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GDC10: Massively's interview with DC Universe Online

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

GDC continues in San Francisco this week, and today we were fortunate enough to get some time with Michael Daubert, the Studio Art Director for Sony Online Entertainment. We chatted about upcoming MMO DC Universe Online, and Daubert had some pretty interesting things to say about the game. Follow along after the jump to see what's in store for DC Universe Online.

A recent event that the DCUO team put together was the Mass Animation Project. Fans were invited to help create a trailer and in-game emotes in the hopes of winning some great prizes and seeing their work in the game. The rough preview trailer will debut tomorrow at GDC, and there are some exciting things in store for those who caught the eye of those at DCUO. Daubert said that fans should definitely watch for more of this sort of thing in the future: "It was a fan-based community event. This was their idea, they wanted to do a trailer, and what better way, what better IP than the DC universe? They get to brag to their friends that they animated Batman and Superman and Lex Luthor!"

While these preview events are very exciting, fans are still very interested in the progression of the actual game, so we discussed that a bit as well. "We're hitting major milestones right now. We're pushing as hard as we can right now to get a launch date out there. [...] We're trying to get it in your hands as quick as possible. The great thing about Sony is we really are taking our time. We have been given the opportunity to make this right. [...] We really think the time we're putting into it and the effort in making sure the polish is there is going to pay off in the end and the fans are going to be super happy with it." While we don't have a release date, we do know that the game will be released simultaneously for PC and PS3. It's the same game for both, neither will have an advantage through graphics or control scheme over the other.
In the meantime, City of Heroes and Champions Online are enjoying a superhero MMO market that's largely free of any competition. Does the DCUO team worry that there won't be room for them when the time comes? According to Daubert, there's plenty of room for a third, particularly with the unique game that SOE will bring to the market. DC Universe Online goes way beyond the generic superhero MMO by using one of the most well-known IPs in the world, and they're working hard to do justice to the DC world. "We're really taking our time and making sure we're not just an MMO, we're not just an action-based MMO, we're the DC Universe action-based MMO.

So what will the game be like? We, just like the fans, have so many questions about this game. Can you fly, can you play a villain, and most importantly, can you be Batman? (Oh, come on, you know you want your character to say "I'm Batman." and mean it.) As it happens, yes, you can fly. But DCUO didn't stop there: you can also use super speed and acrobatics. While you only get to pick one of the three, they're being balanced very carefully to give each one an equal level of awesome: "You can't have a flyer being able to out-power an acrobat because he can go up high. We've really taken the time to polish all three movement types. Super speed, running as fast as The Flash up the side of a building, over cars, over water, balancing that off with acrobatics jumping from building to building [...], that balance level has been one of the toughest struggles that we have right now.

What if you don't want to run up the side of the building to save the hapless citizen, but instead take him out? SOE is okay with that, and DC Universe Online is getting a little more freedom from DC to work with that. You can play a villain if you are so inclined, and the DC license has recently begun opening their doors to the DCUO team a bit more, allowing them more play on the villain side of the game.

"Batman's not just calling you saying 'go knock out ten thugs,' he's there with you."

Okay, that's all great. But can I be Batman or not? Sadly, no. You'll have to settle for basking in the reflected glory, which is certainly not a bad prospect.: "you play side-by-side with them. Batman's not just calling you saying 'go knock out ten thugs,' he's there with you. He can not complete his mission without the help of you." While most of the world is persistent, these "big name" quests and missions will be instanced so you won't find ten Batman characters running around the same area.

DCUO has been careful not to have too much of a heavy hand with the instances, however. "[if we do that] then we're not paying off on an MMO. If I want a single player game I'll go play a single player game. I'm there with my friends [...] and we want to progress together." Many of the standard MMO features are a sure thing in addition to persistence: guilds (leagues and legions), auction houses, crafting, and much more.

The game will follow the current MMO trend in their push toward social networking sites such as Facebook as well: "it seems like the progression of games. It seems like everyone is jumping on that [...] we are definitely pursuing community based social media."

Daubert promised something exciting in the near future: fans will get a more extensive look at DC Universe Online at E3 in June: "we've got Metropolis and Gotham ready to show. We haven't shown any of Gotham yet, and I think the fans will be super excited once they see the darker side of the DC Universe."

We are definitely going to be looking forward to that, and our thanks to Michael Daubert for his time!

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