E308: How the DC world will come to life in DC Universe Online

The story and gravitas of the DC IP is pushing one hundred years strong. There's just so much to deal with, you have to wonder how the world and the game will interact. In our epic discussion of DC Universe Online with Creative Director Chris Cao and SOE-Austin VP of development John Blakely, we spent a lot of time talking about story and worldbuilding.

Read on below the cut for information on how comic-book events will affect the game, how the IP is what will separate DCUO from its competitors, and a few words on how the game will hook into the amazing DC community.

Talking about the DC Universe itself, how much is the game going to reflect the comics? With events like Infinite Crisis, are we going to see moments like that reflected in the game?

"We see ourselves as a sort of an introduction to the Universe. We'll be the first time you really get to step through that door and be that hero. You may only know Batman and Superman, but once you're walking the streets of Gotham you're going to know a whole host of characters."

Cao: We'll never be directly one-for-one, because they're free to write their own stories and change the universe. This game isn't meant to be the end-all be-all of the DC experience. It's a part of the DC experience. Just like the TV show, or the movies, and the comics. All of these are about these characters and this world, that the DC Universe lives in. And so what we're going to do is take the best. We see ourselves as a sort of an introduction to the Universe. We'll be the first time you really get to step through that door and be that hero. You may only know Batman and Superman, but once you're walking the streets of Gotham you're going to know a whole host of characters. Once you've gone on that journey, you're going to understand the universe more.

The lucky thing about what we're doing with Jim - we can incorporate any story that we want to. If there's a real popular one, like right now over the last year the Green Lantern Corps story has been really popular. Because we work so closely with the guys who are actually penning it - the guy who's drawing it - we can go "okay, that sounds cool" and put that in. As far as the specifics about it, we haven't worked it out yet, but that is absolutely the reason we have that creative coalition. We have the creative people talking to each other so that DC is represented best in both places.

Blakely: What's nice is that Jim is a gamer. It's his kind of vision for how it bridges both worlds, to make sure that there is a flow back and forth. Not to bind and limit the other people, because that would lock both pieces of the game into a loop. If there is a good story that's told or a good hero or villain that rises to be famous in our world, migrating those into the canon is certainly part of our vision for the game.

And the other way as well: if there's a storyline that resonates with the fans, we reflect that because we have access to almost 150 different characters in the DC universe. We can bring any of those in, make sure we tell their stories in a meaningful way, or at least make sure some of those angles or subtexts are included. We know we're going to be running this game for many years and so we're excited about building up a relationship and going back and forth.

Given that there are other super-hero MMOs on the market, or coming soon, what would you say is a core element that separates DC Universe from those experiences?

Cao: Well the first one is, of course, DC. It may be obvious to state it but this is going to be the only place Gotham and Metropolis exist. You need to go there and be there to experience those places. Most importantly this is the reason we have the playable for Comic-Con. Once you put your hands on the control of this game, you'll understand this is not typical MMO combat. That doesn't mean we don't have the heritage of it, right? I was lead designer on EverQuest 2, I understand fundamentally what's fun about working in a group together and having abilities that will make it mesh.

"When you deep-freeze a guy in DCUO, you can do it to freeze him in place, you can beat someone over the head with him, you can make an obstacle to block a doorway, or to throw him up in the sky and see him scream. Seriously, it's the most fun you've ever had being stunned."

That's all there, but instead you feel like a hero or a villain first. That's the first most guaranteed thing. That strength, that power, the way your powers are more like toys than specific uses - a lot of time in an MMO I'm going to use this one ability in this one case at this one time. When you deep-freeze a guy in DCUO, you can do it to freeze him in place, you can beat someone over the head with him, you can make an obstacle to block a doorway, or to throw him up in the sky and see him scream.

Seriously, it's the most fun you've ever had being stunned. I was falling down into a valley one time, and I was like "Wow, I wonder where I'm going to bounce?" That's not really fair, right? I can say that, but I don't think there's any way I can explain that fully without having people play it. Once the fans play it, and they'll know. They'll go "oh, okay, it's an MMO, but moment-to-moment I feel like a super-hero."

Blakely: We also want to reward the players for their ingenuity. That's one of the things that's always been a tension between MMO players and developers. I remember when fear kiting was invented. The dev team is like "oh no" and the players are like "wow!" It was great. We think that super-heroes are naturally exploitive by nature. They're above the world, they're above their environment. So they figure out ways to get things done in ways that normal humans just can't do. We wanted to kind of embrace that metaphor. You being good at your hero or villain's powers would let you do things that other people just can't do. Hopefully we'll embrace that, we'll play with that. We have qualitative ways of rewarding that, as well as just completing the encounter. We'll reward you for those in meaningful ways through our itemization and loot system.

You mentioned the creativity of the community, and you already sort of have a presence on MySpace. How much is DCUO going to tie into that whole social networking element? Any hook-ins so that players could show off their avatars?

Blakely: We're definitely going to take that to the next level. We haven't started talking about it at this point, but it's going to be part of the game's ongoing service. We really want to do that Web 2.0 kind of experience, for lack of a better term. We want to go into that space. We've done it on EQ and EQII Players, and we really want to bring that in and make it more interactive. We want to make it more relevant to actual gameplay. There are exciting things we can't talk about right now.

Cao: Suffice it to say, as much as we're pushing forward the moment-to-moment and the action, we're really pushing forward the web and the community involvement as well. I can't wait to share it with you.

Where in the continuity of the comics are you pulling from?

"Because it's such a vast and flexible universe, we can do a lot of stories that you wouldn't typically have had, right? Time travel, dimensional splinters, all kinds of doppelganger stuff going on, mind control - they've used so many conventions in the comic books to tell those stories backwards and forwards. We're going to do the same thing."

Cao: The reason we say DCUO is an introduction is that, with 52 and the Infitnite Crisis, DC has reinvented a lot of characters. It's not just the JLA anymore 52 showed a whole breadth of characters there. The reason we're going to pull from the continuity, we're not going to disrupt it even as much as it tends to cycle itself. Working with those guys we're going to see the stories you would have expected to see if you were in the DC universe.

Sometimes we'll use comic book conventions that may allow us to replay stories that may have been in the past. Realize that DC, because it's such a vast and flexible universe, we can do a lot of stories that you wouldn't typically have had, right? Time travel, dimensional splinters, all kinds of doppelganger stuff going on, mind control - they've used so many conventions in the comic books to tell those stories backwards and forwards. We're going to do the same thing. Birthright is a retelling of the Superman story, but it's completely loyal to the Superman origin story, it just happens to be way cooler as a reinvisioning. Because we're working so closely with the talent there, we can make sure it's right on, it's not disrupting continuity, but hey it's a fresh look that a comics fan is going to appreciate.

Blakely: We look at it as our own continuity. We're kind of taking a second look at characters, looking at some of the best representations out there, and kind of tying them together. Working with Jim Lee, who is a master on the art side, we also have a very well known writer who we're working with that we'll be announcing shortly. He's kind of tracking that high level of continuity for us, watching how we feather in that content, and like Chris said we figure out the story that's behind all of these heroes and villains showing up in Metropolis, Gotham and other places.

Cao: While at the same time we'll be keeping the stories you want to see. Those origin stories you want to see.
Hungry for more DCUO news? Massively got the scoop at E3 from Creative Director Chris Cao, SOE-Austin VP of development John Blakely, and Executive Creative Director for the project, Jim Lee. Check out the roundup of all the DCUO coverage from E3 including interviews, screenshots, a full breakdown of the trailer and analysis of DCUO's role on the console. Plus, don't miss the rest of our E3 coverage!

This article was originally published on Massively.