Massive Assault In-Depth
Published on 8/4/2003 by Scott Parrino.
The Wargamer's Shaun Wallace and Jim Zabek recently met with Wargaming.net's Victor Kislyi, who is responsible for the company's business development and game design. Victor set aside some time to discuss the upcoming release of Massive Assault.
Massive Assault has been a concept a long time in coming. Originally conceived as a board game some seven years ago, it has undergone an evolution in PC development initiatives, first as a DOS based game, then anchored in Windows 95, then Windows 98, and now is finally being released after a further development initiative which started about a year ago. The discussion was wide-ranging, but it focused on three areas in particular: the development process, the gameplay, and the game's AI.
The Development Process
When Massive Assault was originally designed as a board game it only included six types of units. As Windows became more robust, so did the vision for what Massive Assault could be both in terms of gameplay and graphics. Because the game has been in development for so long, the temptation to try and slide more improvements into the game is a constant, ongoing process for the development team. With this latest round of development they have really had to constantly remind themselves that Massive Assault is not only a labor of love, but a commercial product that needs to make money. In order to realize their dream they had to pick a date beyond which no more development could take place. Victor gave us a description of how discussions on improvements to the game would typically proceed. He would have some kind of a brainstorm, and would then approach a developer to discuss what it would take to implement the change. While some changes might be easy to make, others were not, and often the developer would respond "Sure, we can do that, but it will take another year of development to implement it."
Because of their self-discipline they think they now have a truly fun game that will be well received by the community. But it wasn't easy to get to this point. Victor explained, "Making software is difficult. Right now we have a very big list for Massive Assault 2 for sure, but we don't speak about that. We have to be focused. This game will have enough selling points and enough interesting points for the gamers to be digging in for months before they demand more." Provided that Massive Assault is a commercial success, they are already considering what might go in an expansion pack or Massive Assault 2.
One of the principle design requirements was that the game should look good on high-end systems but be able to run effectively on low-end systems for gamers who don't have a state-of-the-art machine. Victor described his QA tester's PC as " the poorest machine in the office." Sometimes he has problems getting Word or Excel to run on it but Massive Assault runs fine as long as the graphic effects like shadows are turned off. On the other hand, Massive Assault's game engine is robust enough to do live terrain generation. Initially, however, the developers had so many new development issues that they had to prioritize the features to be included in their first release, and as a result they had to drop on-the-fly terrain generation for this version.
The game engine, graphics, and sound effects were all created in-house. Nothing was outsourced. While there are commercially developed engines available for purchase, they are expensive and not as flexible as the team wanted. By using their own custom built engine and graphics, it also allowed them to continuously upgrade it as their needs changed. The result of these customized graphics show up in such details as the path left behind after a vehicles moves, whether it be on land, in the air, or at sea. They also can create their own customized graphic effects with this engine, such as explosions and sinking ships.
While the overall focus wasn't on graphics but gameplay, the graphics are attractive. There was a conscious decision to develop the graphics so that they would attract not only wargamers, many of whom still play PBEM games with 2D graphics, but also other gamers who might otherwise be turned off if the graphics on par with today's hot titles.