"It's not so much that we're competing directly. We want to take things forward a bit for the genre and do the second generation type of this game."
I'm speaking to Matt Festa, senior designer on Obsidian's tank-based strategic shooter Armored Warfare about the differences between his game and – just to pluck an example out of the air – World Of Tanks.
At first glance the two seem pretty similar. I mean there's the whole "joining a team to fight using tanks" thing, but also in terms of the interface. I haven't played much in the way of World of Tanks but on dropping into a match of Armored Warfare, the garage screen where you select your vehicle and so on felt very familiar. Once in-game the vehicles fulfill expected roles, for example front-line tanks like the Challenger 2 deal and absorb damage but are weak in terms of spotting and camouflage while artillery hang back and fling projectiles, dealing massive damage from afar.
Festa acknowledges the influence of Wargaming's title but adds that there are points of difference between the games.
"We're huge fans of World Of Tanks – a lot of us are players with thousands and thousands of matches so it's definitely something we've referenced a lot. I think one of the main things which are going to set us apart is the PvE. It's this mission-based mode which I think is going to be different from anything offered by the competition. These modes are going to be more about the AI and there's going the be a lot of different types of objectives."
In the PvE game I played, the primary objective was to take out three ammo depots which could be found randomly placed in bunkers across the map. A secondary bonus objective was to take out the SAM turrets dotted around which would take out an incoming aircraft after five minutes had elapsed.
The reasoning behind having a strong PvE component is to cater to players intimidated by the idea of jumping into PvP matches with players with more experience and expertise. According to Festa it can either offer a less daunting introduction to the mechanics and tactics which you can transfer to PvP or it can just be your entire game.
"The PvE should hopefully make it easier to ease in and if people don't like PvP at all they have the option of playing the whole game and all the vehicles purely in PvE," he says.
There's also the matter of that Challenger 2 I mentioned earlier. It's the British Army's current main battle tank and thus an excellent demonstration of the fact that Armored Warfare features modern fighting vehicles and technology.
"Certainly the fact we're doing modern vehicles is a big deal," says Festa. "We're focusing on adding new things – guided missiles is one example . Smoke grenades also adds an interesting dynamic. Players can create their own cover instead of just using map cover either if they're in trouble or if there's a strategic plan. We're also playing with a lot of mechanics for modern equipment that will add digital elements into the game."
Demand for smoke grenades is actually a recurring request on World Of Tanks message boards because of the extra strategic options smoke offers so it's interesting that Armored Warfare will be taking that up. I'm picturing Counter-Strike at this point but with massive tanks rather than nimble bodies.
"Probably a third thing that's a good example is we're shooting for something a little more narrative-driven. It's not going to be a story per se but certainly the dealers [from whom you buy vehicles and receive missions] are going to have backgrounds and the missions you're getting and the context of those missions is going to be within the context of a world conflict that's going on."
From talking to Festa it sounds like Obsidian are marrying a number of the campaign aspects from the most recent Wargame titles – Red Dragon and European Escalation – with the PvP of World of Tanks and adding contemporary vehicles and combat technology.
"We're hoping that some of these more co-operative and casual elements will attract additional players in the US and Europe. Wargaming in particular has had great success in Russia [Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi told Graham "In February we took 1.1 million concurrent users in Russia alone. 1.1 million Russians were playing at the same time, which is actually 2% of Russia’s male population."] and they're still kind of struggling with success in the United States and Europe so we're also hoping that's something we can specifically target – those audiences more directly."
A large part of trying to target the North American and European audience will be keeping an eye on what works across all regions and what doesn't.
"A good example is monetisation," says Festa. "Monetisation in Russia, a lot of the data shows [relates to] prestige and in China i think it's pretty similar. Things that are bought for money – when the player has them it's considered prestigious that they've spent money. Like, 'This guy is pretty serious about the game.' In the US people who pay money like that are called wallet warriors. It's pejorative."
The trick will be in working out what makes sense in both territories. "That's been tricky and trying to isolate those kind of things to make a more global product is a big part of it. Obviously Wargaming and World Of Tanks have been pretty successful globally but we're hoping we can change the trajectory of that and get more of the Western market."
Armored Warfare will be in closed beta early in 2015.