Immersion. That’s not a word you often hear associated with lobby-based PvP games. But in the case of World of Warships, the third title in Wargaming’s WWII-era trilogy, it’s more than just fitting; it’s defining. Although not a battle simulation, WoWS offers a genuinely immersive experience thanks to the historical authenticity and the level of detail in both the audio and visual departments. You’ve heard the devil is in the details? Well that’s where the immersion is, too. And now that open beta has started, more players are finally able to dive in and experience this for themselves.
To learn more about how the development team achieved such a high level of immersion, I went to the source: I visited Wargaming’s headquarters in St. Petersburg and talked with the devs who create everything you see and hear in the game. And after watching the creation process in action, I appreciated the ambiance all the more when I jumped in for a hands-on in the closed beta.
Easily the first thing gamers think of when discussing the atmosphere of a game is the visuals. When what you see is what you get, details are important. Luckily, attention to details is where this team shines. I sat down with Art Director Anton Oparin, who designs the vision of the project, and Alexander Zotikov, the senior technical 3-D artist, to get a look at setting the stage with visuals.
Oparin emphasizes how his team combines everything from special effects to art and design to layout to make a complete package experience. He showed off a new map that includes an airfield that teams will battle for control of, and described another that will be off the Italian coast. As of the interview, there were seven maps already in game, and five more are in development.
Zotikov discussed how his work is “the bridge between the designers and programmers and the art team.” He demonstrated the process of taking the ship from art concept to 3-D model, literally building a battleship right before my eyes. Although the original draft took many months to complete, this ship was done in no time thanks to a vast asset library filled with tons of little nautical pieces like vents, sails, pipes, ropes, portholes and everything else you’d see on the exterior of the ship. He also applied textures, rust, and coloring.
The exterior is not the only thing to get such intricate details. Zotikov showed me how the ships are built in sections so that if it’s damaged enough that part of the vessel breaks off, you can see the details of the interior. And of course, all these details are accurate historically. At times he admitted that the team doesn’t have enough historical references to make things exact. For example, the ship he was showing me had schematics with only a top-down view so he improvised with other details. However, once another set of blueprints was found with specs for the sides, he went back and adjusted the model to accurately reflect the true design.
Another fascinating feature that Zotikov demonstrated was the progression of damage. As a vessel takes hits in battle, damage is displayed right on the section of the ship where the shots landed. These skins are applied in increments, from scorch marks to smoldering metal. You don’t need to look at a health bar to know the status of your ship!
Zotikov also told me that his division creates the buildings for maps (to give them more life than just rocks) and the airplanes for the air carriers. Why not use the models already created in World of Warplanes? It’s about optimization, he explained. “We cannot just take them because they are really high polygon count.” He also emphasized that in this game, the main characters are the warships. So although there is some collaboration, WoWS uses its own, more optimized models for the planes.
While it’s not as easy to see as visuals when it comes to ambiance, audio is a major mood-setter — just try not having it sometime! WoWS puts plenty of effort into making the experience more visceral with sounds. Artur Tohtash, head of the sound team, discussed the techniques involved in creating the in-game music tracks and ambient sounds. Since sound is a very important element, he emphasized that the team wanted to get things right. Because of that, the current music in the game is actually the third iteration; the first two were more orchestral but weren’t good enough. The current one is more hybrid and more cinematic.
The music in game is also not a static soundtrack but is interactive, changing depending on what the player is doing. Tohtash explained,
“We have two techniques of interactive music — vertical and horizontal. When you are in port and are just looking at your ship, you hear epic music. The music reacts according to your UI, changing as you move from looking at your ship to adding improvements to your profile.”
He further described how the music changes during each match depending on whether a player is unengaged, sees an enemy, or has started to fight. Tohtash shared that making the music interactive is definitely more difficult “but worth it because it is really much more playable and much more immersive than the straightforward music.” He also said that in the future, the team will implement an even more complicated system of interactive music that will react to more actions of the players. Tohtash explained that there are two hours of soundtrack currently finished with 15 different states, and more are already in the works.
Sounds really start to shine through once you turn the music down. Although the game’s smart music slider suppresses it when you fire, try clicking it off sometime to focus on the many ambient sounds. Tohtash said that the team has already added “about 3,000” different sounds to the game. Players will actually hear different metallic sounds from the engines and hulls when the ships change speeds and from the guns when they fire. Engines have four different sound elements (engine, turbine, resonance, and post effects), and guns have three (attack, body, and echo or tail), which combine with recoil, load, and double echo. Using the various elements, the team took care to make different caliber of guns have different sounds. On top of all the types of sounds is the fact that they are positional, changing depending on what view players are in. If your camera is too close to the gun, you will get ringing in your ears after the shot!
Artillery sounds in World of Warships are something that diverges from historical accuracy. The team has access to reference videos, but focus groups have not wanted the more accurate gunfire sounds; they favor big booming ones. Tohtash admitted that actual sounds alone are a bit dry, but once effects such as implementing the bass and the full range of frequencies are added in, the sound is richer and fuller.
One of Head of UI Anton Artemov’s job is to make sure that players are not over-encumbered by all the information necessary to play the game. After all, there are oodles of ships, improvements for said ships, profile information, and more that players of all the different cultures need easy access to for an enjoyable gaming experience. However, the ships are the stars, and anything too bulky would take away from the ambiance that the visuals and audio are trying to create. He said, “It’s not only about the graphical user interface or heads-up display, it’s about the whole interactive system.” Besides the UI, this includes camera movement, controls, aviation controls (for those aircraft carriers), and more. All these elements come together with the visuals and sound to really make a good experience.
Although game mechanics won’t see players walking along the decks of their ships (or puking over the side in rough waters), the combination of visual and audio elements really make you feel like you almost could. However, those aren’t the only things to contribute to that realistic feel. There’s the way the ships list and the way the water tugs at them, resisting attempts to turn. And in the future, there may be even more! Oparin shared another element of realism for folks to experience: The team is working on having ocean currents actually affect ships speed and movement. Someday after release, he said, there could even be weather effects like rain, massive storms, and fog. Can you imagine trying to steer through massive waves that beat against your ship as you try to line up your shot?
Put it all together: A hands-on
So how does it all come together? Beautifully enough to convert me to a ship captain! I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have had much interest in the game initially if it weren’t for my love of WWII warships. And even despite that, there was always the chance that once I got into a match I simply wouldn’t find the battle enjoyable. I am happy to report that wasn’t the case.
I sailed around in a cruiser, the USS Cleveland, and marveled at the feel of chugging through the water. Between the authenticity of the ship’s movement and the sounds of the hull creaking as I turned, I almost felt the wind whipping through my hair as I barreled full-speed ahead toward my objective. I could have just sailed around all day admiring the ships, but of course battle was inevitable. A bit to my surprise, I actually found the fight quite fun. Though I died in my first match (before I figured out targeting), I managed to remain alive and even destroy a few ships in the others, helping my team secure victory. It almost pained me to destroy those beautiful ships in all their intricate detail, but then watching the progression of the damage was pretty fascinating as well, so that eased my guilt a bit. Besides, it was them or me!
As a new player unfamiliar with the game, I found the controls fairly easy to pick up, even if not to master. I’m good with that; it gives me something to shoot for (no pun intended). And that’s the way the team wants it. Artemov shared, “The big thing that you have with World of Warships is you will always have something new to learn about tactics and such.” I am definitely on the first rung of that learning ladder, but I am looking forward to the climb!