Wargaming.net has earned its stripes in PC gaming. Known for the Massive Assault series, Order of War and other titles, the PC development has now started cashing in big time on its hardcore gaming know-how with the success of its massively multiplayer online world World of Tanks.That game has more than 18 million players worldwide, a massive hit that has given the company resources to launch its next big online game worlds. The company has more than 800 employees, making it one of the powerhouses of downloadable online gaming on a global scale.
Wargaming.net will be releasing World of Warplanes in the near future. It has already received more than 100,000 requests from North American players to play in the current alpha test. World of Warplanes will likely launch its public beta in June and launch by the end of the year. We sat down recently with the man behind World of Warplanes, lead designer at Wargaming.net, Sergey Burkatovskiy. Here is an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: Can you tell me a little more about World of Warplanes and why the warplanes idea was implemented into an MMO atmosphere rather than a single player or smaller online community game?
Sergey Burkatovskiy: Generally, there’s an undeniable trend toward MMOs in the market. And we are no newcomers in the field: World of Warplanes isn’t our first MMO title.
The “Tanks” taught us many useful lessons and we’ve got proven-to-be-good schemes and concepts designed for our first MMO title, which we can now apply to World of Warplanes. Surely, we encountered difficulties, but World of Tanks proved that an MMO has the potential to deliver a great gaming experience, once it’s polished, deep, well-balanced and constantly updated. Take a look at the concurrent user numbers; we have over 500,000 tank men playing at a given moment in time. That’s impressive.
Why planes? Well, that wasn’t a hard choice either. Many people in the dev team are passionate for planes and flight sims, not to mention hundreds of World of Tanks fans asking us to come up with a flight combat title. We were very excited about the idea when only started working on Tanks, and the fact that players pretty much wanted the same thing only urged us towards getting down to the concept.
GamesBeat: What has been the biggest challenge so far with the game? What has been the biggest challenge in implementing the MMO aspect of the game?
Burkatovskiy: Switching from ground tank combat to 3D air battle arenas was extremely challenging in the first place. It called for considerable game engine enhancement, both in terms of server and render improvements, and adjusting to combat specifics (accurate aiming, terrain and weather effects).
Pertaining to MMOs, the firing rate, for example, was a real pain in the neck. A standard battle in World of Warplanes is two teams, 15 on 15 players. It makes up for 30 planes on the battle field simultaneously. Imagine what server capacity would ballistics system need if, for example, the TSh-3 (an early Soviet ground-attack aircraft) alone comes with 10 quick-firing machine guns plus one to fire backwards. When we only started testing first gameplay iterations, the server was close to failing. Server programmers were racking their brains trying to knock over the issue with minimum simplifications in the damage system. Eventually, we managed to tackle it with several small changes, but you’d be surprised how much time those several tweaks took!
Another thing about the MMO aspect: World of Tanks experience stood in good stayer here. With our first MMO title, we ran into a major hitch trying to catch up with the fast-growing number of players. We never expected so many people to join the game and had to drastically increase our server capacity after launching the open beta in Europe and North America. To avoid this mistake with Warplanes, we’ve implemented multi-cluster technology right away.
GamesBeat: The trailers and press release seem to focus on an older era of warplanes from the 30’s up to the Korean War. What led to this decision to use older era aviation planes? Adding to that, are there any planes on releasing modern era type planes/maps in the future?
Burkatovskiy: Well, the first reason why World of Warplanes features only the mid-20th century aircraft is because the game continues the theme started in Tanks. Both games have the same concept and nearly the same setting. So, it would have been awkward to shift the core essence. Let’s now imagine if we add the F-15 as an 11-tier fighter in the American line, right after the Saber. It would EAT the poor Korean veteran. What I’m trying to say here is adding more sophisticated and technologically advanced aircraft would ruin the gameplay completely. So, we’ve decided to stick strictly to the frames we had chosen. Again, the period we are using covers the very birth of the jet as the main means of modern air forces. We have the aforementioned Saber, we have the MiG-15, we have the completely lunatic German prototypes, and I believe players will get no less fun trying these out.
