GDC Online 2012: Flying high with World of Warplanes

GDC Online 2012 Flying high with World of Warplanes CEO Viktor Kislyi is a busy man in charge of one of the fastest-growing online studios in the world. Since the launch of World of Tanks and its rise to superstar status, has grown to encompass 1,200 people in 11 offices around the world. Half of these are developers on the studio's three main projects, while the other half run support for the highly lucrative World of Tanks.

With World of Tanks under their belts, Kislyi and his team are preparing to press the starter switch for World of Warplanes. If you haven't paid much attention to it yet, perhaps you should, particularly if you're a fan of flight simulators. World of Warplanes covers the early days of air combat from 1930s-era biplanes to Korean War jet fighters.

We grabbed a few minutes of Kislyi's time at GDC Online this week to see how World of Warplanes was shaping up and whether there were any new surprises that the team was prepared to reveal at the event. Read on, flyboys and flygirls!

GDC Online 2012 Flying high with World of Warplanes
I don't know, fly casual...

As the emphasis of World of Warplanes is on the rumble in the blue yonder, players won't be dealing with mundane aspects like taking off, landing, or drink service. Instead, all pilots will begin their short (about five minutes) matches in the sky pointed directly at the enemy. While most of your targets will be in the air with you, don't discount the ground; tanks, vehicles, and AA batteries are all ripe for attacking. You can even take over (or destroy) the enemy base to help propel your side to victory.

You'll have to watch out as you take damage because you won't just see a hit point bar go down. If your wings get riddled with bullets, for example, you'll find it harder to steer, and your plane will start to list to the side.

You can fly for one of the great powers of the time, including England, Russia, and the USA. The team promises to add more nations and maps after launch as well, so don't count out tinier nations. There are plenty of options for future planes too, as the team has a wealth of historical choices for these battles. So cross your fingers and you might see an experimental Nazi plane down the road.

While the game plays fast and loose with the realism in combat, the team has a deep respect for the historical vehicles and hopes that interest in the game will cause players to look these planes up on Wikipedia.

Your planes will be customizable in your hanger, and you can amass quite a few of them. You'll be able to paint them, choose weapons, earn medals with them, and so on. "What we give to you at the end of the day is a virtual hanger that will always be there even if you stop paying or playing," Kislyi said. "They're all yours."

GDC Online 2012 Flying high with World of Warplanes
The War Saga

Drivers from World of Tanks will find familiar ground here. Because is looking to connect all three titles in a variety of ways -- a "war saga," as Kislyi puts it -- players will be able to transfer experience earned in World of Tanks to World of Warplanes from the get-go. This should help you secure a decent plane and options right away. You do have to choose to save that XP in World of Tanks, however, in order to transfer it.

We asked whether we'll be seeing more interaction between the titles, such as planes strafing tanks and tank drivers shaking their fists at the sky in return. Kislyi said that the immediate priority is to release a highly polished and stable fighter plane game, so he doesn't expect that there will be that kind of interaction for at least a year or two.

That doesn't mean it's fully off the table, however. "We're thinking of different ways of combining different kinds of combat on a map. For example, before tanks roll in on a map, my clan fights yours in an air battle. If we win, we'll get two extra airstrikes in the tank battle."

Mo' money

Even though it's free-to-play, World of Warplanes still wants your dollars. You may elect to play for free indefinitely, but if you spend some money, you can find yourself flying the sweet life. Some of the options that Kislyi said will be available include premium accounts that level faster and "golden" ammo with better penetration ratings.

Still, the team doesn't want to rope off the fun content or make it completely unbalanced in favor of those who pay. It's a question of whether you want a slight advantage or want to save your money and deal with a possibly stronger opponent.

Kislyi says that 70% to 75% of players don't pay anything, but the team has to care for them just the same because they're a part of the game's ecosystem. He did note that some days, almost half of players in Russia do elect to pay.

GDC Online 2012 Flying high with World of Warplanes
Success in Mother Russia

World of Tanks has been a massive phenomenon in Russia, where Kislyi says it has doubled or even tripled the gaming population there. He claims that the casual combat sim tapped into the adult male demographic there in a way that other games had not. The title achieved 515,000 concurrent players in Russia, which is truly impressive.

Kislyi hopes that World of Warplanes will continue to excite fans of the studio: "These games are for boys [and girls, too, we assume!] because no matter how old you are in your life, the heart always pumps faster when you see a tank or a plane or a battleship."

Massively sent two plucky game journalists -- Beau Hindman and Karen Bryan -- to Austin, Texas, for this year's GDC Online, where they'll be reporting back on MMO trends, community theory, old favorites, and new classics. Stay tuned for even more highlights from the show!
This article was originally published on Massively.