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Launch Day Interview with Chris Cao

William Murphy Posted:
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Recently, I had the good fortune to sit down and chat with DC Universe Online’s Game Director Chris Cao.  With launch just days away and beta closing down tonight, we discussed all things about the game from where it’s come since its inception, to where it stands now, and where it’s going after launch… plus I managed to get Chris to admit his love of Acrobatics.  We even got into some specifics on what players can expect from the Marketplace and the proposed monthly content.  So dig in and read up, as I’m sure there’s a lot of great info you’re not going to want to miss.

The first thing we talked about was difficulty facing SOE in launching DCUO both on the PS3 and PC at the same time.  Game design problems aside, as that discussion could take weeks to sort out, Chris stated that the biggest benefit they have as a studio is that they are a part of SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment of America).  It’s not like they’re going into the development of an MMO across two platforms blindly.  Being the first PC and console MMO of this generation was a scary endeavor, but with the experience of both SOE as a whole and SCEA behind them it’s really proven to be a success.

I then asked Chris what some of the team’s last minute “clean-up” items were, citing the concern over the recent increase to the game’s difficulty, the changes to the Controller role, and so forth.  Addressing the difficulty debate, Chris stated that when they first began the beta they made it clear that the difficulty was purposely toned down because the mechanics were so new.  They wanted people to get through the content and playtest it to make sure it was all in working order.  Then when the PS3 audience came in, that’s when they started to change the difficulty to tune it upwards, stating that it’s always hard to balance the idea that you’re a superhero or villain while still making sure the game’s not too easy to blast through.  And because the console development is on a faster iteration process than the PC, through beta they were often pushing patches to the Beta that they were still playing themselves on the internal servers… basically we were testing the exact same content and changes as the developers. 

Now however, Chris thinks they’re nearing the “sweet spot” for difficulty in the game.  Of course they’ll always be making changes as feedback and metrics dictate, but with the most recent changes to the Controller roles (making them less about “Blue Healing” and more about controlling the flow of battle), and some tuning passes across the game’s end-game instances the team feels they’ve got it right where they want it for the beginning.  The idea is for Kandahq and the Bat Cave to require some or all of the Tier 1 gear to complete.  It’s a set-up that anyone who’s raided in other games will find familiar, and the gear can be obtained via the token system in place at day one.  Duo instances at the end game will award one Tier 2 token for completing the daily quest, and one Tier 1 for each instance you complete.  Alerts on the other hand will award two T2 tokens for each daily quest, and each boss will drop a number of T1 tokens.  So no matter what you’re doing in DCUO’s end-game you’ll be working your way towards two different sets of end-game gear that’s required for the game’s top-end PvE content. 

When I asked Chris about how long they expected the token-hunt to take for players, he stated the curve’s going to be a lot shorter than players of other games might be used to, in keeping with the game’s more casual pacing.  The solo players will be able to get their high-end (but purely cosmetic) items at the rate of about one piece per hour, while T1 items can be obtained at about five hours worth of playing per piece (or roughly six completed instances).  He also stated that while T1 and T2 gear are necessary for raiding and will take some striving to get, you’ll also be getting random loot drops from each instance that are comparable to the gear which is specifically stat-loaded for the end-game raids.  Basically, you’ll always be getting something with each instance you run. 

When I asked about the recent changes to the game’s roles, specifically the controller, Chris stated that’s the sort of “combat revamp” they wanted to make before live.  While he understands that it may have been jarring at first for beta players, he’s confident that the changes were best for the pacing and difficulty of the game as a whole.  He stated that it can kind of suck to be a beta player, because you get used to the way the game plays, and then the team comes along and changes it based on feedback and metrics, but that this is just the way things are.  Chris also wanted to let beta players know to take heart that the whole staff will be relearning their roles come launch too, and that playing from the beginning will likely help the veterans adjust to the changes. 

I then asked Chris how he feels about the apparent divide DCUO is creating across the MMORPG community.  It seems, probably more than most games, that players either love DCUO for trying to offer something new or get put off by it for the same reason.  His answer was pretty simple.  Their goal from the very beginning to was to make a great superhero game that you could play with your friends month after month.  They weren’t out to make a traditional MMORPG, or just an online action-game… they wanted to make something that serves the DC Comics license and that was quite simply a blast to play and made you feel like a superhero or villain.  He stated that they didn’t design DCUO with the intention of turning the genre on its head, but rather that they just wanted DCUO to feel like a superhero game.  They wanted DCUO to feel like it has a community of heroes and villains fighting against each other for the fate of the world, and in that he feels they’ve succeeded.  He only hopes that players can throw away expectations of what an MMO should be and come into the game expecting an exciting DC Comics experience… if they do that, he believes they’ll be just as satisfied as he is.

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.