The World Destruction League--3DO's newest franchise and the backdrop for its PlayStation 2 tank-based deathmatch game, WDL: Thunder Tanks--is about to receive another installment. WDL: WarJetz takes the series in the next logical direction--to the skies, with teams of crazed pilots starring in all the rowdy carnage. We managed to corner Kudo Tsunoda, the executive producer of WarJetz, and got him to talk at length about the game.
Those who have played Thunder Tanks will be familiar with the world of WDL. Set in a postapocalyptic Earth, the first WDL game had teams of homicidal tank drivers battling it out for the televised amusement of the world's depraved masses. According to Tsunoda, the WDL could be compared to an ultraviolent and ultrafuturistic satire of today's WWF: "World Destruction League takes place in the not too distant future after nuclear destruction and disease have devastated the world. Society has become so chaotic and violent that brutality is glorified, and gladiatorial combat is the primary form of entertainment. Emerging from the cesspool of humanity, the World Destruction League televises competition-based battles to the death to the nation's largest TV audience," said Tsunoda. A gritty world to be sure, but it's one that takes its harsh elements lightly. The WDL games have an almost sugarcoated tone, which is emphasized by its cartoonish cast of characters. The WDL's two announcers--Kate Maxwell and Chuck "Mad Dog" Clemens-- have helped to bring out the lighthearted, over-the-top tone. But this time around, WDL Thunder Tank veteran Mad Dog will be replaced by Jimmy "Hell Catz" Jackson, a former ace WarJet pilot.
3DO is working hard to develop a household name in WDL, and WarJetz is simply the next progression of the series. "Both feature tournament style gladiatorial combat in a TV-show format. The environments in both games are real life cities in a postapocalyptic state of decay," said Tsunoda. And while the setting of WDL certainly seems to draw inspiration from some well-known Hollywood sources, the pilots of the WarJetz themselves had a completely different origin. "We used caricatures of actual people on the development team as the basis for each [of the game's characters]. The main character in the Thunder Snakes gang bears a striking resemblance to Dan, one of our programmers. The Jolly Rogers look a lot like one of the project directors, Howard. The Flying Tigers are dead ringers for one of the team's artists, Boon. Personally, I like the Bombardiers the best, especially since I get the feeling that this was the gang modeled after the team's impression of me." said Tsunoda. But regardless of where the inspiration came from, fans of Thunder Tanks will definitely see a consistency in both games' character designs. The characters in WarJetz are just as colorful and original as those in Thunder Tanks, and the style and presentation of this game is in the same vein as the first.
One of the most outstanding features of WDL: Thunder Tanks is the game's multiplayer component. Thunder Tanks supports the PS2 Multitap, and up to four players are able to sit in on the multiplayer action. But while the multiplayer aspect of the game is well liked, the single-player campaign feels rushed. Tsunoda promises that WarJetz will have a much bigger, much better single-player campaign than that of the previous game. The game will have more than 24 different missions set in a variety of outdoor environments. The single-player game will be mission orientated, and you'll have to accomplish various objects to complete each level. Objectives range from shooting down enemy planes to bombing specific targets to collecting certain items. Tsunoda elaborated, "All the single-player missions are centered on the goal of trying to defeat the enemy gang for that territory. But we also add in multiple mission objectives per level that need to be completed in order to win. Also, besides the single-player campaign, each of the multiplayer games can also be played in single-player mode against an AI-controlled opponent."
This doesn't mean that the development team isn't ensuring that WarJetz has an amazing multiplayer mode. WarJetz won't support the PS2 Multitap but will let two players battle it out simultaneously. Tsunoda explained that a four-player split screen was simply too small to work with the flight combat of the game. The multiplayer mode will have at least four different variants. The ace mode is simply a dogfight, where the last plane in the air wins. The bomb-fest mode rigs you and your opponent with plenty of bombs and has you racing to bomb a certain number of targets first. The cash-frenzy mode has you flying through an obstacle course in an attempt to collect as much currency as possible. The air-lord mode works similarly to a capture-the-flag mode in any first-person shooter. Tsunoda stressed that the multiplayer game will let players adjust to the style of play that comforts them the most. "You have two totally different single-player view modes you can switch between within a level: a dogfighting mode and [a] bombing mode. As you are flying along, if there are a lot of air targets, you switch to dogfighting mode, which is much better for air-to-air combat. If there are a lot of ground targets, you can enable bombing mode, which gives you more of a bombardier's perspective."
