We came away suitably impressed when we took the closed beta of World of Warplanes for a spin in our preview earlier this month, so we talked with Wargaming.net’s Vlad Belozerov to discuss the game’s development, balancing historical accuracy with fun and the what the success of World of Tanks taught the company about making free-to-play PC titles.
Strategy Informer:World of Warplanes has been in closed beta for some time now, and it’s been a while since we heard from Wargaming.net about the game’s development. How has the closed beta progressed, and what’s the most important feedback you’ve received from testers?
Vlad Belozerov: The results of the closed beta testing have shown that we’ve been on the right track from the start. Not only did the test give us a clear understanding of where the game stood, but it also helped motivate us to make sure we ended up making the best game possible.
During the game’s development we’ve tested hundreds of ideas and possible features. And, we’re constantly prototyping new concepts and considering new options for game modes in an overall effort to make the game experience more exciting and fun. We’ve made massive improvements to the graphics rendering system, not only in the actual in-game graphics engine code, but also the in visuals for each battle arena and warplane model. Along with that, we’ve completely overhauled the in-game flight model, introduced a newly revamped tutorial and an advanced upgrade system for each warplane.
We’ve focused our efforts on giving players truly realistic gameplay filled with historical accuracy, but also an experience that’s balanced, fun and features user-friendly controls. We’ve really challenged our beta testing players during this continuing process. For example, we’ve implemented and removed a number of possible control schemes. For the mouse control alone we’ve tried out 15 different options. And, many aspects of them never made it into the current build. And thanks to feedback from our testers, we’ve managed to settle on some optimal control schemes that make dogfighting not only realistic, but also great fun.
Strategy Informer: Free-to-play games have seen a huge growth in both popularity with gamers and acceptance by the gaming media over the last couple of years, with the success of World of Tanks playing a major role in both. What specific challenges do you encounter when developing a game for the F2P market?
Vlad Belozerov: We are happy and honored to be one of the pioneers in taking the free-to-play model out of the shadows and into the Western market. We did our best to take the most advanced elements of what makes free-to-play games great and wrap them into AAA gaming experiences.
Before World of Tanks, Wargaming had already developed 13 retail titles and established itself as a well-known and experienced game development company. Back then we had two options: either follow the crowd doing our best to copycat a successful formula, or try to bring a completely new and innovative experience to a stagnating gaming market. Obviously, we chose the second and the hardest option.
Entering the MMO realm, we never realized how many things went into delivering a truly compelling experience for that genre. Free doesn’t necessarily mean success. If something is free, but is of low quality, players won’t keep playing it for very long. With this in mind, we made significant effort to ensure World of Tanks had exciting gameplay, stunning graphics, and controls that were accessible to any kind of player. Our team worked day and night to generate content that would keep players engaged with the game. The main objective at that stage was to launch an AAA MMO title that was free-to-play.
However, when World of Tanks officially opened its door to players in Europe and North America, we ran into serious maintenance issues, as suddenly we had hundreds of thousands of players coming into the game. This huge influx of players resulted in technical malfunctions and connectivity issues.
Fortunately, we managed to get the situation under control very quickly. After the launch of an MMO, it’s important to keep players engaged and playing by constantly adding new content and features. When you run a game as a service, you have to keep people happy all the time. Today we’re confident in our abilities to provide this kind of great post-launch content not only for World of Tanks, but for all of our future titles, too.
Another significant challenge was finding a publisher for the game. Back then no one would agree to publish a free-to-play title, so we made the decision to bypass publishers altogether and to publish the game ourselves.
Strategy Informer: Flight simulation and air combat games are often seen as one of the more intimidating genres for new players to get to grips with. What steps are you taking to make it as easy as possible for a new player to enjoy World of Warplanes?
Vlad Belozerov: Since the very start of development, we’ve been challenged in finding a way to balance the controls. We want the experience to be accessible to novice players, but also realistic enough to appeal to hardcore flight combat veterans.
I’m happy to say the fruits of our labor are perfectly reflected in our most recent Update 0.4.0. We introduced a completely new flight model and an innovative way to play the game, making the game’s controls much easier for all players.
We’re very happy with how the flight model works now. We invested a lot of time and effort in making this model a balanced combination of accessible controls with historically accurate WWII era warplanes. We hope that our players also enjoy this truly unique and exciting experience.
The new flight options allow players to more quickly grasp the basics of the game in order to get to the action faster. Currently we have five main control schemes in the game: two mouse options, keyboard, gamepad and joystick. A player can choose the scheme appropriate to their level of experience and combat priorities.
Strategy Informer: The game’s graphics engine has seen several upgrades in the last few patches. Are you happier with where the game is at visually, or are there still areas that you’d like to improve?
Vlad Belozerov: Having a dynamic game focused squarely on 3D airborne fighting required us to make some considerable improvements to the game’s graphics engine. Nearly every aspect of the in-game visuals has been re-mastered from scratch. In doing so we focused on two major points: the exterior of the warplanes themselves and the in-game environment, with the goal of making everything appear more unified on-screen.
