DC Universe Online
Whether you're a comics reader or MMO (massively-multiplayer online) player, by now, you probably know enough about DC Universe Online to be excited. It's common knowledge that the PC and PlayStation 3 title developed by Sony Online Entertainment lets you make your own superhero or supervillain, whom you get to set loose in the environs of The World's Greatest Super-Heroes to encounter Superman, Batman and other members of the DC Universe pantheon. You knew all that, right? OK, good.
Jim Lee's powerful artwork helped to rocket the "Batman: Hush" storyline to bestseller status.
Now, we can finally report on some of the nuts and bolts that go into making your unique character "you," and what it feels like to run amok in Metropolis. We started our session with Jens Andersen, the game's creative director, and were later joined by superstar comics artist Jim Lee. The chief executive of DC's Wildstorm imprint, which publishes the "Gears of War" comic, Lee also happens to be the executive creative director of DCUO.
Andersen explained why users won't be able to control the Dark Knight or the Man of Steel themselves. When you're playing a game based on a character, he says, the expectation is that you're stepping into their shoes. But, in a game like DCUO, the expectations should be different. You're stepping into a universe and you should be authoring your own story.
You'll be getting a full power-set from the minute you jump in the game. For example, if you've built yourself a super-speedster you'll be able to race down city blocks lickety-split. You'll get faster as you progress, but you don't start out as a slowpoke. Lee says that he hates grinding in MMOs, and that's why players will get all their basic powers immediately in DCUO. "We don't want you to be killing the equivalent of giant rats for hours before anything cool happens."
DC Universe Online's focus will be on action, and the title's biggest ambition will be to execute physics-based combat on a massively-multiplayer scale in a huge, dynamically changing open world. (The build we got to sample was pre-alpha, but no egregious bugs were spotted.) Quests in DCUO have the same content for heroes (Cases) and villains (Capers), but the objectives are different. Characters like Oracle, the ?ber-hacker identity of former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, or her evil, super-smart counterpart the Calculator will serve as quest-givers.
Your special skills in the game are organized around four so-called Pillars: Superpower, Power Source, Movement Mode and Super Abilities. You choose a Superpower category like mental (e.g., for telekinesis) and pin it to a Power Source (which can be a body part like your head, but can be housed in items, too). Movement Mode denotes how your super-noob will get around, whether by flight, acrobatics or super-speed. And Super Abilities, Andersen says, are "things that represent physical aspects of the superhero or villain. They equate to what normal people can do, but happen on an extraordinary scale, [including things] like super-strength, invulnerability or metabolism." These Pillars can be mixed and matched, so you can wind up with unique characters like Laugh Riot, the mindbolt-shooting, gymnastic killer clown we saw during our demo.
Of course, the powers that be know that you'd like to get as close as you can to the DC Universe's big guns, even if you can't play as them. That's why they'll be including an "Inspired By" option that will let you mirror the traits of established heroes. But even if you do make a Wonder Woman clone, don't expect to be able to trick her out with the same colors or accessories as Princess Diana. Content will be policed and copyrights must be protected, yo.
In one mission we played through as cryo-kinetic malcontent Kid Frostbite, Calculator contacted us about a job on Lex Luthor's behalf. Luthor wanted DNA samples from Doomsday, after an epic tussle between the craggy baddie and Superman left blood all over Metropolis. What made this more than a simple seek-out mission was the fact that armed squads from super-science think tank STAR Labs were already securing the genetic material. In delivering the beatdown to the STAR crew, we froze the poor saps and bowled them over with ice boulders. Another Sony rep jumped into the fray as heroine Star Siren, giving us a chance to experience player-vs.-player combat.
You won't be able to attack folks unprovoked for PvP. They'll have to break the law, or otherwise do something to raise their Threat level. This metric acts as probable cause, and when a player's belligerence hits a certain level, then you can intervene on the side of good or evil. Threat varies by zone, so even in safe, shiny Metropolis, villains can get away with a higher level of evil-doing in seedy areas like Suicide Slum before opening themselves up for attack.
Your characters will have evolving relationships with DC's icons, too. If Batman needs help on a Case and you ignore him multiple times, he'll become increasingly terse and frosty -- which is hard to imagine, even for him. SOE's reps also promise that new quests will appear and special events will occur on a scheduled basis. Events like a massive Thanagarian invasion will leave damage in the game world, so players will be reminded that the winged denizens of Hawkman's ancestral planet really know how to tear stuff up.
The upside of leasing an assault vehicle from Lexcorp? No money down, low interest rates. The downside? The mandatory henchman clause.
Lee, who's done hundreds of model sheets for characters appearing in DCUO, says he and the team aren't putting too many new tweaks on old favorites like Green Lantern. "It's not so much about changing things," the Korean-American penciller says. "We're trying to deliver the idealized DCU filled with things most people will recognize, even if they're not in a comics shop every week."
"Part of that," he continues, "is thinking, 'When was this character coolest?' and trying to crystallize that feeling." Since more people play games than read comics nowadays, iconic, recognizable interpretations of the characters and locales are important. You won't necessarily see every new plot point or costume change reflected in the game.
Finally, when we ask him what kind of character he'll be creating in DCUO, Lee enthusiastically blurts out, "Villain!"
"I don't know what the powers will be," he adds, "but in comics, it's always about the good guy. Even when a book's centered on a villain, he usually winds up acting heroic. When the game launches , I want to get in there and be really, really bad."