Commander Mode is a specially-designed, time-limited, event-based RTS version of World of Tanks Mercenaries and it was designed and developed in Australia at Wargaming Sydney. The brainchild of Victor Kislyi, Founder and CEO Wargaming.net and collaboration between Wargaming Sydney and Chicago, Commander Mode is a radically new way to play World of Tanks on console.
I had to chance to speak with Aidan Millott, Product Manager and lead on Commander Mode and Patrick Nolan, Game Designer about the creation of the mode and the challenges the team faced.
All of the development was handled by Wargaming Sydney who had assistance from the team in Chicago for implementing it and integrating it into World of Tanks Mercenaries.
If you’re not aware of Commander Mode, it pits one player, controlling nine AI tanks against six human players. The Commander, gives instructions to their nine tanks from an RTS perspective while the six human players, use the standard third-person shooter view and mechanics of World of Tanks: Mercenaries.
Commander Mode introduces asymmetric, PvP gameplay to Mercenaries which drastically alters how the game can be played. As World of Tanks is a third-person shooter, I asked Millott where this idea came from.
“It’s actually one of the CEO Victor Kislyi’s ideas, which made it easy to pitch it up since it was sort of pitched down,” he said. The idea came from Kislyi’s desire to pit “players’ strategies against players’ tactics.” Being the CEO of Wargaming.net, Kislyi plays at an incredibly high level and as Millott describes it, “the outcome of those matches is predetermined by how much skill you have.”
Basically, when you play at the level Kislyi does, if you’re a better player you’re always going to win regardless of the tanks in play or the strategies and tactics used.
What we wanted to get to was when you have a battle you want to be able to beat people strategically. You have this plan and you can see how the battlefield will play out.
But you can’t coordinate players to do that effectively.
Commander Mode is an attempt to rectify that issue and give a player the ability to coordinate and control a fleet of tanks in order to be victorious.
Implementing RTS mechanics into a third-person game can’t have been easy, so I asked Millott how the team achieved it and what needed to be done for Commander Mode to work. Millott tole me that because the team was both creating an RTS for console and adding an RTS to a third-person shooter it helped with some of the design challenges.
Because World of Tanks had already been released on console as a third person shooter, we had a large player base who had been playing the shooting game for many years.
So we had to create this game inside of a game where players should still be able to enjoy and play the shooter style of game, but alongside the new Commander RTS strategy game that has your traditional top down controls.
This was one of the biggest hurdles Wargaming Sydney faced as creating Commander Mode as something that was enjoyable for third-person players as well as RTS players proved tough. Millott told me that as the AI in World of Tanks: Mercenaries was 3rd person-focused the team needed to make it work with an RTS AI. And because it’s not designed to be viewed from the top-down, making an RTS mode work proved tricky in the beginning.
“One of the design challenges that we had to work with was the design of the levels,” Millott said. “The levels are 3D and quite intricate with lots of different cover rolling terrain with hills, peaks and troughs.” Most strategy games use flat, plain levels with maybe one or two different heights. Millott points to StarCraft as an example but said that World of Tanks: Mercenaries has really complex terrain.
To get around this issue, the team spent a lot of time, looking at the art for the levels and carefully selected maps that would work in a top-down view. The maps chosen are generally more open and strategic maps, not those with tight sightlines and corridors.
Because Commander Mode pits nine AI-controlled tanks, led by a human commander against six player-controlled tanks, Millott told me that in a one on one face-off, the human-controlled tank should always win. However, because the idea is about tactics versus strategy, the single-players will be thinking only about that engagement and not the overall battle.
“You’re engaging this tank so that you’re distracting it while you send other tanks around to blanket or you’re going to suppress a line trying to bring other tangs in from other angles,” Millott explained. It’s these types of plays and strategies that really make Commander Mode stand-out.
“You’re trying to make sure you’re exposing weaknesses in tanks and exploiting them. And that’s the idea for the commander,” he said.
Anytime there’s an asymmetrical PvP experience, the word ‘balance’ gets brought up. In terms of balancing Commander Mode, Millott told me that it was a unique experience. Currently, when it’s six versus nine tanks, the win rate is 50/50 but it took lots of playtesting (and ongoing playtesting) to get it there.
Sydney and Chicago both playtest Commander Mode and Mercenaries twice a week and while Chicago has some hardcore World of Tanks players, Sydney doesn’t have as many. This led to what Millott calls an “interesting dichotomy.”
We’ve [Sydney] worked with all the games and not one particular game in general and this led to on our side saying, ‘Hey, the commander’s really overpowered.’
Then we’d get feedback from Chicago on the other side saying, ‘The commander’s two weak.’
There’s one guy in Chicago who can almost solo an entire team just by exploiting every facet of the game. He’s in the top a hundred players or something like that.
Something that helped the commander gain some even footing with the tankers was suggested by the CEO; possessing your tanks. Kislyi gave the team feedback after one of the events and suggested that the commander have the ability to temporarily control one of their tanks. Millott said the mechanic was a “game-changer” for Commander Mode.
World of Tanks is massive in esports circles but according to Millott, Commander Mode is not something that will be moving into that arena. However, the RTS, commander view that the Sydney team developed is being considered as an additional way to view World of Tanks esports as it makes the match very watchable. Rather than view the game from one player’s perspective, the commander’s viewpoint gives viewers a great look at everything that’s happening at any given time.
World of Tanks: Mercenaries is certainly a success for Wargaming and it’s great to see the company have such confidence in a game to experiment with it. Commander Mode is a huge leap for the game to take but based on player numbers during events and the excitement the Commander Mode events generate, Wargaming Sydney has done an incredible job.
Commander Mode will return to World of Tanks: Mercenaries in November