It's been a while since we last talked with the folks at Wargaming about World of Warplanes. With the game exiting it's second closed beta, it seemed like the right time to talk to them about where the game is now and where it's headed. Luckily, we were able to get Alex Zezulin, the executive producer, to answer our questions.
The game has been in various beta states so far. What’s been the biggest change you’ve made since the beta started?
With World of Warplanes, it has and will always be a case of carefully evolving and growing the game. We’ve given ourselves several big challenges with some of the latest features, including revised flight mechanics and new mouse control schemes. The current flight model is the result of months of work and presents the most optimized variant we’ve been able to develop so far. As for the mouse options, we’ve iterated a lot on them, and I’m almost certain that the present setup will change several times before we launch. In the latest update, version 0.4.1, we made another step up, enhancing the Joystick control mode. Now, it’s our job to gather and analyze the feedback we receive on all of these updates and make sure they integrate well alongside other game elements.
With the new flight model and major revisions to control schemes, flying already feels more natural, and now we have a clear vision of how to improve it further. We are also working on game content, revising level design configurations, and bettering the AI component.
What was the biggest surprise from the beta? Are there things you expected to see but didn’t?
With World of Warplanes being our first foray into the flight combat genre, we were prepared to face challenges, as it’s hard to predict what will happen when you explore a new area of expertise. However, some of these challenges have surpassed those expectations. Controls schemes are the best example in regards to what we were most surprised by.
Are you still tweaking the control and physics settings? I understand that playability needs to be biased over authenticity to keep the game approachable to entry-level players, but at some point, the more advanced players are going to want controls to feel more similar to real airplane. Are there any plans for an advanced, more realistic flight model for experienced players?
The air combat games audience is split between people who like trickier and more realistic flight mechanics and those who want easy to control vehicles and dynamic gameplay. We want World of Warplanes to appeal to both audiences. Although our game leans more toward the latter category, we try to find a good balance, without sacrificing the importance of gameplay. We don't want World of Warplanes to become a casual game, but it shouldn't be impossible to learn how to get into the depths of flight combat. We also don't want to dumb down our game or make it super easy; but we do want to make it accessible. We want rookies to get to the good parts of flight combat without becoming frustrated over super complicated mechanics. That’s why most of the things we’ve focused on since the global alpha are connected with control schemes and flight modeling.
The revised flight model introduced in update 0.4.0 ensures a flight system that behaves realistically and mouse controls that allow new genre players to feel comfortable in the game. In update 0.4.1 we focused on tweaking the joystick mechanism to cater to the requests from experienced virtual pilots, and from the feedback we received so far, we’ve seen that a good share of beta testers enjoy the new joystick. In all, controls schemes--mouse, joystick or gamepad--aren’t there quite yet. We need more work to get each scheme right, configuring a good balance between authenticity and useful gameplay.
What control devices will players be able to use? Are you going to have support for things like TrackIR in the final build?
World of Warplanes offers five control options, including two mouse setups, joystick, keyboard, keyboard and mouse, and gamepads. By default the controls are set at the same mouse scheme as World of Tanks. It’s aimed at casual gamers and allows players to control their aircraft with minimal fuss and frustration. The aircraft flies in the direction that the mouse cursor is pointed at. Players simply specify a direction with their mouse, and the aircraft completes all required maneuvers automatically. The second mouse option is a tad trickier, as players need to move the mouse in order to specify the direction their aircraft will travel in. Keyboard control is also easy to grasp and works particularly well for abrupt maneuvers. Gamepad combines elements from both the keyboard and mouse and is a bit easier to master than using a joystick. The joystick method is really for hardcore players and offers the maximum amount of control over a plane.
As for the less widely used controllers, including TrackIR, we plan to introduce them, but I doubt it will happen anytime soon, as we’re still only halfway through tweaking devices the game supports now.
Could you talk about the matchmaking process?
It’s far too soon to speak about the matchmaking process at this stage. World of Warplanes is still in closed beta with relatively low PCCU numbers. To tweak the game balance we need to have millions of people on our servers at once, which won’t happen until open beta, at the earliest.
How do you keep the new players engaged while providing good challenges for more experienced players?
