Some kind of madness is starting to evolve

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Summertime Madness in War Thunder is having a good crack at living up to its name with the Hunting Frenzy phase of the event. To secure a Tier II premium plane you need to win 125 matches in a week. That’s quite a lot of matches, in case you were wondering; six hours of solid War Thunder every day for one plane, assuming an average of ten minutes per match and a 50% win rate, if my rough calculations are correct. If you want all five premium planes, well… more back-of-envelope jottings suggest that if you do nothing but play War Thunder for all seven days, without bothering about fripperies like “eating” and “sleeping”, you’ll be cognitively dysfunctional at best and possibly dead at the end of it. Remember to eat and sleep, kids. Meanwhile, our guinea pig will need to be maintaining a 62% win rate to earn all five planes, difficult enough even before factoring in sleep deprivation and hallucinations.

Predictably enough, after the initial excitement over the prizes mentioned in the Summer Madness announcement, some players expressed mild displeasure at the onerous requirements, in much the manner of a toddler throwing a tantrum after finding out that a promise of ice cream was contingent upon first tidying their room. I have to admit I’m slightly surprised at the effort required, Tier II premium planes aren’t terribly expensive to buy, and of limited use in earning research for high-tier planes (there’s a significant penalty when researching something more than one tier higher); I didn’t think they were going to be handed out like flyers for an Edinburgh fringe show, but I thought most players would have a good chance of earning one.

Having match wins as the requirement is also a bit unusual, with most previous events being kill-oriented. A requirement for kills certainly didn’t help with team play, with objectives being ignored and even more of an every-plane-for-itself attitude than usual, but at least it was something within your control. It’s enormously frustrating when, in a Domination match, you pull off an amazing 300mph airfield capture and knock out a couple of enemy aircraft before succumbing to overwhelming odds, then look around the map and see three quarters of your team chasing a single enemy bomber in the middle of nowhere while the enemy team leisurely recapture the airfield with no opposition. The event is limited to Tier II, III and IV aircraft as well, which rules out the old standby of grabbing starter biplanes and heading in to the typically much shorter matches that they enjoy. Requirements based on matches played, team wins and aircraft restrictions are understandable, but combined with the sheer numbers in question it becomes a massive time sink.

There are a few consolation prizes; reaching 25 wins at each eligible tier for each country earns a pile of silver lions and a chance at winning the premium plane in question in a raffle, so I’m plugging away at that, just playing Tier III Japan rather than flitting from country to country for the daily double experience. It’s going to be interesting to see how the rest of the event plays out, and what the requirements for the Tier IV premium aircraft might be…

Posted by Zoso at 4:24 pm

Gaming Diary: War Thunder

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I do like a bit of an event in games and War Thunder held a “100K Festival” last weekend to celebrate 100,000 concurrent players, handing out 100 Gold Eagles for every 100 kills (to a maximum of 1,000) and 100,000 Silver Lions for 10 victories. 1,000 Gold Eagles aren’t to be sniffed at, but even when recklessly going for death or glory (or cake) it’s difficult to average more than one kill per minute of game time, and, splendid as War Thunder is, it gets quite tiring after a couple of hours let alone 17. Fairly normal play with a couple of matches per country per day at least netted 100 Eagles, better than a poke in the eye with a pointed stick, and I rounded things out with a few Reserve biplane matches just to get up to 10 victories – the matches are nice and short to start with, going all-out for ground targets stands a good chance of boosting your team to victory, and you don’t need to feel too guilty about strafing AI armoured cars and emplacements.

If a couple of hours of War Thunder gets tiring, a 72 hour non-stop round the world (simulated) flight would be the act of a madman. A madman like Zeke from Iron Man Mode, who did just that. I popped along to his stream a few times over the weekend, a fine distraction while grinding away at game events with its mix of sleep-deprived piloting, live music, quizzes and cat food. Many congratulations to everyone involved, raising over $2,000 for Child’s Play, it’s not too late to pop over and donate to boost that total even more (unless you’ve just unearthed this post as part of a curious digital archaeological expedition in the year 3073 when poverty has been eliminated, in which case it probably is too late. But well done on the whole utopian future thing.)

