E3: Hands On with the World of Warplanes Game

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E3: Hands On with the World of Warplanes Game
A screenshot from World of Warplanes
Roughly 30% of players in the free-to-play MMO World of Tanks spend real world money to upgrade or add cosmetic changes to their vehicles. It’s a phenomenal conversion rate, and likely the highest in the crowded Free-to-Play market.

In World of Tanks, you start out with a basic, pre-World War II tank and gradually improve it over multiple arena battles. Make no mistake: These are familiar armored fighting vehicles from the period leading up to and through World War II, but there’s no mistaking these arena battles for any historical battlefields.

It’s just a way for players to jump into tanks and engage in 15-versus-15 team battles. The game has attracted millions of players, almost all of them men, and heavily skewed towards 25 or older.

Hopes for World of Warplanes

Now, Russian company Wargaming.net hopes to replicate the amazing success with the upcoming release of World of Warplanes. The approach is similar: Arena combat, 15-versus-15 battles, with historical aircraft. If the more outlandish designs here may have never actually taken flight, they did at least exist somewhere on drawing boards and in prototype form.

Of course, flying a plane is somewhat more difficult than driving a tank, so making even a simple flight simulation accessible was a challenge. Lead project manager Vladislav Belozerov Wednesday discussed some of the decisions made, particularly with regards to the game's controls and views. Players always start and finish in the air, so they don’t have to learn the delicate arts of taking off and landing--it’s all about the combat, after all. The view is always external, so there’s no cockpit controls or views to worry about.

On the other hand, the game will offer significant control flexibility. Players can use gamepads, mouse and keyboard, or joysticks to fly. However, Belozerov noted that users on specific controller types won’t have an advantage over the basic mouse interface. “It’s all about the flying skill,” he says.

I used to play flight sims heavily in the past, and even had a sophisticated rudder and joystick setup, but I decided to try out an arena mission with just mouse and keyboard, using the Russian La-5, which offered a balance of agility and weaponry. The mouse behaved much like the controls in the old Microsoft Game Freelancer. The cursor essentially leads the aircraft, and a small reticule shows you where your bullets will go.

More detail from World of Warplanes
It took a few minutes to get back into the swing of flying, and only a few of my bullets actually scored hits. But I survived until the end of the combat, with my “team” winning. The whole battle took all of ten minutes--this is not a game where you need to immerse yourself for hours at a time, though players often spend hours pushing through multiple missions.

Wargaming.net CEO Victor Kislyi discussed the levels of involvement players can take in both World of Tanks and World of Airplanes.

Most seem to be casual players, jumping into arenas, winning or losing, while gradually leveling up their vehicles. However, more serious players can participate in a clan system, in which teams fight a persistent war over many territories laid out on a virtual map of the world. Kislyi recognizes that the clan system requires a substantial time investment, and the company is looking for some middle ground better suited for players with limited time.

World of Warplanes will enter closed beta in several weeks, and is slated for a fall 2012 release. In addition to World of Warplanes and World of Tanks, Wargaming.net has announced World of Battleships, which is likely to launch some time in 2013.

With multiple games available, Wargaming.net is now an integrated portal for all of these games--users will need only a single account that will integrate across all the company’s games.

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