A particularly vivid example of how difficult storytelling can be is - historical Online Games. How to reveal an interesting plot, if the whole gameplay is movement from one isolated battle to another, and the development of the player is firmly connected with the real historical chronology?
World of Tanks is one of the most popular games in Russia, based on the history of armored vehicles. More than 600 tanksrepresenting a wide variety of engineering schools are the protagonists of the game. There is no plot in the classical sense in World of Tanks, but this does not prevent hundreds of thousands of “tankers” from fighting with enthusiasm on the battlefields in the game for more than ten years.
We spoke with copywriter Vitaly Bugorkov and 3D artist Maxim Bondarik from Wargaming and asked how stories are told in World of Tanks and what developers come up with to fill the game with new meanings.
Please tell us if there is a storyline in World of Tanks that you can follow as you level up?
- World of Tanks is a historical game where the main plot is based on the development of armored vehicles. In games such as tanks, plot elements are not revealed as in singleplayer games, because when the basis of the gameplay is a separate tank battle, then the story cannot be told in the same way as in open world games or in linear story-driven adventures. But it would be wrong to do without plot elements altogether. Therefore, World of Tanks uses other means to tell interesting stories. First of all, these are special game events - from the recent ones you can recall the Halloween horror "Peace-13" and the unique mode with asymmetric gameplay "The Last Waffentrager".
Stories can also be told through styles and descriptions. The idea to add "diary clippings" to style descriptions, or rather to present this description entirely in the form of a clipping, came almost immediately with the start of the development of three-dimensional styles. Before that, as a rule, text was used containing dry information like "the style is based on a camouflage scheme used in tropical areas by the troops of the 3rd separate armored corps blah blah blah ...". This is certainly very interesting, but at that moment it seemed to me that completely new and unusual "skins" should be unusual in everything. The creative director got his approval for "delightful stories", and from that moment on, the tradition of writing in the first person went.
Attempt at writing. The very first careful description of the style in the new format. With each subsequent description, they delved deeper and deeper into the artistry.
“This is the crown of the armored industry of the post-war USSR, an armor-piercing fist capable of breaking through the strongest defenses and designed for the most effective actions against ground and air threats in any weather conditions, as well as in conditions of chemical, biological and nuclear pollution. That's what my commander says. And the commander is always right. "
This task was somewhat complicated by the fact that it was necessary to remain within the specified period, or nation, or type of technology, or God knows what else. The description-story was supposed to be an addition to the appearance of the car, not to be alien, not to stick out on its background, the car. And the main thing is not to repeat yourself. When there are a dozen styles, it is quite easy to achieve dissimilarity. But when there are already 50+ of them, you need to double-check everything three times to avoid self-copying.
Sometimes it dawns on, they say, “Oh, what a cool idea! Now I'll wrap it up in a style description ... although wait, that was already in% tankName%. " And all over again.
- As already mentioned, in recent years we have been developing not only historical tanks that are familiar to us, but also many non-standard vehicles that appear in various special in-game events. For example, tanks for the "Steel Hunter". This is a mode in the spirit of a battle royale, in which each player fights for himself and can improve his car right during the battle. From a visual point of view, the tanks had to show their technical characteristics by their appearance - the more armored ones had large protective screens, and the faster ones had a lightweight layout. One combat vehicle could consist of elements of several tanks at once. For example, the Soviet model could have a KV-4 turret and an IS-M hull.
Do you come up with a story first, and then create a style, or vice versa?
- For each in-game event, tanks are developed according to the internal storyline and gameplay features. For example, we designed the tanks for the Big Races event to look super fast, which is unusual for a regular tank on the battlefield. It was imperative to make a special engine for each car, its own for each nation. For example, a Soviet tank needed a Soviet-made unit, not an engine from Bugatti or Ferrari. We also had to book the stern of the tank, because in accordance with the game design of tank races, we could not damage the enemy's engine or knock down his caterpillar. Therefore, the task was to visually emphasize this. In addition, on "racing" tanks, a pronounced, powerful exhaust system was needed to add a more "racing" feel. In the future, cool visual effects were added to it.
- Another option is when we start from the appearance and create a plot based on it. A non-standard approach helps a lot. As an example, we can cite the style called "Fluffy", which was an experiment and, as expected, became the subject of discussion and criticism, which has not stopped until now. The bottom line is that the description of the style is based on a letter from a little girl to her father, who is bored and sends her dad her favorite teddy bear - Fuzzy. This entire letter is replete with deliberately made mistakes, conveying the imperfection of children's spelling. The idea of such a non-standard description arose just when examining the concept for the Object 277 tank. We noticed a teddy bear in a string bag on the tower. So the idea arose to make a start from this particular element of appearance.
