Updated Tue, Mar 20, 2012 by Shayalyn
Last spring, Wargaming.net delivered armored ground combat to the masses with its acclaimed free-to-play title, World of Tanks. Now, the developers are taking to the skies with their upcoming title, World of Warplanes. Set in the golden age of military aviation (from the 1930s to about the 1950s), World of Warplanes will put virtual pilots behind the sticks of classic warbirds engaged in a struggle for air dominance.
We wanted to learn more about the process of designing a game that's combines the best of arcade and flight simulator mechanics with team-based MMO combat action, so we talked with Anton Sitnikau, World of Warplanes producer, to get the goods.
What sorts of challenges come with designing for combat that takes place in the air?
Of course, transition from a ground-based tank combat into a flight game wasn’t all smooth; we encountered a plenty of challenges. Some were purely technical, others were determined by the gameplay. We decided to use the BigWorld game engine, which proved to work well in World of Tanks, but in order for us to provide kick-ass value it had to undergo significant enhancements. For example, crafting terrain that makes sense for aircraft turned out to be pretty time consuming. To that end, we’ve been creating levels filled with buildings, canyons and mountains, giving players plenty of obstructions to break up line of sight.
Another issue was the firing rate. A standard battle in WoWP is 15 vs. 15--that's 30 planes on the battle field simultaneously. Could you imagine what server capacity ballistics systems would need if, for example, TSh-3 (an early Soviet ground-attack aircraft) alone comes with 10 quick-firing machineguns plus one to fire backwards? The server was about to fail! Server programmers were racking their brains trying to knock over the issue with minimum simplifications to the damage system. Eventually, the team managed to tackle it with several small changes, but you’d be surprised how much time those several tweaks took!
As for the adjustments connected with the gameplay, they deal with the fact that it’s a highly dynamic 3D combat system where players have to act quickly, watch the air around their vehicles, and check vitals like the plane’s height and speed. To that end, we were required to balance the information stream and provide relevant data in an accessible form.
What role will positioning play in combat tactics?
Like in real life battles, in World of Warplanes skillful positioning will give you an edge over your enemies. For instance, most warplanes will benefit from height superiority. Ground-attack aircraft are the only exception: keeping close to the ground works better for them sometimes. Besides terrain peculiarities, the position of the Sun and cloud scheme can be of vast importance when working out your tactics.
Will mid-air collisions be a factor in combat? Can I use collisions tactically by, say, shearing off the rudder of an enemy plane with my prop or playing "chicken" with another aircraft to force a crash?
We're not going to stop players from ramming each other. However, ramming won’t be an easy thing to do, and staying alive after it will be even harder. But if you are skillful enough at ramming you may be able to ram the enemy and survive, having damaged or cut a wing (a tail) off the enemy plane by hitting it with your propeller.
Planes can also collide by chance. In this case, the damage is determined by the components that hit. For example, a head-on collision is often critical and ends up in the utter destruction of two vehicles, while a slight scratch with your wing’s tail will cause only minor damage, and you’ll be able to carry on.
Is a joystick going to be essential for getting the most out of World of Warplanes? How viable will a keyboard and mouse be as a means of control?
We are aiming at covering almost all known types of controllers. WoWP's alpha version already supports joystick, gamepad, keyboard and two modes of mouse control (simulator and arcade). We want to provide fair conditions for all gameplay types, and much time was spent to ensure all of the control schemes available in the game are equally efficient and grant no advantage in combat. Of course, joystick and gamepads are handy for aerial stunts, but it’s your ability to analyze a situation and react quickly that really matters!
Personally I prefer a joystick, because it feels as if you control a real airplane, but I have been defeated many times by players who used keyboard and mouse.
In-air combat might not come easily to some gamers who aren't accustomed to flight sims or arcade-style flying games. Will there be any sort of free-play mode where we can practice our skills without fear of being shot down?
The entry barrier in World of Warplanes will be higher than in World of Tanks as the game will require more skill than WoT. That’s why our matchmaking system will have special settings that will prevent veterans from fighting against newcomers until they become familiar with PvP battles. We are also considering an entertaining training mode. It will guide newbies through the learning process, beginning with basic piloting skills and gradually moving toward training battles with AI warplanes.
Weather, visibility, and the blinding effect of the sun is a big factor for any pilot. Will these factors be present in World of Warplanes, and if so, how will it affect our ability to fly or play into strategy?
