It’s been almost two years since Sony Online Entertainment and DC unveiled “DC Universe Online” at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). When Jim Lee came onstage during Sony’s presentation and the very first trailer was shown, it was clear that DC and Sony had a very strong vision for their Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO)—allow players to create their own heroes (or villains) and fight alongside the icons of the DC Universe. With Lee and WildStorm’s work on the design side, and Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman helping shape the story and world of “DCUO,” there’s a veritable dream team of creative talent contributing to the game.
About a year and a half ago, CBR spoke with Wes Yanagi, the Senior Producer on “DC Universe Online,” and we caught up again with him this week as the “DCUO” team is getting ready for E3 2010. This time around we talked about how the development of “DCUO” is coming along, and how the MMO landscape has changed since the game was first announced.
CBR News: Since development started on “DC Universe Online” the MMO landscape has undergone some changes. Free-to-play games have become more prevalent, and some existing games like “D&D Online,” “Everquest II” and “Age of Conan” have altered their business models and the way they think about content delivery. How do you see the changing MMO landscape and how has that affected the development of “DCUO?”
Wes Yanagi: The most important thing is to build a fun and entertaining game. Without a compelling product capable of attracting an audience, business models are meaningless. If anything, the current landscape has reinforced our first priority of creating a fun experience that exceeds consumer’s expectations.
We’ve also seen the launch of “Champions Online” this year. Does seeing the successes and challenges that game has dealt with help inform what you’re doing?
From the very start of the project we set out to build a game that would allow thousands of people to play together in a huge online world that also featured fast action combat reflective of the type of experience that players love in console action games—but in a massively multiplayer environment. This set us on a totally different path, and we faced different challenges as well, based on our choice of platforms. A better example in terms of inspiration for our decisions would come from games like “Prototype” or “Arkham Asylum,” specifically in terms of the style of combat action we’re targeting.
At some of last year’s conventions (CCI, E3, NYCC) you let people get some hands-on time with an early version of the combat system. Have the combat mechanics changed dramatically from what people saw?
At the core level, not really. We’re still all about delivering an action combat experience where you feel very connected to your character. If you push attack, your character throws a punch. If you push jump, your character springs into the air. We have evolved combat in many ways over the past year, by adding a lot of refinements to tactics and powers. Now you can swoop into a group, stun an enemy, vault backwards to create space, and pull another enemy towards you with a grappling hook. Not only do we have standard combat attacks like ranged and melee, but we also have combo and finishing moves as well. Plus, there are super power abilities along with super movement combat moves that a player can use as well. Our goal is to make sure combat is always fun and that tactics are constantly evolving/expanding/advancing as you progress through the game.
As you continue to develop for the PC and PS3 simultaneously, what have been the biggest challenges to balancing the game for both platforms?
Fortunately, we’ve had the game working on the PS3 and PC for so long that we haven’t run into any major balancing issues between the two platforms. Most of our cross platform work right now is focused on tackling the technical differences between the two.
Is cross-platform play between the PC and PS3 still a planned feature of the game?
Internally our development process is completely cross-platform, but we still haven’t made a final decision yet.
Just bringing an MMO to a console in the first place is a huge challenge, as evidenced by the sparse history of console MMOs. What do you think that you’re doing with “DCUO” that solves the riddle no one else has really been able to?
Visceral action. Console players expect it and we’re delivering on it. When you grab the controller and jump into combat, you instantly realize this game is something completely different from your preconceived notions of MMO combat. It’s immersive, fast paced, intense, and most of all FUN.
It seems like most games that allow you to play as a hero or a villain struggle to make the villain side as fulfilling to play. How are you approaching that challenge with “DCUO”?
That aspect is mainly tackled by the storyline, which is a lot easier when you’re working with folks like Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, and Marv Wolfman. A good story provides the framework for your goals and makes it rewarding when you accomplish them. After all, how dull can aligning yourself with the machinations of a high powered super villain be?
In January the weekly “DC Universe Legends” comic series was announced, which will tie directly into the game. What can you tell us about the upcoming series?
I definitely don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but what I can say is that the series will help us introduce some of the exciting back-story events and establish the state of the world from a story perspective. Things like… why are all these super powered people suddenly appearing everywhere?
The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is coming in June, and “DCUO” is sure to be one of the highlights of Sony’s presentation. What parts of the game are you guys planning on showing off at the event?
This year we’re showing a high level Player versus Player (PvP) battle where you’ve saved the day dozens of times and acquired some "special" gear. Now it’s time to put it to use. Oh… and a small peek at a city we haven’t shown publicly yet.
You haven’t announced the subscription model for “DCUO” as of yet. Has there been a decision made regarding subscriptions, or are you still exploring different options?
Nope, no new updates on this front yet. We’re still focused on producing the game.
Can we expect some news on the pricing model or perhaps a public beta at E3?
Possibly… ask me again in about a month.
Finally, will fans get to play another piece of the game at shows like E3, Comic-Con International and New York Comic Con this year?
Absolutely! Our mantra is “prove through play.” So, we’re looking forward to seeing fans get some quality hands-on time this summer… we’ll have a particularly cool unveiling at Comic-Con.
CBR would like to thank Wes Yanagi again for giving us an update on “DC Universe Online.” The game is currently scheduled for a November 2010 release on the PC and PlayStation 3. For more on the game, check out www.dcuo.station.sony.com. The Electronic Entertainment Expo is happening June 15-17 in Los Angeles, and you visit the official site at www.e3expo.com.