SDCC '08 - DCU Online, My Trip Into the Speedforce

Screen image from Sony's DC Universe Online demo

If you’ve ever wanted to access the DC Universe's Speed Force, wait until DC Universe Online hits stores -- because you’re going to get your chance to do that and a lot more.

At their booth on the floor of Comic-Con International: San Diego, Sony Online Entertainment brought a hands on demonstration of DC Universe Online—a new MMO using the DC Universe and its wealth of characters and concepts. Oge Young, one of the producers of the game, walked me through the game and let me get a hands-on feel for how it worked.

“What we’re trying to show here is that moment-to-moment combat in an MMO can be fun, fast paced, and skill based, more like a console game,” Young said. “You live in the DC Universe with all these iconic DC characters. All the characters in the DC universe and all the locations are available to us.”

I played the Playstation 3 version of the game; they also had it set up so you could try it out using a keyboard and mouse. Young said that they hoped it wouldn’t matter if you were playing on a console or on a PC – the hope was that you’d be in the same online world (rather than having two separate ones). He said they already have it working back in the studio, but they want to make sure the experience isn’t impacted before deciding if PC players would have a separate online world from Playstation 3 players.

The demo starts you off on a building in Metropolis. Right away you can tell that something isn’t kosher, as huge Brainiac ships are floating high above you in the sky.

The character I was playing was called Rockslide, who had earth-based powers (similar to Terra from the Teen Titans), a staff and – my favorite part – super speed. The controls are similar to other Playstation games, where the buttons allow you to perform basic movies – two different attacks, jump and pick stuff up – while holding the R2 button and hitting the buttons lets you access your various super powers. I had a proximity attack that blew the earth out from under my enemies, I could fire boulders out of my staff and I could make crystals pop up out of the ground under my enemies, causing damage.

The coolest part, though, was when I hit the right joystick and turned on the Speed Force. Throwing rocks at my enemies and slamming them with my staff was cool and all, but you’d expect that in any superhero-based MMO. Having my character run through the streets of Metropolis at super speed, trailed by what looked like the Speed Force that all comic fans know from the comics? That’s the kind of detail this game needed to really set it apart. And from what I’ve seen so far, it has it in spades.

“We’re richly tied into the DC Universe,” Young said. “The back story behind everything is something you’d recognize from the comics.”

That’s helped by the visuals that comics artist Jim Lee provided for the game. It looks and feels like you’re really in Metropolis. It also didn’t hurt that when you start the game, Superman provided a voice over telling you the city was under siege by Brainiac, Lex Luthor and Bizarro – and he needed your help. So off we went to help Superman, Supergirl and Green Lantern save the city.

“Anything in the world can be turned into a weapon,” Young said, as he picked up a car and tossed it at one of Brainiac’s droids. Walk up to a fire truck, a meter or even a boulder that my character left behind in combat, and you can pick it up and whack the heck out of your enemies. As Young ran through the streets at super speed, he found Supergirl fighting Bizarro.

“You’ll be living the DC Universe with other player characters,” Young said, as we saw two or three other players trying to help Supergirl out. One of them had ice powers, freezing Bizarro, which allowed Supergirl to pick him up and throw him. “We now friends,” Bizarro muttered, as he came back with a punch of his own.

But the game isn’t only about punching and kicking Bizarro into submission. You can do that – and it was a lot of fun, once I mastered my powers – but Young said the idea is to be able to have other interactions as well. “Ideally when we ship the game, there will be guilds, but we already sort of know the guilds in the DC Universe, don’t we?” he said. I asked if that meant a player could join the Justice League or the Teen Titans, and he said coyly, “I think that’s something you’d want to do in this game.”

He also said they plan to have storylines, such as helping Batman stop a heist at the museum – or helping the Joker pull a heist at a museum. Players have the option of being a hero or a villain. He said there would also be a storyline around why so many new heroes and villains were popping up in the DCU. And he said they hope to have world events that coincide with what’s happening in the comics.

“I wish we were going to announce it at Comic-Con,” he said, “but we have one of the best-known comic book writers in the DC Universe right now writing the major stories for the game.”

The demo I played was just that – a demo. At this point, they haven’t announced a street date or pricing model yet. And it’s been a long time since it was first announced, but based on what I saw today at Comic-Con, this is going to be a must-buy for comic fans. I know I’ll be in line when it finally comes out.

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