PAX AUS 2015 - Wargaming Interview
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Wargaming had a huge presence at this year’s PAX Australia. The company released World of Warships to critical acclaim earlier this year and are ramping up promotion of their reboot of the 4X strategy series Master of Orion. We caught up with Steve Wang, Randall King and Max Chuvalov to talk about Wargaming’s past, present and future.

Fergus: Last time we spoke to you, World of Warships was in beta if I remember correctly. Are you happy with the game’s reception now that it’s out and people are playing it?

Max: So as you may know we released [World of Warships] on the 17th of September not far from now and we’re very happy because it’s a game very appreciated by media and got 81% on Metacritic. For [a] free-to-play MMO this is a very high score and players are quite happy. It’s even surpassed our own expectations because we were positioning it as quite a niche MMO for enthusiasts of naval battles and for the guys who like Wargaming products and for other players [looking for] something new.

Fergus: How’s the fanbase and community around your games looking these days? Is it fragmented between your three titles or is there a lot of overlap in audiences? What are the challenges of bringing those audiences together?

Randy: Well, to be honest with you a lot of the audience that plays World of Tanks is an older audience – and a lot of them have played these older games. We’re kinda in the area where the marketing team is doing all this research into what our markets are for those areas [and] it appears that there is quite a large audience within that age range.

We haven’t tapped into per-say the existing Wargaming database, we’re going to try to approach them without shoving it down their throat and that’s our approach with this game. We’re going to have it announce all over the place and hopefully the Wargaming name will bring some of the new players to see this game. But at the same time we don’t want to take people away from World of Tanks – I want new players. I do know we’re in the same age range of the people who love the game but the one thing I really want this game to do is to reach out to a new audience so that they can experience this game anew. That’s where I want it to go.

Fergus: It’s very easy for games to fumble when it comes to trying to build an eSports scene? How did you go about encouraging that type of community to grow with your games?

Steve: I think the foundations have to be built [with] the hardcore gamers first – the player who plays the games all the time….Warships is a great example. It’s a completely different game from the one I saw in the early beta but the community was very vocal about the issues we needed to address. And to bring naval warfare into the where it is today, we had [to go through] a lot of that feedback.

Fergus: Space games are quite big at the moment and Master of Orion is a series with a rich reputation attached to it, what are you hoping to accomplish with your revival and what do you think you can bring to the table that previous developers couldn’t?

Randy: So I gotta give you a little background so that you understand where we’re going with the game – our CEO Victor Kislyi was a HUGE fan of the series Master of Orion. In fact, when we was a teenager he played that game religiously and credits that game with starting his career. He is a huge fan. Very passionate about turn based games and and plays them all the time – and Master of Orion is the one that started that. So when it came up for sale at auction, he had to have it. So when he turned it over to us and said ‘I want you to build this game so that my kids can experience the game I fell in love with‘

So that means we’ve got to build Master of Orion but at the same time create it so that new players can enjoy it. So what we’ve done is we’re rebooting the series Master of Orion, we’re using 1 & 2. Most of the features are coming from 2 but there’s some cool things in 1 also. We’ve also played a TON of the turn based games looking at how they did things, especially the user-interface and how friendly it was for players to use to help us design a better interface. Because the old game was released in 1993 [it was] PC-based [and] therefore very clunky, very [limited by] 2D graphics and it was really just a huge “spreadsheet game”. There’s a ton of things that go on in the background. [So much so] that some of the old players when they played it would actually have a spreadsheet next to them to keep track of everything. So we had to reproduce the original game but also make it friendlier to play for some of the new players. That’s, in essence, what we’re doing.

Fergus: World of Warplanes doesn’t appear to have hit the same level of success as World of Tanks & World of Warships. Why do you think this is and where do you plan to go from here with it?

Max: With World of Warplanes, we over-expected a bit because we were thinking it would become the next World of Tanks [scale] hit but it’s a very hardcore game and…very hard to play for casual players [as a result] it’s high barrier to entry.

Right now, the game’s found its niche. It’s small but still it’s very dedicated and when you just master how to control the airplanes and shoot down enemies you can feel at ease. I can’t say that it’s a big success for us but it’s got a dedicated community.

Fergus: Can we ever expect to see Wargaming return to the Massive Assault franchise?

Steve: Certainly for all the properties we have there’s a lot of passion [for it] and we certainly wouldn’t be saying no to [continuing] it but in the list of things currently on the table that’s not one of them.

Fergus: Wargaming has made a lot of acquisitions in recent years. What’s the internal  company culture like, given how diverse the backgrounds of the studios now under the Wargaming umbrella.

Steven: That’s a good question and the answer is yes. I think with any big expansion it’s always quite tricky. One of the things that comes to mind is that the acquisition that Wargaming made are really quite careful. So here are [these] studios that have a great reputation and they know what they’re doing before the acquisition. [We don’t want to mess with that] – and so part of that strategy was to really say ‘we want you to know we believe in your capabilities and what you’re doing, keep on doing it’. Bringing it all together was tricky from one point of view but by making sure we were being respectful to the studios and their talent it’s really been driving things to a situation where it’s been a combination of different cultures and both sides respecting each other’s expertise.

