We sat down with WoWp's Lead Game Designer Ivan Kulbych to talk about Spitfires, pilot damage, and what's different from World of Tanks.
Last week I traveled to Minsk, Belarus to chat with developer Wargaming about its aerial combat MMO, World of Warplanes. At the iconic Stalin's Line Museum outside of Minsk, surrounded by decommissioned MiGs, I met with Lead Game Designer Ivan Kulbych to talk about the popular game.
World of Warplanes (stylized as WoWp to avoid any confusion with that other MMO) is in open beta now, and has already drawn over a million registered players. "We have more than 1,000,000 testers," said Kulbych. This is a feat considering the relatively small size of the studio developing the game. Persha Studios - the Ukrainian firm based in Kiev and recently acquired by Wargaming - boasts a team around only 150 people. However, as Kulbych assured me, "it will be increased after release."
Warplanes has seen a number of iterations, and has offered a number of devious balance challenges. "One of the main challenges we faced was balancing controls," Kulbych said. "We needed to make controls simple enough for new players, but we also needed to make every plane fly differently."
The challenges did not stop there, however. "We tested 10 different game modes before we found out which one is the best one at our current stage of the game," Kulbych said. He explained that "there was a huge number of" planes that were scrapped in development for not meshing with the game's style.
Wargaming is known for pumping out hundreds of realistic models in its flagship MMO, World of Tanks, and WoWp is following the same pattern. With over 80 hyper-realistic planes, all with different upgrades, the game is a military history buff's dream. Inspiration for the planes comes from both realistic planes who saw battle to prototypes found in dusty libraries.
"It's not something a child has drawn on a piece of paper," Kulbych said of these prototypes. A number of the planes in WoWp were never even assembled, but through the efforts of military engineers and historians, the team in Kiev can put together its best guess as to how various experimental and imagined planes may have flown and fought. In fact, there are a number of employees who act solely as historians, digging through journals and other historical documents to get a feeling of how each individual plane handled in combat.
For me, this is the most fascinating thing about World of Warplanes; it is as much a history lesson as it is a video game. "We have some pilots among our testers," Kulbych said. He related an anecdote about a US jet pilot who was invited to play the game with no prior experience. The pilot was quickly able to pick up the game and dominate other, more seasoned players, not because he was good at video games but because he understood the principles of aerial combat.
This is the primary goal of World of Warplanes - realistic battles that reward players who follow basic tenants of plane warfare. "Your performance in the game depends not on controls, but on understanding tactics, awareness of your surrounding, and how good you are at opening up your enemy," Kulbych explained.
World of Tanks shares a similar methodology, keeping its tank battles firmly planted in reality. Another carryover from WoT in WoWp is also a Wargaming company policy - making "free-to-win" games. "You can gain no battlefield over an opponent by paying," Kulbych said. His game also imitates WoT's short gameplay sessions.