When DC Universe Online was announced for the PlayStation 3 and PC, Sony Online Entertainment wanted to make sure people knew they cared about DC Comics. They wanted to make sure the game had deep roots in the 75 year old universe, and that the story mattered.To that end, they recruited three names that every DC Comics fan knows to help them out. Jim Lee became their executive creative director, guiding the art and style of the game to capture the look of the iconic DC Characters and locations. Geoff Johns wrote a story that connects the whole game, giving real reasons for a sudden influx of heroes and villains in this world, and a universe-level threat for these thousands of new superpowered people to fight. Finally, living legend Marv Wolfman was brought in to tell the stories within the story, giving players little slices of life inside the DC Universe. As of 2011, Wolfman will have written Superman in six decades, having his first time with the character in 1969, again in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, and one story ready for publication in 2011. So he knows these heroes and villains.
Sony Online Entertainment provided transportation and lodging for us to come down to their Austin, TX Studio and spend a day learning the ins and outs of the game. For the first day of our week of features about the highly anticipated MMORPG, we spoke with writer Marv Wolfman about the types of stories in the game, and just why DC fans can't miss this one.
Newsarama: Marv, you obviously have a wealth of stories, both your own and others, to choose from. What sort of balance did you try to strike between classic stories and more modern and/or original takes on these characters?
Marv Wolfman: Since we were trying to tell a bigger story, the idea was to come up with stories, whether they were based on something classic or more recent, that would help us tell our current story. That's the Brainiac story that everyone has seen at this point in that incredible trailer.
Wolfman: There are parts of the game that people will remember having seen at one point or another in a comic, but the purpose is to make it feel like this is the DCU, like these things could happen in the DCU. So if we refer to something or sort of do a one off on it, it's to get the feeling that the DCU is intact. But we're telling a current story, and that's the thrust of it.
You'll notice a lot of little nods to past material, whether it's Grodd trying to alter evolution or any of the other characters acting in character, they'll both reflect the old and work in a new way. The game has to work in itself, it's not the history of the DC Universe, it's a game that uses the characters of the DCU in character.
Nrama: What do you think the pluses are writing for a video game versus writing for a comic?
Wolfman: They're completely different. In comics we control the story, we control the mood, we control where the ads break so that we can surprise you. Everything is our control. You are reading it and the only thing that you can add to it is the visions that you see between the panels, in many ways, and all of us write to that.
In a video game, you're guiding the player. It's more like, you give a map to the player and say, "We start here in New York, and we're going to California, but you notice there are 500 different ways to get to California from New York. You choose." We may suggest at various points, things to do, because there's going to be a great site over here or a great site over there, but you really have that choice.
If you want the most fun, you may want to visit all these great sites. If you just want to get there, you go this other way, you know?
So what you do as a video game writer, especially of an MMO, is you try to sprinkle in all of this great stuff where the player will suddenly realize, "Wait, there's a story being told here!" This isn't just "I'm fighting this guy, then I'm fighting this guy, then this." There's a purpose, why this weapon shows up here, and I didn't expect it to show up again over here…
Nrama: So you want it to be more of that build-up?
Wolfman: You want to… The player knows there's a story cause we have a trailer up front that tells it. But the reason people play MMOs is to control the game and also be online with their friends. You want to make the experience their experience.
So you guide them, you let them know that there may be interesting stuff, but they have to choose it. So what you try to do is make the stuff so compelling that they'll want to check it out. But you can't expect them to! So you have to give the story in a very different manner than you would in a comic or a novel or a movie where you're controlling the pace of it.
Nrama: You are a gamer…
Wolfman: Yes I am!
Nrama: What are some of the things you know about games that you tried to make sure to integrate into this process?
Wolfman: I'm a very big First Person Shooter fan in many ways, those are the ones I enjoy the most. I also like Portal… God of War. It's any direct-conflict game. That's my favorite, Bioshock, Uncharted, a bunch of others. Call of Duty, all of that stuff.
The things that I like is when a story mixes it up. The reason i liked the first God of War as much as I did is that there'd be straight on action, and then there's be a really difficult puzzle that you have to figure out. Surprisingly difficult for a game that appeared to be "you just kill the monster."
Suddenly you have to have five things moving in sync with each other and you have to do a bunch of different moves to get it all working correctly. So that's the type of stuff I like.
What I don't like in some games, now I'm not that good at pure Role Playing. That's just me. I've never been a pure role-playing gamer. My daughter loves role playing games, but not me. But I can't avoid that sort of thing in an MMO cause there is of course a lot of role-playing in that. So I don't worry about what I like personally. The nice thing about this game as in many games, frankly, is that the game designers say "we need a mission that uses these characters and sets up a puzzle here."
So that's, it's not like I'm sitting down and saying "We need to setup a mission between the Teen Titans and Brother Power the Geek," you know, or something like that. He's not in the game, so don't worry.
Nrama: You started to say Brother Blood though.
Wolfman: Well Brother Blood is in the game, yes. And there's a really good storyline with him and Trigon.
So I'm not as worried about writing into a game. I don't need to write into the role-playing aspects, I just write the mission, and they can add that stuff in. So the stuff that's difficult for me as a player, I don't need to worry about as a writer cause that's not my job. I write in what the idea is for the mission and various steps, and they take that and break it down further.
Nrama: Finally, what do you say to DC Comics fans that might not be big gamers, as to why they should try out DC Universe: Online?
Wolfman: I think the idea is, and what's really fun with the DCU, because it's really different from any other MMOs (and I've played them), is that this is an already existing universe filled with characters that you know. I can probably guarantee that no one playing was alive before the first of them showed up. You'd have to be 80 to know that. There are plenty of people over 80, but I doubt a lot of them are going to be playing. Maybe 5. *laughs*
But imagine the DCU is real, totally real, and you get a super power and are plucked down in the middle of it. And you get to interact with Superman. You're not just standing there with him telling you what your mission is, you're fighting alongside Superman, or maybe you're a villain and you're fighting against Superman. Maybe you're working with Batman, maybe you're working against him. Maybe your'e working with Lex Luthor, maybe you're working against him. You're with the DCU Characters.
So if you're a DC Comics fan, it's your opportunity to work with the characters and have them be in character. They're not just simulations of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They're in character.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2, where we reveal more about the geography of DCU Online and what far reaches of the DCU you'll be able to journey to (and who you can expect to see there!)DC Universe Online is coming to PlayStation 3 and PC early 2011 What do you most want out of DCUO?