Naturally, the most important things about the game are the WarJetz themselves. There will be nine vehicles in all, ranging from quick, zippy gyrocopters and bizarre yet versatile UFOs to lumbering heavy hitters like the Crusher and Marauder II. Each vehicle will have a team associated with it and will have a set of both standard and special weapons that are both unique and appropriate to the vehicle's style. Additionally, each WarJet has its own flight model. Tsunoda explained, "The rocket jet has enormous forward acceleration and speed but is not as maneuverable. The UFO is not as powerful, but makes up for it with quickness and agility. The nighthawk has extremely accurate homing missiles as a special weapon, but [the missiles] aren't as powerful against ground targets as crusher's cluster bombs." He added that the team enjoyed making each jet, and having such a wide variety of vehicles in the game should ensure that every player will develop a favorite.
But without weapons, the WDL WarJetz are just flying hunks of metal. Thankfully, each jet will have plenty of offensive capabilities. "In WarJetz, each plane comes equipped with its own main weapon and special weapon," Tsunoda told us. "Since WDL is such a destruction-based brand, we really wanted to go over the top with all weapon capabilities and weapon special effects. Like with the planes, each weapon has its own advantages. As the player progresses through each level, they can upgrade the weapons on their plane via in level power-ups." WarJetz will feature a wide variety of weapons to ensure that the destruction is plentiful. The UFO, for instance, fires plasma balls whose size and power level decrease the more often they're shot, while the Gyrocopter fires flurries of swarmer missiles, which are fast, accurate, and damaging. Some craft will have special weapons that are focused on ground units, such as the Crusher, whose cluster bombs can clear entire platoons of ground troops.
It's a little known fact that Kudo Tsunoda also leads the team that developed Army Men: Air Attack 2 for the PS2. With this in mind, it's easy to assume that Tsunoda and his team know quite a bit about making good games in which things fly. Still, WarJetz is Tsunoda's first WDL effort, and there are sure to be some complications in the process of lifting the WDL engine off the ground. "Having the vehicles off the ground really highlights the gladiatorial combat between your plane and the enemy gang's plane," said Tsunoda. "Since this is a WDL game, we really wanted to focus some of the gameplay on the one-on-one battles between the player and the enemy gang members. While each enemy gang has a wide variety of support units to help blow the player out of the sky, the one-on-one dogfights with the enemy gangs are definitely the climax of the battles," he explained.
Obviously, the shift from ground-based combat to airborne dogfights necessitates an entirely different forum for battle. And this focus will bring with it a whole new set of design considerations. In WarJetz' case, the team had to create arenas that not only allowed for intense dogfights but also take into consideration the placement of ground units. What's more, such free-roaming environments could be quite problematic, when a single-player mission's sequence of objectives is taken into account. "Building a game for airborne combat is definitely a little bit trickier since it is not as easy to guide or channel the player through the level as it is in a ground-based game," Tsunoda said. He explained that building levels for a flight-based game is more difficult that it sounds. "You don't want to restrict the player by putting up obstacles in their way, but you want to have some sort of level progression structure," he said. WarJetz should feature levels that are bigger and more focused on free flight than the sometimes restricting levels in Thunder Tanks. "The environments we have built really capitalize on the free-flight concept of the game with setups that maximize the different flight capabilities of each aircraft," Tsunoda said.
From what we've seen so far, WarJetz certainly looks like it would interest fans of Thunder Tanks. The second game in what 3DO hopes will be a long line of WDL games, WarJetz has the fate of the series riding on its shoulders. But with Tsunoda's experience and the game's offbeat premise, WDL: WarJetz looks like it could be 3DO's ace in the hole. The WDL series takes to the sky this May.