Executive Creative Director Jim Lee, Creative Director Chris Cao and Art Director Mark Anderson shared details and fielded dozens of questions about the DC-based MMO at both events. Discussion ranged from costume creation to endgame content to the game's recent delay to early 2011.
Creating the next legend
Fans packed the exhibit hall to the gills for the afternoon Q&A panel, which kicked off with a video unveiling DCUO's character-creation process. The video began with a scene from the time-bending cinematic trailer, in which Lex Luthor warns Superman, Wonder Woman and the Batman (yeah, I say the Batman, got it?) of a war-torn future brought about by Brainiac's scheming.
Then the video segued quickly to show pieces of the character-creation interface and then countless player-created characters. See, in DCUO, players won't have instant access to the mind-meltingly vast customization options of City of Heroes and Champions Online. Instead, players will design a costume and then collect gear in the form of new costume pieces as they play. But even with relatively limited options -- again, compared to CoH -- the video showed off dozens of wholly different looks. (And my hands-on experience with the creation process resulted in dozens more!)
After the video, Jim Lee, who moonlights as co-publisher of DC Comics, reassured fans that DCUO's approach to costumery is nothing to fret about.
"You will look superheroic," he said. Players will be able to use costume elements derived from the golden, silver and bronze ages of comics. "If you want to make an old-school costume or a modern one -- sold. If you want to look like something in Batman, Incorporated, or like something that belongs in the Batman family, we want you to be able to do that."
Between the "Next Legend" panel and the fan event, which SOE hosted on Saturday evening, Lee, Cao and Anderson answered a seemingly endless stream of questions. To cut through some of the overlap, I'll organize a lot of the highlights as best I can.
The afternoon panel was meant to revolve around character creation, so let's start there. Lore-wise, players will infect a normal human being with exobytes -- tiny Brainiac bots that Luthor stole from the future -- to imbue that person with super powers. Practically, creating a character in DCUO resembles doing so in other games. You select size, facial features, stance, and so on. And again, you create a costume. You also choose a type of fighting power, such as fire or mental energy, a travel power -- flight, acrobatics or super speed -- and a fighting style, such as brawling or dual pistols.
The DC twist in creating a character is that you choose an "inspiring" hero or villain, and that choice determines the source of your powers -- magic, technology or metahuman empowerment -- and post-tutorial starting city. So a tech hero would be inspired by the Batman and would start in Gotham City. A magic villain, on the other hand, would choose Circe (the purple-haired Wonder Woman villain who appears in the fancy trailer) and start in Chinatown.
The game features six main power sets: Fire, Gadgets, Ice, Mental, Nature, and Sorcery. That might not seem like a lot, Cao said, but each set contains three distinct trees, each of which handles very differently. He offered nature as an example. One tree allows players to manipulate plants the way Poison Ivy might. Another grants players weather-based powers.
The third (and arguably coolest) tree focuses on Beast Boy-style shapeshifting, which the crowd really dug. Cao said current animal forms include gorilla, wolf and pterodactyl. An audience member asked whether a player's primary costume colors would carry over into animal form (as Beast Boy's green skin does), and whether the devs plan to add more forms after release. Cao's reply was succinct: "Yup. Yup."
Cao also briefly mentioned that a fire-based player will be able to manipulate various sources of fire. For example, a fire guy can take advantage of the fire from a group member's flamethrower to detonate enemies. That went over very well.
DCUO's lack of light-manipulation powers proved a downer, though. In fact, the very first question of the day revolved around whether players can join the Green Lantern Corps, and GL-related questions popped up repeatedly. Heck, I think I saw more Green Lantern and Blackest Night merchandise at NYCC than anything else. (Note: I am wearing my light-up Blue Lantern ring as I write this, and I earned a free green ring by reciting GL's oath at the DC Comics booth on Friday.)
Anyway, no, light powers will not debut in DCUO at release, though Cao said all four Lanterns from Space Sector 2814, and various others, appear in the game. But Lee, Cao and Anderson all echoed the sentiment at various times that the various Lantern Corps and light-manipulation powers will require serious effort to get right. Based on the demand, though, I would think those are a high priority among SOE's post-launch plans.
