Monument Valley is the result of designing a mobile title from the ground up, taking into consideration the player’s experience at both artistic and systemic levels. But what happens when your game idea is not a natural fit for the mobile space from the start? Where almost every aspect of its design, in fact, seems contrary to the ideals that made Monument Valley such a success?
This was the case with Wargaming.net’s World of Tanks: Blitz, a game which I personally enjoyed far more than I expected to couple of months back. As a free-to-play, multiplayer tactical shooter, describing Blitz is essentially reading out a list of every negative stereotype of mobile games. In short, it sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
Wargaming didn’t see it this way. Instead, they viewed Blitz as a way of breaking those negative perceptions, of showing that a multiplayer shooter can work on mobile, if done right. “The key factors that made us believe World of Tanks Blitz would work are the fact that tanks are slower and don’t require quick reflexes to win along with a fair, free-to-play model,” says Dmitri Yudo, Producer on World of Tanks: Blitz.
Regarding the free-to-play aspect of Blitz, Wargaming benefited from already having a working and well-regarded f2p model on the PC version, and were committed to doing the exact same thing for Blitz. “The World of Tanks Blitz gameplay approaches players with sheer integrity,” Yudo states. “We don’t restrict players by implementing paywalls or time constraints in gameplay. Common non-ethical methods of monetization are not tolerated in our game at all. In World of Tanks Blitz you will find no energy/fuel, timers, or other extremely irritating elements.” Instead, all tanks and equipment can be unlocked through in-game currency transactions, with player-purchases acting as a fast-track option.
While the free-to-play aspect of Blitz was a case of Wargaming simply sticking to their guns, other parts of the game required significant reworking. First and foremost were the controls, which had to be completely changed for touchscreens. Yudo explains that Blitz’s control scheme took six months to develop, framed around the fact that tanks by their nature are slow-moving. “We also introduced some innovative features to make controls more responsive and easier to learn. “Smart Auto-Aim” makes following the target and shooting in motion easier. “Smart Sniper Mode” automatically calculates zoom level based on distance to the enemy,” Yudo adds.
The last major obstacle to making Blitz suitable for mobile was the concept of multiplayer over mobile networks. Yudo emphasises that network stability was the most vital aspect of this to get right, and to do so they made several alterations to their server-side-technology, BigWorld. “If signal is lost, the game reconnects the player to the same exact battle they fell out of. We also implemented client prediction mechanisms that help minimize the influence of sudden ping drops on game performance. Even 200+ ping provides a relatively comfortable gaming experience.”
Wargaming also made some smaller changes to the game. Although the graphics engine remains much the same, they decreased the player numbers in matches to 7 v 7, and reduced map size to accommodate for that. In the end, Wargaming’s work paid off, Yudo reveals that Blitz has reached in the top-10 grossing apps for iPhone in 20 countries, and over 50 countries for iPad.
Currently, Wargaming are working on an Android version, which they plan to be ready by the end of 2014. “There are many more Android devices to develop for than there are for iOS, so the primary task is to complete scrupulous testing of World of Tanks Blitz on these various devices. We are also working to solve some performance issues, and optimize the game for simpler and less powerful devices,” Yudo concludes.
Wargaming’s efforts, and the fact that they paid off, demonstrate that mobile gaming isn't constrained to a limited set of genres, and that creating a great mobile game doesn't involve following an established set of rules, or creating within a particular genre. Instead it’s about understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of the platform, and searching for new ways to either emphasise those strengths or navigate those weaknesses. To look at something that shouldn’t work and find a way that it does, or to bring in an additional layer, a twist to established conventions and models.
Ken Wong sums it up best in response to the question; what do you think a mobile game should do? “The world is big enough for lots of different types of mobile games. Some are really good at just filling idle time. Others are educational. Some make you think, some make you laugh, some make you cry. There is too much factionalism in the games industry, a lack of understanding about the diversity of our audiences. What is right for one developer isn't necessarily applicable to another.”