World of Warships: Buoys-deep in the strategy game aiming for world conquest - Games Weekly

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Monday, March 16, 2015

World of Warships: Buoys-deep in the strategy game aiming for world conquest

Wargaming.net runs a tight ship. I’m visiting the Saint Petersburg HQ of Lesta Studio, the Russian developer that in 2011 joined forces with Wargaming.net to create naval MMO World of Warships, and the results are fairly impressive so far.

No journalist has been given access to the building before, and it shows. After passing several layers of security I meet two ladies in branded Wargaming fleeces who stop at intervals on my tour to use bright green fingerprint scanners. Slogans in hallways hammer home  Warships ’ direction: ‘More control with fewer controls’. Hard to ignore is the wall-to-wall ‘glory stand’ showing off Lesta Studio’s awards for titles such as 2006 RTS Pacific Storm , 2010’s Elements of War  MMO, and 2011 hidden object game Nightmare Realm. Morale is clearly high.


When the tour ends and I sit down with Warships’ alpha build, it’s easy to see why. As in World of Tanks and World of Warplanes , battles (of up to 14 vs 14) against either people or AI last about ten minutes, and the aim is to either eliminate the enemy team or capture their base. When you die, you’re out for the round.

Tactical depth primarily comes from four distinct classes: battleships, cruisers, destroyers and carriers. I give the latter a whirl the American Essex and find it drastically different to anything else in Wargaming ’s canon. They’re loaded with four aircraft squadrons, the idea being to hang back and launch them while teammates cover you. Holding the shift key selects every plane simultaneously, and after clicking on an enemy you select the angle of attack with a dial. There are multiple camera angles, including first-person, but it’s possible to play entirely from a top-down RTS-like view by pressing M.
I turn my ship sideways, unleashing a flurry of shots like an old pirate frigate
“This isn’t just World of Tanks on the water,” says director of global operations Ivan Morov, “but it’s the same principle of free-to-play, not free-to-win.” You can control your carrier the old-fashioned WASD way, but I prefer queuing up movements in order to keep mobile. Pressing Z gives me an action shot, with R cycling through my units as they drop bombs, fire missiles, and get shot down with worrying frequency but not before they do serious damage by hitting the back of one ship to disable its rudders and the front of another to kill its engines.

 Carriers have gone through numerous iterations. “They’ve been an uber weapon, and they’ve been useless crap,” says Morov. “They had scout planes. They had a bigger radar. They used to have fuel that could run out, which didn’t really make sense in a ten-minute match.” Between realism and fun, fun wins every time.

 Between games I meet Anton Artemov, head of the interaction department, who shows me the experimental testing room in which microphones and camera arrays capture testers’ body positions and verbalisations. “Behaviour analysis,” explains Artemov. “Next-gen bio feedback from physiological states.” His ten-person team is dedicated solely to observing even the most minute player feedback.
These are ships that have been at sea for three months, and you can see it in the rust
For the next match I test drive the Des Moines cruiser, and it plays a traditionally direct game. There’s a cinematic moment on the Islands of Ice map as I spy a destroyer emerging from fog and turn my ship sideways to unleash a flurry of shots like an old pirate frigate. Warships can do both moment-to-moment action and deliberately-paced strategy.

It’s undeniably ambitious, too. Each of the 75 ships takes between one and three months to create, according to Aleksandr Zotikov, senior technical 3D artist, and they have 30 times the polygons of a tank. Ships can have up to 20 cannons, compared to a tank’s one, and all of these produce ballistics that need to be synced with all players. “Our three main principals are historical realism, functional realism, and detail,” Zotikov tells me. “These are ships that have been at sea for three months, and you can see that in the rust, the visible water line, and the thinning paint.”

I like the Langley with its large flat top that looks like a scaffold stage erected by roadies, the St Louis with its four mammoth steampunk smoke stacks surrounded by a network of smaller red and gold pipes, and the Fuso, which features a towering Jenga-like pile of guns.

Although the alpha’s 8,000 players mostly reside in CIS countries,  Warships  aims for global appeal without compromising on depth. As I leave, I see playing on a monitor what looks like the recording of a player’s cursor moves, with bright green trails to illustrate how they navigate the menu. You get the sense Lesta Studio is in search of nothing less than perfection. In taking the instant playability of  Wargaming ’s last two games to a fresh setting, they’re seemingly charting the right course.

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