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Just like Batman answering the Bat-Signal, gamers everywhere are
chomping at the bit to play style="font-style: italic;">DC Universe Online.
With its Spring 2011
release getting ever closer, Ten Ton Hammer’s own intrepid
reporter, Jeff “Ethec” Woleslagle, infiltrated the
hidden lair of SOE. Once inside, he talked to Mark Anderson, Art
Director of style="font-style: italic;">DCUO,
to get the scoop on movement challenges, lore and
roleplay possibilities, and the PvP aspects (including the newly
announced Meteor mechanic for open PvP) of this superhero MMOG.
Ton Hammer: First, I wanted to ask you about something
we’ve just started hearing more about: movement challenges.
What’s involved with those? I’m guessing that there
are different ones associated with the different movement powers?
Anderson: Yes. There are
multiple beacons for movement challenges
and they are tailored to your specific movement mode. So if
you’re a speedster, it’ll be about you going up
walls and making huge jumps. Same thing with flyers, such as flying
through the rings. That’s what most of those are, and
they’re all in now. We’ve been working on those for
awhile, and we’re now working on some co-op movement modes.
That’s in the works right now, and we’ll have to
see how much of that makes it down to the final game.
But it’s other stuff to do in a game that’s
otherwise combat-oriented. We want to make sure that there’s
stuff for you to do that’s fun and challenging, and those are
spread out all over the city.
Ton Hammer: Any thought given to leaderboards for movement
Anderson: Yes. Having that
kind of competition within the game is something we want and wish to
encourage, but it is something that we don’t have in yet.
Ton Hammer: Is there a thematic aspect to the movement challenges, such
as having to race to stop the Joker from exploding nukes or something?
Anderson: Not specifically,
no. They’re pure gameplay in that sense.
Ton Hammer: There’s been a little bit of confusion over what
you and others at SOE Austin have called the “wild, wild
west” nature of open PvP in style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DCUO style="font-weight: bold;">, where level 15s, for
example, can gank a level 5. For somebody new coming to the game, that
might not sound like the most fun experience.
Anderson: It definitely
depends. The good thing is that there is a much, much wider spread than
there’s been in most of the games that I’ve played,
where level is kind of king. If you had a few levels on somebody, that
was it. However, the content is relatively mixed. We have opposing
factions occupying the same space a lot more often than other games. We
have safe spawn points. We have safe houses that have guards on them.
Most of that takes the characters where they can go through the content
In beta, PvP is not so widespread. It tends to be more concentrated.
The main thing that we wanted to kill was the spawn camping. It is
things like that really detract from enjoying the game, especially if
you’re new to the game. If you just want to go out and do the
solo content, then choosing a PvE server is the thing to do.
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">Do you start with one
power? No power? A combo? There were huge polarizing shifts just within
our population of just the devs in the office. So we tried to strike
Ton Hammer: What other types of emerging PvP are you planning for style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DCUO style="font-weight: bold;">?
Anderson: We have the Meteor,
which I don’t think you’ve seen yet. We have a
meteor that is a PvP flag. Once you pick it up, you’re
flagged for PvP. You can run around the city and hand it to your
friends, which can leads to pockets of PvP. It’s time-based
and it is really cool because it creates areas where if you
don’t want to be part of that gang fight, you don’t
have to be.
Ton Hammer: You keep the Meteor in your inventory? If not,
how long does the tag last? If you put it down, are you not flagged for
Anderson: You literally pick
it up. It’s a physical object. Once you pick it up touch it,
you can take it to other places where you want other people to touch
it. Once you pick it up, you’re tagged for awhile. I
don’t remember the exact time amount right now.
Ton Hammer: Are there any kinds of rewards for open PvP play?
Anderson: Right now, I
can’t tell you that for certain if we do. At this point, we
have scoreboards on the PvP matches, but not just open world PvP.
Ton Hammer: Is that something you might consider giving achievements
Anderson: Absolutely! If we
haven’t mentioned achievements yet, it is something that
we’ve talked about. A lot of this is that we want to see what
people are enjoying in the game and then encouraging them to do that in
the game and to do more of that in the game. We’re seeing
what’s going on in beta and keeping a matrix of all of that
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Ton Hammer: Legend play is one of style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DCUO’s style="font-weight: bold;"> best kept secrets inside
the game. With the Legend Gameplay, is there anything that
you’re planning on adding to the game to more directly
introduce players to that aspect of the game?
Anderson: On some of them,
you’ll get the message through the communicator, but on
others, you’ll get a quest item in your journal. So you get a
mission objective to do a PvP match in the Legend simulator.
Ton Hammer: Is Legend play something you can play from the get-go, or
is there a level requirement?
Anderson: Right now, there is
a level limit. I don’t think that we’ve publicly
announced what we’re going to do with the preorder
“play-as-Batman” in terms of level. I think that
we’re going to introduce it low enough so that
you’ll get a nice experience throughout the game, and we
think that it is something that people are really going to enjoy with
all the powers tailored to the specific characters and those one-off
Legend play gives you that experience to play as that character. Early
on, our biggest question was, “Do I get to play as
Batman?” to which we always said, “No.”
But, we were sitting around and we realized that we could probably do
this and do it in a way to stop the obvious next criticism of that
there’ll be a thousand Batmans running around. We definitely
didn’t want that. We think that Legend play is a good balance.
