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World of Tanks

Interview: World of Tanks

With half a million players currently at war on the virtual battlefield of wargaming.net's latest, we tracked down the title's developer to discuss building one of the biggest tank battalions in gaming history.

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World of Tanks is the PC MMO that's currently tearing up tracks online, with the title posting a massive 500,000 players currently engaged in active warfare. Not bad for a title not officially released in Europe yet - the figure comes from the combined numbers of Closed Beta players here and in the US, as well also in Russia, were the game has recently been released.

We sat down to talk to the game's Technical Director Mike Zhivets about the game. In the pilot's seat: Petter Martensson.

Let's start out simple - where did the concept for World of Tanks come from?

There were no tanks at first. We just wanted to make an MMO and the first thing that came to our minds were orcs and elves. It took us probably half a year to realize that this setting is worn-out and well-trodden by those that have much more expertise in creating fantasy MMO games and it would be hard to compete with them. That's why we decided to search for some fresh ideas that will blow up the market.

If you look back at the previous titles by Wargaming.net - and we managed to ship 13 over the last 12 years - they all were strategy games touching upon various conflicts - from WWII to some sci-fi skirmishes on imaginary planets. But almost all our games have one common feature - tanks are the main driving force in them. That's where the tank idea came from - we love tanks and know how to make them well. At first, it was very difficult to make people from media, friendly development companies and even co-workers think about World of Tanks as a serious project. "No fantasy - no money, boys", that's what we used to hear. The game was released in Russia four months ago and now we can confidently say that they were wrong.

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You got quite a lot of attention through your trailers, which had some fun with other MMOs. Is that kind of humor something that can be felt in the actual game? And how did those trailers come about?

Yeah, those trailers are a lot of fun and they helped us drive a lot of people from other MMO games to World of Tanks. Normally, we got drunk and started arguing about what concept the next teaser trailer should have. Jokes aside it was the matter of brainstorming - people from our Marketing department, game designers, artists... in a word, everyone willing to put their two cents in gathered together in one room and started spamming their silly crazy ideas. We never intended to offend fans or developers of other games - and happily no one of them felt offended.

Our community helped us with the ideas for some trailers as well. For example, there was some complaining on our forums about the game lacking realism, authentic sounds and the view from inside the tank. We just thought... What's wrong with you, guys? Have you ever been inside a tank? Fancy seeing what it's like? That's how our Realism Trailer appeared.

But not only do we like making fun of other games, we like playing hoaxes on our players as well. On April Fools' Day we announced a fake game in Russia - World of Belaz. Belaz is a world-known big mining truck manufactured in Belarus (and that's where the development center of Wargaming.net is located) and the national pride of our country.

What we did is we sent an official press-release, launched a promo site with screenshots and trailer and people believed us. In a week there was a call from the 1st Belarusian National TV Channel saying they'd like to shoot a video about patriotic game developers willing to promote one of the nation's best brands in their videogame. We had to disappoint them.

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Will we see this kind of humor in the actual game?

Not yet. At the moment we are swamped with more urgent and important tasks like balancing the gameplay, adding new maps and tank nations. In future - yeah, we'll go wild and hide Easter eggs all over the maps! Actually, we have one Easter egg already hidden in the game so here's the contest: the first reader to list the living creatures seen on our Malinovka map (or Campinovka as our players call it) in the comments section below this interview will get a stylish World of Tanks T-shirt signed by developers.

World of Tanks is set during the Second World War. Is there anything special about tanks during this time period?

It's not actually about WWII tanks as there are vehicles from 1930's to 1950's in the game. But the WWII period was the Golden Age of tank development, because different nations were forced to build a heck of a lot of tanks as it was the question of their national security.

Some countries were prepared for the war and had stored a large arsenal of armor before the conflict broke out, some had to catch up with the "smart guys" on the way. And that's why this period is interesting. Let's take for instance, French tanks. Seriously, French tanks evolved drastically during the war, with some of them having multiple shell cartridges allowing to fire several shots at a time and by the end of the war there was a bunch of decent French tank models fighting in Europe. That's also a pretty strong hint as to who our next tank nation will be.

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I have a friend who is a complete weapons and tanks-nut - you know, the kind that can list complete specifications for obscure historical weapons and tanks of the top of his head. How much would he be able to find in World of Tanks?

Our game designers and research team worked hard to provide numerous upgrade options for the key elements of every tank - different types of turrets, chassis, guns, engines and radio stations. One important note: there were different modifications of particular models of tanks built during the war and after it (like T-34 or PzKpfw IV) and we just cannot include all of them into the game but are rather trying to create generalized images of these tanks. So if a Sherman in our game doesn't look like the one in your favorite tank book or has different armor plating - do not go mad with us as it's not because we did some lame research work, it's because there were many modifications of them.

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You've called World of Tanks a "team-based massively multiplayer online action game", and you've seen quite a bit of coverage on MMO-sites (including, for example, Massively). With that comes the questions of what is a MMO is and isn't. How would you define the genre, and where does World of Tanks fit in?

On the one hand, we do call World of Tanks a massively multiplayer online action game because that's what it is: thousands of players take part in hundreds of team-based battles at the same time. By the way, we are very proud to announce the number of peak con-current users in Russia went over 43,000 not too long ago. The "MMO factor" itself, the persistent world, will be represented by the system of Clan Wars. Imagine a global map divided into hundreds of provinces where clans try to conquer the whole world and fight for the global domination.

On the other hand, when making World of Tanks we didn't want to stick to a particular genre and apply any traditional clichés to our game. Our goal was to make an awesome game that would be first of all FUN for a player. World of Tanks is a combination of multiple genres: action, strategy, simulator, shooter and MMORPG.

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World of Tanks is currently in closed beta. How has the beta period been working out for you so far?

The beta period has been nothing but great success so far. The statistics are really impressive and that makes us even happier, especially considering the skepticism that existed a couple years ago around the whole "Tank MMO" concept.

World of Tanks is still in closed beta in the USA and Europe, but it has been released in Russia this summer and the stats went over the roof! Currently there are over 300 thousand active players in Russia and over 200 thousand in closed beta, so we've already reached the half-a-million milestone! And we are working hard to get to the first million!

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If you could mix and match pieces from your favorite tanks into one super-tank, what would it look like and what would you call it?

If I had to create a super-tank I would take T-54's hull and chassis, Panther's turret and gun, the observation equipment and radio from an American Pershing, and I'd probably choose the engine from the latest modification of T-54. I would call it "Villain the Bastard"!
Or I could really crazy and create some kind of a Mousetractor, which would be a hybrid of Leichtractor and Maus, and would have Mouse's gun on top of Leichtractor's chassis. With every shot it would fly away really fast in the opposite direction I'd call it a Rocket Jumper.

Come back tomorrow when we'll have 1000 beta keys for World of Tanks to giveaway on the site.

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