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Massively in Metropolis: Why DCUO is a game worth making

Michael Zenke

There are so many MMOs out there right now ... why do we need yet another one? And why does the DC Universe need an MMO? What's the point of having a title where you can talk to Batman and Superman? You may have already gotten a taste of the team's rationale in our ongoing look at DC Universe Online, but the SOE Austin team is a passionate one. They've got a lot of strong ideas about why this game needs to get made, and how they're making it.

Join us below the cut for an exploration of why the DC IP is a great fit for MMO gameplay, even though we haven't seen much of the actual MMO parts yet. Find out why the product has already been out and seen by players at events like Comic-Con, and join us as we return to the developers' claim that the game has already launched ... inside SOE!

What is it about this game, for you guys, that makes this game worth working on?

DCUO Creative Director Jens Andersen: For me it's the IP. DC specifically but superheroes in general. I love action games and I love that the studio has opted to do a superhero game – even though it's an MMO – like it's a superhero game. To be willing to challenge conventions, to change conventions and go into new territory with this type of game. Really, to be true to the genre. A.) Is it a superhero idea? Does it work in the genre? And B.) is it fun on the screen? If either of those fail we get to adapt, we get to achieve, iterate, and make the game what it needs to be. It's paying off gangbusters, because I think we're really delivering on the fantasy of being a superhero.

DCUO Senior Producer Wes Yanagi: I think for me it's kind of along the same lines. It's the IP, it's DC, but then we took that and thought about what we really need to do to deliver on that IP. That's where we came up with the concept of building this action/combat model. It really isn't something that has been done yet in an MMO space. That's really exciting to see how something we just believed in has become something people can walk up and play.

Jens: Comic-con was an amazing moment for us because ... we play it all the time. We're in this place where we're like "people have to like it, it has to be good" ... and then we realized we were going to be putting it in front of strangers to play! "Have we been fooling ourselves?" So Comic-con was a moment of validation ... you had old comic book guys coming up and seeing his favorite characters move around. Whether or not he wanted to pick up the controller, he was just looking at Metropolis and Superman and Lex Luthor going toe-to-toe and smiling. Or the six-year-old kid who walked up and started owning Bizarro ... just seeing the lightbulbs go off over people's heads about how accessible the concept and the action and the gameplay are ... it was a terrific moment for all of us.

We found it interesting that you were willing to put a product in this phase in front of such a large audience. What prompted you to offer it up when you did?

Jens: This studio is all about play. We're going from moment-to-moment deliverables, always making sure that we have something playable, something fun. We don't have a lot of fear ... well, there's anxiety ... but there isn't a lot of fear about putting it in people's hands. I find that what happens is that if you hide things from the public too long, your audience, the people that are going to buy it ... by the time you launch it's too late to react to what they actually think about what you've done. You've committed to too many things. The earlier people outside the company can play it, the better for us.

SOE Austin Creative Director Chris Cao: That goes back to the "paper vs. play" thing, right? I could sit here and tell you about features. But, how do I explain to you what you've just experienced playing the game? You can hear me say that we have action/physics combat, but when you pick up a bus and throw it at a dude while he's getting frozen as you're running up the side of a building ... I can say that and it sounds nonsensical. The only way I can prove to you what I'm talking about is to have you play the game. It's that different, it's not some marketing spin.

I've done a lot of games, and really enthusiastically gone "Yeah ... it's 1% different!" How do we explain how different this is from that? We can't. When people play it, that's when they go "ohhh." It's going to be that way with a lot of the things that we do with this. Thomas Blair is working on all the MMO mechanics right now. When you come back you'll see all the bones you love in an MMO ... it'll just be a lot more fun moment-to-moment.

SOE Austin Studio Head John Blakely: It's also how we built the team. We learned a lot of lessons about maintaining and keeping the audience in the forefront of our minds. Working on the game with them as part of that broader community element ... that's what's really important. The approach we're using philosophically is to run this team like a live team. It's a very small, focused product right now that we're growing organically. We do the publishes, we do the patches, and we get feedback from our users inside the company.

To have that line up with our model internally, we could do nothing less than show up with a product that represented that. It's something we're playing ourselves.

Chris Cao: It's kind of funny that we as gamers accept screenshots and concept art as a game's "announcement". If a movie trailer came out, and it was nothing but still frames and 'here's a cool drawing of the protagonist' ... people would be confused. When a movie is announced they put out a trailer with whatever effects that have finished and some microcosm of the plot. It may not be an accurate one, but it gives you a sense of what you're going to see. In the same way, we wanted you guys to play it, to experience it.
Did you enjoy this? We've donned our capes and tights to explore SOE's DC Universe Online in-depth. Come explore more of Metropolis and Gotham with your friends at Massively!

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