Away from the big festival, some of the How To Murder Time posse have also been Thundering in a War-like fashion. It can be something of a challenge to get ten or eleven people playing together as in-game groups are limited to four players, to prevent organised teams completely dominating random matches, but Custom Missions work rather well. You can choose the game mode, mission type, map, number of players/bots etc., allowing everyone to shoot the bally heck out of each other without interference from random strangers (don’t forget to set a password on the Custom Mission if you don’t want anyone else dropping by!), or to team up and shoot the bally heck out of some hapless AI opposition. They’re also an excellent training venue, you can pick an appropriate map to practise various aspects of the game like landing on airfields, torpedo attacks or (most importantly) activating coloured aerobatic smoke and making pretty patterns in the sky.

You really have to play the standard PvP matches to earn resources and unlock new aircraft, though, so we also try and form up two or three teams with similar Battle Ratings and have the squad leaders simultaneously click the “To Battle” button, something of a challenge in itself…
“OK, after three, click ‘To Battle’. One, two…”
“On three, or after three?”
“After three. Three, then click. Right. One, two, three, To Battle!”
“One two three two?”
“No, one two three *to*, tee oh, to battle…”
“OK, I’ve clicked To Battle!”
“No! After three!”
“Five, sir!”
(etc)

Results are somewhat mixed, but we generally have a reasonable chance of ending up in the same match, albeit usually on opposing teams, rendering Cunning Plans on the shared voice server somewhat less cunning…
“Don’t tell the other team, but I’m going to attack the left hand bombing target!”
“Hey, chief; I might be wrong, but I think some of the enemy might be coming to bomb our right hand target…”

With Ground Forces moving into open beta I’ve clanked around in a few tank battles, nothing terribly serious; they’re fun enough but I think flying will remain as my primary focus in the game. I’ve updated the Beginner’s Guide with a very rudimentary guide on getting into a tank battle, starting with some Fascinating Tank Facts:

“Aeroplanes, invented by Ian Aeroplane in 1903, really caught on with the military in World War I, initially for reconnaissance, then for bombing and ground attack. One area in which they didn’t fare well was trench warfare, where manhandling bulky aircraft “over the top” then pushing them through no man’s land towards enemy trenches proved rather ineffective, so in 1916 Ian Tank had the idea of taking an aeroplane, removing the wings and propeller, and adding armour plating and caterpillar tracks to create the vehicle that bore his name: the Armoured Fighting Ian. The British government wished to hide the true nature of these new vehicles, though, so created a cover story that hundreds of sweater vests were being sent to the troops, with shipping crates stencilled appropriately, and the nickname stuck.”

Disclaimer: Fascinating Tank Facts may be neither Fascinating nor Facts. Your results may be at risk if you use these facts in a school assignment. Terms and conditions do not apply.
Posted by Zoso at 12:34 pm

Cry ‘Havoc’, and let slip the tanks of War (Thunder)

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Despite my doom-laden forecast of overloaded servers it seems that last weekend’s Golden Battles in War Thunder went without a hitch, so I guess Gaijin have beefed up their infrastructure a bit, perhaps in readiness for unleashing clanking steel beasts. Sure enough, today has seen Update 1.41 released, bringing a few new planes (including three more Griffon Spitfires, hurrah!) and, perhaps most significantly, moving Ground Forces into Open Beta, making tanks available to all players.

Aufklärungspanz 'er? I hardly knew 'er

Aufklärungspanz ‘er? I hardly knew ‘er!

Any progress from Closed Beta has been wiped, but according to Gaijin that’s now it, no more progress wipes. Just for the moment Arcade Battles seem to be tank-only, presumably to let people get used to things and research a few vehicles before unleashing hordes of Stukas and Sturmoviks, but you can set up a Custom Mission if you’d like to test out combined arms operations with some friends.

If anyone is after an extra early tank, this month’s PC Gamer magazine in the UK (it has Civilization: Beyond Earth on the cover) comes with a code to unlock the Aufklärungspanzer 38(t), as pictured above, a German reconnaissance tank with a 20mm gun that should be quite useful for taking pot-shots at aircraft as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your tank engines!