We’ve been hard at work to bring improved details and advanced shaders into the game, inviting players to see what materials their warbirds are actually made of. We’ve increased the size of maps to accommodate jet-powered planes and the resulting increase in speed that they bring to combat. We’ve also filled the game’s maps with lots of stunning terrain detail, including photorealistic water and high-res surface object textures. Since the combat takes place in the sky, we’ve modified the engine to create things like real-life clouds and sun effects that actually have an important tactical advantage while you play. In addition, we’ve enhanced the lighting engine to feature HDR lighting.
So far, we’re extremely happy with the results. We made a truly stunning visual update and are excited for our test players to get their hands on it.
Strategy Informer: The game features a huge tech tree with classifications for each nation, as well as in-depth customisation of each plane, both manually and with presets. How difficult has it been balancing the game for both historical accuracy and playability?
Vlad Belozerov: Each warplane has a distinctive personality, a very specific character and combat style. Having a diverse selection of aircraft allows players the freedom to choose a plane that fits their style of play. The flight model is built with consideration of most flight parameters, and even takes into account seemingly insignificant features like weight and equipped weaponry.
We did, though, sacrifice bits of realism and historical accuracy to ensure fun and dynamic gameplay. In order to keep the game user-friendly and accessible, we decided to turn off some of the more unfriendly aerobatic maneuvers, such as fluttering, gyroscopic effects, and spinning dives. We also didn’t change each aircraft’s center-of-gravity, which in real life would be affected by consumption of fuel and ammunition. We believe that sometimes a few steps away from realism will benefit the player experience and make things more fun.
Strategy Informer: Night fighting has been one of the most popular requests from the game’s community. How much of a challenge does implementing night combat in the game represent, and when can we expect to see it added?
Vlad Belozerov: We’re planning to introduce night combat, but this will take some time. When you think of night time dogfighting, you probably think of all sorts of cool and eye-popping features like tracer bullets, spotlights and other effects. These features, though, will have to be linked to a future upgrade in the game’s graphics engine.
During night fighting pilots must rely only on their radars, either a permanently installed one or one that’s just temporarily installed for specific missions. These devices could be easily damaged during combat. And, ground based night combat elements, like spotlights and ground-based radar could be destroyed from air assaults. All of these elements would make a pretty engaging tactical experience for the player.
At the moment we’re working pretty hard on this and have already achieved some very promising results. However, we don’t anticipate that it will be ready by the time the game officially releases. If anything, it will be introduced in a future update.
Strategy Informer: Looking ahead, what are the other main features you’ll be looking to implement in World of Warplanes in the coming months?
Vlad Belozerov: Right now we’re heavily focused on the main features. In the latest update we’ve introduced new graphics, a revamped flight model and enhanced control schemes. We’re continually enhancing them and beta testers have already seen some significant changes and improvements in these areas.
We have plans to incorporate into the game various weather conditions and effects, like heavy rain and dense fog. And, these weather effects won’t just be for cosmetic appeal. Various weather conditions will also grant players with serious tactical advantages that will have a direct impact on gameplay. We’ve already tested out some prototypes, but we’re still hard at work trying to make sure it’s perfect and entertaining.
We’re also continuing to make ground and naval targets as diverse as possible. For instance, we upgraded naval vessels with the ability to perform evasive maneuvers, and are even planning to add moving trains on some maps. In the near future we’ll also add more animations to small ground vehicles. As for the in-game ground objects, we are striving towards making them completely destructible.
Some other brand new content will be added, however, I can't share any specifics about them yet.
Strategy Informer: You held the very first community meet-up for World of Warplanes in Berlin in January. How did the day go, what was the response from the community like and do you plan to hold more such events in the future?
Vlad Belozerov: The first ever European World of Warplanes community meet-up took place on the 26th of January in Berlin. In organizing the event, we closely followed the format that we use for World of Tanks community meet-ups where we meet with players in a museum (or any other environment related to the military history) and afterwards go out to a bar or pub. This time we met at the aviation section of the Berlin Museum of Technology and after the meet-up moved to a neighboring bar.
During the museum tour we presented the upcoming Update 0.4.0 changes, discussed general in-game features and explained the basics of World of Warplanes to those players who had no experience with the game. Players bombarded us with questions about World of Warplanes, World of Tanks and Wargaming as a company. We organized our answers in the most comprehensive and complete way possible and received very positive feedback on the community forums after the gathering.
We will continue to organize such community events for the game. As we value every player and highly appreciate their involvement and commitment to our games.
Strategy Informer: Are there plans for an open beta in the near future?
Vlad Belozerov: Currently we’re progressing right along our established open beta release schedule, with no major drawbacks or delays. And, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to successfully meet the established deadline and share more details about the open beta soon.
Strategy Informer: What is the timeline for World of Warplanes in terms of a full release date?
Vlad Belozerov: With the new controls, improved graphics, and a number of smaller features recently introduced, the game has made a huge leap forward. We’re working hard at polishing and balancing every aspect of the game to provide our players with a truly unique and exciting gaming experience in the near future. Once we’re confident that we’ve reached that goal, we’ll release the game.