Developer Diaries: Holiday Ops 2020

It’s almost been a month since
Holiday Ops started in World of Tanks. Players decorate their Garages,
complete their collections, and enjoy
the Festive Atmosphere. Would you like to know how
Snow Maidens appeared in the game and what they looked
like in the beginning? Or how many kittens
there are in the holiday Garage? Or which Polish Army member became
a prototype for a holiday decoration? Get yourself a warm drink
and make yourself comfortable. Let’s start from the beginning. The holidays remind many people
of their childhood memories. However, not everyone manages
to hold on to that festive feeling they had back in the day. Three years ago, our developers decided to help
players regain this holiday mood. When I was 13 or 14
years old, my father told me, “Dima, you are already big,
so let’s not put up a tree this year. It’s more of a kid’s thing…” I listened to him and thought
that on the one hand, sure, every 13-year-old
feels like an adult already. But on the other hand, how can
you not have a tree for the holidays? How can you not have this atmosphere
and all the other festive stuff?.. That’s most likely when I started
having my annual dilemma. I see my father telling me
that I’m already an adult, I don’t need the tree,
I don’t need decorations, and I have to be a grown-up. But I don’t want
to always be a grown-up! There are times when I want a tree
and decorations or to have fun! Sometimes I want to get rid
of all the serious stuff and let adults be kids again.
I want to feel like a kid. I think there is
a subset of people who left the winter holidays
in their past, in their childhood. They say that there’s
lots of work to do, maybe they don’t have enough time, maybe they simply
don’t want to celebrate, or maybe they think
they’re too old for it. I probably never
told it to anyone, but I see a sort of
mission I set for myself: this year, we had to try to make
Holiday Ops in such a way that adults who play the game
and see their holiday Garage could feel like kids once again. The developers gathered feedback
and reactions from players about previous Holiday Ops and
kept the elements everyone liked: decorations for
the tree and Garage, increasing Festive Atmosphere,
and receiving gifts. However, they also added many new
things to keep the players interested. First of all, they changed
the appearance of the Garage. When we outlined
the initial requirements, we planned
to reuse the old Garage. But when we
started working on it, we changed a thing here,
another thing there… In other words,
the appetite came with eating. In the end, we
reworked the whole Garage, separated the areas
of interest by height, changed the lighting,
and added some objects. Basically, we remade
the Garage from scratch. Large decorations and other
objects were added to the Garage while the lighting was improved.
And it also became livelier. Developers improved
the soldiers’ animation using motion
capture technology. Well, every time
we shoot mocap, it’s… We always try to be professional,
but it’s still extremely fun. It’s because you have to play certain
roles that seem pretty weird for you. Like, you have to gather
your thoughts and say, “Hey, Stas. Pass me that cup.” But you’re talking to a girl and she
doesn’t look like a Stas. So it’s fun. Probably, the biggest shoot
that required the most work, coordination, and planning
was the festive dinner. Last year, we had two soldiers who were
actively talking at the dinner table and the rest were, well, filler to
make the shot more populated. This year,
we decided we have to expand. We wanted to have
a conversation scene with 8 soldiers. And there were
three of us shooting. We sat in a checkerboard
pattern to have each of us play two or sometimes three roles
and make the animations overlap. Sometimes we had
nobody to talk with and we had to imagine
someone who was not there. Pretty interesting, in general. Coordinated filming
with a pinch of imagination. The festive Garage
changed considerably. But one thing
remained the same—cats. We have this cat-related
Easter egg in the game. We have little cats
that live in certain places. During the 2019 event, a kitten
sat at the table with the soldiers. And this year, when we
had already made the Garage, we remembered about the cats and we
realized we had to place them somewhere. We had to have kittens. When we opened
the cat models, we saw these old low-poly
models and they looked… I don’t want to say
very ugly, but, you know… We wanted
to model new kittens. But by the time we remembered
about them and decided to add them, there wasn’t much time left before
the Garage had to be finished and sent for testing to manage
by the planned release date. We simply didn’t
have time for the cat. And if we added the low-poly cat
model that has about 60 triangles… Compared to
the Snow Maidens with their facial animation, fur
and skin shaders, and so on… I think it would
have looked awful. So I removed all the cats. I remember during our
presentation the next day, Maxim Chuvalov asked,
“Where are the cats?” I was very sad, and I replied, “I’m sorry, Maxim, but we
don’t have any cats this year.” When he asked why, I explained the
situation, and I remember Maxim said, “That’s okay, but those are our cats.