Posted by Zoso at 11:20 pm

Thorin sits down and starts singing about Golden Eagles

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If you’re a keen War Thunderer, there’s a chance to earn some Golden Eagles (the premium currency of the game, usually only available for real money) tomorrow (at the time of writing), May 10th.

There are two four hour windows, to cover players across the world, starting at 3am and 3pm UK time, during which you can earn 100 Golden Eagles for your 2nd, 5th and 7th victories. The quickest route to this is probably to revert your line-up to Reserve biplanes only, join Arcade matches, head straight for the enemy ground targets and start strafing; if a good chunk of your team do the same then matches last a matter of minutes, so with a 50/50 win-rate it shouldn’t take too long to earn the Eagles. Brand new players: don’t worry, this madness only lasts a few hours! I imagine higher level matches will also be a bit crazy, with even more massed heavy bomber base attacks than normal.

A word of warning, though, Gaijin aren’t just being lovely and altruistic, they’re probably stress-testing their servers prior to making tanks available to everyone in open beta, so be prepared for extreme server loads, connection difficulties etc. 100 Golden Eagles, even at the worst conversion rates, are worth less than £1 (or possibly less than 100g of beetroot, the store is curiously non-specific about the currency it quotes prices in), so don’t get too stressed if you miss out, and Gaijin are usually pretty good about extending the time windows or adding additional opportunities if the servers completely collapse under the load. If you don’t care about Golden Eagles at all you might want to avoid the bedlam, but if you’re at a loose end, and the servers haven’t completely melted, then it’s always useful to have a bit of currency for opening another hanger slot, buying a premium plane or training up a crew.

Posted by Zoso at 10:29 am

War Thunder Update 1.39 – Custom Camouflage (Skins)

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War Thunder has just received a major update, v1.39, bringing a bunch o’ new aircraft and assorted tweaks (full list in the change log). One of the more interesting changes is “User generated content support: maps, missions, camouflages and even custom aircraft”, supported by the War Thunder Content Development Kit (CDK). It’s very early days yet, but custom camouflage/skin support has been in place on the development server for a while so there are already a few options if you’re bored with your favourite aeroplane’s current paint job.

There are several places to get new skins; there’s a section on the official forums, and some dedicated sites like http://www.nexusmods.com/warthunder/ and http://wt-skins.com/ starting to pop up. The War Thunder subreddit also has a guide to skinning, plus filters to see user submissions.

(April 17th Update: Gaijin have also just launched live.warthunder.com as a service for exchanging pictures, videos, quotes, camouflages, cockpits, missions, locations and aircraft)

Applying a new skin is pretty easy, just download, pop the files in the “UserSkins” folder in the game’s install location, and away you go! On the Customisation screen you now have two selections in the bottom left of the screen, the original “Camouflage” option and a new “User Skin” under that.  The “magic wand” icon creates a test sample to play with, this option is also useful to see the folder structures that skins use, and the refresh icon allows you to add new skins without restarting the game.  Here’s a rather lovely Australian Spitfire from No. 457 Squadron created by brocollocalypse:

Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear

Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear

Custom skins are only displayed client-side on your own aircraft, other players don’t see them. This may be a little disappointing if you’ve put a lot of work into a design of your own and would like the world to appreciate it, but on a technical level you wouldn’t want megabytes of images being up/downloaded for every player in every match, and unregulated user generated content tends not to be a terribly good idea. I’m quite a fan of an Ork-inspired P-63, but a player striving for historical accuracy and immersion probably wouldn’t be so keen to see that in their game, and of course G*mes W*rkshop are notoriously litigious and may take a dim view. According to the FAQ particularly good user content could be incorporated officially in future updates, with authors receiving a share of the profits, a model that seems to work well for Sony and Valve amongst others.

So if you’re handy with a graphics package and have a personal connection with a particular plane that you’d like to see replicated in the game, come from a country not currently represented by in-game paint schemes, or just fancy a nifty colour scheme, it’s well worth checking out this update.

Posted by Zoso at 8:32 pm

Up from the depths, thirty stories high

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Testing has started on the next major update to War Thunder, so I wandered off to the development server to see what’s new. Hopping in to a trusty Hurricane, the mission briefing screen warned of a terrifying new Japanese secret weapon; what could it be?

