Gaming Frequencies: World of Tanks: Mercenaries, part 2

Jun 28, 2018 By Austin Trunick
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(If you missed the first part of our Gaming Frequencies column on World of Tanks: Mercenaries, please click here to find an overview of the game and its new update, as well as an interview with famed game composer Inon Zur.)

Writing for this magazine has put me in some incredible places, but none would have impressed my 10-year-old self more than riding in the back of a WWII-era transport while real-life tanks fired blank shells at a pillbox full of Nazis before my very eyes. Adding to the surrealism of it all was the knowledge that this was all happening an hour outside of NYC, on Long Island (of all places.)

Wargaming’s press event to detail the launch of their latest World of Tanks update, Mercenaries, was unlike anything else I’ve covered. Hosted at The Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage, New York, journalists from around the country were invited to pull on WWII-era jackets and helmets, climb into the back of a half-track, and watch as members of the Long Island Living History Association re-enacted a live battle using real WWII armor and weapons.

Afterwards, we were invited back to the museum lobby to take a first look at Mercenaries in action. Building upon the single player missions introduced in last year’s War Stories update, Mercenaries offers up a new set of story-driven campaigns set in a post-WWII alternate history, in which the war dragged on until political borders crumbled and battles were fought by paid mercenaries. It also introduces to World of Tanks a new “Mercenary” nation, with its own tech tree made up of all-new tanks pieced together from existing, real-world parts.

The journalists were divided into two groups, wherein one half would hang back for a Q&A with real-life mercenaries Mykel Hawke and Garret Machine, while the others headed to the showroom for some hands-on time with the Xbox One version of the game. I enjoyed my sneak peek at the game’s new Heist mission in spite of being blown up twice, very quickly. With all apologies to the fine folks at Uberstrategist and Wargaming who organized the amazing event, it’s hard to focus on a video game when you’re surrounded by tanks. (Besides, I knew I’d have all the time I’d want with it in a few short weeks.) I slipped away to look around the museum.

Kevin Carroll, the Museum of American Armor’s Community Affairs Direction, caught me gawking at one of the museum’s preserved tanks and was happy to answer my many questions about it and give me a tour behind the ropes cordoning off the visitors’ area from the mechanics' workspace. Back there, we found Leo Flore – a Senior Designer at Wargaming West, and one of the individuals in charge of WoT’s enormous tank roster – taking a similar, closer look at one of the vehicles. We received an amazing, private history lesson about the Museum’s most well-documented tank, and afterwards were able to chat a bit about the armor surrounding us. Over that conversation it became incredibly clear what a passion he had for tanks and their history – and if Flore was one of the devs responsible for the hundreds of pieces or armor featured in World of Tanks, it’s no wonder the game boasts such an attention to detail.

Wargaming’s visual accuracy can be appreciated simply by playing or watching footage of game – even before you leave the game’s garage area, you can look at the various models and see how closely they compare to historical photographs. The same care goes into the tanks’ physics, as each piece of armor moves and handles in a way unique to its real-world counterpart. Our Gaming Frequencies column is about sound design, however, and World of Tanks also delivers impressive accuracy on that front. Each tank you climb into will sound slightly different depending on weight, engine, and other factors. (Play the game with headphones to best hear it.) 

Late on Brendan Blewett, the audio director at Wargaming, took some time to answer our questions about the measures they take to achieve the game’s high level of audio detail. Scroll down to read our Q&A. 

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: A great level of detail clearly goes into accurately recreating the tanks from a visual standpoint. What are the biggest challenges in matching that accuracy when it comes to the way they sound?

Brendan Blewett, Audio Director, Wargaming: The single biggest challenge to recreating the unique sound of individual tanks is accommodating the sheer volume and variety of tanks in WoT. Where the art team can re-create a tank in great detail from archival photos and film footage, essentially no historical high-fidelity recordings of these tanks exist.  Making things even more difficult, many of the tanks themselves no longer exist (or never even existed in the first place). 

To handle this, we approach assembling the tanks’ audio in a modular fashion.  We aggregated a large amount of data about all of the tanks in the game, generating a data set that provides a spectrum of values for things like vehicle type (SPG,TD, Light/Medium/Heavy Tanks), vehicle weight, engine horsepower, engine fuel type, exterior equipment, and more.  From that data set we can define categories and assign appropriate audio to the individual components of the vehicle such as engines, treads, and exterior/interior equipment. 

In the end we end up with a huge table of sound effects that can work interchangeably together, which are procedurally assigned to the tanks based on the types of art assets and design characteristics they possess. We go and record a cross section of vehicles which can represent the full spectrum of vehicles in the game.  All the “classic” engines like the Continental R975 and the Ford GAA from Sherman platform tanks are included, as well as some German and Soviet vintage like the Praga AC/2, the V2 Engine from the KV85 and the V55 from the T54 (my personal favorite), among others.

What's the process behind capturing the tanks' audio? Where do you find the tanks you sample?

We always begin by getting familiar with the vehicle inside and out.  We identify key components we want to capture (exhaust, intake, engine, transmission, interior, etc), and begin locating suitable parts of the hull as attachment points for mics.  We use pretty beefy microphones and mounting equipment, but needless to say, they are no match for a tank – so we spend this time also identifying threats to equipment and crew.  We usually attach 12 or more microphones to the inside and outside of the vehicle, and select microphones based on the vehicles’ unique sound characteristics, secure it all with loads of gaffer’s tape, and get rolling. 

Once we begin rolling the recorders, we have a list of specific maneuvers for the tank driver to execute; like driving in a straight line for at slow, medium and fast speeds for 30 seconds each, various turns, reversing, etc.  From those “performances” we can extrapolate the dozens of cues needed to construct a sound set from each tank for use in the game.

We have worked with a number of different individuals and museums that have a fleets of running vehicles.  Museums we have worked with here in North America include The Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, the Royal Canadian Armored Corps Museum.

While World of Tanks is known for its massive lineup of real-world armor, Mercenaries introduces tanks created for the game from a mishmash of existing parts. I know their audio was crafted to match how they might sound if they were actually assembled. Would you mind walking us through how one of Mercenaries’ custom tanks was designed?

As mentioned before, our modular approach to assembling each tanks’ audio allows us the flexibility to build tank audio from various parts, just like the Mercenaries tanks themselves!

Do you have any tips for players where listening closely to the game's audio cues might help give them while playing?

If you listen closely you can hear artillery shells flying through the air overhead when long range fire is coming from enemy arty units.  If you are targeted and you hear an incoming artillery shell, you may have enough time to dodge it… though, you might also wind up moving into its path.



World of Tanks: Mercenaries is now available (for free!) on Xbox and Playstation 4. 


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