Yesterday, the period of darkness ended. After three years of silence, Sony's press conference finally brought news, video, and screens from DC Universe Online.
Of course, a Superman nerd like myself is never content to just hear Jim Lee talk about the game he's helping envision, I want to see it. I want to know it. I want to play it. Sadly, Sony Online Entertainment wasn't ready to let me slip into my tights and try out the MMO that lets you create a hero or a villain, but they were happy to show me a brand new, behind the scenes trailer.
Some of the footage was used in the press conference trailer, which just so happens to be below this paragraph, but there was plenty of stuff I hadn't seen before. A wide shot of the Batcave revealed that the giant Joker playing card and penny in the game; I saw Supergirl beat on some bad guys; concept art for both the Hall of Justice and Wayne Manor popped up; character sheets for Adam Strange, Captain Atom, Hawkgirl, Sinestro, and the Mad Hatter made an appearance; even Batwoman showed up to wail on some baddies.
Afterwards I got to browse through a art book featuring the Huntress and Vixen, but not before I put DCUO Executive Producer John Blakely into the IGN interrogation chair. What would he have to say about this game? What secrets are in his head? I decided to find out.
IGN: What is DCUO bringing to MMOs that we haven't seen before?
John Blakely: Well, first of all, there's the DC Universe -- Gotham, Metropolis, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Joker, Penguin, Solomon Grundy -- a whole host of heroes, a whole bunch of villains. Over 150 of these all penned by Jim Lee and his team at Wildstorm Entertainment -- they have put together probably over 1,500 concepts to kind of layout the official DCU, what it looks like. There's an official map of Metropolis now. There's an official map of Gotham. We're building those in the Unreal 3 engine. It's going to be shipped on the PlayStation 3 and on the PC so it'll be a console experience, and a big thing on that is moment to moment, this is an action game. First and foremost, superhero game and then we're layering in the pieces you'd expect with an MMO -- character progression, end games, rule the world or save the world, levels, loot, character-invested storylines like your hero's journey or your villain's journey. We're really trying to put all of those pieces together as you'd expect in an MMO but moment to moment it really is an action game like you'd play on your console.
IGN: If somebody wasn't familiar with it, what is their role in it? You're not playing as Superman or Batman.
John Blakely: You're not. What you're doing is stepping in. We're opening a portal or a door into the DC Universe that you can step into for the first time with your own custom superhero or super-villain and then fight alongside all your favorite heroes and/or villains, fight against them or fight for them in those settings. Navigating through those stories you've learned to love over the over the last 70 years.
IGN: The first thing that jumps to my mind is that if I'm a villain and I get locked up in Arkham, what happens to my game?
John Blakely: Well, you don't get locked up in Arkham. You'll get knocked out. There will be some penalties for those kinds of things. You won't actually be sitting in a cell looking out, and just hoping that some day someone will come rescue you. Now, however, you can go into Arkham as a villain or as a hero and help free those other characters that may be locked in there -- maybe amass those characters and then go raid the Batcave if you're good enough.
IGN: How does this work? It's a massive multiplayer online game so obviously there's a lot of interaction between people; are there missions then too that make up my experience?
John Blakely: Yeah, there's cases and capers depending on which way you line up. So there are going to be storylines that you are going follow. Part of that's going to be for your own personal discovery of your powers and how to use them, part of that's going to be following along DC canon and some world events that may happen. There will be plenty of content to do that. There will also be basic patrolling. It's an open world game, so in the shared spaces it's like -- You're in Metropolis in the city; you're a hero; you're on patrol; as content gets spun up that's relevant to you, it'll be brought to your attention and you can decide if you want to engage that or not. As you engage that content, the objectives can change and raise your threat level if you're a villain or hero and other heroes or villains can come in and respond to that. It's a very dynamic world. You have a huge impact as a player on what's going on in your quadrant based on how you attack it or how you repel it.
IGN: When I'm doing these cases and capers, do I pop up to other people? The thing I would think is that if I'm helping Superman on a mission, wouldn't I get swarmed by a hundred other fanboys wanting to talk to Superman?
