Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

on May 7, 2012 1:30 PM

The release of World of Warplanes is getting near and many gamers are already involved in the Global Alpha testing (that you can join here), with expectations set high due to the stellar success of the previous game of the franchise World of Tanks.

I had a chance to ask a few questions to Project Manager Alexander Zezulin about the past and the future of the franchise, the development process behind World of Warplanes and some of the features we may see down the line. You can find his answers and my questions below  (Alexander also sent us thee exclusive screenshots to accompany this interview, giving us a glimpse of the Messerschmitt Bf 110E and Messerschmitt Me 410 heavy fighters, you can see them above and below).

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

Giuseppe: World of Tanks is an amazing success story. A couple years ago Wargaming.net worked in a niche market, but now you have millions of players all over the globe and two more MMOs in the pipeline. What’s your secret?

Alexander: I wouldn’t say there’s a secret around Tanks’ success. We just did our best to create a title that would have universal appeal, along with a game that we ourselves would be happy to play. Looking for a comfortable balance between “details” and playability, we’ve developed an almost arcade style experience, with the core of dynamic PvP tank battles serving as a crucial component to add hardcore feel. Another cornerstone of the game’s success is its free-to-play business model. If a game is free, why wouldn’t you give it a shot? Besides, it keeps us busy improving the quality to keep players interested.

G: Would you tell our readers more about your company? How much did it expand since the times of DBA Online?

A: We’ve come so far in the last couple of years! Back in 2010 (before the launch of World of Tanks) we were a small studio, with a total of about 120 people. Today the company is approaching 800 employees around the globe. There are 400 people working on World of Tanks, around 150 people working on World of Warplanes, 70+ team working on World of Battleships, and another 50 people involved in smaller projects. The business is expanding rapidly, and we are planning to grow to 1,500 by the time World of Warplanes is released. We’ve launched development centers in Kiev (Ukraine) and St. Petersburg (Russia), as well as offices in Berlin, Paris, and San Francisco.

The smashing success of World of Tanks allowed us to scale new heights and turn into our own publisher; and we believe our new projects have all potential to be just as good or even outperform our current headliner!

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

G: From turn-based strategy games to real time MMO games there’s quite a big jump. How did the idea come to be? Did you expect to be this successful?

A: Having shipped several RTS titles we’ve realized we were going in a slightly wrong direction. And that’s where the idea of making MMORPG came from. We understood such an abrupt switch of the genre would be risky, and the search for a game setting turned out even more challenging: we didn’t want to develop another ‘elfish’ game, and the industry was all about elves and orks.

For us as gamers, military theme is what we’ve always been at, and the idea to develop a game about military warfare came as a watershed, oh-my-god moment. With wide-eyes, we went to work. World of Tanks development, from the idea to prototyping to final release, happened in brilliant flashes of creativity. We were complete strangers in the MMO Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Titlemarket, and of course, it didn’t go all smooth and easy. We’ve been working literally non-stop for a very long time, wanting to ensure that we put as much functionality and detail as we possibly could. We were pretty confident about World of Tanks’ eventual quality, and were hoping that, with this all-new concept for the whole MMO market, the game would gather a fairly decent audience. But its stellar popularity took us by surprise!

G: Considering the massive success of World of Tanks, do you feel any pressure for the release of World of Warplanes? Do you think you’ll manage to reach the same level of popularity or maybe you’re aiming even beyond that?

A: We know too well what it’s like to work on something new with the expectation of past success in the background. It isn’t just words—World of Tanks success is having an effect on World of Warplanes development. It makes decisions harder. It ramps up the scope and quality. It’s making the stakes higher. It challenges us, and that’s a pretty motivating challenge, I should say. We are taking everything that made World of Tanks approachable and engaging and layering on improvement after improvement, both in regard to server capacity and graphics. All these and generally positive feedback from the WoWP Global Alpha testers makes us think that World of Warplanes has tremendous potential not only to live up to World of Tanks standards, but to become a step-up: more interesting, more polished and more successful title than the latter.

G: As far as I can see the fanbase of World of Tanks is really excited for World of Warplanes. Do you see sharing the fanbase between the two games as an advantage or as a challenge?

A: This works both ways. Player feedback has been invaluable and has helped us improve the quality of World of Tanks immensely, and we feel it is extremely important to listen to our player’s feedback and grow the second title in line with their thoughts and suggestions. At the same time, the fan base creates some extra pressure. Expectations have raised the bar right along with the game’s success. And our community are people that know World of Tanks’ strengths and weaknesses far too well and expect World of Warplanes to be just as good and balanced, at least. We feel we have no right to let them down!

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

G: World of Warplanes spans a rather large period of time, from the thirties to the Korean war. Why did you decide to embrace such a wide timespan instead of focusing on World War II?

A: World of Warplanes continues the theme started in World of Tanks, so it’s not surprising that both share the same setting. But it wasn’t the only reason that predetermined the choice. The period from 1930s to 1950s embraces a huge variety of aircraft from early biplanes to first jets, providing just enough models for ten tiers. Besides, vehicles designed and produced during these years didn’t have much electronic equipment, and pilots had to rely on their skills, not some gadgets. So sticking to the chosen period allows us to develop diverse skill-oriented gameplay with a rich choice of vehicles.

G: Creating an historical game has always been challenging due to the necessity of reproducing reality with a good degree of fidelity. What kind of research has been done in order to create World of Warplanes‘ warbirds and environments?

A: We believe that a product of this caliber can’t be done in a sloppy manner, and when you put your heart into something it usually means that you show extra care and attention. Thus it takes a bit longer.

