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Chris Cao spreads the love for the next DCUO update


DC Universe Online has become the fastest-selling game for Sony Online Entertainment. Playstation 3 and PC players alike enjoy diving deep into the world of DC comics. Developers of this highly successful MMO promised monthly content, and they are delivering in spades -- or should we say hearts? This month's update from SOE promises to be full of hearts, love, and cats. What? Cats? Yes, cats. In addition to adopting the usual MMO February/Valentine's Day theme, DCUO is featuring everyone's purrfect cat burglar: Catwoman.

Game Director Chris Cao spoke with us yesterday about the new content coming out later this month. He was not shy about answering our questions about the update or about the issues players are having with the game. So follow us after the break as we visit SOE's secret Batcave to talk to Chris Cao about the past, present, and future love of DC Universe Online.

Gallery: DCUO -- February update | 33 Photos

Massively: What can you tell us about February's update?

Chris Cao: We have a fast-to-max-level game because we want to get everybody in there and doing fun stuff. With the update, we are sort of adding [content] across the board. Our rule is that we prove through play, so we are out there playing; we were playing all weekend, checking through stuff again, trying to get our heads into the alerts and raids, and seeing where our audience is. By playing, by watching the forums, twitter, that sort of stuff, and by watching our metrics, we are seeing where the audience is. Of course, even though it it's a fast/fun game, not everyone's hit max level. We want to make sure the first update covers all our bases.

It really comes down to two separate parts.

First, we have the DC focus character, who is Catwoman. Every month we're going to have a focus character -- roughly every month depending on how the updates come out. The main focus is that we hit quality [rather] than making sure we hit every four weeks. For this month, it's Catwoman. There is a new Catwoman episode with a shared-world race, where we are going to race across the rooftops There's hunting her down for clues in the shared world, which ultimately leads to the Gotham Museum's warehouse. Think of this as a huge vault of all the stored treasures that aren't on display. What better place for the ultimate cat-burglar to go than the treasure trove of a museum?

You follow her in there, but things have gone wrong, because [otherwise] it wouldn't be a normal day in Gotham. She's unleashed the power of four feline idols -- ancient Egyptian icons -- that have cursed all the security guards and personnel in the warehouse, turning them into one of four aspects of feline prowess. It's Catwoman to the nth degree. There are people turned halfway into tigers, into cheetahs, into panthers. There are five different boss fights, the fifth one being against Catwoman herself as she's cursed by aspects of each of these feline statues. She has nine lives, so of course, you have to beat her down nine times.

The second part is about the Valentine's February celebration -- our Valentine's celebration. This is itself made up of two parts: one for everybody and one for those endgame people who are looking for a new fight to sink their teeth into.

For everybody, you're going to take part in the battle for the definition of love. With the whole realm of Wonder Woman and Circe fighting, the battle of Brainiac has caused a tumult in Aphrodite's realm. Right now, we aren't sure if love is about you or if it's about me. It's selflessness vs. selfishness. We put it as devotion vs. scorn.

As a hero or a villain, you get to enter the realm of the cherub. This is a halfway place where they play with the hearts and minds of the mortals as they try to convince them to do their things. In much the same way the Fates or any sort of Grecian gods sort of peer down: You take on the aspects of a cherub. You go through a cool little series of daily quests that have to do with fighting over love.

There's a multiplayer race where you zoom through the skies of this idealized Metropolis, trying to gather hearts that will give you speed boost while avoiding traps along the way. There's a bounce house where you get to go bounce along and try to gather the best hearts out of the sky and literally fuel your side of love or selfish love. There's a part where you are literally fighting for the hearts and minds of the citizens of Metropolis. They're wandering around there, and you use your cupid bow to shoot little arrows at them to try and pull them to one side or the other. There is actually a fight for the fountain of love, and you are trying to get through the other side into the fountain and get them to convert to your side. That's for any level, doesn't matter. When you get changed into a cherub, everybody gets the same abilities.

Everyone can earn hearts, which are the currency for February. You can buy all sorts of things: little candies that give buffs, gifts to give other people -- these great "be mine" cards that you can give bosses and try [to] be sure you don't get pounded. But you want to make sure you get a feat for the various bosses in the game to "be yours" -- and of course, there's an actual specific suit. There's a male and female variant for this -- it's a Valentine's Day suit. It's just for costume and for dress up, but it's a great thing.

So that's kind of the celebration of Valentine's Day, but it ultimately leads to a battle in Olympus itself in Aphrodite's realm, where she literally has a split personality. And the two types of love are fighting it out. It's a two-way, four-man raid. Basically, it's a little Alert -- a single boss room fight, just a little holiday fight for four people. You guys go in there, and you can choose which side of the fight you want to do. Through some pretty unique mechanics, you get to go in and fight off against Aphrodite and contribute to which way it's going to go.

All of this only lasts for the February update. All the loot, all the gear on the Valentine's side -- you want to make sure you get in and earn your hearts and get what you can. Catwoman has been permanently added to the game and is another great episode for you to do.

