Wargaming aren’t rushing World of Warplanes: a year and a half after the game’s first alpha took off, the game is still in closed beta. While World of Tanks has been a runaway success for the developer; World of Warplanes, while it’s built upon a similar model, has so far developed as a very different game. Often a far more challenging one.
To discover what’s changing, I’ve spoken to World of Warplanes’ Director of Global Operations, Vlad Belozerov about how one of my most anticipated games of 2013 was ticking along.
Since that first that rickety alpha, things have changed. A lot.
World of Warplanes has a new look, a new control system and a new flight model. The last two of these are by far the most welcome. Trying to find a control system that worked for the mouse and keyboard, but that also offered a flight sim feel without compromising on accessibility, has been a real hurdle for the team, explains Belozerov. “Flight mechanics has been the most challenging part of the development process so far. We’ve learnt a lot trying to pull off the middle ground between casual and hardcore,” he says. “The flight model and UI had to be easy enough to grasp for a broad range of players, while the gameplay had to be dynamic and authentic enough to really satisfy hardcore flight-simmers.”
Wargaming didn’t get this right first time. Early versions of World of Warplanes were a challenge to fight in. The game was nowhere near as accessible to new players as its predecessor had been. “The more we added to the game, the more complex and less user-friendly the UI ended up being,” Belozerov says. “These new elements also had an adverse effect on the game’s combat dynamics: too much time was spent on controlling the aircraft, and the result was that players couldn’t act fast enough in the skies. They were too occupied with flying their planes and unable to manage actual combat.”
The solution was to create two separate ways of playing with the mouse and let players choose their own style.
“By default the controls are set at what we call ‘World of Tanks mouse controls.’ It’s aimed at casual gamers and allows players to control their aircraft with minimum fuss and frustration. Simply put, the aircraft flies in the direction that the mouse cursor is pointed at,” says Belozerov.
“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. Those who like more of a challenge in their flying can opt to use a gamepad. It combines elements from both the keyboard and mouse and is a bit easier to master than using a joystick. The latter is really the choice for hardcore players and offers the maximum amount of control.”
The new mouse system is a little more ”arcadey,” Belozerov adds, but should work far better for newbie players, particularly as the low tier biplanes that they’ll start the game with are far easier to control. On top of this, another very welcome addition is the option to jump between a combat mode and a ground assault mode, the former offering a quicker and far more responsive control system, while the latter switches the camera view and makes aiming at ground targets much easier.
Wargaming want a lot more to be going on on the ground. Dogfights make for a very different experience to tank battles, for obvious reasons. They’re far more frantic and there’s no hiding in bushes or scuttling behind cover that World of Tank players are used to. Dogfights are briefer, far deadlier and much less forgiving. But, Belozerov says, Wargaming want scenery to be a more significant consideration, because nothing beats a good old canyon chase.
“Low-level terrain in World of Warplanes is filled with buildings, canyons, and mountains, giving players plenty of obstructions to break up line of sight, and carry out surprise attacks,” he says. “Dogfighting will take place pretty close to the ground as well, and it's possible to take advantage of each map's unique geography. In maps that take place in cities and canyons, you'll be able to swerve in between buildings and canyon walls to lose a pursuer and possibly loop around so you can get a clean shot at them.”
That terrain is getting busier, too, and updates to the maps has introduced both a greater level of ground detail and a wider variety of stuff to explode. Climbing into bombers to attack ground targets has become much more important. According to Belozerov, there will be many more things to destroy soon. “Each map will get fuel depots, tank columns, railway stations, factories, and more,” he says. “Each ground object will have a different number of hit points: less important targets will be almost defenseless and will earn fewer points for a team if destroyed, while more crucial ones will be protected with AI-controlled anti-aircraft guns.”
Many of these new feature are now so good-looking I feel a little sad about blowing them up. While the changes to the control method are both welcome and important, I can’t help but notice World of Warplanes new lick of paint. The planes themselves look sharper and have more detail, while the improvements to the terrain are welcome indeed, banishing terrible memories of flat textures and indistinct beige squares.
Wargaming have further improvements planned. While new planes and new maps are pretty much a given at some point or another, Belozerov says that much of their focus is still on improving player experience and helping first-time players adjust to and understand the game.
“We are also working on a training course tutorial to help smoothen the learning curve,” he says. “It will be designed to guide them through the learning process step-by-step, starting with piloting basics, such as mastering aiming and combat in training battles with AI opponents. When players finally feel confident taking on those AI bots, they’re ready to proceed to real PvP.”
I’m curious to see what comes next. World of Warplanes debuted as an interesting but obtuse alpha. Wargaming’s attention to player feedback has resulted in real and meaningful changes. I’m quietly hopeful that it can achieve all the same successes that World of Tanks has, becoming another game with a tremendous player base, with a host of curious mods and with so many battles raging that any of us, at any time, can step in and out at the touch of a button.