Interview: Lead Producer Anton Sitnikau Gives us a Glimpse on the Future of World of Warplanes

It’s been quite a few months since my hands-on preview of World of Warplanes by Wargaming and I felt it was the time to revisit the skies of World War II. That’s why I set forth to have a chat with lead Producer Anton Sitnikau in order to ask him directly how things are going under the hood of the game.

You can read the results below, and if you want to try World of Warplanes yourself, we’re still giving away a bunch of closed beta keys for you to get your own hands-on impressions with the title. You can find them here.

Giuseppe: The World of Warplanes beta has reached a milestone with the impending drop on the NDA. How do you judge the results of the test?

Anton Sitnikau: We are overwhelmed with positivity. The game is shaping up and gradually improving with every new update. There’s a solid backlog of gameplay features and content that we plan to introduce before World of Warplanes goes live and we are far from thinking about it as a ready-to-ship project.

As for the closed beta test results, we are extremely grateful to our community for the quality feedback they’ve been giving us. They’ve found and reported various bugs and have sent over many constructive comments and suggestions, thus assisting the team in polishing the game.

This on-going testing proves to be a great means in helping us bring a robust and engaging experience to launch.

G: What are your expectations for the drop of the NDA that finally allows users to share their thoughts and experiences freely?

AS: With the lift of the NDA, test pilots will be able to rightfully share their thoughts on World of Warplanes which will help the entire gaming community build a more or less objective common opinion on the current status of the game. We are also excited to see what reviews the game will get from outside of the closed beta player base. It will present us with a totally fresh point of view, allowing us to look at the project from a slightly different perspective. We expect that the drop on the NDA, and the following surge of reviews and forum buzz, will draw back the bulk of closed beta testers that have been idle to World of Warplanes, encouraging them to log in and see with their own eyes how the game has improved.

Finally, it’s an important milestone in terms of growing the game’s community. The lift of the NDA will loosen the framework of player-developer and player-player interactions, liven up the existing community and facilitate the news flow. It will also help the community define trusted opinion leaders and make it easier for the development team to outline the most critical game issues that need to be addressed before everything else.

G: What are the biggest challenges ahead, now that the beta has reached such an advanced state?

AS: There’s a long list of gameplay elements waiting to get introduced. Some of them are at the prototyping stage, while others are still in the infancy. We plan to offer more mission types, further enrich the system of upgrades and tweak the weaponry. The game will be adding skill-sets for crew members and will eventually get a broad system of achievements. We aim at providing players with manifold tactical choices and are now optimizing the level design of battling arenas.

A lot of effort has been devoted to World of Warplanes’ visual component, and we aren’t going to stop evolving it in the future. Now that we’ve enhanced the rendering component to the point where we have a solid foundation, our next goal is to overhaul the present game’s content to bring it in line with the renewed renderer.

In all, there are many gameplay components that we haven’t started on yet, and each of them is challenging in its own specific way. Needless to mention, the work on World of Warplanes won’t stop with its launch—we’ll continue to support the game with regular updates, like we do with World of Tanks.

G: Patch 0.4.1 introduced some rather major changes to Joystick control. As a Joystick user I feel that’s really “the” way to experience a dogfight game. Could you explain the update and what it entails to our readers? I’m actually curious, considering that nowadays it isn’t a “popular” control method for generic gaming anymore; do you have any metrics on the percentage of your users playing with a joystick?

AS: OK, let’s get a bit into stats and regional specifics here. American and Russian communities of flight combat gamers both have the demographic of flight simulator pros that prefer joysticks. What distinguishes the two is that players in North America don’t mind games that combine elements of several genres, while focusing on flight combat.

Before the Update 0.4.1, the joystick was used by nearly 40 percent of pilot players on the North American server, one third of all European virtual pilots and less than 20 percent of players in the CIS area. With the introduction of the revised joystick control scheme in Update 0.4.1, the number of players that opt for joystick has grown in all regions. We consider it a vocal argument that players enjoy the recent revision and feel more at ease with the present joystick setup.

This doesn’t mean that we are done with the scheme—it’s still a work in progress. The next step will be tweaking the controller to allow for maximum accurate vehicle response, which calls for major revision of the server architecture. The second major issue is the camera view when playing with joystick. In its current setting, the view of the aircraft occupies too much space on the screen and the camera angles feel somewhat awkward. We are now brainstorming ways to manage that. The sheer variety of joystick models presents yet another challenge for the team. Most flight combat games that support the controller feature top popular models as presets, and so will World of Warplanes. The game’s official forum already features a thread devoted to joystick presets, where developers and closed beta players discuss and share preferred settings and profiles for their joysticks.

