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NYCC 2010: Interview with DCUO's Jim Lee and Mark Anderson

Ryan Greene

DC Universe Online was all over New York Comic Con. The folks at Sony Online Entertainment presented a playable demo on the show floor, an info-laden panel highlighting character creation and a super-exclusive fan event with 500 of DCUO's biggest fans. Before the fan event got popping, Massively enjoyed the opportunity to sit down with comics legend Jim Lee and DCUO Art Director Mark Anderson.

Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics and executive creative director of DCUO, and Anderson shared some special insights into the game's development. Conversation ranged from DCUO's similarity to Grand Theft Auto to Lee's introduction to the MMO genre.

Mark Anderson

Our interview began with Anderson. As art director, he has had a major hand in the design of DCUO's costume system and gear, which received extensive attention during SOE's "Creating the Next Legend" panel. So Anderson sat down with Massively and a handful of other reporters to answer a few other questions.

What sort of visual research did developers complete while designing the game?

Anderson said the art team tried to pick the "best" version of each DC character for the game. So while Hal Jordan and Wally West, for example, have worn different variations of the Green Lantern and Flash costumes over the years, the developers would have worked from the most recognizable version possible.

A lot of their decisions were influenced by Lee's work drawing comic books, Anderson said. Character design drew inspiration from the ways in which Lee proportions people or draws certain features. Also, the developers specifically used Lee's version of particular costume elements, such as the Batman's logo.

Will DCUO favor instancing or a seamless world?

The developers have their sights set on seamless immersion. Metropolis and Gotham City, for instance, are enormous. "Nine hundred blocks, no loading," Anderson said. "It's a big, open world. It's more on the order of Grand Theft Auto."

If zones are so large, what will prevent them from feeling barren?

For one thing, Anderson said, areas are designed around "powderkegs," where action is constantly happening. Players will also stumble upon random muggings and things of that nature. At one of the playable stations set up in the interview room, I noticed a player run up to an armored car in the process of being robbed. A fellow in a ski mask was rudely bashing a security guard about the head with a crowbar, and just when I expected the player to take out said robber, he zapped the guard instead. Guess he was a villain.

Also, zones will feature other diversions, such as races tailored to your character's travel power. I saw one flying course that seemed like a superheroic version of Pilotwings, with rings floating in the sky. And as an added bonus, Anderson said Booster Gold, the often idiotic future-sports-star-turned-semi-competent super hero, oversees those races as he guides you through certain locations.

Will we have to buy character slots?

"We don't want to nickel-and-dime you,"
Anderson said. DCUO will offer plenty of character slots, he insisted. If I remember right, I saw about eight slots available in the Comic Con demo.

What's the level cap?

Right, the cap stands at 30. Anderson said that number is deceptive, though. "We want you to get to the level cap," he said. Filler is "sucky," he said, and the team tried to minimize grinding whenever possible. "There's a ton of stuff to do," he said, once your character hits the level cap.

Why the delay in release date to "early 2011?"

No major disaster caused the delay, Anderson said. The team just felt it needed more time to polish and get features right. "It really hurt," he said, but the choice to delay launch was in DCUO's best interest. (He certainly didn't mention any outside influences.)

Jim Lee

Next, Lee came over to our table, bowl of food in hand. "Sorry, guys," he said, "but I haven't eaten all day." We didn't mind. I mean, come on -- and sorry, but I need to geek out here for a second -- but it was Jim Lee, an honest-to-goodness living legend of comic books. If he had said he would answer my questions only after he punched me, because he hadn't punched anyone all day, I would have been fine with that.

What experience do you have with video games and MMOs?

While he has played plenty of console and computer games in his day, Lee said one game piqued his interest above all others: Everquest. "Outwitting and outplaying real people was just so different," he said.

What was the biggest challenge for you in helping to design DCUO?

Figuring out how to help craft a video game. "There's a big difference," Lee said, "between being an awesome Call of Duty player and making a video game."

His only involvement in game design before DCUO was with 2003's Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu. Lee said he designed the beat-em-up's final boss, Sin Tzu, after the developers had all but completed the game. Apparently their original plan to use the Joker as the ultimate baddie tanked, and they asked Lee to whip up a replacement character. And that was about it.

But based in part on his love of EQ, he jumped at the chance to work with SOE on DCUO. And the company gave him "a crash course" on MMO design in a hurry.

What's a specific contribution you made to DCUO?

Quest-related cutscenes in DCUO play out like fully-voiced motion comics -- and Lee laid out and penciled at least some of those cutscenes.

What do you do when you play DCUO?

Lee said he often runs around in the beta looking for iconic DC characters, such as the Flash or Martian Manhunter, just so he can marvel at them in 3D. "The DC Comics fanboy inside of me is happy that all these characters can finally exist," he said.

Other than obvious places, such as Gotham or Metropolis, what is your favorite location in DCUO?

Arkham Asylum. Lee said the developers have lovingly crafted the Gotham madhouse. Different sections of the hospital, which will serve as a raid dungeon, reflect decades of evolving mental-health practices. So one area might look relatively modern while another looks like some gothic torture chamber.

"It's really come out nicely," Lee said. "It's creepy. It's a creepy place."

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