After seeing World of Warships at E3 earlier this year and walking away rather impressed by the hands-off demo, I was still left with one key question: Just how can the team at Wargaming make shooting combat on such a flat terrain as the sea work? The shooter genre is defined in the competitive space by stage layouts, of which cover is a vital part - what happens in an arena where much of that is taken away?
Recently, I got my answer. Able to sit down and not only get my hands on the game but chat to Wargaming's Mike Federov, Head of Wargaming's Publishing Department and currently in close cahoots with the team behind Warships, all was at last made clear. "It's actually a really difficult thing to mix action and strategy,"
Federov explains to me. "Historically World of Tanks has been a game more about action than strategy, but using the landscape and the like turned it into something of a tactical game over time. However, with World of Warships, we're on the sea. There are no obstacles, usually - at least, very little. A big challenge for the team was to make gameplay that would still inherently be a shooter, but be playable on the entirely flat surface of the ocean."
"One of the reasons why the game has taken so long in development is actually balancing that - it's incredibly complex, because the sea is an open space,"
he admits. "I don't see many - any - shooters with such open space as their arena. Designing around that isn't very easy - it's an undiscovered area." "If you do a bit of research, you'll find there's a lot more games around Submarines than there are about big ships on the surface - that makes it even harder, because we don't have much reference to work from or learn from!"
The process, Federov describes, was a lengthy one. Where tactics naturally emerged in World of Tanks based on the tools provided to players, World of Warships would have to be more actively designed towards a tactical approach. The end result is a game that as reported at E3 looks - and I can confirm now, feels - part Real Time Strategy. "Initially it didn't turn out brilliantly,"
Federov continues. "As such, we added a lot of tactics into the game, a lot of combination of advantages and disadvantages of the ships in order to make a proper 'fleet' - the make-up of the team is a key factor in success in this game. "We also added things like smoke screens so that means ships could be obscured on the battlefield. That becomes incredibly tactical; Place it well and you'll shield your own team from sight and enemy fire... place it poorly, and you'll blind your own team and leave yourselves vulnerable. Weather effects also change the visibility situation on the battlefield - so we play with visibility in particular a lot to add a deeply tactical element on an otherwise largely flat battlefield. "The visibility really can change a lot. Long-range shooting is more suited for Battleships and Cruisers, and short range shooting is better for Destroyers. On the long range, visibility is a very important factor, as whoever shoots first has an inherent advantage because they began aiming earlier."
In that sense World of Warships is similar in some ways to World of Tanks - in a vehicle with a heavy, slow-turning gun, it's no longer about twitch reactions but instead about how quickly you're noticing threats around you and neutralising them.
In among all this is Wargaming's commitment to a degree of historical accuracy throughout all of their games. At launch World of Warships is set to feature two nations, the US and Japan, and four classes of ship - Destroyers, Cruisers, Battleships and Air Carriers. That makes for around 80 ships total, Federov tells me, and more ships and nations will of course be coming down the line, each intricately detailed and historically accurate. "Each ship has a few hundred thousand polygons - even one single turret on a single battleship has more polygons than on a World of Tanks tank at launch,"
he boasts with a grin.
With historical accuracy a factor, how does that impact balance of the game itself? What exactly happens when a historically accurate 1930s battleship comes up against its bigger, badder brother from two decades later? The answer, Federov reveals, somewhat surprised the team.
"We put a lot of attention on the historical data and the funny thing is that history does a pretty good job of balancing the ships for us,"
he chuckles. "The advantages and disadvantages of certain ships as they were in history - like bigger ships are slower and are very difficult to damage, but can be destroyed with proper torpedoes... it was just like in history. Bigger guns do more damage but take a longer time to aim, and a longer time to reload, like in history." "As such, a lot of things we actually take directly from the historical sources, and they fit the game quite properly."
There is a limit to where history is appropriate, however. "Real battles with ships take hours or days,"
Federov notes, "That's definitely not suited for twenty minutes of gameplay." "We've made some adjustments to fit gameplay needs - to the speed ships move and the like. We try to do so as safely as we can, though - we try to keep it as straight tactical as possible, but sometimes we have to move on gameplay first." Gameplay first is a fitting mantra for any online-driven, narrative-driven game to adopt. From the two rounds of Worlds of Warships I got my hands on, it's a unique and interesting blend of action and strategy gameplay that was rather compelling indeed - and I look forward to getting another chance to play it soon.