DC Universe is not going to be just an MMO in tights. During a behind the scenes tour of SOE's new Austin offices just prior to the start of AGDC, they gave us a chance to get hands on with the game and talk to Senior Producer Wes Yanagi about the game and some of the ways they will set themselves apart from not only superhero competitors, but also the rest of the MMO genre.
"[We want to] evolve the genre," Yanagi said. They call DC a massively multiplayer online action game. This is not World of Warcraft in tights and a cape. This fact goes well beyond the much publicized action combat and PvP (hero vs. villain) focus, down to the very core of the game.
Customization is a big example. The assumption of superhero MMOs, fostered beautifully by Cryptic's City of Heroes and more recently Champions Online, is highly detailed character customization from the first moment. DC Universe won't be going nose to nose with Cryptic on the number of sliders.
They believe firmly in earning your stripes. Where Champions allows nearly every detail of customization from even before a player first takes their first step, new characters in DC Universe will be a bit more reserved. To start, at least.
Don't panic, there will still be the gamut of sliders, textures and features. People can wear tights; have armor and even other insanity from the first days of their crime fighting/causing careers. They won't, however, have all the options. The coolest stuff will be saved for later.
This is the norm in most MMOs, but superhero games have always gone to great lengths not to mess with a person's look, much to the detriment of item based systems. DC wants the best of both worlds.
Every item a player earns in DC Universe is permanently available in the character's wardrobe, even if the item is traded, sold or tossed away. Then, as a second layer, players equip actual items to gain their statistical advantages. They are not, however, under any obligation to display them.
It is a bit tough to wrap the noggin around at first, but it may just work. Sure, Super Bob may be "using" a gun and "displaying" a sword, but it allows players to have the equipment they need and the look of the equipment they want.
Characters define their core colors and all items are automatically adjusted to fit in and look good. Players can also pick an "inspired by" if they want to be the visual disciple of an iconic character.
At creation, the player selects their super power (strength, fire, ice, etc.), the source of that power (eyes, a ring, a sword, etc.) and their super movement (speed, acrobatics, flight). Yanagi again wouldn't give specifics about other possible travel powers, but they definitely hope to expand that last list beyond three.
As an action game, they definitely succeed. Hands-on, this game is fast, pretty easy to grasp and absolutely chaotic. We played on the Playstation 3 and within seconds were able to chase other players around and smack some sense into them. There are only eight abilities active for use at a time (one for each face button of the controller, then a second set of four when holding the left trigger), but combat is so fast, anything more would be overwhelming.
In comic books, there has always been "the core concept of heroes and villains," Yanagi noted and for that reason, PvP is a big part of the game. This is not just battles though. They've specifically designed encounters and missions where heroes and villains have mutually exclusive goals.
While the PvP is fast and feels like battles between super powered freaks should, it is obviously not for everyone and they discussed this too.
They plan to have full PvP servers as an option, but on the traditional servers, they never want to force players who'd rather keep to themselves into those situations. They'll take a more traditional approach here and use mission (well flagged) with confrontational goals, areas of the world flagged for PvP, and personal flags that are contextual. Such as when a hero sees a villain robbing a bank, he would then have probable cause to engage in some fisticuffs.
At their current stage of development, Yanagi was excited that they are close to the point where DC stops being a collection of ideas and becomes an actual game. To date, they'd made a lot of core components that were key to their success. Combat is a lot of fun, for example, but how do the characters get those skills and abilities? Soon they'll have a proper cohesive Alpha that links these parts together. They're excited because "you can actually feel what the game is like."
In the demo, as mentioned, we were on a Playstation 3. What I didn't say is that the other players were all on PCs. Yanagi hopes, although there are a lot of hoops to jump through, that this is always the case. With DC, at least, they think both PC and console gamers can and should play together. The nature of the game makes this viable, which obviously would be tough if it were a shooter, for example.
DC Universe continues development and at this time, it has no specific launch date or business model plans.
You can also check out Garrett Fuller's AGDC Interview with Wes Yenagi, here.