“... and yesterday I got an A again! I retell your letter that my mother read to me. You wrote in it about the places where the kamandir sent you, I listened and remembered. And then she told about it in the lesson and the teacher said that I was great! The whole class listened attentively, everyone was interested. Mom and I and little Andryusha miss me very much, we are waiting for you sooner home. Especially mom, she sometimes cries at night. She says it’s very dangerous there, so I’m sending you Fuzzy. He will protect you and your friends. And when you return, we will listen together how he saved you. We love you very much, daddy! Come home quickly! Your daughter Masha. "
But the trouble is that many players do not read the descriptions, but they always see the names, which is why an avalanche of criticism fell in us, they say, whoever hired you at all. Those who read the description and understood everything, began to explain the meaning, and a long-playing discussion emerged.
It is worth adding that the alternative to "Pushystic" was a style for another tank, and this style should not have been lost against the background of the story about the bear cub. The idea came to turn everything upside down - and a description was born, the basis for which was the song "Yak-fighter" by Vladimir Vysotsky. At the moment, "Sentry" is the only style in the game, the description of which comes from the perspective of the tank itself, not its crew.
“Again they slam the hatches like at home. How can you explain to them that this is impossible with technology? There is a limit to everything! The heart is already coughing with oil splashes, unable to chew gasoline in half with the ground anymore. But for now, I hold on and drag my crew to the next point on the map, where at the cost of my resource people decided to defend their mercantile interests. It's hard to say what I want less - to turn into a dying skeleton here, in impassable forests, or to sleep peacefully under a centimeter layer of dust in one of the technical museums. Both outcomes are equally disgusting, but everything depends on the crew. I still can't live without him. As well as him without me - there are no spare parts for the guys inside. "
In addition, I note that finding a "support" for the description is already half the battle. For example, the "Last Dragon" style on the Chinese WZ 111 model 5A is based on the famous vineyard scene from the Soviet film "Father of a Soldier".
"The Last Dragon"
“Why were you demoted to platoon leader? Didn't follow the order. I didn’t do it - and I don’t regret it. They plotted the route so that I would have to walk in full column through the rice fields. By the roads, past the laid communications. Straight through the fields. And how should I react? As far as I can remember, my family has been growing rice, feeding itself and the country. Work began even before dawn and ended deep after midnight. This is infinitely hard work, and our management should have worked in the field at least once to understand this. I did not go into the army in order to crush the work of my own people with caterpillars, on whose money this tank was formally built. Respect for your neighbor is easy. If the price is my shoulder straps, so be it. A clear conscience is still dearer to me ”.
In World of Tanks, there are a lot of "museum" tanks - historically accurately reproduced vehicles, the characteristics of which are copied from real equipment. Are there any deviations from historicity in the game?
- There are cases when in the descriptions of some styles we make historical assumptions based, nevertheless, on real events and models of technology. For example, the style on the Soviet tank Object 430U "attributed" this vehicle to the Israeli army, placing the tank during the Six Day War. This is exactly an alternative history, since such a tank did not exist in metal. But why not? Why not assume that it was in a single copy taken for a run-in by the Israelis and thrown from the training ground into real combat conditions? So they gave him their own name - "Kelevra" ("Bad dog" in Hebrew. And yes, hello, Slevin!). The description of the style itself comes from the perspective of Israeli tankers.
“Well, that's all, you can exhale. Although I and my guys have aged a couple of years this week, that's for sure. What will happen next - let them decide at the top, while we will put in order the materiel and get a good night's sleep. Oh, yes, you still need to really study this car - no one has seen anything like it. It's a miracle that they managed to capture it almost without a fight. Judging by the looks and this formidable cannon, we could get a lot of trouble. We must wait for the commission; maybe they will shed light on what has fallen into our hands. If this is a fundamentally new tank, what is it like in battle? Where did the Egyptians get it from? How many more of these machines are there on the other side? I would not like to meet them in a direct collision. Anyway ... I don’t want any more collisions ”.
The same goes for the style on the IS-3 called "Montu". Only in this case, the events described are quite historical, the tank really fought in the Middle East under the flags of the Egyptians, and the style is named after the Egyptian god of war. He was paired with "Sekhmet" - the goddess who gave the name to the style for the Object 140 tank, which also entered the service of the Egyptians (but in this case, allegedly entered), but the crew remained in it Soviet - the tank is new, let's try it ourselves, and then, if everything goes well, we will give it to you. Thus, the text of the description comes from the perspective of the Soviet crew.
