Interview : World of Tanks Blitz Art Team

The global release of World of Tanks Blitz is coming up soon! In anticipation of the release, we are launching a series of Blitz interviews with the World of Tanks Blitz team. First, we had a chance to talk with the guys from the Art department, Andrew Nikolaenko (Lead 3D Artist) and Alexey Kornezev (Level Artist). They told us about their work and shared information about the quirks of mobile game development. 

What's your work consist of on the World of Tanks Blitz team?


Andrew: There are three of us on the team, and we are involved in the creation of game content for World of Tanks Blitz, in particular the creation of 3D tank models. In fact, we don't create the content from scratch, but take the tanks that are available on World of Tanks PC and rework and adjust them to our mobile platform. Sometimes our colleagues from Kiev help, especially with some of the more urgent tasks.

Alexey: My colleagues and I create maps and content for them: trees, fences, buildings, hangars, etc. To sum it up in one word, we create the ambience that surrounds the player and that the player sees. Five staff members work with maps and another is in charge of the effects. An employee from the Game Design department also assists us in the process, starting with the creation of the design document up to the final release of the map.

What are the finer points of making a game for a mobile platform?


Andrew: At first, our work appears simple: make the tank 2-3 times smaller than in World of Tanks PC. But in reality, the scope of work is the same as if we were developing tanks from scratch. Mobile platforms have much lower performance than modern PCs and we have to take that into account. Some things we omit, others we rework by changing texture resolution and model details.

Alexey: Considering the behavior of the in-game camera, our maps became a major nuisance in our work. It is completely different in the mobile version of the game. We had to find the balance between “attractive” and “playable”. First we created very beautifully-detailed objects, but the in-game camera kind of clung to them. As a result, for instance, when working on urban maps, we had to carefully and accurately develop all small objects (balconies, offsets) and make them in such a way that the camera moved smoothly without spoiling the process of the game.

One more point to mention here is the difference in lightning between World of Tanks Blitz and the PC version. In World of Tanks Blitz, we first used technologies that PC game developers used back in the 2000s. But in the last six months, we had the opportunity to implement dynamic lightning in World of Tanks Blitz. Now everything looks much better.

What can you tell us about making maps?


Alexey: The process takes one to two months. First, we select the location where battles will be carried out: China, Europe, the U.S. – everything else we create for the map depends on this. Then, we make a draft model of the map which we test by driving the tanks to check all the details and to see if we are happy with it. Once we’ve done that, the map is sent to development, where items are added, textures are put on them -- which are taken from our library or designed from scratch. The entire process of a single map creation is within the responsibility of only one staff member.

How do you create and add tanks to the game?


Andrew: It’s as easy as one-two-three! We create a tank model, put textures on it, and with the help of the resource editor, add the tank to the map. If we see that tank reviews and adjustments are needed, we continue making corrections so that we and Alexey’s team are satisfied with the results. We also have special programs which check the accuracy of models during the process of their creation. One of these programs checks if our models correspond with the tanks on the PC version. Additionally, we try to use effects from World of Tanks PC, like mud on the tracks, blazing fires, etc. Players from the PC version of World of tanks will want to see the same familiar tanks they got used to playing on PC!

How do you interact with other teams from the Mobile Development department?


Andrew: When the tank model is prepared, we pass it to the QA team for checking and testing. We receive bug reports, which we then use to fix the bugs. Moreover, we communicate not only via email and various instant messenger programs but also meet each other face-to-face.

Alexey: On a daily basis we converse with all people, beginning with the Framework department to the QA team. During our interaction and work on maps, many ideas come to mind. It often appears that in 50% of cases we are the requesters of new “features” from the programming department. We ask them to add additional options and tools to our editor, and that help allows all content to be created.

How do you manage to include all those small details?


Andrew: We constantly pass along each other’s tank models for quick review. If one person misses a particular detail, another colleague may notice, then fix or add what's missing.

Alexey: We also share the results with each other. Sometimes we arrange special play tests by getting together at the end of the day and playing World of Tanks Blitz for an hour. It is really easy to find out about bugs this way.

How can you achieve such realism in World of Tanks Blitz on a comparatively low-powered platform?


Andrew: The normal technology and specular map embedded in the World of Tanks Blitz engine by the Framework team helps us with realism. For example, with the help of a normal map (a graphical technique), we managed to make our tanks look solid and dimensional. Apart from that, dynamic image effects are present in the game. While in motion, tanks look much more realistic than if they are static.

What are the standout parts of working in your department?


Andrew: It just so happens that our team is like a second family to each of us. It is, in fact, one of the most important factors in the success of the entire department.

Alexey: I completely agree with Andrew! We try to keep that family atmosphere that we developed over the years. We have such a friendly atmosphere in the department that the guys from other teams come around to see us often.

Have mobile games changed the world?


Andrew: Yes, but I don’t know if they have changed it for better or worse. I can definitely say that they have become more available. For example, my children like to play World of Tanks Blitz, and they even take away my tablet. Maybe I would prefer to see my children playing outdoors with other kids or riding a bicycle, but that is our contemporary world; there are a lot of gadgets and information surrounding us. On the other hand, there is a positive quality to all this – there are more chances for learning. So the time will tell how the world will change with all these mobile devices.

Alexey: Due to mobile devices, games themselves have become more available for a wider circle of people. Before, the situation was that only few people had PCs on which they could play; the whole thing with playing today has become even handier. I’m glad that we live and work in such a world.

Given all your hard work, have you started dreaming about tanks and maps?


Andrew: That has happened to me. I remember when our functionality and opportunities were extended, and we had to rework a bunch of things that were completed all at once. Then I would close my eyes and I saw nothing but tanks, many tanks. Now I feel much better and it seems I don’t have those kinds of dreams anymore.

Alexey: I used to dream about my university exams. Tanks and maps haven’t visited me in my dreams yet, at least not that I remember.

In their free time, Andrew plays on our hockey team “The Wargamers” as a defender, and Alexey is involved in building the house where he and his family live.