Balance Q&A: Part 2

7. How does the balancing of new planes and tech trees look like before you open them up for use on the live servers?

Creating an entirely new tech tree (or branch) takes a lot of time. We begin with an idea: Where do we see the new planes fit into the already existing machines? How will they differ in terms of gameplay? What ‘character’ will these warplanes have? Pure copies of already existing planes with merely an updated visual are being dismissed immediately.

Once we have an idea all figured out, our historical consultants provide us with a list of viable candidates that fit the criteria that we’re looking for. Whatever they suggest must match with other planes from neighbouring tech trees in terms of level and capabilities. We also factor in that a tech tree extension must follow one clear chronological evolution of the period of time that we’re targeting. Lastly, all newcomers need to be interesting and add meaningful diversity into the existing eco-system of the game. The final setup of any branch or tech tree is subject to a lot of discussion and modifications with a lot of swapping in and out of certain planes.

Once we have the final look of a tech tree, we proceed to create the upgrade tree for each plane. When doing this, we aim at creating a sense of progression so that the player feels a development from the most basic stock model to the most expensive top configuration when the plane unveils its full potential.

When this is done, we send the plane into production: Our artists then begin to create the models of the aircraft, its modules, paint its textures and prepare its animations. After this, there’s the assembly stage when all of a plane’s components are being brought together: 3D-models, textures, effects, sound, etc. 

After the assembly follows the arming of the plane by attaching its armament and upgrades in the progression line.

The complete aircraft then goes into balancing. This is where the plane is brought to life by way of obtaining a character and a unique behavior in battle. After a few balancing iterations, we are able to prepare a series of planes, of which everyone fits its class and tier, acts like the balancing designers want it to act, and also earns the accordingly set amount of XP and credits. In these early stages of balancing that means a lot of flying for the game designers on our internal testing servers. Later, we include sorties on the Super Test and lastly the Public Test server.

When starting completely from scratch, this entire process takes up multiple months of work. For Premium planes it’s even more complicated than that because of their increased value to the players. These planes need to be perfectly balanced from the moment we make them available first time and can not be rebalanced later. For these, we test new planes directly in current live server conditions. That’s why maybe sometimes you meet a supertester or developer flying a machine on the live server that’s not available yet to the public.

Only when all of this has happened, thousands of hours of testing flight hours have been logged and masses of feedback and stats have been gone through, we give the green light for release of the branch in the next update.

8. Is there a plane in the game that you would consider as the one with the best overall balance?

It is difficult to name just one plane because the ‘overall balance’ of a plane is measured by how well it stacks up against other planes of its tier. However, there are two tiers on which we pay special attention to get the balancing ‘especially right’ – and that’s Tier IV-VIII.

Why Tier IV? Because it is on this tier that players get to lay their hands on very diverse planes reaching from the late bi-planes to the early monoplanes. It is starting at this tier that players find the legendary aircraft they know or of which they’ve heard due to their accomplishments in WWII. It is also at this tier that planes receive access to very specific types of armament – be it high-calibre cannons, rockets or bombs - which all have a noticeable impact on how the aircraft needs to be played. That’s why we pay special attention to this tier.

Tier VIII is another one of these critical tiers that deserves special care and attention to detail. It is at this level that players unlock the aircraft of the ’45-’46 years, which feature some of the most advanced piston-driven warbirds of aviation history. It’s also at this stage that players encounter the first aircraft that come with combined methods of propulsion or jet engines. Essentially, the progression from these planes’ predecessors to the follow-up model is equally significant as the jump from a bi-plane to a monoplane-model. The feeling, handling and capabilities of the aircraft change significantly. It is our responsibility to not only make sure that the player can handle this transition, but also to make it so that these new planes can compete fairly against each other.

9. What is, in your opinion, the reason for the Tier VIII-X planes low popularity? Are there plans, if any, to address this in the future?

There are multiple reasons for this.

First of all, it’s because of the lack of a proper ‚end game‘ in the current version of the game. At the moment, unlocking a Tier X aircraft does not give any new abilities or possibilities to the player. Currently, we don’t have a global map (think Clan Wars) or specific game mode for planes of the highest Tier. Consequently, there’s little motivation for the players to grind towards these machines.

The second reason for the problem is that only very few players actually ever reach Tier X territory. Because there are so few players available at that level, waiting for a Tier X battle to start can take a lot of time and once a match starts, it’s usually played between teams that don’t have all 30 slots filled. Therefore battles tend to be over very quickly – you barely have time to enjoy it and get into the action before you’re already out of the game and catapulted back into the hangar. Additionally, when playing in underpopulated matches, the in-game economy suffers: Playing 3vs3 you simply can’t dish out enough damage to receive an appropriate reward (XP & credits) for the battle.

The jump from Tier VII to VIII is a very big one during which you experience a very noticeable shift in terms of gameplay. This is, of course, due to the fact that it is at this Tier that jet planes come into play that have a distinctly different character. All of a sudden, you’re facing a big change where you have to fly completely differently: Everything moves much quicker, the plane handles way differently from a piston-driven aircraft and the window of ‘open fire’ is shortened significantly. Generally speaking, most players have to re-learn the game at this stage to adapt to the new kinds of aircraft that you meet here. Some players don’t like that. Moreover, it’s precisely at the top tiers that you will find the toughest of competition. Usually, players flying Tier X are the most experienced ones, battle-hardened by thousands of sorties in flights, who know their warplane inside out and have polished their techniques and strategies. When facing such adversaries, newly-arriving players stand only a very limited chance, which also doesn’t motivate players to keep trying.

In order to tackle this problem, we want to add bots to PvP battles as well. However, before you collectively gasp thinking that this will reduce the game to a simple shooting gallery, let us assure you: We can tune the bots in a way that they will become challenging rivals to even the most experienced of players. The introduction of bots into PvP battles is going to do away with the problem of long queueing times and unfilled battles. It will also solve the problem of the game economics and lower the entry barrier for top Tier newcomers, who won’t have to only face veterans at this tier.

10. What do you think of the way that cannons and MGs are currently balanced? Will you be making any changes on that level?

In general, we’re pretty satisfied with the way things work with shooting and the armament since the changes that we’ve made in Update 1.6. However, we want to point out that at this point, in Version 1.8, we are still working on refining the shooting mechanics slightly. We want there to be a noticeable difference between the way the different calibres fire, to force players to adopt a specific strategy that’s suitable for the kind of armament that their plane is carrying.

11. And lastly: When will we see critical hits that tear off the wings or tail(s) of the plane?

We are working diligently on the expansion of the damage model. The changes are vast and substantial, which is why all of this requires some time. However, once delivered, we promise you great visuals that will be both nice and fun to look at.