“Again this sand, everywhere endless sand, and on the armor - even fry an egg. I'm no longer afraid of ambushes and minefields, but this damned sun - it’s more likely to finish me off. Ahmad, our guide, says, they say, we were still lucky with the weather. And "no luck" then - how is it? Fortunately, the technology still suffers, it starts up properly and does not boil, although we probably change the air filters more often than we fill in the fuel. Yes, this beast only looks like filters and works. Well, at least it was possible to profitably throw ATGMs at a seemingly high-quality woven carpet and a couple of barrels of drinking water, all the same they are of no use here. Okay, let's get together! It's time to get to work. Galanin, start the engine. Let's try to relive one more day in this 'wonderland' ”.
By the way, an easter egg got into the style - a mechanic named Galanin. A reference to the leader of the group "SerGa", and the "wonderland" in the final phrase is the famous anti-war song of this group.
Descriptions are generally fertile ground for all sorts of Easter eggs, the main thing is not to beat on the forehead and not overdo it. "Little Bart", the style of the SPG with the largest caliber, is a reference to the German "Big Bertha". Anything can be sewn into the names, from the words identifying the belonging (the same Montu and Sekhmet), to the humor “not for everyone”. For example, we have a festive New Years XNUMXD style with a strange name "G, Fis, E, D, C, H, A, G". It depicts the Nutcracker, and the player familiar with the musical notation will realize that the name of the style contains a piece of the famous theme from the ballet by P.I.Tchaikovsky.
And when the style completely drops out of the concept of "historical", then I want to emphasize this with a description. For example, the style reserved for a special game event for the Swedish UDES 15/16 was generally described in verse:
I'll fill in refractory tungsten,
Titanium with cobalt additives,
Copper and sulfur
Chrome in moderation.
Let the steel merge with my will, master,
And turn to ice and fire
Into blade and shield
Feather and stone.
In the maelstrom of elements, waiting for the right moment,
Knowing that rage and strength are in her,
A river will pour out of the furnace.
Casting and forging - crucible, hammer,
Hardening after - in heat and cold.
To a chorus of occult spells
To the chilling roar of lamentation
To the clank of chains and the roar of the motor
The staples fit quickly, quickly.
And seam by seam, stitching sheets together
The armor is born alive.
And now the beast is ready to march
Into the sand and snow
Into fire and water.
Isn't it too early to celebrate the victory?
He follows the trail.
- When creating unhistorical machines, we are guided primarily by banal common sense and logic. If, according to the plot, the tank is electric, then somewhere there must be generators that generate current, somewhere special wires are held. If this is a racing tank, which I talked about earlier, then the engine should look powerful so that the player can immediately understand that it is not ordinary, but modified specifically for high-speed driving.
We look for all these elements from photographs and agree with historical consultants - could such an element exist in the era to which the event belongs, could it perform the function we need. We also consult with game designers to make sure that the tank clearly gives players an understanding of its main gameplay features and functions.
The Montu style mentioned above suggests that the tank changed its owner several times, passing from Egyptians to Israelis and back. And always with a fight.
Since the car is real, we completely followed the real shots. Traces of old Egyptian paint and emblems can be seen on the tank, over which Israeli paint and emblems have been applied, as well as traces of more recent Egyptian paint and emblems on top of Israeli ones, as the tank was recaptured according to legend. Only a few elements of the body kit, such as the water cans and the mattress, were our additions to keep the style readable.
We've dealt with individual styles. Are there any big storylines in World of Tanks that the developers have "sewn" into the style descriptions?
- Yes, sometimes a simple "single" description is not enough. If the styles are similar and come in a set, then they can generally get a single end-to-end plot, the pieces of which are served one after another. In this regard, I will tell you a little more about an alternative history: we have such a visual theme as Panzerwaffe'46. It includes German technology, which existed either in single copies, or in models, or generally only in drawings. We, within the framework of the “What if…” assumption, send her into battle in the last days of World War II, which, let's say, was going on for another year or two, and we weight it with the most modern equipment at that time. But in this alternative reality, the war is also actually lost by the Germans, even if the last shot has not yet sounded. The crews of these vehicles, on whose behalf the story is told, understand this very well, as they understand the primary problems and needs of the army: fuel, food, medicines. Here a character is born who, in three successive styles, appears as "the old fool Becker". This is a kind of collective image of a high staff officer who has become detached from reality, who rather satisfies some of his ambitious wishes, instead of providing real assistance to the troops entrusted to him.