GamesBeat: How realistic is the weaponry in regards to the period and what the original warplanes would have used? And on the same subject of weaponry, how much upgrading will be featured in the game and will there be opportunities to use different weaponry on different era planes?
Burkatovskiy: We are aiming at maximum realism and authenticity, and the development started with an in-depth research on vehicle models and their internal components. The progression system will largely resemble the one used in Tanks. Every plane will have key elements to upgrade and feature multiple modules to unlock: engines, canopies, glider components and many more.
So, players will be able to build their planes up piece-by-piece, change parts and various modules to their liking, and pick the optimal configuration for the most effective behavior in combat. Modules will be based on actual blueprints and schematic diagrams. Of course, you won’t be able to install, for instance, a General Electric J73-GE-3 engine on a WWII fighter: you’ll be offered to choose from authentic options.
Also, we’ll offer quite a plenty of choices in regard to ammunition. WoWP will feature incendiary, high-explosive and armor-piercing shells, as well as shells with combined effects, such as incendiary-explosive shells. Plus, players will be able to put together ammo loads and define ammo sequence.
However, players should bear in mind that too much armament will have reverse effect on speed and agility. It will increase the overall weight of a warbird, affect drag coefficient and other flight characteristics. So, they’ll have to think twice before installing a desired component.
GamesBeat: Can you tell me any more about what gameplay modes will be available for War of Warplanes? Also, in previous interviews, you’ve mentioned that you are currently testing several game modes and even have rejected some of those ideas? Can you tell me which ideas were rejected and why they didn’t fit with World of Warplanes’gameplay?
Burkatovskiy: The main game mode called “Superiority” is featured in WoWP Global Alpha. It’s similar to WoT fundamental Team Deathmatch. Teams try to eliminate enemy ground targets and/or crush all the enemy planes. Ground targets have different number of HP; less important ones earn fewer points, while most crucial will be protected with AA guns and earn more points. The larger your team’s advantage, the faster you are assigned ‘superiority’ points that will eventually grant the victory. All in all, the game mode provides two options to win: by getting 100% superiority or by crushing all enemy planes.
In the second “Escort” mode player will be either convoying heavy bombers to some critical point on the map or trying to intercept and destroy them. Gameplay wise, it would be rather dull to control a bomber as compared to flying other classes of warbirds, that’s why bombers will be AI controlled. Besides enemy planes, bombers are vulnerable to enemy AA guns. This game mode isn’t featured in the Global Alpha yet, it needs to undergo some final polishing first.
At the initial stages of development we tried introducing an adjusted version of the WoT system. As far as planes aren’t able to capture a base like tanks can, we needed to come up with some alternate winning conditions. If I’m not mistaken, this game mode was called “the Air Area Control”. The goal was to get numerical superiority in the marked area. We did a lot of prototyping and testing: changed the sizes of the capture area and the rules that determined the amounts of victory points given for this or that period of time. But it didn’t work! First off, it wasn’t balanced: most players chose fighters as they had an edge over ground-attack planes. Plus, this scenario lacked fun and excitement. So in the end, we turned it down.
GamesBeat: In the alpha phase, there are 20 plus plane models to choose from and two battle arenas. How many more warplane models/battle arenas do you expect to have at final release? What kind of battle arenas/environments can we expect to see?
Burkatovskiy: Upon release, the total number of warbirds will reach 70 machines. Initially, every nation will have two branches in their tech trees: one branch will present light fighters and the second branch will be unique for every fraction, bringing special appeal to every (one) of them. We’ll keep constantly adding new vehicles and will gradually extend branches. Eventually, every nation will get a fully implemented technical tree.
We’ll do our best to provide players with a variety of landscapes that will let them use all the tactical options terrain and weather (we) have to offer: attacking from the sun, covert flight through a canyon and going in clouds might become a crucial tactical element. You’ll see different continents, urban maps with skyscrapers, maps featuring canyons, mountains, sea landscapes and deserts. We are also working on various weather conditions, like fog, snow, rain, hail,etc. Together with multiple cloud schemes, they will give a unique feeling to each map and significantly diversify the gameplay.