We’ve got to have them! Why not?” So we added four
kittens to the Garage: three obvious ones
and a fourth hidden one. And I hope those
who found it or will find it will have at least one amazing
wish come true next year. Not just the Garage, but also the
Decoration Collections were updated. Some new unusual decorations were added.
Some of them were made thanks to players. Some players decorate their Garage
similar to how they decorate their home so that it feels like home. I saw some comments
where a person would say, “I have this very cool
decoration at home. I love it a lot and
I’ve had it since I was little.” I made a note for myself, copied
the picture, went to the artists, and told them, “Guys,
make sure you add this one.” And that was cool. I think making
even one player happier is amazing. And of course,
I think there are some players who also have
such decorations at home, so they’ll see them, recognize
them, and be more the merrier. You can find decorations from all over
the world in the Decoration Collections. Some have their
own interesting stories. This year, we have
several decorations that are based
on completely true stories. Some of them were suggested
by the regional teams. World of Tanks
is an international game and we have a community of
players from all around the world, and all these players
and all these regions have their own festive
symbols, their own objects, and their own characters
they’d like to see in the game. Of course,
we couldn’t just ignore them, so we added them to the game
in some form or another. We wanted to add a bit of education
in the description of these decorations. There is a decoration for the
Christmas tree called Wojtek the Bear. It’s a real character.
Well, not REAL real. The bear is a half-mythical,
legendary member of the Polish army. If players look Wojtek up and read
about what makes this bear famous, I think the story will definitely
evoke some positive thoughts and they’ll want to have
the decoration in their Garage. But more often than not,
decoration descriptions contain jokes, funny stories, references
to art, music, games, and cinema. Apart from the new decorations, there are other guests
in the Garage this year. Developers wanted
to add some talismans, which are characters
who would help players complete their Decoration
Collections, to the Garage. I remember chatting with
Georgiy Rodionov and Andrey Biletskiy and discussing these talismans, what
they could be, and what they could do, which led to the idea that some holiday
character would appear in the Garage. We wanted it
to interact with the player. To not only give some bonus or
gifts, but actually live in the Garage. For the player to see
them as an actual character. And after many-many-many discussions,
we came up with Snow Maidens! Snow Maidens
had to be in the Garage. They represent something
near and dear to the heart and the festive mood
when the holidays are near… When we came up
with the idea of Snow Maidens, all together
we simply decided “that’s it” and we wouldn’t be trying
to think of something else. We’ll have Snow Maidens! After they finalized the idea
and gave us the green light, we started creating,
generating ideas, drawing sketches, and, after the first preview, we got
feedback that looked something like, “Wow, guys, keep it cool.
The Maidens are a bit too sassy.” The artists continued their work
and after a couple of days, they created the Snow Maidens
that are already familiar to you. The sketches looked beautiful, but moving them to the
Garage was not an easy task. We discovered that the character models
we created before lacked polygons, so we received a new experience
as we needed to add polygons, use better textures
at a higher resolution, and develop new shaders
for hair, skin, eyes, fur, and so on. We went to the RnD team and developed
it all in a very short time period. The developers
quickly got to work. Before that, the game
had only needed the technology for the materials that make up
the vehicles and environment. And now it needed special shaders
for the realistic depiction of people. Apart from Snow Maidens, there is another character
who makes the holidays special. Yeah, we didn’t plan
to add Santa Claus. At one of the meetings,
Andrey Biletskiy asked, “Why don’t we
make Santa Claus too?” and everyone went
“Ooooh, that’s right! Why don’t we?” So we started
developing Santa. Initially, the requirements
were to make something in between Santa Claus and the
Russian Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz). We started drawing such a hybrid
using parts of both characters. We had a pretty
nice-looking Santa who fit well into the composition with Snow
Maidens, the sleigh, and all that. We presented it and got the feedback,
“We don’t want a traditional Santa. We want something special,
something modern.” We went back to the drawing
board to make a new Santa. The next prototype that everybody
liked was based on Ernest Hemingway. We took his famous picture
in a sweater with a large collar and started working around it
to make our new Santa Claus. We spent some
time developing him. We wanted him to be our own
Santa Claus from World of Tanks, who could go to any player
no matter where they live, and they would instantly understand
that this Santa is from World of Tanks. Everybody liked
his appearance, but we faced the issue that our
Santa didn’t fit the environment with that beautiful
sleigh made of glass. We started thinking about what
we could replace that sleigh with. We looked at several
