It may still be in pre-alpha, one of the earliest stages of development, but DCU Online is already looking great. We sat down Tuesday Feb. 3 with Jens Andersen, Creative Director, and Wes Yangi, Senior Producer, for a walkthrough of the latest build of the game, including the first player versus player fighting shown to anyone.
A well known landmark in MetropolisRight from the top, when walking into this private press walkthrough, it was apparent that these were not just gamers/game programmers. No, these guys are also comic geeks. The names of the servers they run these early builds on make that clear. The first time a new build is run, it’s run on “Krypton,” the server that “always blows up,” according to Yangi. Then when some bugs are worked out, they move it over to the “Smallville” server, where they push it through its early stages. A stable build moves to “Fortress” and that’s what they demoed the game on for us. Of course, if things go wrong, they also keep a box server with them just in case. That one? Why, the “Box Server of Kandor,” of course.
These two high level guys might not be expected to be quite that immersed in the source material, but this was absolutely the case. Andersen explained to us that from the very beginning, this was looked at as not just a new MMORPG, but as specifically a DC MMORPG. He said as well that in creating your own characters to go alongside the heroes and villains of DC Comics, they would have to fit in “as modern gods.” Even the human ones are elevated to a different level of “other companies” and you won’t find any characters in the DCU nor any of users’ created characters whose main shtick is “I scratch people,” he said with a gruff voice and a laugh.
The modern gods of the DCU are being guided by a large team, including several folks comics fans will be familiar with. This is only SOME of Metropolis. You can go everywhere you can see, and more.Jim Lee was on the team almost from the very beginning. He reportedly asked to be involved as soon as he heard about the project. Being a huge fan of Everquest, Sony Online Entertainment’s seminal MMO, he was thrilled at the prospect of working with the company on bringing this world to playable life. Geoff Johns is helping guide the plot and missions, and Marv Wolfman, also a gamer, has just recently joined the team to assisst in the writing. Dana Curtain, former DC Editor, is the approval editor, helping to handle communications between DC, WB, and Sony. Jens Andersen has been very happy with the involvement from these folks, saying, “We wanted to make sure that this game was authentic and true to the source material, and who better to do that than the creators over at DC?” The DC characters that will show up (so far, over 100 of them, including heroes and supporting characters are in the game, and it is still pre-alpha) will be the “Iconic versions,” according to Andersen. That means in this world, Bruce Wayne is Batman, Wonder Woman and Themyscira are intact, etc.
The locations are “iconic” as well. We were shown 1/8th of Metropolis, and it equated to nearly the size of all of Manhattan in Spider-man: Web of Shadows. In other words, the city is absolutely enormous. Gotham City will also be along for the ride, and will be just as big, with recognizable landmarks from the comics. When you load into one city or the other, they will then be seamless. This means you can explore 100% of the city without hitting another load screen. There will also be “adventure zones” that cover cool places from throughout the DCU. Some hints were given: other major DC cities, and certain island locations are safe bets to be included for quests.
Lex gives a created Hero some serious trouble
So we have Iconic DC heroes and villains, and the locations you want to visit when adventuring in the DCU, but what about YOU? Well, character creation looks to be very robust. When you start, of course you choose whether you want to go good or bad. You can then start from scratch, or be “inspired by” an existing character to give you a basic template. Now you set four main pieces: Power, Power Source, Movement Type, and Abilities. Power in this case will be some form of projectile, to give everyone a range attack. Examples included lightning, mental, ice, fire, hard light, and many more. Next you select Power Source. This can be a part of the body like Head, Chest, or Hands, or can be from a weapon or costume piece if you want to go the more technological route. Movement can be assigned three varieties: super speed, flight, and acrobatics. The first two are self explanatory, and the third does include the ability to scale buildings by leaping and briefly sticking to the wall, just to allow for more flexible movement. Abilities round out creation, and these are innate things. This can include super strength, durability (partial invulnerability), resistance to certain elements, more stamina, and such.