What's that coming over the hill?

What’s that coming over the hill?

Better take a closer look…

Giant snail at 11 o'clock! No sir, that's not banter, it really is a giant snail.

Giant snail at 11 o’clock! No sir, that’s not banter, it really is a giant snail.

Could it be a giant mutant radioactive version of Gaijin Entertainment’s snail mascot? I think it could…

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound...

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound…

Yes, for one day only, War Thunder went a bit Kaiju, with one team trying to destroy Gaijilla and the other defending the giant snail-beast. Really rather fun! Could be an interesting asymmetric battle type in the proper game as well, though obviously you’d need to slightly tweak things to fit into a more realistic setting, perhaps having a formidable battleship like Tirpitz or Yamato as the main target. Or Mecha-Streisand.

Hey, chief, I might be wrong, but I think we're flying into a giant snail. This makes me feel... scared of the giant snail.

Hey, chief, I might be wrong, but I think we’re flying into a giant snail. This makes me feel… scared of the giant snail.

 

Posted by Zoso at 8:33 pm

War Thunder – Ground Forces Beta

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Towards the end of last year I completed a bunch of challenges in War Thunder that gave a chance of participating in the ground forces closed beta, and the other week the Hand of Fate had a good old rummage in the Metaphorical Top Hat of Beta Entry Raffle Tickets and drew out beige 172, that’s number 172 on a sort-of-beige, sort-of-light-brown ticket, corresponding to my account, so I get to play with tanks, hurrah!

I haven’t had much of a chance so far, the beta server isn’t up all the time, but I did get to bimble around a bit this weekend. The Ground Forces NDA has been partially lifted, participants can talk about the beta and post content as long as they don’t focus on bugs and negative aspects. Some people seized on “don’t publish negative remarks” as a totalitarian attempt to whitewash opinion, “All War Thunder doubleplusgood. Ground forces beta ungood? Crimethink! Send to joycamp.” To me, though, it seems a reasonable enough approach, acknowledging the voracious appetite for information from some quarters that would be fed by leaks anyway, while trying to balance the actual testing aspects of a genuine beta with consequent rough edges.

So the first thing that strikes you is that it’s terribly pretty. There’ve been plenty of screenshots and videos showcasing how good the tanks look, and they don’t disappoint when you open up your garage. Here’s a King Tiger, complete with Zimmerit coating:

Tiger II in the garage

Tiger II (“Henschel” turret) in the garage

If the tanks seem a little plain, you have access to the same decal system that aircraft have, allowing for further decorations such as kill markings, unit insignia, or a spot of anthropomorphising. This is Gerald the ISU122, he’s a little bit grumpy:

Here's looking at you, kid

Here’s looking at you, kid

General gameplay is broadly similar tank combat in other games: drive around with WASD, point turret at things with mouse, click button to fire gun. Initial matches were mostly spent getting to grips with controls and such, it’s far too early for a definitive opinion, but it all seems fun enough so far. I saw a couple of maps during my beta sessions, both Domination-style with three control points. With both sides having a plentiful supply of respawning reinforcements in Arcade mode, the few battles I was in all ended via points being captured rather than one side being wiped out.

Capturing a point in an IS2

Capturing a point in an IS2

As with aircraft, damage is based on hit location and equipment modules rather than hitpoints. I managed to get a flanking shot on a Tiger II, the red text on the right shows the damage caused:

Tiger, Tiger, shortly to be burning bright

Tiger, Tiger, shortly to be burning bright

One of the things I’m particularly interested in is the interaction between aircraft and tanks when the two can play together. One of the maps I saw was tank-only, but the other also featured airfields for combined arms gameplay, so I took a few planes out for a spin:

Strafing a Jagdpanther

Strafing a Jagdpanther

The only aircraft available were the reserve biplanes with an armament consisting of a couple of light machine guns and (if sufficiently upgraded) two very small bombs, not a threat to the high-tier tanks being tested, more of a novelty than a serious attack option. It did give an idea of how combined forces might play, though. One challenge is finding a target; the tanks on your own team helpfully have name labels to avoid friendly fire incidents, but there’s no highlighting of enemy tanks, you need to get right down at low altitude to spot them yourself. It’s rather fun swooping around, looking for movement, knowing the tanks down below are other players rather than AI targets, but in doing that you open yourself up to a number of hazards. Enemy aircraft are always a danger, if you get too focused on ground targets then you’re easy prey for opposition fighters. There are also AI anti-aircraft units dotted around the map, though friendly tanks can sort those out:

Ack ack ack ack ack

Ack ack ack ack ack

Tanks aren’t defenceless against aircraft, in Arcade mode you get a lead indicator to help with targeting enemy air units:

Achtung, Spitfire!

