Spotlight: ‘DC Universe Online’

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At the recent San Diego Comic-Con, we got some major quality time with all things DC Universe Online from our gameplay footage of the game to our interview with DC superstar artist Jim Lee . We also had the opportunity to get some hands with the game itself, have a sit down with some of the developers and a one on one interview with writer Marv Wolfman and discuss his work on DC Universe Online. Because there is just so much information from SDCC we have about DC Universe Online, this is going to a be two part story with the second half coming out tomorrow.

DC Universe Online was created with the goal of fulfilling the superhero fantasy in the DC world. Players will be given the ability to create their own hero or villain in order to achieve their own legacy. The ultimate goal of any hero or villain in the game would be to get invited in to the Justice League of America or the Secret Society of Super Villains respectively.

DC Universe Online is a Massively Multiplayer Online action game. Using a Playstation 3 controller or a keyboard, the player presses a button to perform an action. Players are able to string up button pushes to chain up together complex series of attacks. In addition, heavy attacks will knock certain objects around the environment, resulting in a world that is reactive to the player’s actions. If a player hits an explosive barrel in to a wall, there will be noticeable signs left behind from the barrel’s detonation left behind.

During a player’s career, they will witness appearances from Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern and all the major iconic DC heroes and villains and often build relationships with them. The developers really wanted to focus in building a connection with these iconic characters but also balance it so players didn’t walk down the street and see random heroes standing awkwardly at every street corner. They also made sure to point out that players don’t need to reach the game’s max level before seeing the big two, Superman or Batman (like City of Heroes forced players to do before catching a glimpse of the game’s main hero, the Statesman).

When a young hero first encounters Batman, the Caped Crusader may be distrustful of the player because all these new super powered beings being brought in to the world, disrupting the balance of power. Batman will start off cautious with them, giving warnings about having his eye on the new hero and to avoid doing anything stupid. But as the player progresses and they begin to build relationship with the Dark Knight, he may begin giving quests, maybe even eventually be a sponsor for that character to enter the Justice League. Players will be allowed to join teams through the course of the game, either in player-made teams or by being granted auxiliary membership to established teams like the Justice League.

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When discussing character customization and power sets, we were told that every power design came from one of three basic origins: Magic, Metahuman or Technology. After that, players were encouraged to fill in their own fiction as to how it applied to their character. The choice of that origin determines which of the iconic characters the player would interact with right off the bat because of a similarly shared origin. Some examples include Superman as a Metahuman while Batman is a Technology-based hero. For players unsure about what kind of character to create, DC Universe Online will feature an “Inspired By” button, allowing players to choose an iconic character and base their power set off them.

When asked about any surprise characters appearing in the that haven’t been released to the public yet, our developer told us that though not in game at the time of our demo, Catwoman definitely will be featured in the game (and thankfully not the Haley Berry version). There was some brief discussion regarding tricky licensing of characters within the game such Harley Quinn, created for Batman: The Animated Series but was given permission to be in the game. SOE’s developers made sure to reiterate to us that this game is based on DC’s comic universe continuity, not any animated series, movies or other games.

In addition to the iconic characters of the DC Universe, the well known locations play just as important a role in the game. Metropolis, Gotham City, Arkham Asylum, the Daily Planet, Lexcorp Tower, Wayne Enterprises, Emerald City, Watchtower, Hall of Doom, and The Kitchen were all mentioned to us over the course of various interviews. There will also be various bases with different factions such as a Lexcorp faction in the Sahara, somewhere in the Alps or in the arctic. When asked about Planet Oa, we were told that because DC Universe is huge and something as vast as space and the Green Lantern Corps is an expansion in and of itself.

The developers claim they want to start with pristine version of the DC Universe on earth and then, from there, expand stories and environments. When asked about time and weather effects, the developers told us that though they are not in the game yet, ideally they’d like to see them happen. One such example of this could be as Gotham City covered in snow for example. They did say however that there would not be a Gotham City in the day time as it would leave a sky that no Bat-Signal could be seen.

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When it got down to the nitty gritty of MMO and console game standards, we were able to pull some new and interesting information. First discussed was “Character Death”. Since no character ever really dies in comics (especially now considering Blackest Night), DC Universe Online will feature a “rally”. When a player gets incapacitated they can either opt to rally or flee. By choosing Rally, they will get up with reduced health and back in to the fray. A player will have a limited number of Rallies they can use, each with diminishing returns of less and less health. Eventually running out of Rallies, the player must use Flee which will revive them out of the heat of battle at a respawn point.

