An interview about how World of Tanks: Mercenaries is created, what’s the game design input and what it takes to be a Wargamer
A city known for its deep-dish pizza, music, and resilient sports fans, Chicago also boasts a long history of video game development. Off Washington Boulevard in the west loop is Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore, which is leaving its mark on the video game industry.
Wargaming, primarily known for its flagship title, tasked their Chicago-Baltimore office with the development of the console versions of World of Tanks. We were lucky enough to spend some time with Matt Monforte, the Lead Gameplay Designer at Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore, to give you an inside look at what it’s like to be a Wargamer.
For anyone who doesn’t know, what does Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore do?
Chicago-Baltimore’s primary role is developing World of Tanks: Mercenaries (previously known as World of Tanks Console). When we started development, it wasn’t a direct port of the PC version. It was built from the ground up on new technology with new game design ideas. We have stuff that PC doesn’t have, and they have stuff we don’t have. But we also try and collaborate to see if we can merge for the best of both worlds.
So, who are you and how did you end up at Wargaming?
I joined Wargaming quite a while ago. I was part of Day 1 Studios before Wargaming acquired the studio. I started in about 2010 working on F.E.A.R. 3 and Reign of Thunder where I primarily worked on game and level design.
Somewhere between 2012 and 2013, we were contacted by Wargaming to make the World of Tanks version for the Xbox 360. When we were acquired by Wargaming, I worked on World of Tanks for probably a total of 5 years in a bunch of different capacities. I was a Senior Game Designer for a bit, focusing on player feedback and how players interacted with enemies- making sure they had the right amount of feedback when playing our game.
I also worked on how to keep players around and how to keep things interesting. Like what new tanks do we want to introduce? I believe it was the AMX Chaffee, which was one of my first creations, that was inspired by community posts. It was a mix of a French and an American tank that actually existed, but what’s cool about it was that it was unique to World of Tanks on console for the release of Xbox One.
After a lot of game design projects, I moved into production where I was a lead over the UI team; this was mostly in a management and project management role. I did a lot of task organization, forming pipelines, and trying to smooth out the rough edges of the team. I think we succeeded, and they’re still using those pipelines that I established today, even though I’m not in the team anymore.
I was also in a producer role for a number of features that were more technically heavy. I ended up becoming kind of the liaison or project manager for our tournaments feature for World of Tanks. Sony and Microsoft were kind of hoping developers would use their APIs (Application Program Interface) to promote tournaments in their native operating systems. So, I ended up organizing and producing tournaments for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One which involved communicating with Microsoft’s team, ESL’s team (Electronic Sports League), Sony’s team, and our own engineering team. Oh! And the people we were working with remotely were in Baltimore—which is really cool.
What do you currently do now?
Right now, I’m a Lead Game Designer at Wargaming. I decided to make my move back to design in a leadership role, and we’re working on an unannounced project in our team.
What makes Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore special?
What I really appreciate about working here is that everyone from a creative standpoint is on the same level. We encourage feedback no matter who or where you are. We value feedback from QA just as much as feedback from the engineering team or the design team. We try to make it as collaborative as possible. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we’re not, but that’s our goal. That’s what I love about working here.
I also think everyone is really friendly. I know I greet just about everybody on a first name basis in the morning. It’s almost like an episode of Cheers. Where you come in, you grab your coffee, and say hello to everybody. It’s the same thing over and over, but it’s a friendly environment. It’s a place you want to be in—a place you look forward to.
Oh, and the other great thing about working here is that our work-life-balance is phenomenal. Leads will help you make tough decisions and try to work with the schedule to facilitate success.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from the suburbs of Syracuse, NY and before I came to Wargaming, I worked at Activision.
Since you’re not from Chicago originally, what was that change like? Why did you move to Chicago? What’s it like living here?
I totally moved to Chicago for the job. They relocated me. We (my wife and I) ended up moving a few blocks away from the office and ended up purchasing it (the apartment) later. We weren’t really sure about Chicago, but after living here for a year we think it’s the best place to be.