Fergus: Speaking of – “Wargaming is currently the largest taxpayer within Cyprus” – How did that happen?

Steven: There probably is [truth to that]. Cyprus is a fairly small country… and Wargaming [is] a global organization and one of the largest free to play companies in the world these days – it seems quite accurate. Cyprus is in a central European location and has global reach and I guess, I haven’t seen that one but I can certainly imagine it being true.

Fergus: In 2013, you acquired Gas Powered Games. Did that acquisition come with some of the franchises Gas Powered Games is known for and can we ever expect Wargaming to make use of said properties as you are with Master of Orion?

Randy: They’re always on the table. To be honest with you we’re actually starting to branch out into many different areas. We’ve started a division called WG Cells within Wargaming [that] will be a mobile initiative and we’re looking within the company for mobile games and venturing out to arena that don’t support or necessarily play in the World of Tanks and Warships arena.

We also have started another initiative called WG labs. This one is a really cool one. It allows us to reach out to the community and let other indie games or start up companies have a friend to help them produce and get their game out there. So if you were making an indie or garage game and you have a demo of it, you could approach us and…if it’s accepted through the greenlight process, we’ll approach you and ask how can we help you. And we’ll do all kinds of things to help produce that game. The reason for that is that we wanted to jumpstart wonderful ideas in the community. So we’re branching out other than the World of Tanks avenue. Even ideas within our own company are being looked at within the WG labs framework and that’s allowing us to venture away from the Worlds of Tanks and Warships arena.

Fergus: It seems like making eSports games gain traction on consoles is one of a bigger challenges facing companies like yourself who give the area such a focus, what do you think is the key to success here and how are you approaching it as a company?

Max: eSports is a thing that needs a huge critical amount of players and if you compare the PC market to the console market there are like a billion and a half PCs in the world and like a hundred million consoles. So it’s rather smaller and I [also] think one of the other blockers is the control-method because mouse/keyboard is more precise and if you put a pro team with a gamepad against a team using mouse/keyboard they (the PC team) will win because it’s quite hard to compete against mouse/keyboard. But for World of Tanks on consoles, our players expect and demand some kind of competitive mode but there is no demand for eSports so if there is demand we will look at [offering] it.

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Crawl Review

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Crawl Review

Crawl is a film which comes directed by Alexendre Aja who some may know as the director of The Hills Have Eyes (2006). The film stars Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper.

Crawl is a film about a young woman named Haley (Kaya Scodelario) who attempts to save her father (Barry Pepper) who is trapped in his house during a category 5 hurricane. Tremendous damage has occurred to the home and the surrounding area during the storm, with the streets slowly flooding But that’s not the only danger to be wary of, the flood waters have paved the way for dozens of alligators to come into town and they’re ready to feast on anyone still around. Will poor Haley and her father survive though?

Going into this film. I was actually quite excited. I do enjoy these action films where there’s some creature out there and it’s preying on whatever character the film is about. This film is a little similar to The Meg, but it most reminded me of Anacondas (2004). All of these films and Crawl included wouldn’t be ones I’d say were legendary films, but gosh, I definitely have fun watching them!

Crawl as a story is about survival. There are themes all throughout it related to man vs nature and also the idea of the apex predator is scattered all throughout it. Both characters in the film are constantly challenged and struggle to survive in the a town getting torn apart by the storm.

The main reason most people would go to see Crawl at the cinema would be for the action and that’s the same reason I wanted to go along and see this one. I wanted to see what the alligators could do and I wanted to see some people get eaten up. Did I get that? I certainly did! Did I need much more out of this? Probably not.

As for Crawl being scary. I’m not too sure, I find it all quite fun. But there are people who this would probably frighten a little. Much of the film is cgi and for what it is and for the type of movie this is I think it was just the right quality. They didn’t try to go too big like in The Meg where the cgi seemed to struggle in certain areas. Although the limitations of the cgi are visible in Crawl, it’s not too bad in the end.

The acting in Crawl isn’t too bad. Kaya Scodelario is who you’ll be watching for basically the entire film and she delivers a pleasant performance. Some may recognise this actress from her appearance in The Maze Runner (2014) where she played Teresa. Hopefully there is more to come from her in future films.

The tone of the film, while at times can be a little intense with all the danger out there did actually feel a little light. Alexandre Aja seemed to keep the tone not too serious and embraced the silliness of it all in certain areas to keep it light and fun. But it was also tense and scary when it needed to be.

Overall I had a good time with Crawl at the cinema last week. This isn’t a film that is going to blow anyone away with how good it is, but it’s something to see for a bit of fun over the weekend. You get to watch two characters try to survive a massive hurricane and not get eaten by alligators. Crawl was 1 hour and 27 minutes of fun!

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Sea Of Solitude Review

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Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude is a game which was developed by Jo-Mei Games and was published by Electronic Arts. It is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC via Origin. It is a single player third person adventure game. The game has the player control a character named Kay who explores an abandoned and flooded city.

