At the DCUO panel at Comic-Con 2009, Wes Yanagi and Jens Anderson of SoE and Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman of DC Comics spoke about the game and the challenges of bringing the DC universe from the printed page to a 3-D online game environment. DC Universe Online carries the tag line, "The Next Legend is You." But just what did that mean? As Wes explained, to them, it was about a player building their own legacy as they step into DCUO, and promised the means to do it in game.
To build DCUO, Jim Lee spoke of trying to pick the coolest of 70 years of DC continuity to be placed into the game and has created the structure of the DCUO world. Geoff Johns works on the story and triggers of why the world suddenly requires an influx of heroes - the players, and Marv Wolfman fleshes it out. He fills in the story content.
"If you look at it as a house," said Marv, "Jim has built the structure; the foundation, the posts and beams. I'm filling in with the windows and doors, the plaster and paint. Each of us comes up with an element of the story, and we then weave it all together."
DCUO will launch on Earth. Specifically, in the cities of Gotham and Metropolis, and yet Jens was careful to remind us that DC Universe is not a game played only in cities. "We aren't just a city game, but we do have the two coolest cities in the DC Universe," he said. "We have a Save the World / Rule the World concept, but are specifically focusing on Earth right now. The other cities, areas and worlds will come in as updates and expansions."
"I can't wait for the Kandor expansion!" quipped Jim, "But there is just way too much cool stuff to get it all in at launch."
DCUO is a Hero and Villain game, not just a hero game and there will be Hero headquarters and Villain lairs. The hero and the villain both take different journeys. There is an overarching storyline, but there are different narratives and missions in game that will connect, and specific points the player will find themselves coming back to.
"Missions in game actually work well since comic books are serialized," said Marv, who confessed that he had a hard time wrapping his mind around the concept that a villain could win, after writing hero stories for so many years. "It's great because it's so much fun to come up with villain missions."
"I've learned more about DC than I ever knew," said Jim. "It's a challenge to translate 2-D to 3-D. I had to think for the first time about the texture and length of Superman's cape. It was always just... shiny red!" Not to mention that in drawing the cloak, it often did change length and volume depending on how dramatic the pose needed to be.
There was also the challenge of matching the concept art in game. There's no guide to Metropolis to work from to fit the pieces together. SoE's Austin studio built Metropolis, then during review with Jim, entire neighborhoods would be moved. "For 70 years, there's no street level map," agreed Jim. "Now we had to think of how we moved from neighborhood to neighborhood."
"We also had to make the neighborhoods and cities as iconic as possible," said Jim. "When you are on street level and looking down a street in Gotham City, you need to know that you are in Gotham City. Not Metropolis or anywhere else."
The same challenge applied to buildings. Take Star Labs, for example. "In comics, we only have to think of the one room we're going to be in," said Marv. "In 3-D reality, Star Labs is huge! It's a larger environment than we had expected."
"And of course the challenge," Jim quipped, "was to make it NOT look like the Watch Tower."
The panel wound up with a favorite question, "What sets this game apart from others in the genre?"
To Wes, it was the combat. "It's the visceral feel of combat," he said, elaborating on the connection one had when playing the game. DCUO doesn't have auto-attack. Players have control of their avatar's swings and powers. "You don't just press an attack button and watch your avatar fight. You have to actually hit the guy." There's also the use of Physics in-game as players can pick up and throw almost anything in game that is not nailed down, and some things such as parking meters, that are.
Jens talked of the customization. Fluff choices are actually meaningful as players collect custom pieces throughout out their career. The game's Appearance System can either choose to make the pieces look like their original costume or choose to show the new costume piece.
"Take Batman for example, and his different costumers," said Jens. "He has a heavy armored look and a regular look."
From there, we went into a general Q&A where some points were elaborated upon:
Story & Gameplay:
Geoff: The DCUO story focuses on the new player. Perhaps the player that doesn't know a whole lot about the DC Universe, and we lead them through it.
Marv: Players will get involved immediately with the major, most iconic characters, then they will get introduced to the others as they move along in the game.
Jens: There will be solo play missions as well as groups and groups of groups. In the DC Universe, the teams are about dividing and conquering, and that's what the content is about in DCUO. Players may team up, but then split up into perhaps twos and threes to accomplish different objectives. Of course there is the big bad guy that will require all to pile on to defeat.
Customization & Looks
Jim: There will be a wide range of body types and yes, you will be able to make a version of the Teen Titans if you want.
Jens: There will indeed be "fake" billboards, or rather, billboards advertising the product of this earth.
Jim: It looks dazzling. I can't wait for fans to be able to walk in the world we've built.
What's most exciting to you?
Wes: The breadth of the environment. Metropolis is a fascinating city. The neighborhoods have different characters, just like different neighborhoods in a large city in real life.
Geoff: To delve deeper and deeper into the game and see all of the DC characters. I'm excited to see all of the minor characters come to life.
Marv: The size of the missions. These are huge concepts. To see them connect. Jim: It's stunning and unique, like a comic book come to life. Jens: It's the total package. This is the greatest super-power experience you are going to have.
So there we have it, the DCUO Panel at Comic Con which showed us the depth of the passion this team has for the DC Universe and the depth of their experience in bringing it to the MMO world.