John Blakely: Well, it's not necessarily that. He'll be in a personal relationship with you. You'll have a communicator either by the JLA or the Legion of Doom and you'll be able to communicate with this. So, he might pop up and he might tell you "Hey, go here. Down in this district something's going on and you have to go over and take care of it." Then, as you get there, that content that's relevant for you will pop up. We're also using what we're calling a surplus model concept, which means as objectives spin up in the area, as you consume those objectives, they spawn more objectives. Case in point might be an armored car rides though -- if you're a villain, that objective is hit the armored car, y'know? There's an opportunity for you, but as you hit the armored car, now more objectives pop up because, well, the police are alerted and the police come in. Now, if there are other villains in the area, they can participate. As your threat level rises, heroes are beckoned in to protect the police officers. Their objective is opposite to yours, so it's a really neat, dynamic environment that creates. As people consume content, it creates more content for more people to consume and so we bring all of those people into that kind of heroic fray of heroes versus villains in the shared space. Obviously in the instant space it's more of a story-driving encounters. They'll lead you through. That's where you get the really personal attention from the character that isn't through the communicator interface.
IGN: OK. How does that threat level work? Is it one of those things where there are on-screen indicators or do I get calls from --
John Blakely: We're not going into specifics right now. We really want to focus on, really the only thing we want to focus on going into Comic-Con is the moment to moment combat. So, we're going to get into those things as we move forward. Really what's important to know is that this is not an MMO you would expect. It's not turn-based. Let's say you and I are in an entanglement. I'm going to stun you, now, normally you would stun and you would both be there like you're not doing anything. Well, our stun, if I have ice powers, I turn you into an ice block. Literally. And I can pick up that ice block and I can throw it -- with you in it -- throw it down the street and hit four or five other defenders or four or five other enemies, do damage to them. It's a fully-realized simulated-physics world and so it's a very visceral experience. It's much more like playing a shooter or one of your favorite action games on the console.
IGN: Is it a clear-cut choice in the beginning like you can be a hero or be a bad guy, or if I start playing as my superhero and I suck, can I just say, "Well screw this, I'm going to be a bad guy?"
John Blakely: It is black hats, white hats. DC is a very nostalgic universe, so it's very much traditionally black hats, white hats. We've kept that; we've preserved that. However, they also have character like Batman. Batman kind of flirts with that line a little bit, but you always know that he is on the good side of good. We'll allow you to get close to that line, but we won't allow you to cross it. Once you're a hero or once you're a villain, you've declared a side.
IGN: Can you tell me about how character progression is going to go? Is it as clear as you're just kind of leveling up?
John Blakely: Well, there's skill involved. There's your own personal progression as you learn and figure out what powers you like to use, how you use them -- that's one part. There's also the more traditional mechanical ones if you will like levels, loots, and itemizations. You will have gear that you can get, suits that you can create. Again, we aren't going into a lot of the specifics since we're just announcing, but we are going to be an MMO. If you're an MMO player and you come into this game, you're going to go, "Wow, those are all the things I like about an MMO." Some of the analogs that you look at like Call of Duty or Bad Company, those games that are on consoles where you have those intense moments and then you have some progression. What we're going to do is bring that all together in one cohesive space like an EverQuest or an EverQuest II where those things are all in-world and not some kind of separate place where you go look at stats.
IGN: Very interesting. Is there anything I haven't touched on that you want to talk about right now? I know you guys are just introducing and Comic-Con is going to be big, I'll be there next week.
John Blakely: I would say the basic things, just to repeat, are: DC Universe is the important thing, Jim Lee and his involvement is really interesting -- he is a gamer, which is great. He speaks our language. He's obviously a prolific artist in the universe. And then moment to moment, this is a superhero action game. We're going to be able to demonstrate that on the show floor at Comic-Con -- it's open to everybody we want fans to get in there as well as the press because we want to get the reaction and also start to build a buzz about the game because we're really proud of what we've been playing.
IGN: Radical. Two final questions for you. The first is, do I get a lair or some kind of home, or is it that you just start up and are in your suit and are ready to go.
John Blakely: Again, we're not going into those details at this point.
IGN: I thought I could get you!
John Blakely: These [PR] guys train us well, but certainly we want to have an experience reflective of what you'd expect in the DC Universe, so as we roll these things out I think you're going to be excited about what we can provide. If you look at our other products and you see what features we provided there, y'know, you can draw your own conclusions.
IGN: Alright, then my final, final question is for me personally, as a huge fanboy, in there any mention or showing of Kon-El, Superboy, in there? Is his memorial statue at least in Metropolis Park.
John Blakely: There will be things that are called out. I'm not saying specifics, but --
IGN: That's good enough by me.
John Blakely: We have good custodians of the DC Universe, and we have a lot of characters. It's important to make it feel like what you would expect.
IGN: Well, thank you so much, John. It's been a pleasure.
John Blakely: Thank you.