GamesBeat: How will the different types of planes effect the playing field? Is there a lot of work going into what each warplane’s abilities will be and what their behavior and advantages will be for each different type of plane?
Burkatovskiy: To implement unique behavior for each class of vehicles we focused on two major issues. Firstly, we had to work out thrilling goals for each class and ensure they won’t go against team interests. In other words, the gameplay has to be relevant and exciting for fighters, heavy fighters and ground-attack aircraft, but they should actively cooperate too.
Secondly, each model will have its unique potential and specs. Take, for example, a duel between a heavy fighter and a ground-attack plane: the first one holds the cards in most cases. Here we stick to the historic schemes, and in-game vehicles have weaknesses and strengths of real life planes. As WoWP combines arcade and sim elements, we won’t reconstruct historical characteristics to the last detail – we’ll try to sustain comparative capabilities between in-game vehicles instead. However, it won’t prevent us from developing an original and engaging gameplay for every type of vehicles.
GamesBeat: Do you have an idea on a release date yet?
Burkatovskiy: I’d rather not give a specific date, but I can tell you that it’s coming together very nicely. So we’re just pretty much sure right now it’s going to come this year. We’re keeping up with our internal schedules for content and stuff. There’s a lot of ambiguity as to what it’s going to take to get your multi-player stuff working for hundreds of thousands of people versus several dozens of guys in the office, that’s why the game will go through several testing phases before the release. It’s entered the Global Alpha recently and the Open Beta is next to come.
GamesBeat: I know it’s been announced that three nations will be featured upon final release. (USA, Germany, USSR) What other nations do you plan on releasing and will that be something purchasers of the game will have to pay extra for?
Burkatovskiy: Yes, at its launch the game will field three national lines – American, Soviet, and German. Two more nations will follow shortly after the release, which will be British and Japanese warplanes. Like in WoT, we’ll gradually expand the fleets, introducing new aircraft models with every update.
As regard to the second part of your question, the main tech trees will contain aircraft available for free, with research and leveling requiring time and skills to spend. However, again just like in Tanks, there will be some amount of premium models that will give extra boost in credits and experience while having less efficient specs in comparison to general tier-matching machines.
GamesBeat: Will there be a single-player/offline mode to develop your skills before hoping onto the MMO world?
Burkatovskiy: Air combat is by far more challenging than ground battles: crazy pace, lack of armor, no time to aim carefully and three-dimensional battling arenas – all that creates a high entry threshold. To somehow smooth your first steps in the game, we’ll implement an online PvE-oriented tutorial. It will guide newbies through the learning process, help them grasp piloting basics and master aiming skills during training battles with AI warplanes. It will be absolutely optional, but completing the tutorial would earn you bonuses. Of course, we understand that (the) PvE (player vs environment) training course won’t prepare players for a dynamic PvP (player vs player) battle. It’s where the matchmaking comes into play: a tier-based system similar to that in WoT will prevent veterans and newbies from fighting against each other in random battles.
GamesBeat: Can you tell me more about experience points and how players will actually be able to upgrade their warplane?
Burkatovskiy: Like in Tanks, personal achievements in World of Warplanes will be presented by destroyed, damaged and spotted planes/ground objects. Also, you might gain points for precise shooting and assisting your team. Of course, you’ll get extra points if your team wins.
These numbers will be used to calculate your experience and credit gains, which in its turn will go toward researching modules and upgrading armor. For instance, you can unlock and research a new engine, weaponry, glider, etc.
Besides climbing up the tech trees, experience will be used for crew training. The crew training in WoWP will considerably differ from WoT: crews will be presented by a single pilot who will perform a wide range of tasks. To that end, we are working on a wide list of skills and perks relevant for air combat.
GamesBeat 2012 is VentureBeat’s fourth annual conference on disruption in the video game market. This year we’re calling on speakers from the hottest mobile, social, PC, and console companies to debate new ways to stay on pace with changing consumer tastes and platforms. Join 500+ execs, investors, analysts, entrepreneurs, and press as we explore the gaming industry’s latest trends and newest monetization opportunities. The event takes place July 10-11 in San Francisco, and you can get your early-bird tickets here.