hitting him. I can then follow these torpedoes and I can actually switch between them. It’s all the little features like this [the explosions of a nearby enemy ship drown out Ivan’s words] help the game come together. Being able to watch your torpedo actually slam into the enemy-[explosions from his torpedo fill the screen as the sound fills the meeting room]”
I laugh, “You got him!” Even in pre-alpha, World of Warships looks gorgeous. Wargaming is aware of how great their game looks and has added various ways to get up close with the action and drink in the visuals. A perfect example of this is the ability to have your camera follow torpedoes that you’ve launched. This leads to a few tense seconds of “will it hit?” nail-biting and the opportunity to see a glorious explosion or two or three, depending on how many hit their intended target. Wargaming even added the ability to switch between the torpedoes to capture the action from the best possible angle.
Given the presence of scout planes shown in-game and the history of the time period that Wargaming seems to be on a mission to capture, I ask the inevitable question, “Are there any plans to have cross over [between World of Warships] and World of Warplanes?”
Christine responds with what seems like a practiced reply, “You know, that is something that people always ask us. We are definitely thinking about different options, but right now I can’t say anything in the near future. It’s just a lot of balancing that we need to take into consideration.”
“Well, yeah, it would certainly be a huge undertaking,” I say. It isn’t as simple as just slapping together the code for World of Warplanes and World of Warships together. Balancing how the two games would interact with each other while still maintaining the level of strategy and fairness that have been cornerstones of Wargaming’s titles would be a game designer’s nightmare-level challenge.
“Right,” returns Christine, “But [it is understandable] that people ask because the fact that you can send out scouts and meet with aircraft carriers, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
“And you know, we are always open to suggestions and what players want is what we usually do,” Ivan pitches in his two cents.
As the match ends, Ivan turns to me saying, “It is still in alpha stages. It’s not perfect, but it looks gorgeous. The level of complexity is there, but the ease of use and jumping into it is really cool. And, you know, some of the more complex elements like sending out a scout plane, you’re not going to have to deal with until you get up a couple tiers, so the game is going to dynamically introduce you to those concepts.”
“So what elements are not present here that will be in the final version?” I ask out of curiosity.
“Well that is a really good question. What’s cool about developing a game like this, is when we are talking about changing it we are not like, ‘we’re going to make this gun slightly bigger’ or ‘this tank, this plane, this ship is going to be slightly faster.’ We are saying fundamentally, from the ground up how do we modify it to be exactly what our players want.” As an example, he mentions the elimination of artillery that was stifling gameplay options for their players.
Another thought occurs to me, “What happens when you ram into another ship?”
“A lot of damage,” laughs Ivan. “A lot of these models aren’t finalized, so the damage on them isn’t complete. But, I mean, in the final game you are going to be seeing stuff like ships breaking based on where they were hit. So, if you blow off the back of a ship with a killing blow, you will actually see that ship break in that spot, or torpedo damage will cause ships to sink in a different way from overall damage, or bomb damage from airplanes will cause different damage to the top of the ship. So, all that stuff is cool, but then in the fundamental game mode we will be constantly switching it up.” The eventual goal is to have battles flowing and allowing players to join 15v15 warship battles. Even though the game is in pre-alpha, it is hard not to feel a jump of excitement at the prospect of thirty players going at each other on the high seas.
Ivan then hands me an iPad to try out World of Tanks: Blitz. As I begin to play (I’m going to fess up, I am absolutely terrible at World of Tanks on PC and I fared little better in World of Tanks: Blitz), I notice and comment about how great the game looks for an iPad app. Ivan launches into an explanation of how they fit Blitz onto an iPad, “This could be a PC game, but this is running from my iPad right now. […] People say, ‘where did you have to make sacrifices to put this on an iPad? What did you have to pull out of a 30GB PC client?’ The answer is nothing. Instead of taking things out, what we did was modify the game to be more app friendly and we used that to our advantage. So, you see we have the module system, all of this is just as complex as the PC. I can switch out the engine, my turret, and my tank. All of this is going to affect my percentages and every detail from your equipment I can put on my tank and there are five different consumables that I can use. What we did instead is we said, ‘where is the game different as a mobile game and how do we change that?’ So, all the maps are a fifth of the size. They are tiny. It is so much more fun. Suddenly you have this little map you can run across the whole thing in a minute and a half and everybody is jumping right into the battle. You have these super focused, super intense battle modes. It is like instead of taking out content, we switched it to make it mobile and it ended up helping everybody.”
It turns out that while the PC version takes up around 30GB, the app uses a minuscule 500MB. And it does look remarkably good. The presentation is a bit barebones, but the things that are in-game look great. The maps are just as small as stated, but for a mobile game that’s perfect. I fiddle with the iPad for a few minutes before a Finnish player takes me down like a clumsy, tank-sized bull in a china shop. People who are into fast-paced, military combat games and are looking for a mobile title to fill that particular void couldn’t do much better than World of Tanks: Blitz. It is free and currently available.
The conversation turns to World of Tanks 360 and the updates that they have been rolling out for it since release. To sum up the changes these updates have had/will have in the near future:
- Weather variance to will be added to maps that provide different visibility and aesthetics.
- New autoloaders, new tanks, new maps, new modes are constantly on the way.
- World of Tanks: Soccer is a game mode released specifically for the 2014 World Cup. Like the title suggests, players battle it out on the soccer field in tanks trying to score goals by any means necessary.
Platoon groups can now go up to seven members instead of three.
The conversation draws to a close and I begin to make my way out the door. I think to myself how glad I’ll be to return to E3 next year and see the next incarnation of Wargaming’s immense booth and have another opportunity to sit down and chat with people who are as passionate and committed to their game as Christine and Ivan. There are a lot of video game developers out there these days, especially in the free-to-play market, but Wargaming is special. Wargaming’s commitment over the years to responding to its massive player base is something from which many developers of online games could learn a thing or two. On top of that, they deserve praise for how well it handles free-to-play, right alongside Riot Games. I might be awful at playing their games, but I respect Wargaming for making those games well.
As of the writing of this article there is still no official release date for World of Warships, though the beta is speculated to be beginning sometime in the next couple months.