Green Lantern, a Moon Mission, and More! An Interview with DC Universe Online's Jim Lee and Chris Cao

Posted Mon, Oct 18, 2010 by Ethec

Ten Ton Hammer recently met with legendary comic book  artist, writer, publisher, and DC Universe Executive Creative Director Jim Lee and Game Director Chris Cao for answers to a wide variety of DCUO questions, from the size, scope, and origin of the DC Universe in DCUO, to the potential for a Green Lantern expansion, to whether DCUO owes more to console action games or traditional MMORPGs, and much, much more!

The Beginning of the Universe

To kick things off, Jim Lee offered a rare glimpse into the very early stages of the DC Universe Online project. His insights confirm what most MMORPG fans already know - SOE doesn't shy away from big projects or big licenses: "There's a longer story that predates SOE's involvement with the game. I was involved even then, but once SOE was involved (they were producing my favorite game, EverQuest) it completely changed the dynamic and scope of the project. Pitches from other companies involved a much smaller slice of the DC Universe. SOE presented a much larger slice, a grander vision of what a superhero MMO could be."

DCUO's Jim Lee (left) and Chris Cao highlight the game's all-star cast of creative and executive talent.

Mr. Lee, now Executive Creative Director of the project (one of the many hats he wears) had a lot to learn about MMO game development.  "I remember flying down to SOE in Austin. I spent a week there, it was a crash course in learning about video games and pipelines and infrastructure, learning about the behind-the-scenes terminology of MMOs - just seeing how much of a logistical challenge it is, building a video game of this size and complexity versus creating a comic book, which the three of us could do and be done in a month. It's a whole different kind of experience and mentality and energy."

"It was very important for me to learn all of that, because it impacts what you can do on the creative side. To give you a bad example, you don't see a lot of shoulderpads in the game that are huge, because if you move them in space, they'll actually puncture the character's head or make it very difficult to do run animations, that kind of thing. Whereas, in comics, you'd never worry about that at all. There's a three-dimensional virtual reality that cannot be fudged in a game like this."

With Jim Lee's resume and title, no doubt he gets exactly what he wants in DCUO, right? Well, not exactly. Asked about the off-the-wall, silly characters players would create, Mr. Lee admitted this sort of thing probably wouldn't happen if his name was on the front of the box rather than the back. "I'm more old school than that, I like characters that look tough and act tough. I know people like playing zany characters, but if it was just an MMO of my taste, a lot of that stuff wouldn't be in there. But I fully appreciate the fact that people want to unleash their inner spirit and play what they want."

Mentors, the Heromaker

Turning to more in-depth questions about the game, we were joined by Game Director Chris Cao. Naturally we began at the beginning of a player's experience in DCUO, and one of the first and most important decisions a player makes in DC Universe Online is his or her choice of mentor. Storywise, the choice of mentor determines the origin of a player's powers. "We have characters split into tech, meta, and magic. Guys who depend on themselves and gadgets are tech-based, guys with inherent powers, like Superman, are meta-based, and those who use magic are... magic (I know it's kind of surprising)." Chris explained, laughing.

But mentors go far beyond your character's origin story or which iconic character you'll be chatting up for the first 30 levels. Mentor choice is also important in terms of where you begin your game experience. If you choose Batman or Joker, you'll start in the East End or Burnley Heights sections of Gotham - "classic Gotham," as Chris noted - and face off against enemies like Scarecrow. If, on the other hand, you choose Superman or Lex Luthor, you'll find yourself in Metropolis's Little Bohemia. If you roll magic with Circe or Wonder Woman, then you'll end up in Metropolis's Chinatown district.

Wonder Woman is one of six mentors players can choose.

Finally, mentors ultimately determine some of the higher-end loot you'll receive. "If you want the batsuit, you need to have Batman as your mentor, because he's not going to hand it out to anyone. If you want the Strength of Hera, Wonder Woman's suit, you need to be working for her," Chris explained, taking care to explain that a less revealing male version of the costume is available.

If you're disappointed that your favorite DC character didn't make the mentor cut, you might find many of the more popular characters as "inspired-bys" - superstar templates that you can mold your character after, should you not wish to get into the nitty gritty of character creation. About a dozen of these templates are in-game at present, but several expected inspired-bys won't be available at launch. "We had more [inspired-bys], like the Flash, but since we don't have electricity or something that really sets him apart, we decided to pull him out. We still have super speed in the game, you can still do that, but we couldn't fully realize an inspired-by Flash, so we decided to reserve that for when we add more of that kind of stuff in.”

The lack of electicity is also why Captain Marvel won't be inspiring new superheroes at launch, but Chris noted that the iconic power pool ability Power Word functions much like Captain Marvel's Shazam, with a lightning bolt descending to destroy groups of enemies.


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