World of Tanks is getting a new lick of paint soon. After years of methodical updates, Wargaming are introducing a host of new graphical changes with three upgraded maps. Himmelsdorf, Mountain Pass, and Redshire will all get a high definition makeover, reinvigorating these classic zones. In addition, some major sound enhancements are incoming this September. After Sabaton’s recent collaboration with World of Tanks, we sat down with Wargaming’s Al King to find out why it’s not just the loud noises that will blow you away.
MMORPG: World of Tanks is due to have some significant updates very soon. What was the reason behind making major changes to the user experience?
WoT: So in a word, immersion. Just to give it a context, it coincides with a big sort of change in our attitude towards development for World of Tanks. Instead of making the changes to the game we think it needs, we have started making the changes the community tells us it warrants. At some point, we stopped tweaking and simply started making the changes to the game that the community has in mind, and that’s a very important context to the upcoming changes.
It sounds easy but it’s actually quite difficult to do because many of us see World of Tanks as our baby. You’ve made it and you’ve got the right to do all the tinkering but at some point, you have to realize that you’ve given it away and it belongs to the audience.
There's always a big rolling list of features, ideas, and suggestions which we effectively work through over time because each one does take time and money to do. These can be better graphics and better sound. Whatever the specifics, many of the upgrades usually center on that to some greater or lesser degree. Ultimately, it's about immersion. It's about making the feeling of being inside that tank closer to what it might have been like on the actual field of battle. It's an ongoing quest towards perfection with the goal of immersion to make the experience be more fun.
MMORPG:And how do you get that feedback from players? Is it just purely from forum feedback or does it come from other sources?
WoT: So, we establish channels with the community on the forums, whether that’s for tanks or planes or ships, but it’s not just that. At event’s like Gamescom, we make you play the games and we’ve got developers and partner managers who are on the floor talking to punters. Even on Friday night when we have a community party, each of the senior managers has to attend. We hang out and drink and listen to fans feedback. While that might include a random drunk who’s actually convinced that the game is flawed in one specific way that only affects them, you absolutely need to do this.
You aggregate all that up and the same ideas tend to start coming up. You split all the ideas into big chunks that you start to prioritize them, conduct feasibility tests, and then eventually they end up on the drawing board.
MMORPG: How do you decide when it is time to make those really big changes and overhaul things like the graphics, the sound, or even rebuild the game like the team at Rift recently did?
WoT: Great question. So, it's very much the sort of stuff we're thinking about right now. We we use the big wheel engine obviously at this point. It's a highly modified version of the Big World engine and I suppose you could say it’s starting to creak a little bit. Our CTO has been looking at a number of options, including Unreal and Unity. We also know that there are other engines out there which are also very powerful. So, at some point yeah a World of Tanks upgrade on a more fundamental level, I think, is inevitable.
MMORPG: A major update to the game’s music is coming soon. Can you tell us more about that?
WoT: So, there were two really. I suppose the most sensational one of the two is the cooperation with Sabaton. For the uninitiated, Sabaton are a Swedish power metal band who we've been wanting to work with for some time. If Wargaming was a band it would probably be Sabaton. We are inspired by history. We celebrate ideas like teamwork, acts of heroism, and sacrifice in the theater of war. We do that specifically in the context of tanks planes and ships. That's pretty much what Sabaton’s modus operandi is all about and it paid off last night when they played at our player party. It’s impossible not to throw your horns and start headbanging when those guys get on stage, and it’s a natural fit for World of Tanks.
MMORPG:Was there any risk with partnering with Sabaton that it might ostracize people that are not into metal?
WoT: Yes of course, but seriously when you got a band that writes songs about tanks planes, and ships and features them all on their album covers, thematically it fits. They are also a great band with a strong work ethic who are looking to cooperate and create something new and interesting. That’s as good as it's ever going to get with a collaboration like this. Also, it's not like you're suddenly hearing Sabaton tracks streaming in the game. The Sabaton project is as much about promotion and expanding the audience, while the input of Akira Yamaoka still gives you a more atmospheric experience.
MMORPG: How did World of Tanks and Sabaton actually end up working together?
WoT: So, I go to festivals like download and bloodstock in the UK and some of my friends are music journalist for a variety of rock magazines. So, when I started working with Wargaming, within about two weeks, I said if Wargaming was a band it would be Sabaton. We had a deal on the table for around five years as a European entity, but that was when some of our PR at the time were a bit nervous about public perception. So, we had to walk away from that. However, the dialogue remained in place and earlier this year they played in Cyprus when Slava, who is one of the founding fathers of World of Tanks, went to see them. Once he saw them with their tanks and warship turrets on stage, that was it. It is because of him. His influence is a big part of the deal.
MMORPG: While Sabaton seem like a natural fit for World of Tanks Akira Yamaoka is a more unexpected collaboration. How did that happen?
WoT: So, obviously we are aware of who he is. He's got a fantastic CV and worked on some fantastic titles through the years but wasn’t necessarily on our radar until the Belarus national carrier, Belavia, branded one of their planes with World of Tanks. Akira happened to be in Minsk and he’s taking photos of the plane s it is on the tarmac and uploads a picture of the plane to social media. One of our colleagues saw this and made the assumption that if he is taking a picture of the plane then maybe he might be a fan of the game.
We then reached out via our Toyko office, got in touch with his manager and found out he is a huge fan of World of Tanks. Once again, a match made in heaven.
MMORPG: Akira is probably most well-known for his work on Silent Hill and atmospheric soundtracks that build a creeping tension. That is very different to Sabaton. How will that fit World of Tanks?
WoT: Well, World of Tanks is very much a game of two halves. There is that setup phase when everyone's moving into position and players are busy finding their favorite spots. So people roll out, move into position, scouts light up the map and things start to appear. Finally, then the shooting starts. That first third of the game say that is where that kind of ambient music that you would associate with survival horror genres can be used to help build the tension.
World of Tanks helps simulate the great battles of the last century but it's a game and games need to be fun as well so we’re more than happy to deploy devices and musical techniques to heighten the tension. If you’ve been to see Dunkirk, the constant ticking of the soundtrack really amps up the tension. In some respects, it’s got so much in common with a traditional horror or an art house films that a big budget war film. We are inspired by how you can use sound that creatively to create immersion. Similarly, with World of Tanks, Akira’s score helps to add that.
MMORPG: So, when can players expect to see the enhanced maps and music?
WoT: They should be coming into the game around mid-September.