The summers really come alive. Every weekend there’s street festivals, gardens to walk around, parks to be at—dog parks to take our dog to. It’s great.
What makes Chicago special as a city?
I think Chicago is special as a city because it’s kind of a mix of New York City’s density with access to restaurants, services, fun stuff and entertainment. But with a midwestern feel where the neighborhoods feel comfortable.
You feel safe driving through the city, unlike New York where it’s kind of just bonkers. It’s a little bit more accessible and a lot cleaner (as far as other cities go). Also, the lake’s (Lake Michigan) right there with a huge sandy beach where you can just hang out at. But it really comes down to what the city offers, like the shows and different events.
So, you’re a Lead Game Designer, how does someone get from an entry-level position to where you’re at?
We actually get this question a lot from our QA guys here, and what I tend to tell them is that the tools are out there for you to learn; you just gotta go out and do it. If you’re self-motivated you can make your goals into a reality just from forming the experience with your time at home and making cool projects on your own. If you don’t have that kind of self-motivation, some people don’t, our designers and producers have managed and mentored people to build them up for those roles. So, ask your leads about that. I myself mentored a person from QA, and they ended up on the UI team as an engineer. So that upward mobility is definitely here. You just need to reach out and find your path.
With your storied background in video games, what’s one tip you can give someone starting out in the industry?
Well one of my weaknesses is focusing on problems for so long and not realizing that I’m not making enough progress to overcome that problem. Reach out to your leads if you’re having issues at those very early stages. If there’s something you feel like you’re not as proficient in, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help or ask your lead for training, more time, or assistance.
What’s it like working with you?
Um, good question. Well it depends on the person, but If I can give someone a task and a target to go to where they can get that thing done, I’ll be very hands off. It’s really up to that person. But sometimes there are those moments when someone needs that extra hand and direction. If that’s apparent, I try to alter my management style where I’ll step in. But mostly it’s giving a clear definition of what need to be delivered, and then allowing the person to get there in their own way because that’s where success and learning comes from.
What’s your favorite memory/accomplishment during your time at Wargaming?
So, way at the beginning of World of Tanks, even before we were acquired I believe, we made the feedback system—we call them ribbons. They’re kind of accolades that appear at the center of your screen which you receive by doing different gameplay accomplishments. We wanted to give the players at the end of the game something that they can be proud of; you know that immediate feedback.
But what’s cool about that feature, specifically for me, is that World of Warships and the PC version of Tanks took it and adopted it as well. It’s a nice sharing of ideas across our teams.
So, a very important question: Are you good at World of Tanks?
Um (laughter) I haven’t played in a little while. Since you know I’ve been working on other projects. I think I WAS good at World of Tanks. I think now, I’m a casual at this point.
What’s next for Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore?
That’s a good question. I think we’re obviously super familiar with World of Tanks and its formula of success, so I don’t see any reason to kind of veer away from that. So, it’ll be some more crazy modes that you’ll experience for April fools or holidays. You know, more experiences tailored to AI gameplay; I wanna say War Stories-esque.
Features that help existing players with lifestyle improvements. Try to make things easier for our player base and offer more value to our Free-to-Play players.
Why should someone join the Chicago-Baltimore team?
The projects being amazing aside, we’ve already covered that the city is amazing. I think the studio is amazing and super laid back but at the same time super talented. The people that have been here have been here a long time. We don’t have a lot of people leaving that often. The churn is low, so we have a lot of experience that has built up. But at the same time, we still have that chance for upward mobility in the form of new positions, new projects, and new initiatives all over the place. I think every two years or so, I’ve had a different primary role. Just our wide variety of needs as a company that can be met by your aspirations as a person is crazy.
What does it take to be a Wargamer?
I think we’re looking for people that will bring new ideas to the studio. We have World of Tanks, this successful product, but our new products have still yet to be defined wholly. So, we want people to come in to stir things up a little bit with some new ideas.
Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore is growing, and we’re currently hiring! Learn more about what we do and find your dream job. Apply today!