“... This old fool Becker knows nothing about the craft of war. He's a railroad man, who let him get to our tanks? And now an order came from him with "urgent recommendations" to install an anti-aircraft gun to provide air defense and cover the infantry. Seriously? In a city battle, only a madman will stand up for this gun - this is the fastest way to say goodbye to life. Does he offer to shoot down planes out of it? Yes, Schwarzer Tod will not even take our main weapon, as it sometimes seems to me. The best cure for air raids is to run. Run as hard as you can. But once we had air supremacy - and where is our aviation? People like Becker buried her. Until the last plane. We asked for fuel and artillery tractors, but he doesn't care - he's there, in a warm office. And here we go deeper and deeper into hell "
"That's it. Schenker, Haas, Kaufman ... So you got your crosses, but not at all the ones that old fool Becker promised you. We never found Whitmeier, and Lang is unlikely to last until evening. And these five brave guys, who went through all the hell on earth with me, were replaced by youngsters who are less than I wear this uniform. Yes, we have a severe staff shortage, but did these guys deserve such a fate? Even they already understand everything, do not laugh and do not flaunt the power of our once great army. I know that the red stars are clanging their caterpillars just around the corner. But they don't need Berlin - they follow me. They are going to pay back for the four years that I played with fire. Correctly all the same they say, they say, to each according to his deeds. And I have already done my business. Schenker, Haas, Kaufman, my friends, forgive us that we had to part like that. We will meet very soon "
“The day started with two good News, if in the current situation at least some news can be considered good. Firstly, the fuel trucks that arrived at the unit the day before did not suffer much after the night attack by attack aircraft, and we will not have to hang around in this hole for another week. Secondly, Becker was finally removed from office. Oh, how I was waiting for this event. I was ready to give half of my awards for the opportunity to personally shove this old fool into an anti-aircraft gunner's chair with one of those useless toys that he so eagerly screws onto our tanks. I even thought that now there were literate people at the headquarters who understood the absurdity of his undertakings. Well, let him return to the railway with his anti-aircraft guns, that's where the guys will rejoice. And it’s time for us to take off and move to the aid of the 101st corps. If there is still someone left to help ... "
Thus, the styles on E 100, Maus and VK 72.01 K are not only visually executed in one key, but also contain a single consistent history. Perhaps when a fourth car is added to them, we will learn new details about the old fool Becker.
It can also be noted that all the styles for the "Battle Pass", starting from the second season, are story-driven. Their description complements the story that unfolds as the player progresses through the Battle Pass stages. As a rule, styles are tied to those characters who have become the main characters of a particular season. The same goes for Halloween styles. As an example Leopard 1:
“Am I afraid of the dark? Let's be honest, I went to the army for adventure. For the thrill. When I was still a child, I sometimes fantasized about how I would be sent on a particularly important special assignment, and I heroically carry it out. And then - awards, honor and respect, glory. And don't believe in fate after that. I wanted a thrill - get it in full. Get what will make you jump up screaming in the middle of the night even years later. Get what will generously add gray to the hair of a thirty-year-old guy. Get something from which you will avoid every rustle, buzz of electricity and shadows dancing from the fire. A special assignment that ordinary purposeful people went to, but returned ... Let's go without details. Am I afraid of the dark? You have no idea how much "
The last question on our topic: will there be a story campaign in World of Tanks?
- We try to reveal stories in small parts of the game, without combining it all into one storyline. Of course, we have already revealed larger-scale stories similar to traditional campaigns from single-player games - for the 75th anniversary of the Victory, for example, there were historical PvE battles with a certain scenario under the general name "The Road to Berlin". Before that, we made a big historical event in the Battle of the Kursk Bulge.
As I said before, there were also less historical (to put it mildly) modes - "Mirny-13", "The Last Waffentrager", "Steel Hunter", races, etc. That is, two directions are combined here - historical / near-historical events and their reproduction in the game and fantastic stories created especially for our players.
Below is an example of a piece of the plot of the event "Peace-13", which was presented fragmentarily and at random, so that by the end of the event the player could collect a complete picture of what happened. There were 27 such certificates.
Players love cool, lightweight plots - we will continue to experiment with this direction. The same "Battle Pass" is such an activity in which we tell the stories of the characters and even show a mini-series based on the season.
The main plot in World of Tanks is presented in fragments and is tied, as a rule, to some specific events, modes or styles. The very world history of tank building is our main plot.