wooden sleigh options but didn’t find
anything interesting. There was an idea to replace
the sleigh with a snowmobile, but it was too small and unremarkable
compared to Santa and the Snow Maidens. That’s when we came up with the
idea of the aerosani (flying sleigh). We used the Soviet prototype Sever-2,
which was based on the Pobeda car, took off the roof,
and got a convertible that looked like just the car
for our beautiful Snow Maidens. The Festive Atmosphere is not only
about Santa Claus and Snow Maidens. It’s also about
the magical music. Last year, you could
hear it playing in the house. This year, there is
a pianist and a record player. Just like last year, the music
sounds better and richer the higher the level
of Festive Atmosphere you have. At first, the pianist has little
experience, so he makes mistakes, but then he
learns to play better, makes some occasional mistakes,
but he doesn’t stop playing. And by the end, by Level X
he plays more complex pieces easily, he can improvise, and he
simply enjoys what he does. There is a unique track
written for each collection. But all of them are made
so that when you change them, they don’t play
from the beginning, but flow into one another
like a single melody. All this creates a greater
holiday mood in the Garage. Such music makes you want
to complete the collections and receive rewards for them: special 2D styles, some of which
are made thanks to our players. I remember last year’s Holiday Ops
when I was reading one of the forums and I saw a player posted
a picture of a camouflage for the Object 430U, I think, which was painted in green
with tangerines drawn on it. And the post said,
“Come on, developers! Here you go, a great Holiday Ops
camouflage! I want this in my Garage!” But by that time, we had already
made all the styles for collections, it was almost
the end of development, we were already testing the event, and
the release of Holiday Ops was close. And I remember saving this style
as a reference for the following year. A couple of hours later, I meet
our art director Vitaly in a hallway and he tells me, “Anton, I saw
a style with tangerines on the forum. We need it
in the Holiday event!” I told him, “Sorry, Vitaly, but we’re
already finishing development. It’s too late to add it.” He says,
“Alright, we’ll add it next year.” I told him I had saved it
and I also wanted to add it. So we came to an agreement. When we created a task for the development of 2D styles
for Holiday Ops 2020 collections, there was a description for such
and such style with tangerines, along with my examples
and references attached. I sent it to the guys and got the
response the same day, saying, “Anton, we already have it ready. We made it back when last
year’s event was still going. The art director
came and told us, ‘Guys, make a Holiday Ops
style with tangerines. We’ll add it next year, so let it sit on a shelf for
a while to await its moment.'” The preparations for Holiday
Ops lasted the whole year. Many rooms had fir trees
installed since August. But now, in December, the real
holiday mood started creeping in. To help players
feel the festive mood, developers started
releasing Holiday Ops videos a couple days before
the start of the event. We wanted to make a nice and really
wholesome teaser for Holiday Ops. Looking at the number
of views or whatever, it wasn’t anything special
or outstanding on YouTube or among the
World of Tanks videos. However, I still think that
this was our starting point, as it is what allowed everyone
to kickstart the Holiday mood. To create the holiday
atmosphere in the videos, it needed to be created
on the filming set. Beautiful Snow Maidens,
holiday vehicles, snow, fir trees, and… Santa’s air sleigh. It’s the GAZ-21 Volga. We modified it to look more
or less like the in-game model. We took off its wheels,
mounted skids, a propeller at the back, and it looked so cool
that after the shoot we decided to not disassemble
the Volga and throw it away. We kept it and sent it to Moscow
for the Stream of the Year event. Those who attended it could
see this Volga with their own eyes and touch it with their own hands. Santa’s air sleigh also
appeared in the in-game videos that set the holiday
mood in the Garage. Hundreds of specialists
worked on Holiday Ops. Many new things
appeared in the Garage, things that make
the World of Tanks holiday as cozy and wholesome
as you remember. But the real holiday started only
when players started taking part. Of course, the main thing is
that the whole Holiday Ops, all that we’ve done, we did
only because the players like it. We make Holiday Ops
bigger and better every time. It takes more and more
effort and time each time, and every event we get
this response, this energy, and we use it to make
it even better next time. That’s why I want to say
thank you to those players who write comments,
both good and bad. They show their emotions. They aren’t afraid
to admit they are 40 years old and yet love it when they get to feel
like children again inside the game. This helps us very much. It focuses us
on the work at hand to make everything even better
and even more interesting. These holidays
are not even over yet, and the developers have already
started working on the next one. They are reading the forums,
comments under the videos, and noting ideas
for the next Holiday Ops. We still have some time
to enjoy this festive atmosphere, complete collections,
and receive some presents.


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