SDCC 09: The Stories of DC Universe Online


G4’s Blair Herter moderated an all-star comics and video game panel on Saturday at Comic-Con International: San Diego to talk about the highly anticipated Massively Multiplayer Online RPG (MMO) DC Universe Online.  With him was Wes Yanagi and Jens Anderson with Sony Online entertainment, DC/WildStorm Editorial Director and DC Universe online Executive Creative Director Jim Lee, and writers Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman.

Herter kicked things off with the E3 video showing an array of DC heroes and villains in action showing off their powers and throwing various environmental objects.  At the end, the over-the-top voice over guy pronounced that “the next legend is you.”

Herter then asked what that tagline means.  Yanagi answered that he wants the players to progress in the world even to the point where they are accepted into the ranks of the JLA or Secret Society.

The moderator then asked the creators what they are doing on the project story-wise.  Lee replied that he gets to pick the best parts of DC’s continuity to include.  Johns said he worked the reason why the world needs the influx of heroes created for the game.  Wolfman described that he’s filling in the details around the super-structure that Jim Lee built, expanding on the story to create missions for individual characters and groups, and to make the story exciting.

Herter asked how challenging it was to keep the game open ended. Anderson was certain that he didn’t want players to cap out early, and set up a pace to deliver 75 years of continuity in an entreating way and by bringing the DC writers in develop the story of saving or ruling the Earth was a big help.  Lee chimed in that the first draft from Sony was "a bit rough."

On the topic of explaining on the game play, Marv Wolfman said there are structured points and side points where the good and evil sides intersect, and that writing a plot where evil wins was a challenge but fun. Events in the game will be serialized and contain call backs to early missions.  Anderson reiterated that there is a complete experience for both the hero and villain sides.

Herter then asked Jim Lee about creating a 3D world.  Lee laughed and said that drawing the backside of a building was a big challenge. He noted that unlike in a comic where he could tweak proportions for dramatic effect, the game has to remain consistent. Yanagi added that there were a lot of checks and organization to maintain the look.  Lee continued to remark that even after 70 years, there is no set street map of Metropolis, so we could tweak it to serve the game play.

A Star Labs Interior Shot

On the DCU Online version of STAR Labs, Wolfman was amazed at the size of the building’s interior and was able to tell stories among just a few of the rooms.  Lee was adamant that it all looked unique and nothing could be mistaken for rooms elsewhere, say on the Watchtower.

Wes Yanagi was asked what sets DCU Online apart from other superhero MMOs like City of Heroes.  He replied that DCU Online is very hands on, and to deliver the “superhuman power fantasy” you get to run up and hit the attack button to attack and physically throw environmental objects.  Lee added that there are also giant pennies, Egg Fu and Ambush Bug, and then joked that Johns will even redesign and relaunch your character if he thinks its lame.

The floor was then opened for questions.

-How robust will the character customization be?  

Anderson replied that other superhero games focus on fashion over function, we wanted costumes to be meaningful.  You can collect costume parts and use an option to transfer its attributes to other costume items, allowing players to maintain their look through to the endgame so characters don’t all look alike with the most powerful items.  You can even set up situational costumes for different environments.

-About a system for managing obnoxious player complaints that might unbalance the game, Anderson assured that the core gameplay will always be maintained.  Yanagi added they will take more into account before making a change than simple forum complaints, but feedback is important, that’s why the game was announced so early.

-About cities other then Gotham and Metropolis?  

Yanagi could only say “yes” and that there is 75 years of content and "we wanted to focus on Earth," which is the core of the DC Universe.  Lee then joked about a very tiny Kandor expansion that you can’t get into.

-Herter then jumped the line and asked how hard it was to reign in the content for the initial rollout.  Johns replied that they focused on setting up a good entry point, covering the basics first.  Marv then added you’ll be introduced to the major DC characters early, but much more as the game progresses.

-Will there be a focus on group activities?  

Anderson said that there will be, but no 40-man pile-on boss fights, more like simultaneous actions needed where players need to work in concert to win.

-Teen heroes?

Lee replied with a joke about green briefs, but explained that there will be smaller body types that will fill that roll.

-Other continuities and realities?  

Anderson joked (maybe) that DCU Online would be Earth-41.

-One DC fan asked if there will be billboards of Booster Gold hawking things.  Anderson said there was, and there will be many fiction things from the DC Universe added for flavor.

-Release date?   “Spring two-thousand-something”

Herter then wrapped up the panel by asking each what they are looking forward to seeing, or what's amazing them about DCU Online?

Yanagi: the breadth of environments and neighborhoods in Metropolis.

Lee:  The lighting, and in the distance how the backgrounds look painted but are in 3D. 

Johns: the depth of the character roster, Black Adam and beyond. 

Marv Wolfman: the scope of the missions, that there are not just of the running around type.  

Anderson: the whole package, it will be the best superhero experience ever, the detailed character design, the action based combat – no die rolls you just have to go up and hit the guys.

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