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E308: The DC Universe Online trailer explained

Michael Zenke

Sony Online Entertainment's upcoming title playpen at E3 offered several different delights. Prior to our lengthy conversation with DC Universe Online Creative Director Chris Cao and SOE-Austin VP of development John Blakely (in which they noted the game is 'already released'), we got to see a lengthy trailer which included some pre-recorded interview snippets. We aren't going to be able to provide you with the video itself for some time, but the voice content of the video is well worth reading up on.

Alongside Mr. Blakely and Mr. Cao, DC comics veteran Jim Lee also appears in the video. Mr. Lee is Executive Creative Director for the project, connecting the DC comics creative minds to the developers at SOE. We managed to sit down with Jim Lee to talk about his role on the project, a discussion we'll be able to share with you sometime next week. Read on for our introduction to the game, some hints about what they'll be offering at Comic-Con next week, and the vocal stylings of voiceover guy.

Blakely: We're going to have a playable version of the game available at Comic-Con. Gotta go where the fans are, right? We wanted to be sure that we brought our fans and the press in at the same time. We're doing a preview of it here, and at Comic-Con where it's a fan convention we're going to get the players involved and really get them in as a part of the process. It's a hands-on playable there, so everybody gets to try it out.

Cao: So just to give you some of the background, when we got this license we began to think about what it really means to make DC Universe Online. Unlike a lot of other games you might make in the MMO space the DC Universe actually already exists. Batman, right now, is swooping from rooftop to rooftop in Gotham City in somebody's imagination. Superman is speeding through Metropolis. It's happening right now. There aren't many IPs that you can say have been around for 70 years.

Your grandfather, your father, you, your kids, all know these characters and know this world. We use the metaphor that all of our technology, all of our design, is meant to open a door from this world into that one. It gives people a first shot at being a hero or a villain in that universe. There will be a lot of questions about "can I play this", "can I play that"? The game is really about stepping through that door into that universe. So Batman and Superman already exist there. It's a real world where you are doing these heroic and villainous things.

That key metaphor is what we use for everything. For every design decision we make, we ask ourselves what the metaphor would be. If you're stepping through, what would be there? What weird intergang weapons would be there that you could use? What sort of toys could you get from Batman if you were his ally. With that sort of metaphor in mind we worked with Jim Lee, to start to lay out the foundations of this world. What this trailer we're about to show you does is give you kind of an overview of the basic gameplay, of the strategy we have in mind behind the game.

[Mr. Cao starts the trailer.]

Trailer Guy: The time has come ... for a new universe ... to be revealed. DC Universe Online. Welcome to the DC Universe as it comes to life online and put the power of legendary superheroes and villains in the palm of your hand.

Blakely: One of the things we want to do with DCUO is establish a new angle to the online genre. We want to lead the developers, we want to lead the players into this new space and bring them this experience they woudn't expect.

Cao: Our goal with DC Universe Online is to feel like they've stepped into the DC Universe. Not only have they stepped into the DC Universe, but they've stepped into the DC Universe through the eyes of Jim Lee. Look at any of his most recent works - Batman: Hush, Superman "For Tomorrow". It's cool, it's edgy, and it's perfect for the demographics we're aiming for with this game.

Jim Lee: I'm the eyes and ears of DC on the game. Obviously I'm very familiar with the DC Universe, but I'm a very big gamer, so I'm in a unique position within DC to look at the game from both a DC comics person's perspective and also from a gaming perspective. We have gone through 60 years of DC continuity and picked out the very coolest parts of the DC universe.

Blakely: We really treat all of the environments as if they were characters, we want them to have a personality and a presence, and we do that by picking simple colors and making sure every element in the environment really evokes that environment. If you look down the street in Gotham City, we want players to look in one direction and know immediately where they are. At the end of the day we're entirely thinking about gameplay. Environments have to serve gameplay. If the spaces are too large or too confined they will get changed.

Jim Lee: We've actually concepted out every asset in the game, we have an ongoing dialogue between the artists in San Diego and the artists here at Sony and there's a lot of interplay where we end up with a lot of really cool-looking 3D assets. Not only can you create a character and fight alongside all these great characters that you've loved since you became immersed in the DC universe, you can explore these universes. You can do it in your own time and under your own direction. It's really a different way to enjoy the DC universe.

Cao: DCUO is really going to be a breakout experience for people because of the physics-based gameplay that we have. You're going to be able to create a bunch of objects in the world, to use those as weapons, to use the environment as weapons. It's crazy the number of unique combinations and moment-to-moment tactics that this game is going to provide. It'll be quite incredible.

Blakely: Basically the idea is that you'll start off as a new hero or a new villain, customize that person, give him the powers that you want him to have, the appearance you want him to have, whether he's a hero or a villain. The biggest fantasy a player could have is to stand alongside the JLA in that lineup. Not to be just another person playing Superman in yet another Superman game. To be the equal of Superman in respect, to be respected by those guys. On the villains side you'd be feared enough to be respected, to participate in their worldwide crimes.

DC Universe has magic, it has aliens, it has high-tech, it has just regular guys who trained up. From a gameplay standpoint there is nothing it doesn't have. It's a fantasy game plus a sci-fi game plus a modern shooter game all rolled into one.

[dramatic music plays]

Trailer Guy: DC Universe Online ...

Cao: So that trailer sets things up a little bit, but the reason we want to save the best content for Comic-Con is that everyone says "okay it's an MMO". What does that mean moment to moment? It's an action game. It's literally like any console superhero game you've ever played before. When you constrain someone, you actually use thing in the environment. I don't just cast a spell and put a little icon on you that represents a debuff. I lock you in a block of ice and then I chuck you around the world. That's why there's no way to explain that. I can say that, but to have the players actually do that will get them really excited. All the elements people expect from an MMO long-term are there, it just also happens to be the best super-hero experience you've had with your friends online moment to moment.

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!

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