When it comes to grueling programming tasks in the mobile gaming space, few jobs are as arduous as converting a "Triple A" PC game to smartphones. It's akin to designing an inner Babushka Doll that's every bit as big and detailed as its housing parent. With World Of Tanks Blitz, a development team led by Wargaming.net's Roman Bui managed to pull off this tricky feat and live to tell the tale. Here are their battle scars laid bare.
Over the past few years, World Of Tanks has carved out a niche for itself as the PC's premiere Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game for armored vehicular combat. As a direct consequence, its user base is every bit as fanatical and unforgiving as a platoon of Red Army T-23s. This is what Bui and his team were up against when they attempted to convert the game onto smartphone devices.
As you'd expect, the journey from battle plan to execution was beset with a worrying amount of technical roadblocks that threatened to bog down the whole project. With a bloody-minded tenacity, Wargaming.net's desktop warriors refused to let this halt their advance: "Not One Step Back", as Stalin would say. Here are a few of the things they learned along the way.
Touchscreens are a bitch
One of the biggest challenges faced by Bui's team was converting the PC version’s mouse-and-keyboard controls into a satisfactory touchscreen interface. Catering to both iPad and iPhone screen sizes proved to be especially challenging: in all, a whopping 80 different touch controls were trialed before a final interface was decided on.
“Four inches is a very small screen for a tank shooter so our main problem was optimising Blitz controls to suit iPhone. We tested various UIs over and over and over again. In the end, I am thinking the result is not bad. For me personally, this aspect was the toughest of the entire development process.”
Abandoned concepts still litter the PC trashcans of Wargaming.net developers like the blueprints for crazy German war machines: examples include a complete onscreen keyboard, assisted A.I driving with the player only moving left or right and having no onscreen joystick at all. If you're planning to adapt a PC game for the mobile market, treat this as the battle of Stalingrad -- under no circumstanced should it be underestimated.
Account for server overload
Another challenge faced by the Blitz team was meeting the inevitable server demands of a graphically intensive MMO with a global user base.
“We have four clusters; North American, Asian and European. There are a lot of players which made it difficult to be build the ecosystems but I think we did a good job. Any player who wants to play Blitz will be able to play Blitz without problem.
“And we’ll continue to expand our servers to add more content. At launch we’ll have a beta version with new tank models, new lighting, new weather effects and new water shading.”
This is obviously dependent on the resources available to you, but if you're developing an MMO and want your customers to have a seamless experience, don't just chuck it online and hope for the best.
Attack Android with everything you've got
Google's mobile phone OS is the elephant in the room that most developers either completely ignore or carve a minuscule slices off by concentrating on just a handful of handsets. Bui's team went the whole hog and committed to releasing the game on all current models on the market. It was not a fun experience.
“Developing for Android has been extremely difficult. You have different manufacturers, different screen sizes, different CPUs, different graphical processors, different types of Android OS. It’s very hard to create a build that will suit every device.”
Despite this enormous testing process, Roman is confident that the game will be playable on almost every Android smartphone and tablet on the market. Again, this won't be feasible for anyone working with a small team, but pretending Android doesn't exist is no surefire way to success.
Respect the existing fanbase -- but not at the expense of the wider market
Rather than crank out a 2D “reimagining” or stripped down port, Bui's team endeavoured to stay as faithful to the original PC MMO as possible. It’s a big, ambitious goliath of a game that retains all the core elements that fans love thanks to a combination of the aforementioned global servers and programming aptitude. However, they didn't forget about the lucrative casual gaming market along the way.
“We’ve designed World Of Tanks Blitz to be a game for everyone. Not just for the WoT community but for all players in the iPhone App Store who want to try a really interesting and fun game. The mechanics are easy even if you don’t normally play shooters.
“The thing I’m most pleased about is that we were able to create a mobile game with great graphics and great physics that’s totally unique in the mobile gaming space. I think it will be one of the standout titles for iOS and Android in terms of infrastructure, graphics and overall quality. We’re extremely proud of the whole product.”
You can also watch Bui bang on about his favourite tank battles in the below video:
Lifehacker attended the launch of World Of Tanks Blitz in Taipei at the invitation of Wargaming.net