This was a game which caught my eye only very recently when I first heard about its release. After watching the trailer, I thought the art style, strong colours and animations looked very interesting. Also as a person who went mad one day and subscribed to EA’s Origin Premiere late last year so that I could play some games I had missed out on over the years, I was pleased to see something new added to the store that wasn’t a typical Electronic Arts style major franchise game. Knowing I could get this one for free was enough to give it a go. But if you’re not part of that program to get it for free, I’d say that the $26.95 asking price for this digital title is certainly worth it.

The game isn’t too long, most hardened gamers will probably be able to finish this one in a single session, which I actually managed to do yesterday morning. I didn’t time myself, but I’d say to expect about 3 or so hours out of it, a bit more if you look around for collectables.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

On the surface, Sea Of Solitude is about a young girl named Kay, who is searching through a city, which is for some reason flooded. You start the game all alone on a tiny boat, way out at sea on the water. You make your way to the city, where you find a monster clad in darkness is blocking your path. Through exploration and activating certain things, Kay brings light to an otherwise dark city.

Underneath the main plot though, is a game with strong messages and themes related to loneliness and relationships. Kay as a character is someone who has become lonely, isolated and quite depressed after issues with her family and her boyfriend. The game sends the player on a journey to free Kay and other characters from suffering from the effects of loneliness and related themes. What I didn’t expect this weekend, was to play a game which seemed to have the objective of tackling these mental health issues in this way and I never expected to play something this weekend from the gaming genre with such deep meaning to it.

In many ways, Sea Of Solitude reminded me of my experience with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which was also a game that focused on mental health issues and is still a game I hold in very high regard. Both of these games were experiences that I could not put down once I started playing as I just had to find out what was going to happen with my character. Games tackling these mental health themes and the issues involved are quite rare in this medium, so when an experience like this does come along, it’s very unique and interesting. The difference between Sea Of Solitude and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is that Sea of Solitude is a little lighter in tone and not the intense gruelling experience that Senua’s was. This makes a player’s time with Sea Of Solitude one that is peaceful to experience.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

The art style in Sea Of Solitude is something I enjoyed looking at. The animations are very rounded, colours stand out on the screen and the use of blacks in contrast with visibly bright blues, whites and orange was what I loved the most. The music and also the voice acting, was soft and did fit in well with the tone of the game’s themes and art style. All together, visuals and audios seemed to be just right.

The gameplay in Sea Of Solitude is something I’d say is probably a little simple. It’s essentially a platforming game where you will jump, swim, drive a boat and shoot flares onto enemies. There aren’t any button combinations to learn or any level up systems. The game is accessible to people of most ages and even to people new to gaming could easily pick this one up and get through it.

Overall coming out of playing Sea Of Solitude, I was filled with positivity and happiness. The story is quite heavy when playing through it, but very warm in the end. The art style and animations are nice to see and the sound and voice acting was just right. I do like to see that the games industry can use the medium to tackle such heavy topics and release games like this which show how well this medium can tell a story and provide its audience with something of great meaning. I’m happy to recommend Sea Of Solitude for your gaming collection.

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Stuber Review

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Stuber Review

Stuber is a film which comes directed by Michael Dowse and stars Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani and Betty Gilpin. The film is an action comedy adventure about an Uber driver and a policeman who go on a wild ride together.

Going in to see Stuber I didn’t really know where to set my expectations. Knowing only that the film was a comedy, meant I went in for the lols and didn’t expect all that much from the story. But coming out of the film, I’m sorry to say, but it’s not really that great.

The film starts off okay and the opening scene features both Vic (Dave Bautista) and Sara (Karen Gillan) engaged in a dangerous shootout with some bad guys. Both are seriously injured and Vic loses his eyesight, which means he gets some urgent surgery. His eyes need time go recover, but as soon he’s able to walk he calls for an Uber and continues on with his police business, which is catching the bad guys who got away in the opening scene. This is where Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) comes in and the journey between this awkward duo begins.

I wish I could say that it was all good once the Uber ride began but it wasn’t. The film is only really mildly funny. Dave Bautista who I do really like in action films really isn’t great at comedy. Kumail Nanjiani basically was just screaming and yelling the whole time and talking about his Uber rating and reviews. I admit I did find some of the bad reviews he got from his previous customers in the film funny when they were shown, but that’s about it. Some of the jokes were also drawn out way too long. Dave Bautista’s character being blind was kind of funny in the first minute when you saw him trying to walk around without being able to see. But it’s only funny once and they did this joke over and over again almost all the way until the end!

In addition to this, for quite a bit of the film, I wondered if this was some sort of product placement or advertisement for Uber. There were so many mentions of Uber, Uber reviews and the difference between Uber products and services. What are we paying to watch here? Who cares about Uber!?

In the end I would suggest avoiding Stuber at the cinema this week and choosing literally any other film currently showing. After leaving this I instantly thought that Stuber needs to be on my list of worst movies of 2019 which I created just after seeing this and that says a lot because I was not compelled to make one after seeing X:Men Dark Phoenix.

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