All in all, we have a clear vision of how to improve the Joystick control scheme. However, it isn’t something that can be managed overnight—it’s a time-consuming element if you want to do it well. And that’s exactly how we are going to do it.

G: The latest patch also introduced two new maps—Harbor and Arctic. What was the design philosophy behind them? Do they offer any gameplay difference compared to the previous battlefields?

AS: World of Warplanes beta pilots used to complain about the few battle arenas fit for mid-level aircraft and top-tier machines. As a result, the combat felt monotonous. So, to address these complaints we’ve prepped two new arenas—Harbor and Arctic. Speaking about the settings, Harbor depicts a North American coastal city that resembles San Francisco a lot. Artic is a deserted snowy area that has very few buildings.

We are also working on a major level design revision that is aimed at providing more tactical choices for players and encouraging cooperation within the team. The revised level design configuration enables ground-attack planes, for example, to stay hidden on their way to the enemy base, dismantle ground objects and leave unscathed. Fighters now have enough space to engage in dogfights and interception. Additionally, we’ve gone ahead and re-positioned ground targets so that players are spread evenly around the map instead of flocking in one area.

G: Have you introduced some sort of training map where clans are able to assemble without being joined by enemies in order to refine their tactics and gunnery as a team in a non-competitive environment?

AS: Both World of Warplanes and World of Tanks already feature training rooms, where players can pick a particular battle arena, invite friends and hone their team play, skills and tactics.

G: Any chance we will see an “Axis vs. Allies” mode making its appearance in the game down the line?

AS: Eventually, World of Warplanes will get the Historical game mode (similar to that planned for World of Tanks), where players will get a chance to re-enact legendary air tussles of the past. This scenario isn’t among our top priorities currently though, so we won’t be able to reveal more on it until we have the concept document.

G: With the drop of the NDA, many are wondering about the open beta. Are we near? Will you adopt the same model as other free-to-play developers treating open beta like a soft release with a fully working cash shop and no more wipes?

AS: There are still many issues we have to tackle before the game enters open beta testing. We want to ensure World of Warplanes runs smoothly and that it’s robust enough before we launch a massive testing.

As for the second part of the question, I can with absolute certainty say that we won’t monetize the game before the release. Be it in the closed or open beta phase, we recognize the game as a half-baked product, and believe that it would be unfair to offer any micro payment option for something that isn’t polished enough.

G: Since the launch of World of Tanks, many developers have adopted pretty much the same general idea in other settings and with other kinds of vehicles, and World of Warplanes will follow the same route. Do you feel like you created or at least popularized a genre?

AS: Indeed, World of Tanks has carved itself an astounding niche.

World of Warplanes is going to be a lesson learnt from our first MMO game in every possible way. We have the heritage of World of Tanks. We know the ins and outs of MMO game design, we love flight combat and we know where we want to take it. We found a happy medium of realism and fun in World of Tanks. This time we started with that and have been looking into ways to make it that much better. We’ve been pushing what is possible to do from a game engine perspective to come up with maximum coherent state-of-the-art project. Now we want to see how it works for gamers. We’ll watch it very carefully and make sure we release something that’s compelling.

G: Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers, to conclude this interview, or anything we should look forward to for the future of World of Warplanes?

AS: After World of Tanks had just launched, we struggled to feel confident that people would enjoy the game and stay in it continually. There’s been a lot of work to ensure they do. We’ve kept on growing the core gameplay, enhancing its tech and mech, tackling server capacity and adding new content since the release. We’ve learned a lot along the way. Now we’re confident people will play it, because we see the numbers every day. There are close to 55 million World of Tanks users worldwide.

With World of Warplanes, we’re trying to look at what we’ve done and do more. It’s an air combat MMO game with the heritage of World of Tanks. The World of Warplanes game engine grew out of where we were with the World of Tanks engine. It has undergone major enhancements, both pertaining to its rendering system and the server component. We’ve iterated a lot; we’ve re-written much of the server architecture to adjust the middleware to flight combat specifics. A lot of effort has been put to balance between realism and fun. Playability was sometimes biased over authenticity to keep the game approachable to rookies. At the same time, we injected the game with enough flight combat tricks and tactical options to sustain solid level of gameplay depth.

We aim at delivering an in-depth experience, not only when it comes to the visuals, but also feeling comfortable regardless of your prior flight combat experience. So that when you’ve been playing World of Warplanes for X amount of hours, you are still discovering new layers of depth, honing your skills and watching the game open up before your eyes.

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Giuseppe Nelva

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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