For a couple examples, we went through what it would take to create a Flash or Hawkman style character. For Flash, you might choose wind as ability, as he can generate twisters with rapid movement, and as such, power source would be hands. Movement would be super speed (of course), and abilities might include increased stamina and increased metabolism. For Hawkman, you’d be looking at Flight, Lightning, Power Source being one-handed weapon (and choose a Mace), with strength and durability as abilities. This makes it apparent that while you won’t be playing as the actual established heroes (after all, who wants 10,000 Batmans running around), you can approximate them very well, even Jim Lee's concept art for LexCorp ShockTrooperswith a little boost here and there.
Once you’ve created your character, it’s time to go on missions and the aforementioned larger story-driven quests. On the villain side, your quests are called “Capers” and are given to you by The Calculator. He pops up on your screen when a Caper becomes available, giving you the lowdown and any kind of inside scoop that might help you, along with possible allies and enemies you’ll run into. On the Hero side, quests are “Cases” and are naturally directed by Oracle.
Capers and Cases are made up of individual missions that are linked together. Similar smaller missions can also be tackled at any time all around the cities just by randomly engaging them. Things like Protect person/place/thing X or Defeat Y number of enemies will be common missions, but sometimes investigation, puzzle solving, and unique item collection will be necessary as well. Each mission is indicated both by text on screen and by icons that hover above the people or things in question. Shiled icons pop up over those needing protection, explosion icons over those you need to KO, and Gears over things or people you need to interact with. A series of missions making up a case may take you through 4 locations and an entire section of the city, giving a ton of variety and helping you explore new areas constantly. The fighting itself is 100% real time. You are actively punching, kicking, and selecting which ways to use your powers on the fly, in a manner not dissimilar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance (a few team members even previously worked on that game). For example, Powers are assigned to X, Square, Circle, and Triangle, and activated by holding L2 and pressing the corresponding button. It makes for a very seamless and easy to use fighting mechanic. Health can be recovered through items, abilities, powers, or simply by time and moving away from fighting. There’s no death in this game, just knock outs. When KO’d, you have a countdown to revival; when it reaches zero, you can choose to pick up right where you fell or withdraw from the current mission and regroup/restrategize.
We got to see some Player vs. Player (PVP) for the first time, as well, and in a very interesting manner. At times, when Concept art for Star Labs main facility; the in-game model looked remarkably similaryou receive a mission as a villain, another player might receive the opposite or corresponding mission as a hero. Now you’re still trying to meet your tasks, but with human interference. At this early stage, PVP was very reliant on pure power, but it is apparent that you’ll be able to use strategy and Non-Player-Controlled allies when doing battle with another human controlled character. That of course includes heroes like Superman and villains like the just-introduced Lex Luthor. There will also be missions that require team-ups (even villain/hero team-ups), and most will allow teams to complete them together. Yes, you can make your own guilds, and you can call them Leagues, Societies, and Legions. If you complete enough missions alongside certain heroes, you may even be invited into the League, as well.
All this came together beautifully in the 40 minute demo that featured a villain with mental powers going through a caper where he had to collect dna of Doomsday for Luthor, then team up with the villain to take the monsterous entity hostage.
As far as comparisons to other MMOs go, the team is well aware that some will hit more than others. They have people from Planetscape and Everquest on the team, of course, and they’ve played and seen plenty of World of Warcraft and City of Heroes. They really feel their approach will be different enough from the outset that once people play, those comparisons will drop. The uniqueness of the DC license is certainly not lost on Andersen and Yangi. Another thing they have in their favor is the PS3 being their target platform; the graphical detail already present at this stage is far beyond that of most PC MMOs, which are often designed to run on just about any computer made in the last 5 or 6 years, rather than on current technology. We were assured again that expandability is being built into the Actual in-game render of LexCorp Heavy Air Assault Vehicleinfrastructure from the start to allow this universe to change much like that of the comics. Crossovers with the comics and Capers and Cases based on popular storylines from the comics are strong possibilities, as well.
The game, as mentioned, is still in “Pre-Alpha” status, but it already looks amazing; when complete, it looks to be a must-own, system-selling title for the PS3, and a dream come true for fans of DC Comics.
DC Universe Online is in development by Sony Online Entertainment for the Sony PlayStation 3 console and the PC. More on this, including interviews with those involved, this weekend at New York Comic-Con.