Like many MMO’s, DC Universe Online will feature Loot. After defeated a large boss or accomplishing a goal, players will find various items throughout the game such as armor and clothing pieces. Once equip, these Items will colorize to the player’s automatically and the visual piece becomes part of player’s collection. Later in the game, if the player acquires a new item with better stat boosts, they can can opt to keep the visual representation of any prior item but still receive the benefits of the newer, more powerful item.

This allows players to customize look and not be forced to sacrifice aesthetics for a more powerful gameplay feature. The purpose of this was to let players preserve the iconic image they created themselves of their hero and also prevent the notorious green leggings, purple chest plate and blue helmet “mid-level hobo look” some games often have (We’re looking at you World of Warcraft).

DC Universe Online will feature its own internal achievement feature, shared by PS3 and PC players called Headlines. Whenever a player accomplishes an impressive feat or difficult mission, they will receive this publically known accolade, allowing people see what they have done. Tying in to that, the Trophies for Playstation 3 users have not been discussed yet as the developers are still working on flushing out the world’s full content first before assigning trophies.

The game will contain Player vs. Player combat. In addition to traditional Player vs. Environment and Player vs. Player content, the game will also feature a combined version allowing players to partake in massive battles with other players iconic NPC characters on their side and opposing them as well such as organized events like the JLA vs. Legion of Doom. There may even be times heroes must team with villains to avoid letting some cataclysmic event from destroying the world occur.

At the start of the game, a player must choose a hero or villain. After making that choice, they can NOT switch sides. There is no way plan to allow players to “turn to the dark side” once a hero has been created and no villain can “see the light” and change their ways.

Sony Online Entertainment has vowed to put a lot of focus on DC Universe Online’s endgame. Most MMO’s are the most fun once the endgame has been reached and the player has maxed out their power sets and gears, ready to do some real damage. Unfortunately, this is where most games lack the volume of content needed. DC Universe Online looks to allow players to reach that max level faster and also give them more to do at the endgame instead of forcing upon them long trudge to get there that other games do.

In our demo of DC Universe Online, we were treated to a play through of a mission on the heroes side of the game (as players can choose to build a Hero or Villain character) on the PC. The demo was running side by side with other players on Playstation 3s. The differences between the PC and PS3 versions of the game were almost non-existent. Both versions run at the same frame rate, both can use the Playstation 3 controller (though PC users can switch on the fly between PS3 controller and keyboard and mouse interface flawlessly) and run on shared servers allowing cross platform gameplay.

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Our demo took us to S.T.A.R. Labs in Metropolis, a place of crazy experiments for the betterment of mankind. And because this MMO is one large ongoing comic book story, things go awry. In the demo mission, S.T.A.R. labs had been experimenting with biological agents which ended up creating a virus which mutated most of the inhabitants of the lab. As a hero, the player must work as auxiliary member of the Justice League of America to help find an antidote, buy time for scientists to create the antidote and find the source of the virus and contain it.

Villains have the same mission available to them but with different objects. Instead of helping stop the virus, the villains will try to break in to S.T.A.R. Labs, find source and release it upon Metropolis. During the course of the mission as the player fights the mutated scientists and lab workers, they encounter both Superman and Green Arrow and briefly fight alongside them briefly. As the battle continues, the player eventually finds a huge mutant, believed to be patient zero and the source of the virus.

But the chaos inside the lab isn’t the only threat as the player then comes across Bizarro facing off against Wonder Woman as Batman is battling the final group of mutants. During our demo, the player left Wonder Woman to hold off Bizarro momentarily while they took out the mutants with Batman. This allowed for a triple team of Batman, Wonder Woman and the player to bring the pain to Bizarro, completing the mission and earning a Headline.

Though no official message has been given yet regarding expansions since the game has yet to come out, there were some verbal hints at space and planet Oa with the Green Lantern Corps during our demo of the game.

Check back tomorrow for part two of our DC Universe Online coverage including our one-on-one interview with DC Icon Marv Wolfman.

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  • nathan
    May 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    so with the iconic kinda build will we get even the way they fly say staic shock? an even if i am on a hover disk…on minor thing i hope dc fix was dat..instead of flying one particular way all the time..you can change style etx kinda like how static does in the show..

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