The following interview was conducted with War Thunder developer Pavel Kulikov who talks to PSU.com about a range of current industry topics while giving readers an insight into Gaijin Entertainment’s ambitious flight combat MMO and how it’s shaping up for the launch of PlayStation 4.
PSU: How does it feel to be involved in a pivotal moment in gaming history with the release of the next-generation of Sony’s consoles and one of the major launch titles for PS4?
Our company is the first Russian developer to make a game for PS4, and this new generation in general. And this is a first time when a Russian game becomes a launch-title on any platform. Of course, we’re very proud of this, and doing our best!
PSU:Your vision for War Thunder, showcased so poignantly in the CGI GamesCom trailer, revealed a spectacular battle between land, sea and air vehicles. Would you say this is the most ambitious game ever to be released on PlayStation consoles due to the complexity, depth and scale of what you’re trying to achieve?
Well, there’s almost nothing to add to that! We want to provide early adopters of PS4 with the best online experience on this new console – and in this generation as well. And the best cross-platform title as well!
PSU:With the release of any MMO comes some obvious concerns. We saw a long beta phase on PS3 for CCP Games’ DUST 514 and even now the company has to work around the clock to fix bugs and improve the experience. Is War Thunder ready for a full release at the PS4 launch and is Gaijin set up for the inevitable issues that come with the launch of any MMO?
We have the benefit of running our game live for a year now (open beta on PC started in November 2012). So we had a lot of issues resolved already and now our main task is to make it work on both platforms (PC and PS4) properly, not to create all of the infrastructure from a scratch. We’re especially proud that our game will support cross-platform battles between different users, so there will be a multimillion community from the day one of PS4 launch.
PSU: What have you learned from the community about the PC beta phase of War Thunder that will aid the launch of the PS4 version?
Over the course of last year we were constantly polishing our flight and damage model, adding new planes and game modes, making changes to game’s economy and balance. Our team is much more experienced now in running a popular MMO and we’ll put this knowledge to good use on PS4 as well.
PSU:The trailers for War Thunder look incredible. How much do you think you’ve pushed the PS4 hardware and have you had to scale back any aspect of the PC version of War Thunder for its console debut?
Right now the console version of War Thunder looks as good as PC one on highest settings. PS4 is a very powerful machine and our developers will be getting only better with is in the coming years. Being an MMO allows you to always keep your game up to date in terms of graphics, so we’re going to take full advantage of that.
PSU:Can you go into detail about the simulation aspects of the planes in War Thunder? For example, what type of planes can we expect, how many variations are there, will we be able to buy modifications and upgrades, etc?
There are more than 300 historically accurate planes in our game right now, and we’re adding more in every major update. There are fighters, bombers, attack planes, dive bombers, you name it. Our company is developing flight simulation games for the last 5 years beginning from Il-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, so we have a pretty strong track record when it comes to good flight model. Of course you can upgrade every one of your planes with different modules. But the main addition of War Thunder are player-controlled ground forces such as tanks, which will become available until the end of 2013. And, in the future, the navy.
PSU: What kind of differences are there between planes in terms of weaponry and the way they handle? What would be the highest spec plane on offer?
We cover the historical period from late 30s to Korean War, so the player can progress from wooden biplanes to early jets. Obviously, dogfighting as a fighter is a whole other thing than bombing AI-controlled units on the ground. You have different combat tasks and different weaponry, and addition of tanks brings totally new gameplay to the mix. And the best thing is, you can switch your vehicle mid-combat. If you got blasted by an enemy tank, you can jump to your attack plane during respawn and hunt that bastard down!
PSU: There are three levels of difficulty in War Thunder allowing players to take an arcade or a simulation approach. Who is War Thunder aimed at, and at its most difficult level what skills will players need to have or learn to be at the top of their game?
The thing is, they aren’t difficulty settings. It’s more like 3 totally different game modes. In arcade, you can have up to 9 planes (or tanks) in your hangar and switch between them when you’re killed. Your weapons are reloaded automatically and you don’t need to worry about fuel level, etc. In full real mode there’s only cockpit view, only one plane, you need to take off (on some maps – from the air carrier!), you will run out of ammo and fuel and controls are much more complicated. And there is the historical mode which is something in-between. The point is, anyone can play War Thunder and have fun – from total beginners to hardcore virtual pilots. And this is one our main goals.
PSU:Some MMOs are known for the hard grind that’s needed to move through the levels, which many players enjoy and others hate. Will War Thunder require players to grind and will there be the option to help pay your way to the top?
Our levelling system works in such a way that you can unlock only those planes (or tanks) that you really need once you have enough experience. We don’t force our players to put many hours into upgrading some crappy plane in order to get the next one in desired branch of the tech-tree. But, if you want, you can speed up this process by purchasing premium account.
PSU:What inspiration and materials have you used to help you represent World War II as authentically as possible?
Well, it’ll be better if I just provide this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZ8foF7bktQ
This is only a glimpse of all our research that goes into development – hiring consultants, visiting military museums all around the world, recording real engine and guns sounds, etc.
PSU:You’ve worked with Sony’s DualShock controller before with the likes of L-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey and Birds of Steel. Do you think the DualShock 4 brings with it any extra functionality that improves the flight combat genre?
It has a touchpad which helps incredibly when navigating the menus, and improved design overall. Also we implemented innovative control method as well which works like a mouselook on PC – you only need to choose the direction with a stick and the plane will fly there itself. But it’s better to try than explain this.
PSU:The free-to-play business model is gaining in popularity on consoles, with DUST 514, Deep Down, and DC Universe Online also representing this space. Do you think F2P is now the only sustainable business model for MMOs? Why do you think some developers are still adopting subscription-based models?
We adopted this model from start and are very happy with results. Being free-to-play allows you to attract much wider audience and even those people who aren’t interested in your setting (WW2 in our case). But when you remove the entrance fee and promise that you don’t need to spend anything in the future, even those people might give your game a try. And this is very great, as we see our mission in proving that flight simulation genre doesn’t need to be a niche one.
PSU: Do you have a roadmap for War Thunder planned out? How do you plan to evolve and enrich the experience over time to keep players engaged five years from now?
The ground forces are joining battles of War Thunder until the end of this year, and in 2014, expect to hear more about our ships!
PSU:What features does the PS4 have that helps to make War Thunder the game that you envisioned?
For a start, we’ll support PlayStation Camera, which will be used for head-tracking – so you can look around in battle freely. And we may support new devices developed by Sony if they’ll fit into our game nicely
PSU:Will PS4 gamers be able to drive tanks at launch? We’ve heard that infantry troops are incoming. Will this be A.I. controlled infantry, or do you see a time where players can control ground troops, perhaps to command anti-aircraft missiles etc?
The tanks will be available on PS4 until the end of this year together with PC version, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be out on day one. And we aren’t going to implement any infantry in our game – War Thunder is a combat vehicles simulation, not multiplayer FPS and it’s not going to turn into one.
War Thunder is due for release on PS4 on November 15 in the U.S. and November 29 in Europe. To find out more, check out our War Thunder hub where you’ll find news, previews, videos and features.