Along with accurate maps and a variety of realistic terrain types, WoWP will feature a complex and realistic detecting system for sensing the position of the Sun, the viewpoint on the enemy, clouds, folds in the terrain, crew skills, and vehicle structure (ecanopy type, for example). Players will fight over deserted areas and picturesque coastal towns, among mountain peaks and in tower-filled skies of some of the world’s largest cities. However, you should remember scenery and weather is not only a fascinating experience, but a tactical element, too.
Besides weather, what other sorts of challenges can affect an aircraft? High Gs? Stalling? Engine fires?
We’d like to make World of Warplanes accessible to a wide range of players, so we simplified the flight model a bit. If we consider several elaborate flight sims, all those tricky tumblers and levelers you need to take off can be downright frustrating for casual gamers. And in WoWp we want our players to focus on the battle itself, not on operating the aircraft. Besides, in some cases too much realism impedes the gameplay making it less dynamic. To prevent that and ensure fun gameplay we took one or two steps away from authenticity: for example, you won’t be able to fall into a spin or exceed the max speed limit causing your glider to crush from fluttering. On the other hand, we’ve implemented all core gameplay elements, like vibration on high speed and when your gun is firing, stalling, engine fires, and etc.
What sort of consumables and crew skills can we expect?
The final list of consumables is still shaping up, so I’ll just briefly touch on its items. In regard to ammunition, for instance, we’ll offer plenty of choices. We’ve already worked out multiple bullet types and shells: incendiary, high-explosive, armor-piercing, and shells with combined effects, like, for instance, incendiary-explosive shells. Plus, players will be able to put together ammo loads and define ammo sequence.
The crew training as well as the list of skills in World of Warplanes will considerably differ from WoT. Basically, crews in WoWp will be presented by a single pilot who will perform a wide range of tasks. As for the list of skills, you’ll be able to master crew’s overload capability, ability to quickly notice the enemy, and learn how to get the most out of your plane; turret gunners will master accuracy in the first place.
We've heard that World of Warplanes will feature an arcade mode and an expert mode. What can you tell us about the differences between these two modes and how they affect game play?
I told you quite a bit about control schemes earlier, so this time I’ll get straight to the specifics. Indeed, we are working on expert and simplified control schemes for mouse. If you opt for an expert mode, you’ll control surfaces (such as ailerons, giving and elevating rudders), thus getting full control over your vehicle. This option is truly enticing for flight sim aces and a way too tricky for casual games. The latter, in their turn, will, most likely, choose an arcade mouse. It’s rather handy: the player only has to specify direction for the plane, while the AI adjusts its lateral attitude and precision.
As for the second part of your question, neither mode will affect the gameplay: they’ll be equal and won’t give you an edge over other players...unless you are a true pro, of course. But then it’s not the control scheme, it’s your skills that provide advantage.
In what ways will we be able to customize our planes? Are there any visual customization options such as the clan emblems we have in World of Tanks? Can we sport a pin-up girl or shark teeth?
World of Warplanes will field loads of vanity stuff to help you customize your warbirds. Every vehicle will come with several authentic camouflages, and if you are in a Clan you’ll get the Clan emblem. Your Clan position will be marked on the plane, too. Also, we’ll implement frags and tail numbers. The color of the number will mark your rating on this or that vehicle. There are also purely aesthetic elements to color engine, fuselage, tails of wings, and the nose of your machine. And by the way, there’ll be unique identifying marks for Alpha testers, too.
So far we've seen the fighter and heavy fighter trees for Germany and the United States. Is base destruction still a key objective? Will bombers such as the Grumman TBF Avenger or Junkers Ju-87 "Stuka" make it into the game for launch?
We prefer to disclose our plans gradually, and I can only tell you that you’ll soon see the Soviet tech tree for the release version. As for the range of vehicles, two more nations will follow shortly after the release. It will be British and Japanese warplanes. Besides, we’ve already announced that tech trees will be expanded: we’ll add new branches and vehicles with regular updates. Plus, one tech tree can field several branches for each aircraft class.
Here's the million dollar question: "Do a barrel roll!" Possible or not?
It’s a nice one! Yes, you’ll get a chance to do a barrel roll, and many other aerobatic elements, including vertical maneuvering.
Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank Anton Sitnikau for answering our questions and sharing detailed information on World of Warplanes. For more, take a look at our world exclusive World of Warplanes Hands-on Preview from GDC 2012.