E3 2010: Victor Kislyi talks tanks... not the aggro kind

While the idea of a tank-based MMO might come across as a little odd to some people, World of Tanks has really shaken things up in its European-only closed beta test. Originally intended as a hardcore MMO for tank enthusiasts and PvP aficionados, interest in the intense, PvP-focused tank MMO skyrocketed in Russia and Europe, with over 40,000 players participating in the closed beta test, including even a few hundred American players who couldn't wait for the US beta coming up in a few weeks.

We got to sit down with Victor Kislyi, CEO of Wargaming.net, and discuss just why people are flocking to the tank-themed MMO, and the various changes they needed to make to accommodate a wider audience.
"We thought, okay, we'd like to have 5,000 closed beta testers,"
Victor told us. "But then we ended up having 40,000... just watching the word of mouth spreading, like Facebook, YouTube trailers." He continued, citing Wargaming.net's experience with multiplayer games. "We know the difference between hardcore, like Massive Assault, and Order of War, which is more casual... and here, we did not guess correctly."

Victor was also keen on explaining WoT's inspiration from competitive multiplayer shooters. "It's Counter-Strike, but... slower. So like, normal people can play it. In Counter-Strike, I don't play it... because, in a fraction of a second, headshot and you're dead. Here, the tank combat is like... it takes five shots to kill a tank, the turret takes time to rotate, takes time to reload. If I'm fighting my tank versus your tank, we're seeing each other for 15, maybe 30 seconds." He also explained that the "real" tanks had to be altered in order to keep the game fun and exciting. The turret of a real WWII German tank might take as long as two minutes to perform a 180-degree turn, for instance -- and they didn't want hard realism getting in the way of fun gameplay. Other elements, such as light tank guns being largely worthless against heavy tanks in real life were altered to give the smaller tanks more of a chance to use their maneuverability against the massive lumbering behemoths.

Similar to the Battlefield style of gameplay, communication between team members is key. Tank commanders will be able to point out enemy tanks on the battlefield, causing them to pop up on ally minimaps. Combine this element with the indirect fire of self-propelled guns such as the Jagdpanther, and you come up with gameplay similar to the days of Steel Battalion, cheddar jokes and all.

World of Tanks is heavily focused on action-oriented combat; it's definitely more like a competitive shooter than your typical MMO. But while players can play pick-up matches like many competitive games, the focus is on "clan wars," a persistent world map where players engage each other for control of territorial control of provincial regions.

Victor cited the dev team's inspiration from EVE Online when designing this feature. Clan wars will take place on a world map, where clans (player-made guilds) will challenge other clans for control of different areas of the world map. The different regions will each provide bonuses, such as money to buy new tanks, for each day they are under control. Each clan will be limited to a small number of challenges per day, and these challenges will be made through a browser-based interface which can piggyback onto the game itself. The defending clan will be notified of the time of the challenge, and can adjust the time of the skirmish to better suit their needs and avoid the infamous "time zone warfare" that EVE veterans are all-too familiar with.

The browser interface is very integrated; Victor expressed that there will be support for mobile, iPhone, and Facebook applications prior to release. Facebook users might receive notifications of clan skirmishes, while mobile users will be able to get them via SMS. In-game, clan members will be notified of a pending battle, and if a battle is ongoing, players will be given the option to jump right in -- as long as the maximum number of tanks on a side isn't reached.

In even bigger nods to EVE nullsec warfare, clans can hire mercenaries -- independent players or clans who have obtained a mercenary license -- in order to bolster their forces. "If you don't want to be a part of a serious clan, you wanna be... 'lonely wolf,' you just get your mercenary license. Clan leaders will be hunting for your participation; they pay you some, and say if you're a clan leader, and you only have ten people, you may hire five mercenaries. And mercenaries will care about their reputation and their stats... otherwise nobody will hire them." While we can understand the lure of being a lone mercenary, if EVE has told us anything, it's that serious clans of mercenaries can and will exist. Victor was also quick to note the potential for espionage as well. "You'll have mercenaries, alliances, backstabbing, double agents, all that stuff.

One concern of players might be the lack of PvE content. "We will of course add a couple of intermediate modes, like PvE, just to have some fun blowing stuff up, training, or some convoy, some taking the base, assault... basically any shooting-game mode, action-game mode," Victor explained. He was clear to emphasize the focus of the game on PvP, though; as Mike Zhivets explained in our previous interview, the dev team believes strongly in the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from competition with intelligent human opponents.

He also added that players will be able to participate in different mini-campaigns, reflecting battles and wars that have occurred throughout history, as well as a number of possible "what if" scenarios. "We can also fool around, maybe with the American Civil War, playing with Lee, Sherman tanks to... add a little spice to it." Fighting the American Civil War in a Sherman tank? That sounds pretty wild. "This isn't going to be the primary punchline of the game. This is just for cooling off, having some weird fun."

We already covered a little on how tank commanders will progress in World of Tanks, so the idea of traveling through a tiered unlock tree for each nation should not be new. One of the big reveals in our talk with Victor though, was the idea of the tank's crew, a four-man team under your control. The tank crew will affect the operating aspects of your tank -- for instance, a more capable driver will give your tank a bonus to agility, while a more skilled loader can improve the rate your tank changes ammunition and loads new shells from the magazine. Additionally, a tank crew's nationality will have an effect on tank performance; an American tank gunner simply won't be as skilled when operating a German turret.

World of Tanks will be free-to-play, with a microtransaction payment method. Players will be able to purchase "premium" tanks, which will allow players to play with a particular tank class without leveling all the way through the tree. However, premium tanks won't be a replacement for players who have leveled through the advancement tree -- for instance, in the German tank tree, there are powerful Panzer tanks available for premium purchase, but the nigh-indestructible (at least in real life) Tiger and Tiger II, as well as the ultra-heavy prototype Mauz tank, are only available as unlocks. Players can also purchase a wide variety of customizable paint jobs and emblems to iconify their tanks and make them truly unique.

From what we've seen thus far, World of Tanks is going to provide an interesting MMO experience truly unlike anything out there right now. Although we don't have all of the information just yet, the potential for a persistent, player-controlled game world with EVE-like social dynamics and skill-focused PvP is a very exciting prospect. With the announcement for US closed beta coming in less than a month, we don't have a long time to wait.

This article was originally published on Massively.