“Talking with a museum or archive we don’t just get the blueprints for one ship, we try to get everything they have – [stuff] that we believe can be put into the game at one point or another.” That’s Artur Plociennik, Executive Producer working on World of Warships talking about the work that goes into bringing historic naval vessels into Wargaming’s popular free-to-play multiplayer title.
Released during the second half of 2015, World of Warships is more than a simple extension of Wargaming’s popular World of Tanks series. By approaching the idea of large hulking battleships in a plyer-versus-player environment, with the same attention to historical detail, the result is a critically acclaimed experience that benefits from being quite unlike anything else out there. From a pure technical aspect, the process of simply adding a new ship into World of Warships is a long, detailed, and involved one.
Pre-production involves an Archival Research team gathering up all manner of information, which leads to a separate Video Team visiting sites for archival photography and where possible snapping up as many pictures as possible of existing ships. From there art teams take over to create detailed 3D models which needs to go through a thorough check for technical and historical accuracy before it enters the game-phase and goes through extensive testing, art and visual effect passes, and gameplay balancing.
“Due to the scope of our project and production planning we acquire a lot of materials and information relating to ships in bulk,” Artur adds, continuing from his earlier point. “We regularly visit archives in countries for which Navy we plan to add. Even though modern archives are becoming digital at a very surprising speed, there is no alternative for old-style research by a group of specialists. We dig through hundreds of plans and photos to choose [the] most valuable pieces for ship reconstruction. This requires not only specific knowledge of navy history, shipbuilding history, but as well as professional experience in [approaching] national archives of different countries.”
It’s rare that the planning and design phase for game development extends beyond visiting locations for reference photography, and in the case of World of Warships the term ‘archival expedition’ has become a key part of the development process. Where over the years it has been honed to an intense degree, where experience and being fluent in several languages has resulted in World of Warships extending its included suite of naval vessels to include ships from a wide range of countries.
Including Australia. When discussing the addition of the HMAS Vampire, the Royal Australian Navy’s most iconic vessel, Artur mentions that the team liaised directly with the National Archives of Australia, the National Maritime Museum in London, and the Imperial War Museum to collect the necessary photos and plans. “This is quite a standard approach for us when we are working on Commonwealth ships,” Artur adds. “To check both UK archives and national ones as well.”
In the world of media, when talking about documentaries, films, books, and even hobbyist models, this research model is not exactly new. But, one that still comes as a surprise to some historians when the world of gaming comes knocking on the door. “We were the first navy action game developers using this approach - gathering massive numbers of very detailed blueprints, photos, and even textual materials,” Artur explains. “A lot of the institutions are quite surprised that the gaming industry does really need [all this info], plans, [and] historical scale models produced during [the] building of the ships.”
A process that has led to the team at Wargaming establishing long-lasting reciprocal relationships with academics and Naval officers from across the globe. Where a shared passion has ensured that the faster and more intensive game development cycle works in tandem with relationships formed in the sorts of places one might associate with a slower, measured pace - i.e. a museum.
Which raises the question, what happens when documentation or information is incomplete? A page missing from a detailed set of blueprints, a detailed model missing an entire section, or a ship that never made it to the prototype stage where construction was viable? “Cases where certain materials are missing are not rare,” Artur tells me. “Especially when a ship was not built and existed only on paper.” The outcome, as one might guess involves – well - guessing. In an educated way.
“We refer to our knowledge of that nation’s navy shipbuilding tendencies,” Artur continues. “Our goal is to take [as much as we can] from the materials left on a paper to launch a scientific reconstruction and build a 3D model. For additional details we always take from what was available for a country's navy. It might be armament systems, fire control equipment or radar installations. But only those [that] existed in the same historical period and might be mounted on a ship. To prove this, we use the navy engineering experience of our employees and proper mathematical calculations.”
These missing historical puzzle pieces occur so frequently that the World of Warships team features not one but four in-house naval engineers – ready to reproduce and reconstruct historical vessels based on all relevant historical information. With so much research intrinsically linked to World of Warships’ development, how the team goes about deciding on what ship or vessel to add next still comes down to gameplay, where the tier, class, nation, and specific mechanics hypothetically leads to a situation where key members rifle through mountains of folders and paperwork to find the right ship.
Of course, the appeal of World of Warships extends beyond realistic visual recreations of real-life ships, as the same care and attention applies to any new vessel the moment it becomes submerged in a digital body of water. “The World of Warships game engine enables objects to move realistically in dense environment such as water,” Arthur says while noting that ship movement is an entirely new and separate part of the development cycle, once 3D models have been completed.
“So, what influences a warship’s speed in our game?” Artur continues. “This would be the warship’s length, width, draught, displacement, engine power, and so on. All these factors influence ship movement, speed, and how fast or slow it can change course. In the other words, World of Warships players may feel the same effects as real captains when they order their vessel not to change its speed or stop. It makes ship control and positioning in the battle environment as important as firing on the enemy or gathering reconnaissance information.”
When discussing the game and combat of World of Warships, which is what keeps players coming back, it was hard not to bring up the idea of what we don’t see. The part of a ship that lies beneath the surface. Due to the sheer size of the vessels, compared to the vehicles found in something like World of Tanks, does the team at Wargaming employ any sort of tricks to simulate movement and weighty feel of the ship to save on the hardware impact that large 3D objects would no doubt place on the engine. “Warships models are twice as hard to build than tanks,” Artur point out, while noting that the tanks in World of Tanks feature more visual detail due to the difference in size. “We have 300,000 polygon meshes while World of Tanks has 100,000. If we used the same approach to create detailed models we would have warships with around 5–10 million polygon meshes, they would weigh too much, and it would take us one and a half years per ship to build.”
“But, we pay the same attention to the underwater parts of the ship because players will see them eventually when either an enemy’s or their own ship is sunk,” Artur adds. “The animation sometimes shows keel and propellers above the water. For that purpose, the research team hunts not only for midship views, outlines and top view plans, [but also] plans for underwater vents and propeller schematics. We place the same level of focus on secondary non-combat systems, including navigation lights, rafts, anchor equipment and so forth.”
“History is the DNA of our project,” Artur concludes. “Historical research is at the core of developing all in-game content. Which is why warship models are the most accurate part of World of Warships.”