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Xbox 360 Launch Party: Interview with Denny Thorley

World of Tanks Interviews - By Neilie Johnson on February 23, 2014

Xbox 360 Launch Party: Interview with Denny Thorley

Yesterday we posted the chat we had about this week's 360 World of Tanks launch with Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi and Microsoft Games Studios GM Matt Booty. Today we round out the conversation by relating our discussion with Denny Thorley, General Manager of Wargaming's Chicago office.

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MMORPG: So what was your experience like, working on World of Tanks for 360?

DT: I've been doing this for a long time, making games and this has been a blast. It's so fresh, so new. It has taken all our experience—you know, we did MechAssault and MechAssault II and we'd done vehicle combat games—it took our experience on the console and we were able to apply it to a hugely successful franchise. I've been in the business since '85 and it's totally rejuvenated me because it's all new. It's all new! [laughs] And you're working with some really incredible people who don't have much console experience and are really PC-centric so it's really been a mesh. We were able to collaborate and enhance the game. To Wargaming's credit, they didn't want just a port. We could have just ported it – it would have been a lot faster. We were able to—we didn't have to worry about the six graphics cards and the four operating systems and all that stuff, just to bring it out on the 360. Work within Microsoft's system to create a frequently updated free-to-play game and it's been great.

MMORPG: How do you end up working on the project?

DT: We were working on our own title called Reign of Thunder and free-to-play was the model. There wasn't a lot of data on free-to-play so we thought, who could we coax or get drunk or buy lunch, [laughs] who can we get the information out of? So we're pegging the guys at Riot, we're pegging the guys at Wargaming and it became pretty clear that we were serious about this. Meanwhile, we have this game that we're starting to show. Initially I wasn't too sure about [an outside project] but when I heard it was World of Tanks I was like, “Whoa!” and then Microsoft was involved and that was a double “Whoa!” Like, this is a definite recipe for success. 

We had so much fun doing MechAssault. That was as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. It was hard work, but it was really fun and this was a similar opportunity. So when they approached us, we did a demo and they said we'd like you to take the demo a little further but we have a caveat—if we like your work, we have to be able to buy you. So we figured out what a fair transaction would look like, and as we got to know the company we realized these were really high-quality people. It really made it an easy decision for us, an easy transition to be embraced into the company.

So here we get to work on a really bonafide hit, and move it to the console market—which was a little intimidating, I'll be honest with you—but also tailor it for the Xbox experience. The PC's not as important a platform in the United States in terms of market share and it's just really great to be a part of taking this really fun awesome game to the console audience. 

MMORPG: How difficult is it to make an inherently PC game with a specific kind of PC audience appeal to a console audience? 

DT: I think the demographics are not that dissimilar. I think the console is a little more social. Not just social from the standpoint of you play with your friends but because of the Xbox Live community, but the fact is PC gaming is an intimate experience. You're not usually in an environment where there's people watching you play. The console is pretty much opposite. You're sitting in the living room, in front of a big TV, it's not unusual for other people to be watching you play. So with World of Tanks for 360, we've crafted the game to excel in that environment. In a free-to-play game it's so important—we can have these ideas, but the community's going to tell us whether or not they want it and our job is to react to that. Every developer, no matter what they say, when they release a game wishes they could change something about it. And now we have that opportunity on a very regular cadence. That's really exciting.

MMORPG: The World of Tanks PC community is well established. Do you have a strong World of Tanks 360 community? 

DT: We do. The whole idea of a closed beta, an open beta, release—that cadence gets repeated. At Wargaming, we really embrace the entire community, not just the people who pay money. Every player's important. We want them to have a great experience. The game rewards communication and without respawns, you're rewarded for playing with respect for your tank and respect for your teammates. 

MMORPG: So you're confident that looking toward next generation consoles, World of Tanks is going to work?

DT: We have enough data. It's going to work. It's just a matter of to what extent is it going to work.

MMORPG: Is Wargaming having any growing pains, and if so, are you affected by them?

DT: We're part of Wargaming and we have all the resources we need to really interesting and amazing stuff.

MMORPG: So after launch, is your office's role going to be to continue creating content for the 360?

DT: Yes. We'll be adding content and new types of gameplay. We want to be light on our feet and responsive in terms of content.

MMORPG: How difficult is it to do that on 360 compared to PC?

DT: Microsoft's been a great partner. We knew going in from our experience on the consoles about the certification and all that stuff and it's really not that bad if you do it every other week. [laughs]

MMORPG: One last question – how did you find it different, developing World of Tanks for console as opposed to PC?

DT: I don't think we looked at it considerably different aside from how we presented the game. Like on PC you can use a lot of text, there's mega-high resolution, you're close to it. You just can't do that and have a good response to it on console. We tried to make things more visceral. If you compare the two games you'll see that we've amped up the visceral part of the experience and we've made the experience [for new players] a little more embracing, a little more nurturing. For instance, if you look at the game, we've got some instructional videos that are really well done and tell you what types of tactics you should have in each kind of game. 

MMORPG: So what do you think makes World of Tanks such a strong multiplayer game?

DT: Variety. Like, if you're driving a light tank it could be a disadvantage to shoot your gun because then the enemy knows where you're at. But if you can scout and stay alive, then everything you see your team sees. That means that even if your skills aren't that great at shooting, you can still contribute something to helping your team win. Also it's tactical. Teamwork isn't necessary, but it can help you last longer if you choose to do it. Talk to me in a year, we'll see if everyone else [on 360] feels the same way.

Neilie Johnson / Neilie Johnson is a freelance contributor to MMORPG.com. She's been writing about games since 2005, developing games since 2002, and playing them since the dawn of time. OK not really, but she's pretty sure she's got controllers older than you. Witness her game-related OCD on Twitter @bmunchausen.
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