Wargaming.net has been talking a little bit about their next title, World of Warplanes, but the details are not yet out in the public domain. They do not even have a site up for the game yet. All we really have so far is this:
World of Warplanes is the flight combat MMO action game set in the Golden Age of military aviation. The game continues the armored warfare theme marked in the highly-acclaimed World of Tanks and will throw players into a never-ending tussle for air dominance.
Based purely on aircraft setting, World of Warplanes will allow players to build full-scale careers of virtual pilots offering machines of several key eras, staring from World War I period with “Biplanes” and up to jet fighter prototypes that led the way to modern air forces.
World of Warplanes will feature a wide range of warbirds, each of them unique in their effectiveness and behavior. Virtual pilots will choose from three main warplane classes – single-engine light fighters capable of engaging enemies in close dogfights, twin-engine fighters with their deadly straight attacks, and strafing aircraft, the fearsome threat for ground targets.
Which, frankly, isn’t much… but that never stopped me from speculating wildly.
While Darren was taking something of a pessimistic view of what may come of this game (airborne World of Tanks, to stuff his viewpoint into the tiniest possible box), I think it will have to be somewhat different to survive and make sense, and thus I speculate.
And the reason I feel I have license to speculate over the game that Wargaming.net is making is that I think I have played it already. And I was playing over 20 years ago to boot.
Back in 1988 the online gaming pioneers at Kesmai launched Air Warrior on GEnie.
I’ve written a little about Air Warrior before, but I will recap.
Air Warrior was an online, multiplayer (allowing something over 100 people on at once, if I recall right) air combat game that took place in something we would recognize as a persistent world. The world was divided into three factions (creatively called A, B, and C… no wasted bytes there!) in what was initially an asymmetrical world layout with airfields for each faction and a few mountains thrown in to keep people on their toes.
While you could fly the planes of any nation in the game, you were required to commit to a specific faction for a minimum amount of time. So you might fly for team B, but you could be flying a Spitfire, a Focke-Wulf 190, or a P-38 Lightning.
The world itself persisted while you were off-line. You logged on, went to an airfield your team controlled, checked out an aircraft, and took to the sky. Your airfield was protected by an anti-aircraft gun of annoying accuracy to keep your runway from being camped, but you were allowed to mount bombs which could temporarily disable that gun and even the airfield itself, at which point you would have to divert to one of your auxiliary fields.
And while primitive technologically compared to today’s games, Air Warrior worked… most nights. Okay, the tech of the time was barely up to the challenge, but these were the days before 3D acceleration, when a 32-bit processor was a big deal, and most of the players were using 1.2-2.4 Kbps connections.
All of which is a nice little history lesson. But why, you might ask, do I think Wargaming.net should/could go this route?
Well, certain bits fit naturally, such as the ability to fly planes from different nations on a given side.
While other realities make a direct translation of the World of Tanks model to airplanes problematic.
20 minute long 15 vs. 15 battles seem unlikely to me to be a viable game model for a couple of reasons.
Reason 1 – The Sky is Big
It is easy to corral 30 tanks into a relatively small area. Tanks move slowly on the ground and are often best deployed in stationary positions awaiting the enemy. While the guns on bigger vehicles in the game can reach out a good percentage of the way across the battlefields, cover in its various forms help keep the game from turning into an immediate blood bath.
Airplanes live in a much bigger environment. If we are talking about WWII aircraft, their environment extends easily to 20,000 feet upwards. Even limiting the geographical area to the size of a WoT maps, there is a lot of volume in which to run around in a prism 20,000 feet tall.
Meanwhile planes, fighter planes at least, are small. Yes, they seem big on the ground, but they get lost pretty easily in the sky and can become devilishly hard to see. And when you see one and want to shoot at it, you have to get pretty close if you want a chance of bringing it down. Call it 200 yards if you want any reasonable hope of a kill and under 100 yards if you want to stick the knife in good.
Reason 2 – Planes go Fast
Keeping it simple today, aren’t I?
Again, if we are talking WWII fighters, people will be zipping around at 300 mph easily, while achieving (and surviving) 500+ mph in a dive is possible for some fighters of the era.
So you cannot limit the size of the environment to something as small as a WoT battlefield. The sky, big as it was already, has to get bigger lest we spend most of our time flying out of bounds.
Air Warrior Pacific Theater Map
So you have to make the sky even bigger, which in turn makes opposing planes harder to spot, close with, and kill. You can see in the picture above one of the few art assets I still have sitting around from Air Warrior. This was after the great map revision when the world was made bigger and divided into Pacific and European theaters. Each faction had its own island, while the center could be captured.
And both you and your enemy are both going fast, which means that unless you have the opposition at a serious disadvantage, they can pull away and evade. And to gain the advantage you want, you can spend quite a bit of time just climbing to altitude in order to be able to pounce on an enemy.
That sends the whole match concept from WoT out the window from my point of view. In a sky big enough to reasonably hold 30 aircraft attempting to kill each other, 20 minutes won’t be anything like enough time to get a resolution like that in a WoT match.
So my hope is that they will end up with something more like the persistent world in Air Warrior. Less lobby, more flight time.
Wargaming.net will likely be hosting more than the 100 or so players that could fill up Air Warrior, so I am sure there will have to be some division of players. Maybe different theaters of war?
Plus, if Wargaming.net chooses to use the same equipment leveling system, where you graduate (or buy your way into) better airplanes, then they will likely have to segregate players by that as well.
Furthermore, I suppose they could force the issue of keeping players focused in a small area by making one side or both focus on defending a geographic area. Their seeming attempt at a rock/paper/scissors with single engine, twin engine, and ground attack fighters (more like scissors/pinking shears/hedge trimmers) might mean a things won’t be wide open fights in the sky but geographically limited objectives, with people attacking/defending specific ground targets.
And, of course, there already is a game out there that is the spiritual successor to Air Warrior, Aces High, which has been around since 2000. That is as close to a second coming of Air Warrior as I have seen.
So as much as I would like to see Wargaming.net recreate Air Warrior for the second decade of the 21st century with three factions (if Warhammer Online taught us anything, it is that open PvP needs three factions) and wide open spaces to fly in a free to play game, that might not fit with their plans at all.
What do you think World or Warplanes will end up being?