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One of the biggest changes in World of Tank’s recent 8.6 update is the distribution of shells within the aiming reticle. While this may seem fairly esoteric, having your bullets go where you aim them is critical in a game based on shooting guns. Tradeoffs must be made between accuracy, damage, and rate of fire. For example, in the picture up there, a clever player landed his shots above the Super Pershing’s thickly armored gun mantlet and onto the thinner armor at the top of the turret. In World of Tanks, a gun’s accuracy limits the size of the fully zoomed-in reticle, and its aim time dictates how quickly the reticle shrinks down around your target. Roughly 5% of your shells will hit the edge of the reticle.

Or, at least, that’s what we’ve been told.

After the jump: lost in translation

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If you can get over your middle school flashbacks, observe the difference between these two scatter plots. The first thing that should jump out at you is how many more points in the left plot form a line at the edge of the reticle. The explanation behind this phenomenon is that, prior to version 8.6, the reticle used a much wider shot distribution that ensured that shots would not leave the reticle by clustering them on the edge. In version 8.6 shots that would otherwise leave the reticle are effectively “re-rolled” getting another chance to land in that rich center area hopefully aimed at a weakly-armored view port.

By changing the process used to calculate shell deviation, Wargaming.net has radically altered the accuracy of every gun in the game. While I view this change as positive, I am concerned that, like the removal of “pay-to-win” HEAT shells, the tightening of the reticle will end up requiring the rebalancing of certain tanks that excessively benefit from the change. Progress, as always, must be viewed in the aggregate.

Unfortunately, my positive feelings about this change have been colored by the fact that, prior to 8.6, Wargaming claimed that the new reticle was what players were already using. This always felt wrong, but I just assumed it was confirmation bias. You notice your unexpected misses a lot more than you notice your expected hits. Besides, World of Tanks is rough enough around the edges that it’s just as reasonable to blame underperforming tanks on a typo in the posted statistics than to assume a massive failure of the deviation formula.

Problems like this are something that World of Tanks players (especially in the English-speaking world) must learn to accept. World of Tanks’ massive success has created an ego problem for Belarusian-based developer Wargaming.net. While the company is celebrating its 15th anniversary this summer, none of Wargaming’s prior titles have come close to approaching the success of World of Tanks, which generated over $200 million in revenue in 2012. Wargaming’s sudden ascension into the big leagues of online gaming has allowed the company’s founders to indulge in a bunch of nerd fantasies: sponsoring an e-sports circuit, financing an expedition to Asia to search for buried British Spitfire aircraft, hosting tank jamborees, and generally acting like the recently wealthy. Lead Producer Sergey “SerB” Burkatovsky frequently indulges in direct (Russian language) communications with players that are sprinkled with relaxed net lingo and profanity.

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While these displays of unbridled nerd enthusiasm certainly feel authentic, they cause me to cringe as often as they cause me to smile. The problems of HEAT shells were loudly mocked as the problems of bad players up until the HEAT changes, and players who complained about unreasonable shell deviation were told to “play better”. I expect we will see a similar pattern with regards to tanks that have unreasonably benefited from the shell deviation change.

Wargaming’s commitment to improving their game is commendable, but they seem to have institutional problems graduating into the league of AAA developers. While this may be a good thing (can you imagine Electronics Arts producing World of Tanks?) it’s worth noting that, as boring as EA’s spokespeople may be, they have the good sense not to mock players for caring enough about their games to notice problems.

Tomorrow: it’s not the length of the barrel
(Click here for the previous World of Tanks entry.)

David Lydon has been playing games since he was very young, and hopes to still be playing games when he is very old. David posts on the Quarter to Three forums as Dave47. His previous World of Tanks diary begins here.