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Joystiq interview: Wes Yanagi on creating DC Universe Online


UPDATED: We've updated a few interview answers with clarifications from Wes Yanagi after the break.

While there's been a lot press coverage on DC Universe Online, a variety of topics have emerged that we felt needed some solid "yes" and "no" answers: Will there be cross-platform play between the PS3 and PC versions? Is the game really coming out as early as "late 2009 / early 2010?" If we create a character with stretchy appendages, can we stretch everything?

Yesterday, we put the questions to DCUO senior producer Wes Yanagi during a hands-on with pre-alpha code -- the same code playable on the show floor at this weekend's New York Comic Con, in case you're wondering. He debriefed us on the current situation regarding cross-platform play, character customization and a whole slew of other interesting stuff -- including how his current gaming (Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics) is affecting the development process.

We'd like to give you an audio option but, unfortunately, the recording conditions of the room were less than ideal. Hit the break for the whole thing in text form.

Gallery: DC Universe Online | 35 Photos

Who's your target audience for DC Universe Online?

You know, we want to appeal to any gamer who likes action gamers, right? We want to get the guys who love playing the typical action games on a console and get them to see what all the coolness is of an MMO, where there's hundreds of thousands of people playing online at the same time. And on top of that we want to take something like the MMO crowd and really show them why there's other ways to have fun gameplay. It doesn't have to be the "stand in front of somebody, auto-attack slapfights" or anything like that. So, that's kind of the two angles we're looking at in terms of introducing the game into this market.

What are you most proud of in DCUO?

The feel of the game. Something that was a huge question mark for us early on was, "Can we bring an action game into a latency-filled environment and make it feel good?" And that's something we've solved that problem right now. It feels great, people have been giving us really positive feedback and comments about that.

Secondary thing would be the way the whole world's tying together right now. It looks great, the environments are looking great, it gives that DC feel. We have this goal of trying to create this virtual DC universe that you can step into and I think we've done a great job of realizing that.

Will DCUO be shipping with the ability to play cross-platform between PS3 and PC?

We don't currently have that in the game, no. The functionality is certainly possible, but currently, no, it's not in the game. We'd like to include it but can't confirm that, no.

UPDATE: "We would love to have cross platform play, but haven't made an official decision on it yet."

"Can we bring an action game into a latency-filled environment and make it feel good?"

Do you have any idea of prices for the initial box copy or the month to month pricing going forward?

We haven't got any of the business stuff nailed down yet, no.

Will DCUO be available for Mac OSX as well as the PC and PS3?

Right now it's PC and PS3. I'm not sure, 'cause we're based off the Unreal Engine and I'm not sure of Unreal's status on Mac right now. So we don't have any plans right now.

UPDATE: "Officially, we also have not made any business decisions on this platform yet."

What are you plans for expansions?

We're still trying to finish our game. As far as expansion plans, MMOs are long living games and we want to make sure that we have the ability to keep adding content after release.

As far as the PS3 controller goes with an MMO, have you found any limitations?

No no, actually that's been something that's been really good. Because we're an action game as opposed to say, a first-person shooter, we haven't found any inherent advantages. Like if this were an FPS, a mouse and keyboard might have a tremendous advantage over a controller. But pretty much in the office we have people split -- people who like mouse and keyboard and people who like using the controller and a lot of people just go back and forth -- so that's a pretty good sign that there's no advantage.

What games are inspiring you during development of DCUO?

I think there's lots of different games. You have a lot of the superhero games that have come out on consoles in the past -- you have Marvel Ultimate Alliance, you have Spider-Man, you have Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, you have action games like Crackdown and stuff like that. All those things, it's something that you want to look into and ask, "What is our vision for that game?" and figure out what kind of problems we need to solve for that and then ask, "Did anyone else solve that in a really clever way?"

Like what?

I'd say physics, right? The way we have physics incorporated into the game. I can't think of a game that's done that in a client/server setting like this. That's something where we're completely wondering, "What do we do?" and having to solve that problem through trial and error or, maybe more accurately, educated guesses.

And then other ways, the superhero games have very good examples of stuff like, "How do we want to move through the world? How do we want to fly? Or hang to walls? Or super-speed?" There's kind of been examples in the past that we can kind of look at and go, "Well, those kind of worked this way," and then we can adapt them to our particular circumstance.

What are you playing right now?

I play everything pretty much. I play a lot of MMOs and on consoles, I play a lot of RPGs and shooters. Probably the most I'm playing right now is Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics, mostly 'cause I've been traveling a lot and it's easy access. But those are actually great games for stuff like, "That's a really cool idea that worked well for that game and can we adapt that?" you know?

"Once you have a target date competing against trying to build a solid, quality title, that's when you have some really hard decisions and sacrifices."

When are we going to see a beta?

A beta? Well, we're still pre-alpha!

Do you have a target?

No, we don't have a target right now. We're really happy with the progress we've made and we're really focused on trying to make a quality title. So, personally, from a projection standpoint, once you have a target date competing against trying to build a solid, quality title that's when you have some really hard decisions and sacrifices.

We've heard late 2009 / early 2010?

Yeah, those are all speculations.

We heard it from Geoff Johns [the writer]!

Well, that was just kinda something that he was just throwing out there. Right now we don't have any projections or anything like that.

Would you like to use this opportunity to debunk that news then?

I would say that we don't have a date right now. There's really no date.

UPDATE: "That is correct. There is no official date."

Can you show us the character customization? How are you limiting the customer characterization so people can't create superheroes like Batman or Superman?

We can't just yet. As far as limiting customization goes, you might be able to create something that has the same palette as something like Batman, but certainly you wouldn't be able to have that yellow and black symbol or anything like that. Unlike something like City of Heroes that's a completely open-ended IP -- they can say we want it to look like this thing and give it spiderwebs or something like that. But character customization is something we'll be showing more of sometime in the future.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

We're really excited to show what we have and get it in front of people and get feedback. It's all about iterating and getting something they really like.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Wes.

For more DC Universe Online details, check out our hands-on coverage.

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