Interview with World of Tanks' Mike Zhivets

Big guns. Thick armor. Exploding shells. Massive behemoths duking it out over territory. It's just another day at the (Omaha) beach in World of Tanks. Following the announcement of this free-to-play action MMO and a brief overview of how leveling will work in the game, we were eager to sit down with Wargaming.net to pry open the hatch on the details of this vehicle-based title.

Happily, Mike Zhivets was kind enough to sit down with us and chew that fat regarding World of Tanks. Hit the jump to see why the game is based in the WWII era, how many types of tanks are on tap, and just how much damage can one tank pour out.

Massively: Please state your name, position and role in the project.

Mike Zhivets: Hi, my name Mike Zhivets and I'm the game Technical Director on World of Tanks.

You picked the era from WWII to the Korean War for the setting of World of Tanks. What was compelling about setting the game there instead of, say, WWI, modern day tank warfare or a fictional alternate universe?

The choice of the setting for World of Tanks wasn't random at all. We focused on the period from WWII to the Korean War because it was a legendary time in tank history that saw the release of such famous tanks as the German Maus and Soviet T-44. In our game, the player is given the opportunity to command each of these "steel beasts" and explore their advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, unlike modern models the tanks of this period were not equipped with precise and sophisticated systems of targeting and control, meaning a lot depended on the actions of the crew.

Here's a question that is always on everyone's lips when it comes to vehicle-based MMOs -- will you be able to leave your tank and explore/fight/interact with an avatar?

No! The tank and its crew are the only actors on the battlefield. To survive in the fierce world of armor one must be a tank -- there's no place for weak and imperfect humans. After all, we're not making an infantry simulator – tanks FTW!!!

Tanks are lumbering, slow machines -- will there be lots of travel time in the game, and how will the pace of combat be affected by the slower speed of these vehicles?

Lumbering?! Slow?! Are you sure? A tank is a mobile and highly maneuverable fighting vehicle that can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h. Of course, some of them -- like the Maus and King Tiger - do have a low speed and are a bit clumsy on the battlefield, but the majority of light and medium units are ideal for fast-paced encounters. There are no tiresome half-hour long runs – it normally takes you just a few minutes to cross the map. We deliberately changed the speed of some vehicles slightly to strike a better balance between interesting gameplay and realism.

Why pick tanks over subs or airplanes? Are you aiming for a strict wargamer/ simulator crowd, or do you see tanks as appealing to a greater audience?

Hmm... tanks are huge iron monsters rushing around the battlefield destroying the enemy and wiping out everything in their way... When we thought of epic armor clashes with up to 60 vehicles unfolding on huge maps we just said bingo! – that's what our next game's gonna be about.

As for the second part of your question, tank gameplay is rather easy and straightforward, unless it's overloaded with subtle control details – spot the enemy, approach him and shoot – nothing complicated. The game focus was shifted to the level of tactics and cooperation of combat vehicles within a team. Working out the right plan for combat and proper distribution of roles - that's what is important for success. However, there'll be tons of challenge and fun in duels as well. World of Tanks will pique the interest of both hardcore wargamers and more casual players.

So how many types of tanks are we talking about here, and how customizable are they? Can players build the tank of their dreams and coat it with custom decals?

We have 60 Soviet and German vehicles ready (American tanks are currently in development) that belong to 5 main classes – light, medium and heavy tanks, self-propelled artillery and tank destroyers. Every unit has about 10 modifications with different combat characteristics. All modifications are historically grounded, so if your "dream tank" is a T-34 with a Tiger turret - your dream will never come true.

Will we let our players paint their tanks pink? No, as we think this is unacceptable and tasteless. However, they will be free to choose the camouflage color of their "pets" and decorate them with some personal or clan emblems.

Is the game PvP or PvE-focused? Is there an over-arching campaign (perhaps similar to Warhammer Online's zone control) or just casual, unconnected skirmishes?

World of Tanks is a PvP-focused project. One can obtain complete satisfaction only in battles against real players. That's why we decided not to include bots in the main game. Team Deathmatch is the main combat type, but we're also planning a perpetual campaign for global domination with a map crafted in the form of the Earth and divided into provinces each giving access to certain preferences and special abilities. We also plan on adding some historical campaigns in the future – but no word yet on the way they'll be set up.

How much -- if any -- can players affect the environment around them with their tanks? Are there destructible objects and landscapes?

The player won't be able to destroy everything in the game, e.g., landscapes will remain practically untouched -- no matter how hard we try – due to certain technical limitations. The rest of the in-game environment is subject to total annihilation – buildings, hedges, trees, telegraph poles, cars, and so forth. We tried to make the environment as destructible as possible to make the game more realistic and provide a myriad of ways to wreak havoc.

As a follow-up to the previous question, can your own tank be deformed by battle damage?

Well, yeah, of course. We already have bullet scratches and shell marks on the armor plates and there'll also be a number of "visible" ways to inflict damage – by destroying one of the tracks, for instance. All in all we have a complex multilevel damage system that comprises a set of different parameters – from armor thickness and the angle of armor slope to certain "soft spots" of particular models. For example, to immobilize a T-34 one should aim at its rear section, as the engine is placed there.

On a scale between an ultra-casual MMO aimed at complete newbies and a hardcore tank simulator, where would you place World of Tanks?

An interesting question, but not an easy one to answer. Our aim is not to make a 100% hardcore and realistic simulator as it would be a rather boring experience – imagine spending hours in a comfortless iron box with limited field of view and odd controls. World of Tanks gameplay is more fun-driven - and fun is what our players will definitely get.

Will you only fight other tanks, or will there be infantry, smaller vehicles and bases to blast?

We already have bases and capturing the enemy HQ is one of the victory conditions. There are many ideas for adding new types of units aimed at bringing in additional strategic depth and increasing the game's replay value. For instance, a team commander (clan leader) will be given the option to call for a limited number of airstrikes or heavy artillery barrages. Introducing infantry units and rocket arty is also possible but not in the release version.

What factions are there, and what advantages do each offer?

Actually there are no factions in World of Tanks as, say, German and American tanks will fight side by side in one team. There's a separate tech tree for each country that reflects its tank heritage and level up opportunities. Currently we have German and Soviet tanks in the game that all have advantages and disadvantages of their own. But I'm not going to reveal all of our secrets as we continue work on tweaking the balance to provide more enjoyable performance. The release version will also include American tanks that are in development now. In the long-term, we are going to add British, Italian, French and Japanese vehicles.

Thank you for your time Mike!
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This article was originally published on Massively.