Starting a series (hopefully) of interviews with WG employees with this entry.
Interview with Piotr Bityukov, gamedesigner and Wargaming Pioneer.
Piotr Bityukov is one of WG ‘aborigines’. He is one of those who can give an insight into how ‘an MMO about tanks’ appeared.
— You are one of the oldest employees of Wargaming. How did you get acquainted with the company? When did you join the ranks of WG?
— I got acquainted with the company accidentally. I’ve been keen on stand modeling since my childhood. In 1997 I was trying to master dial-up Internet connection using a low-speed modemand decided to surf the net for information about different models. While checking out one of the sites I noticed an announcement about the testing of a new game called Iron Age. I got hooked by the fact that it was my favourite genre – turn-based strategy – where you had to fight against real opponents over the Internet. It was something like ‘play by e-mail’ but all moves were sent out and kept on a server. Though the game was pretty light – about 2 MB, it appeared to be rather fascinating.
A little later I learnt that my first opponent was… one of the first game developers – Viktor Kisly. We started our correspondence. At the beginning it was about our battle. Later we talked about what to change or improve in the game. When Viktor found out that War history was one of my interests, he offered me to participate in creating a web-site about armoured vehicles in English. And that was how tanks first appeared in Wargaming’s history.
— Wow! And this web-site… Is it still alive?
— No, the site does not exist any longer. Its design became outdated and the data was old and they decided not to renew it. Instead, there appeared the whole game about tanks with its tank wiki. J
— You mean to say that Wargaming was developing games even before DBA online... And what about the brand? Was that very company called Wargaming then?
— As far as I know Iron Age was developed by students. At the final stage of development Wargaming started to form as a company. DBAOL appeared under Wargaming.net brand.
— The development of which “old” game did you participate in? What was your role?
— DBAOL. I participated as a tester and later was assisting in its promotion. Also I was organizing different tournaments and championships based on the game.
— DBAOL and Iron Age, how similar were those games?
— Iron Age was full of original gaming ideas and was not based on any authentic historical events or any existing area. DBAOL was an online version of a table game (not even table, it was rather a floor game J
) popular in Europe and the US. The similarity between the two games was in how they both were operated: each move was sent to a server and the opponent received them when connected. I mean it was not necessary for the two parties to be online simultaneously. Their battle could last for days or weeks, unless they were receiving and sending the moves quickly, in which case the battles of course were faster.
— Well, it looks like Wargaming as company has roots in online gaming, and World of Tanks appeared as a kind of turning point of it?
— Definitely. By the way, the company was named Wargaming.net because of the web component of their games.
Later we started the development of Massive Assault net version with extended functionality. Massive Assault Network was aimed to be spread via the Internet. Massive Assault: Phantom Renaissance development was the next step: it was a disc version with improved graphics, new units and game modes and maps. Its Internet version was called Massive Assault Network 2.
— It seems that Wargaming understood well the psychological portrait and needs of an online player. Namely a PvP player.
— A distinctive feature of all Massive Assault games was the minimal influence of randomization in battles. Spread of countries-allies over the map was the only random thing in the game. Just the player knew their locations, and the opponent had to plan everything not possessing all information. The results of shooting were defined and foreseen… So, it was long time before the Great Belarusian Random appeared (RNG - Overlord) J
Wargaming’s next game was Galactic Assault. This game was all about single players and offered several scenarios. There was an opportunity to play with a real opponent over the Internet too. Since ‘the fog of war’ introduced in the game affected the results of battles, they had to be fought in real time. Despite this, the rivals were making their moves one by one. Thus, while one player was making a move, the second one had to be online and wait for their turn. Possibly that was the reason why the network mode of the game never proved popular.
— Was this game ordered by a publisher?
— Yes, as far as I remember the publisher acquired the rights to develop a series of games based on Strugatskiys’ (link - Overlord)
works. Wargaming was developing a strategy.
— What was your role in all of those projects?
— Well, I seem to have told you everything about DBAOL. As for the first Massive Assault, I was one of the testers. I also organized different tournaments, was instructing newcomers, preparing tutorials, writing alternative scenarios for the first version of the game. My role in the development of Massive Assault: Phantom Renaissance was different. I participated in different stages of the campaign and wrote single-player scenarios. After that I also tested scenarios and the game in general.