Achtung, Spitfire! Oh, wait, I-15, don’t worry…

By all accounts air kills are possible with large calibre guns if the shooter is lucky/skilled enough, I lofted a couple of 88mm shells in the general direction of enemy planes, but the Elefant tank destroyer isn’t really designed for anti-air work. There weren’t any dedicated AA vehicles available during this particular test, I figured the 20mm autocannon of the Panzer II might be quite effective against aircraft:

Pom pom pom pom pom

Pom pom pom pom pom

Needless to say, though, every time I took it out for a drive the skies suddenly cleared, so I didn’t bring any aircraft down with it.

A wider range of aircraft will mix things up a bit more, obviously heavier bombs, rockets and cannons will pose far more of a threat to ground vehicles, but I don’t think planes will have things all their own way. It’s going to be rather interesting to see how it all develops.

Posted by Zoso at 4:33 pm

Changes to the War Thunder research system in Patch 1.37

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Father Christmas arrives a week early for keen War Thunderers, with Patch 1.37 today bringing a veritable sack-load of new goodies: new planes, new maps, new flight models, DirectX 11 support, and perhaps most noticeably a major change in the research system. Previously you had a rank for each country, each plane had a rank, and achieving a new rank in an air force unlocked all the planes of that rank. This system had several good points, but a few disadvantages; progression could be a bit uneven as a new rank might not unlock planes of your preferred type (the US tree had a particularly bad Fighter Gap pre-v1.33 between the rank 13 P-51 Mustang and rank 18 F-80 Shooting Star, only partially filled by a couple of F8F Bearcat variants at ranks 15 and 16), or even any planes at all. In 1.37 you pick one aircraft at a time to research per country, a little more like World of Tanks, but with some key differences.

Aircraft are now grouped into five Eras instead of twenty Ranks, broadly chronologically but with a few tweaks to reflect their performance. These eras are also used for matchmaking, but with slightly fuzzy edges and player performance factored in, so a mid-late Era II plane with a good pilot might well be grouped with an early Era III plane with a poorer pilot. Here’s the first four Eras of the new British tree:

NewResearchTree

You can see the Beaufighter Mk VIc in Era II is “in research”; every match played with Britain will contribute towards unlocking the Beaufighter, even flying biplanes will contribute towards jet research (though not very much…)

To unlock a new Era, you have to research a number of planes of the previous era. At the very left of the screen you can see “2/4″ under the “II”: I’ve researched two Era II planes (the Hurricane Mk II and Spitfire Mk I), and need to research two more to move on to Era III, so I couldn’t immediately research the Era III Beaufighter Mk X after the Mk VIc. Premium planes count towards this number, though, so if I finish researching the Beaufighter VIc and buy a Boomerang Mk I or D.520, that will allow me to move on.

To unlock a specific plane, you’ll need to have researched the previous plane in its line (connected via an arrow). In this example I haven’t started on the Wellington bombers yet, to research the Mk Ic/L, I’ll have to first research the Mk Ic. Some planes are “stacked”, like the Spitfire Mk II (clicking on it will reveal two variants, the Mk IIa and Mk IIb). You need to research them separately, but you don’t need to unlock them all to progress to the next aircraft in the line (the Spitfire Mk V in this case).

