This past Saturday, the staff over at MMORPG.com hosted a panel for the highly anticipated game, DC Universe Online. With the recent announcement of the delay (pushed back now into early 2011), I was unsure of what to expect from the panel in terms of new information. What we got was a fairly in-depth exploration of DCUO's Character Create system from Chris Cao; Director of Game Development, Mark A. Anderson (or Manderson, as he was referred to); Art Director, and Jim Lee; Executive Creative Director.
The panel opened with a brief video. In the video, we caught a glimpse of the character customization system itself, albeit, just a glimpse, along with an explanation of where all of these super-powered heroes and villains could have possibly come from. The explanation, as it stands in the cinematic, is that future Lex Luthor (as seen at the end of the original cinematic) has stolen technology from Brainiac, that, when fused with a host, grants the host super powers. They later pointed out, during the extended Q&A session at the end, that players are still allotted the opportunity to create their own origin story, should they so wish. The cinematic, and the origin story presented within, do lead directly into the Character Create screen, however, as the Character Create screen is presented as the Exo-Bytes (the stolen technology) working on this individual, making the choices necessary to transform them from the every-day person they had been, into the hero or villain that they will become.
The character create screen itself is not wholly uncommon, as that is where the players will select not only the gender, build and look of their character, but their powers, personality (used for emoting through animation(s) in the game) and alliances (the mentor system). The visuals, however, were quite impressive, fluid and incredibly well animated.
The focus of the panel on Saturday with regards to the Character Create seemed to be the look of your character, as we didn't get the taste for the other elements of customization. While it's a shame that we didn't get any real exposure to the powers that may be available to us, or what I was most hoping for, the mentoring system, the excitement with which they talked about the visual look of the characters was enough to make even the most cynical DC Comic fan smile.
Going into development of the project, Jim Lee had apparently set out a plan with regards to the aesthetic look of the characters. Not just the DC Icons, obviously he had set out a plan for their looks, but with regards to the created, player-controlled characters. He talked about the draw of the brand itself, DC, and how it is so reliant on the uniformity that you see in the design of the characters. Batman looks like Batman, whether his costume is blue and grey, black and grey, or all black. Wonder Woman looks like Wonder Woman whether she is wearing star-spangled panties, or a skirt. Players are also going to be given the opportunity to unlock some of the iconic images from the DC Universe, should an alignment with the appropriate character be something the player wants (Superman's S, the Bat-Logo, etc.).
While Jim Lee's vision for the PCs involved that DC aesthetic, he stressed that because DC Comics has an audience base of all ages, they've included the ability to make your aesthetic look like it's from the Golden Age of comics (1940s, 50s) or the Silver Age (1970s) or the contemporary stuff that's out there right now. While the idea of “DC Branding” might sound limiting, it's really rather open, emphasizing a uniformity instead of limitation, whether within that one individual character, or as part of a group (if that's more your thing) that should be there in any super hero game that you encounter anyhow.
Chris Cao and Mark Anderson further stressed this point, indicating the inclusion of a three-color base system; Primary, Secondary and, you guessed it, Tertiary. By having this system in place, the equipment that you pick up or buy will be customized to the selected color-scheme, making it so that all of the equipment that you come across will ultimately fit into the design of your character. This accommodates almost all players, as your look can more or less remain the same as you progress in levels or, like your powers, they can evolve and take on new shapes, while staying true to the nature and essence of the character that you've poured so much time and, let's face it, money into.
Another key component that Chris, Mark and Jim all mentioned with regards to the visual aesthetic of your character is the inclusion of the “Style Tab”. The Style tab is an accessible, in-game tab that allows you access to all equipment/clothing/etc. that you have held throughout your run as vigilante/villain. This allows you further to pick and choose your look, emphasis on 'your', so that your character can evolve visually. And they'll be adding new content, new items to the game throughout, so you can always look forward to having more and more options and to have those options fit within the aesthetic that you want for your character.
In the end, it may have felt like a bit of a tease to have only a piece of the Character Create process revealed to us in such great detail, and it's easy to be disappointed because you didn't get a better feel for the powers available, or who you can follow and align yourself with, but the information they've put forward to us with regards to the costuming, and that costuming is such an important aspect of the game, really should make any comic book fan (like myself) excited. These iconic images; the Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, this is the kind of notoriety that we've always wanted to bring about in characters of our own. Finally, we have that opportunity to build an icon, to save the world, or to crush it in our iron fists. (Click the image below to check out the character creation video from DCUO)