Wargaming.net is working overtime of late, and how could it not? The company is responsible for three separate MMORPGs, beginning with 2011's successful World of Tanks and ending with the recently announced World of Battleships. Sandwiched in the middle is World of Warplanes, an ambitious aerial arcade shooter married to traditional MMO progression mechanics. The game is currently in closed alpha testing and looks to be on track for a 2012 release.

This week saw the release of the game's first advancement tree, and we took the opportunity to ask producer Anton Sitnikov a series of questions covering everything from game mechanics to player perceptions regarding the pay-to-win stigma.

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Massively: Can you give us an update on alpha/beta? How is that progressing, and when can we expect large-scale public testing?

Anton Sitnikov: World of Warplanes is currently in closed alpha testing, with the CBT scheduled to begin early next year. As air combat is highly ping-sensitive, alpha testing runs on three servers: American, European and Russian. The closed and the open beta will be segmented likewise. At this stage, we need to get a nice amount of feedback and stats and ensure all servers have a decent number of players in the first place. That's why something like 150,000 testers sounds nice, but we are not going to limit the number in case more people wish to join the beta tester's ranks.

Is there going to be large-scale public testing, and if so, is it going to be tied to a third-party app install like the previous alpha invites that required Xfire and Overwolf?

As it is still early in the game's development, we haven't decided on this yet.

World of Tanks has something of a reputation for being "pay-to-win" in the shooter community (due to the proliferation of gold ammo in clan wars and also occasionally in the basic match-making modes). Is that perception a concern for World of Warplanes, and if so, how is the team balancing the need to make money with the goal of providing a level playing field?

World of Tanks can hardly be described as "pay-to-win"; I would rather call it "pay-to-save-time." Paying players do not get crucial advantages over those who leave their golden wallets empty. Let's take a look at premium shells you mentioned. They do have better penetration figures, but in most cases they have lower damage, and what is more, their piercing effect tends to drop once you engage a far standing target.

In other words, the more distant your enemy is, the less effective your premium shells will behave. Having gold consumables or gold ammo will make your life easier but won't make you invincible. Plenty of elements, such as speed, endurance, firepower, reloading time, targeting accuracy, can decide the course of a duel or even a battle, and you should pay much more emphasis on skill improvement and strategic thinking in order to win. Premium stuff will make you feel more comfortable while playing. It's like buying a car with a couple of extra options, like leather seats or climate control. You will get more comfort, but you won't go any faster.

And we stick to the same free-to-play mode in World of Warplanes: It will be possible to play and enjoy the game entirely for free and steadily progress throughout playtime. There'll be a number of premium options players will be able to buy in order to acquire a slight advantage in battle or boost their progression in the game.

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Our previous WOWP interview touched on the game's waypoint and navigation system, and project manager Alexander Zezulin mentioned that the devs would be fleshing out that system later in the alpha? How is that going? Can you walk us through a typical WOWP mission from start to finish?

World of Warplanes will have more mission types than its predecessor. It's too early to talk about them as we are still working on the primary game mode, but the release version will have two or three modes so that players will be able to choose and adjust their warbirds in accordance with the battle mode they stick to.

As for the basic mode, it will suggest you should either knock down all hostile units or destroy the enemy's base. As long as we do not consider the process of taking off to be a crucial gameplay element, players will start the battle in the midair, watching ground combat going on right beyond them.

Ground targets will differ in combat sustainability and the amount of credits granted for their destruction. In the areas protected by anti-aircraft guns, players will have to work in a well-coordinated team. After the battle is finished, players will be able to land for an extra amount of XP points. There will also probably be a landing runway somewhere on the map for those players who realize that due to the damage they have taken they can no longer be of any help to their team in battle and do not want to spend their time flying meaninglessly or just crash and pay for repairs.

We're also thinking of adding "escort missions," during which the team's main objective will be to protect AI-controlled bombers flying from point A to point B on the map. We might introduce some PvE content, but merely as means of players' training. Some other ideas are also being discussed, but it's too early to talk about them now.

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How customizable is the game's UI? I ask because I have trouble with the World of Tanks UI at 2560x1600 resolution (very small text and inability to drag/resize windows, etc).

First and foremost, air combat calls for a far more complex UI than that in WoT. To fight effectively in the three-dimensional space, players should consider information that isn't really relevant in a battle on the ground: height, aircraft speed and speed margin necessary to maneuver, as well as positions other planes have. On the other hand, not all players would really enjoy having a full list of cockpit indications in front of them. Experience shows that those playing with joystick value the three-axis indicator more than players who opt for a mouse.

That's why we are working on several indicator layouts and a flexible system that allows us to hide unnecessary indices. Just like in WoT, we will let players work out their modes and won't stem the tide.

How does the game's damage model work? For example, can players target certain parts of the airframe, and is control affected if, say, your rudder is shot away?

We're aiming to maintain a decent balance between arcade flyer and simulator. In other words, World of Warplanes will combine simplified controls with deep game mechanics and sophisticated damage system: players will fight against their enemies, not their own vehicles, while rather deep and authentic game mechanics will determine the flight model and damage system. We wish we could use WoT experience while developing the new title, but we only can turn to it occasionally, mainly due to air combat specifics.

For example, while you're piloting an aircraft, it's impossible to take the same vulnerable aim for several seconds, armor isn't really a crucial point, and the average fire rate exceeds that of a tank greatly. In fact, an aircraft has several units that affect its efficiency in different ways: Damage inflicted on the ammunition will decrease the weapons rate and capacity, a damaged glider makes it harder to pilot an aircraft, and if your gunner has been shot, there's nobody left to protect the vehicle.

As for the aiming fire, it's highly dependent on pilot's personal skills; a precise and sustained burst at a plane's wing is deadly to the enemy, for instance.

Speaking of the damage system, I should mention that pilots will be given the option of ramming enemy units, and we assume that this "maneuver" will be used quite frequently. However, in this case, we'll have to step back from realism, as ramming will not necessarily knock out hostile vehicles but will only damage them instead.

Most of the screenshots and the video show aircraft from the European theater. Are there any plans for Pacific theater craft at some point?

We are working on the Pacific theater craft at the moment and are planning to get down to a desert map a bit later. Regarding maps, various terrains, landscapes and the weather, the game will present a balance between authenticity and action, where weather effects (clouds, fog, blindness effect that creates quite a limited view) require players to come up with intricate combat tactics. Unlike in World of Tanks, terrain in World of Warplanes will play against you, requiring more positional and tactical awareness to fight effectively.

Any plans for a retail/box release like World of Tanks?

As with World of Tanks we are considering a retail box version or even a collector's edition, but right now we are fully focused on getting the game into closed beta as soon as possible for our players. We hope the game will be a breathtaking experience not only for aviation buffs but for all players. Thank you for the interesting questions!

Thanks very much for talking with us.

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This article was originally published on Massively.