Making an Update for World of Warships

An Executive Producer Philip Molodkovets and Tech Team Lead Mikhail Popov have told us about the recent 0.10.10 update of World of Warships, reviewed the new features, and explained how they understand that the game needs an update.

Introduction Could you introduce yourself and tell us about the Warships team? What projects have you contributed to before joining the team?

Philip Molodkovets, Executive Producer: The World of Warships team is located across several Wargaming offices, including Wargaming Saint Petersburg (Russia), Prague (Europe), Austin, TX (US), Tokyo, Singapore, and Seoul (APAC). We have around 500 people working on the game, including both dedicated teams and shared teams who contribute to WoWS franchise products or Wargaming products in general.

As for me, World of Warships was my first job in game development. I joined the team eight years ago building relevant experience in the company, and since then I worked in Community, Supertest, Analytics and eventually took the role of Executive Producer.

Mikhail Popov, Tech Team Lead: I’ve been working in the gaming industry since 2001. During that time I participated in the development of around 20 games through various development roles, either as a programmer, game designer, or team lead. Since 2018, I've been leading the Client Tech Team at World of Warships. 

Update 0.10.10 Overview You have recently announced a major update for World of Warships. Could you give us an overview?

Philip Molodkovets: Update 0.10.10 brings a lot of large improvements to the graphics. We used to update the visuals incrementally most of the time, but in this update, the scope is massive and concentrated, so it feels like a major step. We've reworked water simulation for all maps, sun glitter, and other optical water-related effects, and added underwater vegetation to several maps, and improved vegetation, in general, to be more realistic.

We’ve also delivered HD textures for several maps and ports; while not every map and port have HD textures right now, others will follow in future updates. We’ve added an abundance of life to our locations by introducing birds, fish, flying flags, and other moving objects. As a result, the game has received a gorgeous revamping of the visuals and I’m happy to see how the players appreciate the effort.

As for other content, we’ve delivered a new event game mode called “Arms Race” which brings unusual twists to battles, we’ve brought superships (new endgame vehicles) into Ranked battles as a way to freshen up the game. Finally, there are several new ships to explore, as always.

Water Simulation You mentioned improving water simulation. What new tech did you introduce with the latest update? How did you approach caustics and other elements of this complex matter?

Mikhail Popov: Indeed, the new water simulation is one of the most impressive and visible changes. Now it correctly simulates every wave as a superposition of the full spectrum of ocean harmonics, instead of the sum of three-wave textures as it previously did. As a consequence, the waves are now swinging, which helps to understand the direction of the ship's movement. Technically the simulation takes place in the frequency domain and then uses the inverse Fourier transformation to reconstruct the water surface at the current frame. The aforementioned set of harmonics taken for simulation are the result of real oceanographic measurements. This makes the new water system much more realistic.

Another significant change is how water interacts with the ship. Waves of different shapes and sizes will react with the ship based on its size. For instance, you can see fast destroyers jumping over waves and huge battleships being relatively stable even during stormy weather. For now, we turned on physics only for ships that are actively used, but in the upcoming updates, we are going to include all objects that float on the water.

HD Textures & Animated Objects You also state that the update brings new HD texture and animated objects. What new things did you add to make the world feel more believable? Could you break down some of the more important updates?

Mikhail Popov: With update 0.10.10 we also introduced a brand new forest system, new maps content based on complex tiled materials, and GPU-driven animation for small objects.

Our new tiled material system allows us to mix various surfaces in a very natural way. We consider the heights of materials, which means that the grass is above the sand, while stones are above the grass. This enables us to have visible tiles, allowing our artists full control over visuals. That technique allows us to increase surface detail tenfold.

Within the new maps, you can discover flocks of birds and schools of fish. They do not affect the gameplay but make the scenery more vivid. All their animations compute at the GPU side which means overall performance isn’t affected as much. 

Vegetation You’ve also updated vegetation. Could you tell us about your workflow? How difficult is it to prepare vegetation for such a large-scale online project?

Mikhail Popov: With the previous forest system, we were limited in painting dense tropical forests. New forests rely on GPU compute power and this allows us to draw millions of trees with a good performance. By improving tree shading, we managed to fine-tune leaves’ light transmission. This allows each tree to keep its form even at long distances, instead of turning into a bunch of pixels. All trees and bushes are built with SpeedTree and adapted for our game. Planting vegetation is quite simple – artists can choose desired vegetation within the world editor and paint it over the ground. 

Ships You constantly add new warships. Could you discuss the steps behind this process? How do you turn a concept into a final piece? What are the challenges and bottlenecks? 

Mikhail Popov: The process starts with the initial research. Once we decide which ships to recreate, then we send an expedition to the museum or an archive to find blueprints, historical photos, professional models, or any other documents we mind find useful. After we gather the needed references, 3D modelers start to build ships, which takes them around 3–6 months to finalize designs. Finally, the ships will go into phases of testing and balancing before the actual release. Therefore, sometimes it takes up to a year to create a single ship.

Sometimes the historical documents are damaged and only a portion of the information is available. This is where our ship designers take the spotlight. Thanks to their understanding of the technology that was available at the time and their shipbuilding knowledge, they are able to recreate certain projects that might not have been finalized or preserved in real life. 

The Need for an Update Tell us about this moment when you understand the game needs an update. How does it happen? Do you get feedback from your community or is it more about studying analytics? What is the process?

Philip Molodkovets: To give you some context, we deliver big content updates every month. We believe this is the best option, as the game continues to evolve. In between updates, we’re iterating, experimenting, and looking for new opportunities to keep players entertained.

Most of the things we do involve these three sources of information: our vision, community feedback, and data. It’s sometimes a challenge to balance these, for instance, when a ship performs well based on data, but the community consensus is that it’s weak and underwhelming. It’s also important to understand that while we try to be flexible and react quickly, some milestone features take a lot of planning and time.

For example, balance changes take up to two months, since we collect relevant data and community feedback during this time. However, introducing a full branch of ships might take 1-2 years from the initial historical and archive research to delivery. 

Challenges What would you say are the main challenges behind the development of a game that lives many years? How difficult is it to keep players engaged? What are the keys here in your opinion?

Philip Molodkovets: Although most of our updates are met with excitement, their sheer frequency and intense work tempo can also sometimes bring some issues and result in player dissatisfaction. We are driven by a belief that the live game should keep evolving, and it means that sometimes a new update introduces changes that might not sit well with some players. Although we try to address all concerns, sometimes it’s difficult to implement a fix in the required time. When small mistakes keep piling up, it produces community frustrations. We work a lot and while we have our missteps, I’m proud to say that we learn from our mistakes and strive to improve.

We are now in a position where we communicate more transparently to our players the reasons behind our current changes and as well as our future plans. We also started to disclose the drop rates for random in-game purchases, which has been a vocal community concern for a while. There are still a lot of things that we’re working on to provide the best experience for our players, but the biggest takeaway is that we want to assure the community’s voice is being heard. We see this relationship as a collaboration, where players need to feel valued, while the developers shape a creative vision. 

Philip Molodkovets and Mikhail Popov, World of Warships' Executive Producer & Tech Team Lead

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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