Individual module research on each aircraft has also been tweaked slightly so that you research a particular module, rather than modules automatically unlocking according to a predefined sequence previously. You can select the module to research in the usual Upgrade screen, if you complete that research in a battle, you’ll get a pop-up afterwards letting you know, and allowing you to select the next module to research:

NewModuleUnlock

The general consensus seems to be that the new system may be slightly quicker for advancing all the way through one specific line of planes, but quite a bit slower for researching everything; a lot depends on the rate at which Research Points (“RP”, the replacement for XP in the new system) are awarded, which could well be tweaked a few times as the system beds in. There’s a Developer Diary that goes into a bit more detail, it looks like victory for a team will be a major factor in the number of RP received, which could be a positive factor in encouraging good teamwork, or equally terribly frustrating if you perform magnificently but lose a match due to a team full of buffoons. So much the same as ever, really!

Posted by Zoso at 5:24 pm

They’re all frightfully keen, those magnificent men in their flying machines

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It’s a busy old time for virtual pilots of World War II(ish) crates with World of Warplanes hitting official release this week and War Thunder ramping up for its launch on the PlayStation 4 and the addition of ground forces.

I popped back in to the World of Warplanes open beta last month when they added British planes, and patched it up for release a couple of days ago. The controls certainly seem to have improved from earlier beta versions so WoWP is perfectly fine for a bit of flying-type fun, but not enough to displace War Thunder as my dogfighter of choice. Still, I’ve got a bit of premium time left from tokens earned during the beta, so I’ll at least try to use that for a bit of a leg-up towards a Spitfire. I won’t be going all out to be First to the Top, though, that way madness lies. I didn’t think it was a particularly good idea when Blizzard started handing out server first achievements, and that was without an incentive like ten years of premium account time.

As a canny marketing stunt/completely coincidental bit of timing/evil underhanded plot, Gaijin are also dangling a carrot to encourage War Thunder players to jump through a few in-game hoops, offering players the chance of participating in the closed beta test for ground forces by completing daily challenges over the next three weeks. The first challenge, to destroy 60 ground targets, was pretty straightforward. The second, to shoot down 35 opponents, was rather trickier as you had to be flying one of five specific aircraft (one per country), which made Arcade battles a little unusual as many players quit after losing their challenge aircraft rather than respawning. Today’s was better, shoot down 30 fighters, sorted out with a few trips back to low level furballs. I won’t be going mad to try and complete every challenge, but it’s quite fun mixing up the type of aircraft you fly and way you play to at least have a crack at different challenges.

The announcement also offered a hint at dates, “The testing itself is currently scheduled to start before December 4th”, so it looks like tanks might be coming in early 2014. I had a brief peek at the forums to see if there might be any more hints, but after seven pages of frothing excitement, bitter complaints and animated GIFs I had to close the browser window for fear of developing photosensitive epilepsy.

More positively on the forums there’s a rather splendid British Tech Tree Project, a collaborative effort that’s produced an impressive looking possible tree. Aircraft suggestions usually range from “You know that plane, yeah? The one with the guns and this and that, yeah? That would be all amazeballs they should totally put that in the game, you know what I’m saying?” to “Gaijin must implement pastes Wikipedia list of all military aircraft 1934 – 1952“, but this group have taken the time to sift through the possibilities, assemble cohesively themed branches with suitable ranking and produce a graphical version of the tree in keeping with the in-game interface. Most impressive.

Posted by Zoso at 11:36 pm

My position on cake is pro-having it, and pro-eating it

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Gaijin are celebrating the birthday of War Thunder by giving away presents rather than demanding them; there’s a discount on plane packs bought through Gaijin, experience bonuses, some in-game plane discounts, that sort of thing. Particularly good value is 50% off a full year of premium account time, bringing the price down to 7,600 Gold Eagles. How much that costs in actual money depends how you buy those Gold Eagles; if you haven’t already bought the Ace Advance Pack on Steam it’s a really good deal, it includes 10,000 Gold Eagles (enough for the discounted 12 month option with a bit left over), a couple of useful premium aircraft and two months of premium account time that stack on top of any existing time, all for £24.99 (the Gold Eagles alone would cost about £40 if you bought them direct). If you’re fairly confident that you’ll be playing for the next year that’s not a bad deal at all.

Unfortunately someone is being a bit of a party pooper at the moment and launching a DDOS attack on their servers, but hopefully that’ll be sorted out before too long, as the discount premium offer only runs to 6AM (GMT) November 4th.

Posted by Zoso at 3:27 pm
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