We’re designing every aircraft from the ground up. First we carry out a thorough research of every model, looking into its particulars, technical specs, and schemata. Once combined, each 3D model goes to historical advisors that find and correct inaccuracies and errors. Also, we have several aerodynamics engineers on the dev team, and they are busy checking and double-checking that every plane prototype is as authentic as possible in terms of its behavior. At an average, building up a detailed and historically realistic aircraft model takes from two to four months.

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

G: The tech trees of World of Warplanes include quite a lot of experimental and little known aircrafts that one wouldn’t expect to see in a game. What’s the reason behind their selection? Was it hard to find data and information on their performance?

A: Aviation history knows many astounding aircraft models that have never made it into battle. They remained on the drawing board or at prototype stage because either they were deemed unsuitable or the developers simply ran out of time and the projects never went into production. By the way, many of them are on the must-have list for every flight sim. We feel that World of Warplanes vehicle roster just won’t be complete without those brilliant fabled planes. Plus, they allow us present the aviation design of the chosen period in full measure and make the transition between tiers gradual and authentic. For instance, the game will feature several mixed-power prototypes (i.e., they have both propeller and motorjet engines) as an intergrade between piston and jet fighters. These weird looking experimental machines shaped the aviation history of the following decades: when it came time to build first jet planes, the experience of building mixed-power prototypes came in handy.

“Paper” models require twice as much time to introduce as real life planes. Historical consultants spend weeks in archives looking through engineering drawings, documents on testing trials (test flights, bench runnings, wind tunnel simulations, etc.), and memoirs of aircraft designers. As soon as they prepare a solid documentation pack for a certain plane model, we get down to prototyping its flight model and possible combat behavior. Sometimes they bump into several discrepant sources, and it hinders the process: in such cases we either choose the one historicians find more trustworthy, or the one that fits the game balance better.

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

G: When the initial tech trees were released, I was very surprised to see that the Focke-Wulf FW 190 was missing. Can we look forward to see it added after release?

A: Tech trees in World of Warplanes reflect the order in which planes were developed. Besides, a certain branch usually features vehicles from a particular design office. At launch, each nation will come with a branch of light fighters and a class of warplanes unique for every nation (gunships, heavy fighters, and naval aircraft): FW 190 won’t fit for the current tech tree, but will be included later. Of course, we’ll introduce fabled Shrike monoplane, but in terms of its own branch and after release.

G: When i first saw the Dragon faction April Fool, for a moment I thought it was about the Japanese. We already know that Japanese and British planes are going to be released after release. Have you already established which faction will come first?

A: As we’ve announced World of Warplanes will feature three nations at launch: Germany, the USA and the USSR. There’s still lots left to do, and I can’t disclose any firm date for British and Japanese factions, but the British tech tree is the next one down the road.

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

G: One of the most difficult challenges in a MMO is balancing. I would guess it becomes even harder when you have to work with historical planes that had their own established characteristics. How did you tackle the balancing challenge in World of Warplanes?

A: We are developing a title that would please the hardcore crowd without being unapproachable for the majority of the market. So we don’t see the overwhelming need to have 100 % accurate historical characteristics. Instead, we sustain comparative capabilities between in-game vehicles. Put the other way, we scale certain parameters with no harm for plane’s peculiarities. It’s a good way to balance between historical accuracy and arcade gameplay comfort, and recreate fun and frantic air combat. Sometimes few steps away from realism are, we believe, better for gamers.

G: Have you ever thought about extending World of Warplanes to less known areas of World War II? The Sino-Japanese war comes to mind as an example. It’d be a great scenario for battles between early Japanese and Russian planes.

A: There are several nations that we’re already researching in this regard.

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

G: Will World of Warplanes support different skins or national insignias? Many of the planes included in the game were used by multiple countries, and such a feature would allow more players to play with their favorite nation even if those nations aren’t present in the initial line-up.

A: I think it’s a great idea! And technically, it won’t be a great difficulty. After we are finished with core features, we’ll consider implementing multiple national insignias for planes that were used by several countries (including those not featured in the tech tree).

G: With World of Warplanes incoming and World of Battleships following, you’ll cover air, land and sea. Is there any chance, maybe in the far future, to see all three games truly joined with Tanks, Planes and Warships physically fighting each other on the same map?

A: The three games will be drawn together in terms of economic system and on the Clan Wars level. If you’re good at Tanks, but are just starting your career in World of Warplanes you’ll be able to boost your progress by transferring Free XP from one game to another. Clans from three titles will get a chance to provide each other with clan consumables: Tank clans, for example, will be able to call in air-strikes and bombardments from warships off the coast, all based on previous matches you played in Warplanes and Battleships.

Interview: World of Warplanes Project Manager Talks About Warbirds, Research and the Future of the Title

At the same time, incorporating three “Worlds” within one map is simply impossible. World of Tanks, World of Warplanes and World of Battleships will be absolutely different in terms of gameplay: air combat will be highly dynamic, naval action will provide for a thoughtful and somewhat slow game, and tanks lie somewhere in the middle. Besides, tanks, ships and planes have totally different levels of vulnerability. It’s no exaggeration to say tankers would get shot down by virtual pilots so fast they wouldn’t even figure out where the death came from, and pilots wold hardly have time to get a lock on a ship before getting dispatched with massive naval cannons. Not to mention, each type of warfare calls for a particular map size (1 x 1 km2 for tanks, 15 x 15 km2 for warbirds, and no less than 30 x 30 km2 for ships), and choosing an average number simply won’t do.

G: Thanks a lot for your time! Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about World of Warplanes and your company’s plans?

A: We have a lot of interests and we would like to develop and find new and talented people to create new projects in different genres and on different platforms. It’s impossible to predict exactly where we will be going in the future, but we are dedicated to continuing and providing the gaming community with the best competitive gaming experience possible.

 /  Executive News Editor
Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.
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