Ton Hammer: Do you foresee a Batman or Superman infestation
happening anyway, especially with players creating heroes based upon
Anderson: So far, I
haven’t really seen people trying to
make themselves as close as they can to a particular character. At a
certain point, that’ll be something that we’ll need
to keep a close eye upon. So far, I haven’t seen anybody
pushing that envelope. I have seen a lot of creative names, and most of
them aren’t ones that you say, “Sigh...I have to
ban that guy,” but more like, “that’s
really cool.” It’s funny that it is the same thing
that we’ve done around the office like Chief of Staff, Staff
We’re working on names in that we want people to be able to
get the names they want. We’re working on a filter
that’s aggressive enough to prevent people from going,
“Really?” but still allowing a creative mix.
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Ton Hammer: I know style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Champions
Online style="font-weight: bold;"> ran into the same thing
Anderson: If you alias, you
end up with 18 Killer Frostbites, and you don’t know who
you’re talking to necessarily. You don’t want to
get to the point where you go, “I wanted to name my guy Ice
something, but they’re all taken.”
Ton Hammer: I imagine that there’ll be a mad rush to reserve
names on day one, no matter what.
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">Early on, our biggest
question was, “Do I get to play as Batman?” to
which we always said, “No.” But, we were sitting
around and we realized that we could probably do this and do it in a
way to stop the obvious next criticism of that there’ll be a
thousand Batmans running around."
Anderson: Yeah. I know a
couple of guys here who are saying, “I hope my name
isn’t taken.” We’re hoping not to get
into the name-squatting. So far, we have a very diverse beta population
from a lot of different places, and those people have been very good
about it. They haven’t tried to push the envelope of taste or
Ton Hammer: You have these two massive cities. One thing that
we’ve found in large overland zones, which might not occur in
a city environment, is that they can feel quite empty. Is the solution
to that to concentrate players around objectives so you don’t
really notice the open real estate on the map?
Anderson: You need those
areas that are empty or ambient for pacing and just to have a space
where there’s not something going on. It’s all
about making hubs that make sense. We try to keep a close eye on it.
There are areas where we rely upon player density to fill a space, and
we try to have places like the Watchtower or the Hall of Doom being
hubs that aren’t just player cities, but serve as a jumping
off point to get you from between Gotham and Metropolis. Some of those
things are done because we want those places to be filled will players
and we want players to use it as a hub and congregate there.
We tailor spaces for what we want from them. There are some spaces by
the dam in Metropolis that is intentionally a quiet place that is more
pastel and pristine from a fictional aspect. It gives you a space as a
player to go, “Oh, this is what it was supposed to look like
before Brainiac invaded and everything went haywire.”
Ton Hammer: Speaking of immersion, any plans for those who really get
into the lore to be able to play on role-playing servers?
Anderson: Again, if we find
that there is enough of a population to support it, then
we’ll definitely support it. We have a few guys in the office
who are into that. While I’m not into it, having those kinds
of players are a great population to have in your game. There are a lot
of people who really want that continuity in the universe and are
willing to follow the rules to do so.
Ton Hammer: One of the problems that comic-themed MMOGs have had in the
past is that, from my perspective, I got too awesome too fast. I got my
flight ability, then my other signature abilities very quickly. So why
am I still playing?
Anderson: Since most MMOGs
are so progression based, it can become a problem. For the action games
that I’ve worked on in the past, you want to hook people
right away. You want them to feel powerful from the beginning.
It’s a really fine line where you have to do a lot of testing
and evaluating. Are we making people feel good enough without giving
everything away? Early on, we knew that we wanted to give you flight.
We don’t want to have you wait until forever to get your
For us, it’s always been about how much is too much. Even as
developers, we started out with a full tray when we started to play. As
we got deeper into the game, we had to start yanking things out and
going progression based, which resulted in people crying,
“The game stinks now!” Do you start with one power?
No power? A combo? There were huge polarizing shifts just within our
population of just the devs in the office. So we tried to strike that
balance. The cool thing about the loot chase is that you feel that
there is more to find. Once you feel that you’ve capped out,
it becomes boring. Half of the game is discovery.
It’s a fundamental thing to all MMOGs, knowing that
there’s always more to do. Once you’re capped out,
be it visually or combat abilities, your interest starts to wane.
Because we want this to be something that you don’t finish,
but goes on and on, we want to make sure that you feel that
there’s always something over the horizon. That something
could be a new area that you’ve never seen before, a story,
or a character you’ve never encountered. There’s
status associated with the higher gear. All of those things are cool.
Ton Hammer: One of the things I like about the “loot
chase” is seeing the motion graphic cutscenes; I just saw the
one from the first part of the Gorilla Grodd story arc a few minutes
ago. Those are really well done.
Anderson: Cool! That was
something that came fairly late in the development cycle. Jim was very
involved and we wanted to do something that told a story.
Someone at New York Comic-Con asked, “I’ve been a
hard-core comic fan all of my life. What do I get out of this
game?” My answer is that you get to help tell these stories
that we only get to tell a little piece of. Those motion comics are
really something. If you haven’t experienced comics,
they’re pretty cool. They’re right in your face. If
you are familiar with comics, it’s in a medium that you
haven’t seen them in before.
Ton Hammer: Have you been thinking of doing a cutscene gallery where a
player can view them after they unlock them in the game?
working on that now. It’s one of those things that we know
that players will want to show their friends after they unlock them.
Our thanks to Mark Anderson and SOE Austin’s style="font-style: italic;">DCUO
team for this interview.
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