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World of Warplanes interview with Wargaming’s Vlad Belozerov

4 Apr 2013  by   Paul Younger
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Wargaming continue development of their online aerial combat title World of Warplanes which was recently updated to add and improve the game’s control system and graphics. We hooked up with Vlad Belozerov, World of Warplanes’ Director of Global Operations to find out how the game has improved and what they are working on as the closed beta test continues.

Recently you released a new patch onto the test server which had a key focus on the control systems. When testing we noticed there are some improvements but the aircraft still “feel” sluggish with mouse control. How much more are you going to be tweaking the controls?

The controls are a work in progress, and continue to be after the release of Update 0.4.0. We’ll continue to develop them based on feedback from our Closed Beta testers. Right now, we are focused on making minor adjustments to the current flight model, improving the mouse/keyboard combo, and hand-coding the AI for joystick use. We also plan to gradually add new options for unusual joystick models, TrackIR pedals and more.

Wargaming is always striving for realism in their games as far as authenticity is concerned. However, being completely “authentic” may not always be the best way to go as some aircraft are more maneuverable that others so players will always choose the faster more maneuverable aircraft. In World of Tanks this is not so much of an issue but when it comes to aerial combat players are looking for excitement. How are you balancing fun and authenticity?

The attention in World of Warplanes is geared more towards fan experience than absolute authenticity. Sometimes, being a few steps away from realism is, we believe, better for gamers. For example, aerial duels will take place at lower altitudes than a real world dogfight. This allows players to use the low-level terrain as a tactical option (e.g., hide among the twists and turns of the riverbed, attack from the clouds, etc.). Another visible difference from a simulator is aiming. In most procedural flight sims, it’s rather difficult to hit the target and keep the plane in the air at the same time. Aiming your nose exactly at an enemy plane that’s 200 meters away and just fifteen meters wide and three meters tall, with both fighters moving about at 500 km per hour isn’t something everyone feels up to. We’ve already implemented a seamless lead-finding assist to make the aiming less daunting.

In terms of aircraft models, we sustain comparative capabilities instead of reproducing their real life characteristics. Put another way, we scale certain parameters with without impacting a plane’s peculiarities. It’s a good way to balance historical accuracy and gameplay comfort.

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Class categories dictate the rules of engagement and primary objectives for each warplane. We believe that the variety of classes already present in the game enable everyone to pick a suitable aircraft type. Highly maneuverable fighters, for example, are perfect for close dogfights, defensives and interception. Ground-attack planes are sluggish and engage in combat, but their main role is to destroy ground targets. Heavy fighters present a middle ground between agile fighters and slow ground-attack planes, so they function as the “universal soldiers,” intercepting enemy ground-attack planes and eliminating mildly defended ground objects. In the end, it all depends on the flight and combat style one prefers.

We aren’t making a flight simulator and don’t see the overwhelming need to have 100 percent accuracy in historical characteristics. Instead, we aim at providing engaging flight combat for a wider audience, including those who have never, ever pick up a joypad.

The Beta test has been very much focused on quick dogfight battles which are OK, but to keep people playing and earning their XP what other objective modes are you working on and when are we likely to see these go live?

We are working on an extensive Tutorial mode intended for beginners. This mode will most likely be introduced before Open Beta or at launch.

Another full-scale battle mode in development is Escort Missions. In this mode, one team will escort a heavy bomber to a specific point on the map while the opposing team will try to destroy the bomber and the squadron supporting it. This mode will be implemented closer to the game release.

In future, World of Warplanes will also get a Historical mode, where players will have the chance to re-enact legendary ground and air battles.

The game is coming along nicely in the visuals department, but is there perhaps too much time being spent on making the game look pretty than the actual gameplay itself?

It’s not about making eye-popping visuals—renderer enhancements serve as a means to create realistic experiences with enough terrain elements for intense battle encounters.

World of Warplanes utilizes the BigWorld middleware we use in World of Tanks, but air combat specifics make it impossible to use the engine version our first MMO game leverages. We had to devise maps of reasonable size and with terrain that would make sense for air combat. In the skies, every terrain elements becomes a tactical option: clouds are good for hiding and surprise attacks, maneuvering among mountain ranges can help a pilot to shake off a pursuit, and Sun position provides solid combat advantage when used wisely as well.