— Were you in game design team then?
— Yes, but I also helped to support the released projects. As I have already said, I organized tournaments, including the League – tournaments that lasted almost a year and were divided into one-month long stages/rounds.
In Galactic Assault I participated in testing scenarios and the whole campaign, wrote single-player scenarios, alongside Kirill Mal (lead Clan Wars developer - Overlord)
, a gamedesigner, and was testing the in-game balance.
— How many people were involved in those projects?
— Iron Age was developed by a few people, less than 10. About 20 people were working on DBAOL. Then I wasn’t in Minsk yet (he lives in Moscow - Overlord)
and I was not familiar with the situation in detail. I was regularly communicating with 10-15 programmers, artists and admins. While we were working on Massive Assault, a lot of new people joined the team. They were programmers, artists, sound specialists and guys working on special effects. I believe Massive Assault was developed by a few tens of people.
— You were always working remotely. How did you feel about that? Have you ever thought about moving to Minsk?
— Yes, I was working remotely most of the time. I first came to Minsk after World of Tanks was released. I quite liked the city. I have thought about moving to Minsk but there are some difficulties.
— You know, it seems that some parts of Massive Assault reviews can actually be used for World of Tanks now and it will sound completely natural. In your opinion, what has World of Tanks inherited from the old games developed by Wargaming?
— I believe the most important thing here is the attitude of staff to what they do. The company develops games that developers themselves are eager to play! And that’s important because when you are working on the same project for a long time, not everyone would want to spend their free time playing the game.
— AccordingtotheseoldreviewsitseemsthatallWGgameshavealotincommon: PvP, highaddictivity, easycontrols, intensityofgameplay, strategiccomponentandofcourseunexpectedness, i.e. Wargamingdevelopssomethingthatdoesn’texistonthemarket. ThiscannotbesaidaboutBagrationandOrderofWar, perhaps, sincetheywereprettystandardized. Apparently Massive Assault and World of Tanks have got most similarities in comparison with other games.
— Yes, I think so. It was pretty hard to invent something in RTS
genre but the series of games that included Massive Assault and World of Tanks were initially based on new and original ideas. While working on them we were trying to lower barriers to entry as much as possible, but the game was meant to become more difficult giving an opportunity to improve and perfection players’ skills.
— Were you the person who was the first to pronounce aloud the idea to develop an MMO about tanks which shocked everyone at first? Could you give the details of that Eureka-moment?
— The chronology was as follows: in 2007 when we were wrapping up the development of Bagration and Galactic Assault we started discussing our future plans. The near prospective then included Order of War but it was important to decide also what was going to come after it in the long run. We knew then that the game would be online but what kind of game and in which setting – that was the question. Opinions differed.
In the middle of 2007 I tried a relatively new Korean game just released in Russia – Navy Field. In autumn 2007 I sent my preliminary ideas about an MMO game with infantry and equipment from Bagration. The guys found my ideas interesting but the final decision was not yet made. We got a little tired of tanks and were thinking of developing a game about ‘orcs and elves’ and at the same time brainstorming other ideas. Later I started to gather statistics of players’ activity in Navy Field.
The turning point was the meeting at my place on December 12, 2008. Victor Kisly (CEO - Overlord)
, Marat Karpeko (COO - Overlord)
, Slava Makarov (Lead Producer - Overlord)
and me – this was the list of participants. All together we brainstormed a lot of options and versions of game setting for the future MMO, their pluses and disadvantages (partially the ICQ log is published here - Overlord)
. And then we decided that our best idea was developing an MMO about tanks. It was more creative than coming out with some fantasy game and we were well familiar with the topic.
— What are your responsibilities today?
— I am a historical consultant. I prepare materials for future tank and plane models. I also participate in development of branches and trees of WoT and WoWP. I take part in discussing in-game changes, introduction of new modes and so on. So, it’s more or less the same all the time – game design. The most important part of course is gathering materials to create models and ways of progression. After all, it’s vital that designers’ wishes coincide with the historical properties of the vehicles.
— Which WG game do you prefer as a player?
— If we are talking about all our games, then my personal best is Massive Assault 2 Network which I still play from time to time and the last but not the least…World of Tanks! :)