I got the sense that fans have mixed feelings about DCUO's costume-creation system. Again, you really won't have the boundless customization of CoH.
The developers made a conscious decision, Cao said, to limit initial choices in favor of in-game drops. "There's a difference between infinite variety," he said, and something that "fits" in the DC Universe. The developers don't want people running around in Wolverine costumes or looking like they were "mugged by Rainbow Brite."
Instead, DCUO mobs and bosses will drop stat-laden gear throughout the game. At the very highest levels, players will earn points for defeating dungeon and raid bosses, and those points can be turned in for so-called iconic gear, which will sport such famous logos at the Bat symbol or the Flash lightning.
Every piece of gear will automatically suit your character's chosen color scheme, and you can toggle different pieces' appearances on and off. So depending on your mood, Cao said, you can display your current gear or your original costume.
As an added bonus, DCUO includes a style tab that logs the appearance of every piece of gear your character has ever obtained. The looks of those pieces will always be available, even after your character has parted with the gear, allowing you to constantly build and refine your toon's costume.
And every month, Cao said, the folks at SOE will patch in new items and looks.
Grouping, raids and endgame
"When you can pick up a bus," Cao said, "you need less people."
Group sizes have remained in flux throughout development, he said. At one point, for instance, developers had a raid of 16 people in the Batcave, which will be the prime raid zone at launch. With that many superheroes flying around and bouncing off walls, gameplay turned too hectic to handle.
So raids will consist of eight players, Cao said -- two groups of four. As for boss fights, he told fans to "think of an action game like Metroid" instead of classic tank-and-spank bosses. He didn't elaborate on what exactly that meant.
Players will be able to assume tank, healer, control and DPS roles while grouping. Cao explained that roles act like stances, and players can switch between them at any time outside of combat. Each stance will shift a player's stats to fit the appropriate role. But players shouldn't expect to assume the same role throughout a raid, as different boss encounters will require different group makeups.
So, what sort of raids and dungeons can we look forward to? Lee, Cao and Anderson mentioned a few different encounters over the course of both events, including the following.
- Smallville -- Clark Kent's hometown in Kansas.
- Area 51 -- Duh.
- The moon -- Some group encounter occurs on the moon. The Justice League sometimes maintains a base on the moon. Discuss.
- Bludhaven -- Sort of a sister city to Gotham, where Nightwing set up shop for a while. Cao said DCUO's Bludhaven will be set in the apocalyptic hellscape created by Chemo's detonation in the events of Infinite Crisis.
- The Batcave -- "The pre-eminent raid in the game."
- S.T.A.R. Labs -- The main hub of all things sciencey in DC. Their scientists have been known to pump out a good (and bad) number of super-powered creatures over the years.
- A volcano -- I overheard something about a volcano location as Cao mingled at the start of the evening fan event, but that's all I got. Expect lava.
- Ace Chemicals -- The sludge factory that brought us the Joker.
- Trigon -- Raven's dad and the Teen Titans' demonic foe, Trigon will force players into some sort of extradimensional encounter.
- Arkham Asylum -- The nuts have taken over the loony bin. Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are now running the show as raid bosses.
DCUO's two Q&A sessions threw out tons of information. I leave you with a few additional notes that surfaced on Saturday.
- Social hubs include Justice League headquarters, the Hall of Doom and police stations in different cities.
- Gotham and Metropolis both consist of 900 city blocks.
- JLA headquarters will include a war room, which features battle simulators of some sort.
- Instead of crafting, DCUO will feature three types of missions that require players to gather clues to solve mysteries. "It puts the 'detective' in Detective Comics," Cao said.
- Lee said DC plans to publish a bi-weekly DCUO comic book, which will incorporate players in some way.
- Servers will be named for famous DC storylines. One PvP server, for instance, will be dubbed "The Killing Joke," for the Alan Moore story that re-imagined the Joker's origin and crippled former Batgirl Barbara Gordon.