Actually, we are almost finished with the rendering system, and can now focus on bringing in-game content in line with the updated graphics and introducing new battling arenas.

At any point in the future will players be able to take off and land? It feels really strange not having this in the game it’s kind of an important part of any flight game.

Battles in World of Warplanes last 15 minutes max, and spending one third of the combat time on taxiing and taking-off wouldn’t make sense. Besides, aircraft on the runway would become easy targets for other warplanes, and I doubt that anyone would like being killed before even entering the actual battle.

When we are finished building out the core features, we’ll consider introducing landing as a mini-game of choice – allowing pilots to land their aircraft after their battle. A successful landing could earn you extra points. If you fail you’ll have to pay for repairs.

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Noticeable omissions from the game are the cockpits. As Wargaming are always looking to create authentic aircraft should players not expect to be able to play from inside the cockpit? The first person HUD view is nice but again lacks that authentic feel.

Our highest priority right now is to ensure the game runs stably and has enough content to host a massive Open beta testing. We have no plans to introduce the cockpit view at this time. We might consider it sometime after launch though.

Wargaming are pushing forward in the eSport arena. What are you guys planning for World of Warplanes? Are you testing possible eSport specific feature in-house at the moment?

We are putting a lot of effort into the development of the eSport component of World of Tanks, and plan to do the same for the World of Warplanes. However, it’s too early to talk about, as we first need to release the core game and see the feedback it gets. Then we can start drafting the game development document in regards to its cybersport features.

You have stated that you are trying to find a balance between the hardcore flight sim fan and the more casual player. This is tough goal and you could in fact end up with a game that appeals to neither. What are you doing to make sure it appeals to this middle of the road audience?

Our goal is to level the flight combat experience to make World of Warplanes accessible and exciting to players of various levels of skill and time commitment. For that reason, for instance, we’ve been introducing multiple controls so that players can tailor World of Warplanes to fit their play style.

The system of vehicle tiers is designed to provide smooth entry for novices as well. Players will start with early biplanes that have simplified processes of gunnery, while the default “World of Tanks mouse” will spare them the frustration of overly-complicated controls. The matchmaking system will ensure players combat against opponents good enough to teach them something useful before they pass on to really difficult and dangerous combat. In addition, rookies will be given an opportunity to learn piloting basics and practice their skills with the help of an entertaining online PvE training course.

Die-hard fans of flight video games will have what they’re looking for, too. If they opt for the joystick controls, they’ll get the full hold of their machines. The flight mechanics will allow them master aerobatic maneuvers, while the manual update system will let them iterate on machines’ tech modification, trying different engines and weaponry.

If you are appealing to the less hardcore audience, do you not think the game should have a more arcade-like feel?

Indeed, the gameplay is geared more toward combat, but it’s not arcadey. World of Warplanes is layered with FPS, RPG, and simulator elements. Machines vary across tech classes and nations and each comes with an original behavior and combat objectives. This, together with a system of upgradable tech modules and skill trees for crew members, adds extra depth to every vehicle tier. Basically, the game has a lot of underlying content and features hidden behind the easy-to-jump-in game setup.

What is next for the development team? What are you focusing on right now?

Many game elements that seemed consistent during focus tests and the Global Alpha phase received critical gamer feedback during Closed Beta. Tweaking core game systems (control schemes being the most critical issue) and analyzing testers’ reactions to whatever changes we introduce is what we are focused on now. Introduction of new mouse controls has been a huge milestone. The next two to get revised are joystick and mouse/keyboard combination. We’ve already introduced two AI modes for joystick, but there’s still a lot of hand-coding to do to ensure the hardcore audience can get the most out of their controllers. The biggest problem with keyboard control is abrupt movements, and we are brainstorming ways to smoothen the feel. The team is also looking at the UI. We’re cleaning it up, removing any superfluous items and things that hamper the gaming progress.

The game has been in development for some time now, what are your timescales for an open beta test?

The launch of Open Beta depends on how quickly we can iterate critical gameplay features and respond to the community feedback. We’ll continue to tweak mechanics and control schemes until the majority of beta testers are happy with the gameplay quality. At that point, we’ll proceed to Open Beta and start working on perfecting the game balance.

You can find out more about World of Warplanes at the official site. European gamers can also grab a closed beta key from IncGamers and join the action now.

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