The excitement has been growing for a new super hero-themed MMO game over the past few months. City of Heroes has its place in MMO super hero pantheon, but while it can be quite fun to a point, many are clamoring for something new and innovative. Sony Online Entertainment proposes to accomplish such a feat through use of the popular DC Universe, which has hundreds of usable characters and a wealth of background history. While the premise of heroes like Superman or Batman and villains like Lex Luthor or Doomsday sets many of us to geek overload, it won't be enough to carry an entire game.
So the question becomes what does SOE need to do in order to bring success to the masses? It might seem as simple as deciding who the leader of the Justice League is, but there are a number of challenges facing them, and we're going to cover a few right now.
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The city is dangerous
Super heroes are extraordinary and deal with things in an extreme manner. A dispute in the local Walmart parking lot for us would be an exchange of profanity. When Darkseid yanks a parking spot from Superman he gets punched into a building. Fights in DCUO will need to be epic, far above and beyond what City of Heroes brought us.
In City of Heroes, we've seen couches, refrigerators, and other large objects hurled at groups of enemies. The ground has opened up, giant fireballs have exploded, and hand grenades have thrown villains to the ground. We want something on the scale of Marvel Alliance where cars can be thrown half a block and lightning repeatedly strikes the ground around you. People should be thrown into skyscrapers and slammed into the ground making an absurd impact crater. Of course this doesn't sound easy to do in a multiplayer environment, but even if it's scripting within an instance, at least that is a start.
Epic battles are one thing, but super heroes always have a reason for fighting (unless you are the Incredible Hulk). A well thought out story is necessary to entice players into the world of DC. Rehashed Green Lantern versus Sinistro or Gorilla Grodd versus Flash reruns aren't going to cut it. Not to say that content can't exist, but expectations are a little higher than that. The recent New York Comic-Con showed Lex Luthor attempting to break Doomsday out of a maximum security prison. This is a great example of a story arc that we've never seen before and has some very exciting possibilities.
This next particular challenge isn't localized to just DC Universe Online, but is a lesson to be learned from a number of AAA games released in the last two years. The final DCUO product should be complete and working well at launch. That sounds simple doesnt it? Obviously no one realistically expects everything to work, and by nature these games are fluid so adjustments have to be made.
But players don't want to participate in the trial and error system companies have historically used to balance mechanics. For instance if you have PvP content available, there should be something to do besides merely dueling. Make sure to have enough quests and instances available to reach the skill or level cap so players feel like they arent grinding. The market has become very jaded, so famous publishers and IP's are no longer enough to bank sales on. If that wasnt enough of a problem, the controversy surrounding Station Cash, the Star Wars Galaxies NGE, and Vanguard launch might have faded from memory, but it hasnt been forgotten. SOE needs to make sure DCUO shines in every way possible to draw the masses. The bitter Betty's will be watching.
While a particular IP might not be strong enough to make up for shortcomings in gameplay or content, when put with a well built game it can enhance its popularity exponentially. SOE needs to maximize its use of the DC Universe in order to reach the largest potential audience. While personally I would be reduced to a stuttering lump of excitement if I saw Shade or Cheetah oppose me, most people probably have no idea who they are. Focus on the greats such as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman (Aquaman stays on the bench) and less about the obscure characters unless you need filler for story. In fact I believe there is a federal law mandating that the Wonder Twins are not allowed to appear in any other media, so SOE must keep characters like Braniac, Two Face, and Green Arrow in the forefront.
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A burning ring of fire
Almost every major MMO game uses faction in order to provide additional rewards and time sinks to participate in. While some have been more successful than others, there are numerous examples to learn from. It goes without saying that DCUO will probably have them so it needs to be done right. You might know exactly where Im going with this. You could have factions such as LuthorCorp, Metropolis Police, and Green Lantern Corp, but beyond these we must have the option to join the Justice League or the Legion of Doom (which I know isn't real). I dont care if there are thousands of us doing it and even if its as a junior member, this is every DC fans dream. To walk into the Hall of Justice and talk to Flash or the Hall of Doom to help Sinistro is the equivalent of Darth Vader missions in Star Wars Galaxies. To those who have grown up around these heroes, a feature point like this on DCUOs box could weigh heavily into their purchasing decision.
The word customization is tossed around more than the Joker in a fistfight with Batman but its something so complex no game has truly perfected it. City of Heroes set the bar unbelievably high in this regard, and even today no other game has come close. Powers, costumes, gadgets, and more will be necessary to not only match but exceed what Cryptic did and SOE certainly can do it. It will however require they pull out all the stops, and provide ways that each and every one of us truly feels unique. Of course you will still have people who demand to play knockoffs like Aquaman and the Blur, but dont punish the rest of us for them.
As you can see, DCUO has a wealth of potential but a few major hurdles to overcome in order to be a dominating force in the MMO market. Ignoring its obvious competitor, who also needs to address many of these concerns, the stage is set for a superhero game like no other. Can they pull it off? I think so and I would know being the Comic Book Guy. Want to discuss it further? Drop me an email and Ill explain exactly why Robin isnt necessary.
Worst Story Ever
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