Digital Worlds Episode 2 – War Thunder.
Digital Worlds Episode 02 – War Thunder.
This is the transcript to the above video, and includes links mentioned in the narration.
Hi – and welcome to the second episode of Digital Worlds.
Last time we took a stroll around Daniel Westergarden’s Digital version of the Swedish Iron Age.
This time the world we’re looking a is in a much noisier part of history – that of World War II. War Thunder is a massively multiplayer game which largely takes place during the years 1939 to 1945, and includes huge maps from across the globe.
On the surface, the premise of the game is that two teams of players flying a variety of World War Two aircraft, try to shoot other out of the skies and bomb each other’s bases to win the match. But if you look beyond the immediate distractions of the game – and there are many – it becomes very obvious that Gaijin have directed an enormous amount of effort into creating a realistic environment. The most obvious result of this effort is the look of the game – which is in itself a work of art – but once you spend some time in this world, you start to notice things in terms of accuracy, complexity, and sheer size – as far as I can tell in relation to the planes, Gaijin have recreated large parts of the planet as it looked a little over 70 years ago on a 1 to 1 scale.
I first noticed this when I was taking a new aeroplane for a test flight. Away from the melee, I had time to look around me, and I noticed that the water of a nearby river was behaving oddly – it was moving as if it was in a closed container, rather than flowing as you would expect it to. Zooming in for a closer look, I could see that the mouth of the river was closed off by what looked like a sand bar. This seemed an unlikely feature to include if you were building the terrain from scratch, which suggested that the landscape had been generated from a Digital Elevation Model of the real thing. That a sand bar should shut off a river so completely seemed unlikely, so I assumed that the anomaly had probably been caused by a bridge that had only been partially scrubbed out of the data.
But bridges tend not to be constructed across river mouths either, so on a hunch I went to see if I could find a matching body of water in Google Earth. This was easy enough, and I was surprised to find that the bump had in fact been caused by a sand bar. But the reason it was more exaggerated in the world of War Thunder, was because elevation data is harvested at low tide, and the bar would have been exposed, which led to the glitch. The other thing I noticed was that the nearby airfield also existed in the real world. It dawned on me then that what I had presumed to be generic airfields and urban areas, painted here and there where needed with the click of a mouse, were more or less accurate recreations of places that existed in the real world.
With the exception of a couple of fantasy maps created solely to present a challenge to dogfighters, Gaijin have created a highly detailed historic environment. Additionally at a texture level, the underlying geology is represented. The cliffs of Dover are chalk, as are, as far as I can tell, the unmetalled road surfaces in that area. The houses and farms are a mixture of generic types, but the more distinctive structures – cathedrals, harbours, radar stations, castles, and so-on – are modelled individually. The seasons are also represented, as are the times of day. The weather is not static, and the sunlight interacts with other entities – the cloud formations change, and differ at altitudes. They are also subject to wind conditions, casting volumetric shadows as they cover the face of the sun, darkening anything below, and affecting the reflectivity of any visible bodies of water.
The physics are also impressive – even in arcade mode, little known phenomena such as ground effect, cliff effect, and compression under speed all come into play, having a direct impact on the performance of your aircraft. The aircraft, though realistically modelled as you’d expect, are very easy to control. I for one tend to avoid games which force you to sit through tutorials, which is why I have always previously steered away from anything that looked like a flight simulator. Gaijin have got the balance right in terms of control, so a casual player can jump right in. If your preference is for something a little more involved, then there are modes of play which require more patients and learning, and should satisfy the demands of any joystick enthusiasts.
The details of the planes will strike a note with anyone who built Airfix models as a child, and there is genuine pleasure from being able to throw your favourite aircraft around the skies without having to make your own engine and machine gun noises. This is world building on a dramatic scale, and one of the most surprising things about it is that Gaijin haven’t really mentioned it much, let alone made a song and dance about it. One of the reasons for this is that the game hasn’t actually had an official release yet – it’s still an open beta.
Within this open beta is a second, closed beta which introduces ground vehicles, so the tanks, armoured cars and anti-aircraft units that are currently controlled by the games AI, will shortly be controlled by human players, resulting in finer ground textures and an added layer of complex interactions. At some point in the future, naval units will also get the same treatment. The game is free to play, unless you want to part with various small amounts of cash to accelerate the levelling process. At first glance this might appear to create a built in inequality, however other factors level out any unfairness.
For instance, if you’ve completed the grind to earn a Mosquito rather than simply paid for one, the chances are that your piloting experience will be at least as effective in combat as the other players upgrades. Because it doesn’t matter how much you’ve paid for your aircraft, or indeed how superior it is, the better pilot will always stand a better chance of winning.
As the game develops, we’ll return to War Thunder quite a bit – I’ve been talking for long enough now, and haven’t covered any of the implications of player interaction that I wanted to. Next time perhaps we’ll just have a quiet spin around rural Kent and compare War Thunder’s version of the world with snapshots of the same locations in Google Earth.
If you’d like to join in the beta test, you can find a download link in the ‘about’ section below this video, or as usual we’ll be uploading a transcript of this waffle to Digital Digging, including links to all the resources mentioned. Next time on Digital Worlds, we’ll be having a look under the bonnet of Crytek’s Cryengine, the current software of choice for serious world builders.
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Cheerio chaps – hope to see you next time.