Multiple control schemes, the system of vehicle tiers, and the upcoming tutorial mode will ensure smooth entry for newbie pilots.
As for the more experienced player base, they will be able to skip the learning and focus on evolving combat tactics right away. World of Warplanes already features four vehicle classes: fighters, heavy fighters, ground-attack planes and carrier-based aircraft. Each class has its unique combat objectives and distinctive vehicle behavior, so players can pick whatever class best fits their playing style. Furthermore, every World of Warplanes aircraft comes with upgradable modules, allowing players to try different tech modifications, either from the list of presets or manual configuration. Similar to World of Tanks, plane crews will soon get broad skillsets and perks, and an advanced system of combat achievements. Finally, the game will offer several scenarios upon release and we’ll keep increasing the number of mission types. All of these elements are designed to provide a holistic and rich gaming experience for players with different levels of skills.
As with almost any MMO game, working together with a team is the secret to success. Collaboration and coordination require fast and easy communication, which basically means there will need to be a voice chat feature. Is that in the works?
We’re not ready to start talking about a voice chat feature for World of Warplanes, but we can definitely follow-up with you once we’ve got some design decisions locked down. For now, implementation, testing and tweaking will mostly start during or even after open beta. We don’t want to go that far into details on things that have no design concept document yet.
When it comes time to combine the Worlds of Tanks, Warships, and Warplanes into a common world, do the plans for the common world include a fourth "layer" to provide players with the opportunity to play in a strategic command and control mode?
Yes, we will draw our MMO projects closer on the meta-level. World of Tanks already features a clan wars mode, and the upcoming two titles will be added to the global map, too.
How exactly will it work? Currently, territories on the global map are controlled and fought over by various tank clans. With the launch of World of Warplanes, clans from the two games will cooperate and provide each other with special consumables. For instance, if a tank clan attacks a certain province, while a friendly warplane clan targets the corresponding air territory, and if they win the air battle, the tank clan will get an AI-controlled airstrike to assist it in ground battles.
Do you see this game becoming as popular as or more popular than World of Tanks? Is there any kind of formal or informal competition between the development teams?
Quite the contrary, the two teams work closely together.
As for World of Tanks’ astounding popularity, it creates extra pressure for both teams. World of Tanks developers definitely work with a sense of having to make the game better every month by adding new content, features and modes. They have a huge fan-base to satisfy, but the World of Warplanes team is under a lot of pressure as well. Living up to expectations for the follow up to World of Tanks can be challenging, but it’s a motivating challenge!
Is there any idea of when the game will exit the beta phase? What features are left to implement?
Our primary goal for closed beta is to provide a strong foundation for the core game. When it’s in place, we’ll proceed to open beta, where our major focus will be game balance. We’ll launch when we can ensure all core systems are fully functional and overall gameplay looks polished and feels very balanced. We’ll take the necessary time to en sure the release goes smoothly.
Right now we are trying to build the core base of the PvP experience in World of Warplanes and make sure it provides a solid fundamental experience for our core players. As we get it in place and are satisfied with the base, we will start rolling out other game components--prototyping new mission types, further enriching the system of upgrades, tweaking the weaponry, broadening the list of battle arenas, and adding skillsets for crew members. We’ll back it up with additional rendering system enhancements and control scheme improvements, as these two are still a work in progress.
Do you have a post launch content plan worked out yet? About how often are you planning on launching additional content?
There are some neat gameplay elements coming in closed and open beta phases, and even more after launch. As for the regularity, we’ll introduce updates every month or so, similar to the way it’s done in World of Tanks. For example, in terms of vehicle models, we already have a long list of requests from players and the dev team’s internal requests. Add gameplay features, missions scenarios, and battle arenas to that list and you get a backlog of things which could probably take the game through another three to five years. We almost have too much to choose from!
As soon as we prioritize what it is we want to do right after the release, we'll start releasing more information.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Looking at World of Warplanes from the perspective of closed beta goals, there’s still a ways to go, but it’s rewarding to see progress. Additionally, the feedback we get from test pilots helps us define our goals and continue polishing the game.
We'd like to thank Alex for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Kelley for coordinating the interview.