On top of that, for you PvPers, we now have a PvP open-world event just like we do in Metropolis for the War for the Rings and the Manhunters. There's now one fighting over all sorts of loot and common greed, just like you would in the streets of Gotham over armored cars and money bags. PvPers can get some more gank on there doing that.

Then we also have a new duo going in. We've kind of gussied up the Bane side of things and actually added a bunch of new minibosses and some more fights going in there. There's a whole new duo if you like doing the duos.

Then the sort of cap around it all is the Batcave 2. It's the next phase of the Batcave, where you actually fight Brother Eye. We've redone animations and effects and tuned the whole thing up. [We] watched where the players are -- as far as their skill points and their gear -- and tiered this to be another challenge for them. Now there will be three raids you can do every week as you go after that top-tier gear to be the best of the best on a given server.

There's a ton of stuff go in. But there's something for everybody, including new collections and investigations and those kind of things thrown in and threaded throughout.

You mentioned the Catwoman episode. How does a person get involved in that? Is there a specific level for that?

They are auto-granted to you. As soon as you come in, you're going to have a quest for the Catwoman side as well as for all the Valentine's stuff. And you'll be able to jump right in. If you are level 30, you get the Catwoman stuff because it's level 30 content. Everybody gets the Valentine's stuff. The Bane Duos have just been added to the queues, so you can just select that now and do that one. It has new itemization in it. Then, of course, the Batcave is the very same thing. Oh, and I almost forgot: We are also adding Catwoman to the Legends system.

We have the content. Obviously, that's changing. Are there any changes going on with the game mechanics?

We are adding an auction-house broker to the game. That will be there for everybody to trade around and get the economy rolling the way they want to. We are going to do it in step phases. In the first phase, we are going to let people sell to each other directly -- well, indirectly when they are offline.

We are also going to have a host of social changes going in, allowing you to select your default chat channels better. That's more of an evolution; we are going to keep hitting that. We are actually doing a bunch more changes here for March as well. But we just did a first pass on it, making it easier to use and get rid of some of the bugs. There's a bunch of chat and Vivox stuff going in.

On the combat side of things, most of that is soft balancing. We are not radically changing anything, and in live, we are not looking to do that really. We are going to throw more challenges at you than anything else. But in some cases... specifically, there was a mental ability that just wasn't working in some cases. Taunt wasn't working. We actually hotfixed those out. We actually don't wait on a lot of those. A lot of those have been coming to you guys throughout.

There are no fundamental mechanics changes come in this month; we are basically just a month after launch coming out and saying here's some more stuff to do. And here's some sort of polish on it to make sure it's still fun to do. And then, of course, [we] keep that content coming to you.

What can we look forward to with the chat system? That is one of the biggest issues players have presented to us.

So basically we are victims of our own success. What I mean is, especially on the PS3. There has never been a game that has allowed this much channel chat, this much cross stuff going on. Ultimately, it doesn't matter to the end consumer. We've got to get it right for them. We are fixing bugs with that. But there's a lot cases that we are just hammering down basically. So what's going to come out specifically with the social is your ability to control what channel you're in better, because now it's just kind of happening to you automagically. Now you'll be able to override it and say, "I want to be in this one," or "I want to be in that one." You'll be able to connect and control text default vs. voice default directly. There were some changes on the back end as far as which channel to go where and how it goes through, so it's just getting better and getting less buggy. On the overall improvement side of it, now we're looking, especially as we are spending a lot of time on the PS3 with voice chat. We've done a lot of usability testing. And we have a whole other round of "how do we make this easier to do" coming through. These are the first steps for us in that regard.

What can we look forward to after February? What are some of the future plans for DCUO?

The content is going to be driven by what the people are doing and what they're enjoying. Right now PvP has a huge resurgence in this game. A lot of people are not necessarily fans of MMO PvP, but because it's so fast -- because they can get help, right? -- people can come in and jump in and get across the city pretty fast. We are seeing a lot of that. We are investing a lot and going forward with some more PvP plans. We haven't released them specifically, but it's a lot of making it more meaningful in the open world to fight somebody. You can fight somebody and get rewards off of it without letting it be exploitable. That's always the balance we've got to run. You know, making sure there's stuff for you guys to chase and to go after -- giving you more reasons to go with the PvP. Heroes and villains fighting each other is kind of the awesomesauce of our game.

We are going to take it a month at a time and build on that. We are adding more raids. We are going to continue to do that. We are going to add more suits for you guys as soon as you've earned these and keep expanding it. Whether it be new power types or other stuff going in new content, it's all going to be driven by what the audience is after. Since we are part of that audience playing, and we are watching our metrics and reading the feedback, that's the best way to correct it. That way we don't go ahead and plan six months of stuff and find out three months in you guys wanted something else.

Take a look at February. Jump in, play it kind of crazy. There's something for everybody in there as well as the leveling game. Then we'll all decide what's most fun next and keep adding there on a monthly basis.

As always, it was great talking to you, Chris. We look forward to it.

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