The Lurking Sophistication of World of Tanks – A Visit to Wargaming Chicago
It’s a rainy Friday in Chicago, a city filled with some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted and more revolving doors than I thought I would ever walk through in my life. Perched on the sixth floor of an unassuming office building, developer Wargaming has just launched the second World of Tanks PS4 open beta. Brief smiles flick across the many faces around the office. They know their work isn’t even close to being done on this dynamic, living and breathing project, and they love that fact.
Formerly Day 1 Studios, Wargaming acquired the Chicago and Maryland based developer to lead the console assault of their popular free-to-play PC game. Known for their work on games like F.E.A.R., F.E.A.R. 3, and MechAssault, Day 1 Studios became Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore (formerly Wargaming West), a part of a multinational team that currently has 15 locations around the globe. Their primary objective? Make sure that the console version of World of Tanks is the best game they can make, then turn around and make it even better.
A Fresh Set of Eyes
“Ultimately, we crafted the entire thing here for the consoles. It’s not a port from the PC,” Audio Lead Brendan Blewett says as I sit with some of the development team in their Chicago studio. Acquiring Day 1 Studios allowed Wargaming to get a fresh set of eyes on a game that’s been around on the PC since 2009. For the past couple of years, the Xbox versions have implemented weather effects, ribbons earned during battle, and many other changes that came specifically through the console development, all of which will make their way to the PS4 release of the game.
This is the tip of the iceberg for how much pride this team takes in their work. From the sound design, to the UI aesthetics and layout, down to exactly how the game feels to play with a DualShock 4 controller, not only are the console versions unique from the PC, but even the PS4 version is developed with unique interests in mind to make sure that the game feels at home on Sony’s console.
“It’s exciting when you’re working on a new piece of hardware because there’s all sorts of new toys to play with,” Lead Designer Jeff Gregg says about the contrasting approach to PS4 development. He’s talking about Remote Play, Share Play, party chat — all of the unique features that the PS4 hardware affords developers for implementation into their game. He’s very particular about the nuanced specifics for getting the game to feel good on the DualShock 4.
“First pass we just said ‘does this work?’ and if you define work as ‘can I move the tank?’ Yes. Does it feel good? No,” Gregg explains that the DualShock 4 is physically different hardware from the Xbox One controller and the game needed to be tuned for the distinct hardware to feel right for PS4 players. This attitude permeates every part of the PlayStation 4 development. “They deserve our best effort. Phoning it in? That’s not why we work here.”
It’s not about making a different game, but making sure that no matter what platform you play World of Tanks on, it’s tailored for the best experience possible.
Accurate to a T(ank)
“We count bolts,” Lead Artist Andy Dorizas says when asked how deep they dive into accuracy of the tank aesthetics. Wargaming is filled with tank enthusiasts, with every tank historically vetted before its creation in the game… yes, even down to the last bolt. The tracks are made up of individually modeled links that simulate a real tank track. They’ll literally measure armor thickness of the various parts of the tank, which not only makes it into the visuals, but factors into the expansive calculations — including shot caliber, dispersion, and angle — on whether a shot will penetrate the hull or harmlessly bounce off.
Those tanks may look good as they roll out to engage in battle, but even the blackened hunk of burning metal after destruction has details that most people wouldn’t think twice about. “How would the tank explode, where in the armor the seams would split apart, and that kind of stuff.” Dorizas tells us. “If we’re showing you the interior of the tank, those shapes inside are correct for what’s supposed to be in there.”
To capture the visceral soundscapes of tank warfare, Wargaming did the only sensible thing: record real tanks. In true Wargaming fashion, they weren’t satisfied with pointing a mic at a tank and driving it around. They approached it almost like recording a band, using different kinds of microphones at various places on the tanks to capture underlying intricacies that wouldn’t otherwise come through. For the countless explosions, they used a blend of artillery guns, fireworks, standard rifles, and Tannerite (more explosives).
“I hatched the idea to use an Audix D6 kick drum mic on the engine as… like a dedicated subwoofer channel,” Brendan Blewett says as he talks about his audio design. Where the Minsk PC audio team has a more calculated approach, “we’re a little bit more the American rock-and-rollers… It was really cool to collaborate with them too, because you end up with an awesome amalgamation of both.”
In a game filled with hundreds of tanks, its the combination of all of these elements that makes each one unique. With every new tank you unlock, you can feel, hear, and see the difference, all accurate to every single scrap of information that they could possibly find for each model. In fact, each tank is even modeled with correct collision points for all of the crew inside and critical components like the transmission and gas tank, so you can penetrate the hull and kill the driver if you know where to shoot, or hit the ammo rack to limit your opponent’s ability to reload.
Community Voice for Player Experience
Though Wargaming is constantly tracking data from the gameplay, the community voice is also very important. The development team regularly brings player suggestions and feedback to the table. Nothing is left out; From the simple to the absurd, everything is allowed a fair amount of consideration to help with the future of World of Tanks. Arlette Resendiz is the Player Experience Specialist, working with the community to ensure that their ideas are making it to the developer’s ears, even if those ideas don’t fully come to fruition.
With a big influx of new players on the way when the PS4 version releases at an unspecified date, Wargaming is keen to make sure those players feel comfortable when they start to play and have the desire to keep playing once they are in. “Proving Grounds was part of that. [Console players] wanted a place where they could play and learn, and this is what we have,” Resendiz says of the console’s training mode that pits players against bots and gives specific objectives to help you learn your way around the controls and understand the lurking sophistication of a game about tanks blowing each other up.
And after all of that’s been said? World of Tanks is free-to-play, and perhaps more importantly, free-to-win. It’s a constant challenge to convince gamers that free-to-play games are worthwhile and not just a cash grab, particularly on consoles. Wargaming has had a long time to harmonize the premium access to never feel like you can’t earn those things directly within the game without ever paying a dime, and the repeated success of World of Tanks for the last seven years is a testament to that.
The PS4 may be the latest in a long line of platforms to be getting World of Tanks, but the millions of people that own Sony’s console are getting years of refinement, and then further having that game tuned specifically to the PS4. Wargaming has more than proven themselves with World of Tanks, but you’ll never hear anyone in the studio admit it. They’re too busy taking something that they’ve made great and finding ways to make it better, and that kind of developer mindset is what’s best for the players.
I want to thank Wargaming for bringing me out to their Chicago studio to meet the team. Click here for my PSX 2015 preview of World of Tanks PS4, and stay tuned for further World of Tanks coverage from PlayStation LifeStyle as the open beta concludes, and our eventual review when the game releases on PS4 at an unspecified date.