Sock! Pow! Bam! DC Universe Online An Interview with Senior Producer Wes Yanagi
our first glimpses at style="font-style: italic;">DC Universe Online,
Ten Ton Hammer has been panting like the fanboys we are to get some
details on this upcoming MMOG. Fortunately, Doctor Fate owed us some
favors and, therefore, he summoned Wes Yanagi, senior producer for style="font-style: italic;">DC Universe Online
to the Tower of Fate to answer our questions. Forcing Wes Yanagi to
choose between answering our questions or being locked in an enclosed
room with Ambush Bug, Wes Yanagi chose to answer our questions!
Ton Hammer: Ever since E3, we’ve been practically salivating
over style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DC
Universe Online style="font-weight: bold;"> and we have a lot of
questions to ask. For those people who have been under a rock or living
on a distant planet, what can you tell us about style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DCUO style="font-weight: bold;"> and what can they expect
when they play the game?
Yanagi: At its highest level,
Universe Online is a
massively multiplayer action game. The fantasy that we’re
trying to fulfill is you being able to create a superhero or
supervillain and build your own legacy in the DC universe.
How would players go about doing that? What sort of role do they play?
Are they sidekicks or are they their own superhero? Do they help out
the famous superheroes? What kind of cool things can they expect?
Yanagi: What we really want
to do is that hero’s journey, from zero to hero. Initially,
you’ll create your own superhero/supervillain.
You’ll choose what kind of powers you have, such as fire or
ice powers, and combine that with a power source like a rifle or dual
pistols. On top of that, you’ll add a super movement power
like super speed, flight, or acrobatics. From all of that,
you’ll be able to create practically any hero you have in
your mind’s eye and take them into the world and interact
with those iconic characters such as Superman, Batman, the Joker, Lex
Luthor, and many more.
When you say you start from zero to hero, does your character have any
sort of back story that you can give them or do you start out as Joe
Blow on the street who decides one day, “You know what? I
think I can do this!”
actually part of the game. That’s what we’re
initially launching with. We’re working really closely with a
bunch of DC writers like Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman, and alongside
Jim Lee, who’s overseeing a lot of the art direction. In
fact, he’s the Executive Creative Director for the game. One
of the biggest challenges is explaining why all these superpowered
beings are suddenly appearing on the Earth, and that’s what
the initial story is all about.
That’s a very good plot point because that’s
something that we would have overlooked to ask: why are so many
superheroes all of a sudden. The fact that you’re going out
of your way to write a story about that is great.
Yanagi: That’s how
it’s all going to fit in together.
style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DC
Universe Online style="font-weight: bold;"> was confirmed to use a
subscription based model over this new free-to-play one that everyone
is getting hammered with. Why did you choose to go in that direction as
opposed to free-to-play?
Yanagi: At the end of the
day, we felt that this was the best decision to provide users with the
best experience. This is a game that is going to constantly grow and
change with monthly updates. We’re going to be adding new
missions, new adventures to uncover, new areas to explore, new rewards,
and new storylines so it’ll be constantly growing. In
addition to that, we want to provide really strong support to the live
community. We want to make sure that we ensure fairness, security, and
overall integrity of the game.
What I think is great is that the PS3 and the PC versions of the game
are being separated. A PS3 player will only be playing with PS3 people,
and a PC person will only be playing with PC people. Does this mean
that there’ll be a large difference in the actual games in
the way they’re played?
Yanagi: Independent of the
platform, we really wanted to deliver on the superhero fantasy and we
wanted to get that experience from launch in, and so all our decisions
and everything we decided upon, such as how the input works and how the
controls work, were bases upon these goals. At launch, they will be the
same game. That being said, we understand that there’s
differences between the two player bases in terms of how they
communicate and socialize, so moving forward, we’ll evaluate
the needs of each group and adjust accordingly.
How did you come up with that decision originally? Instead of combining
them, why not separate them?
Yanagi: Well, what I think it
really comes down to is the IP. What do you imagine yourself doing as a
superhero, and that’s driven the type of gameplay that
we’ve developed. It’s an action game.
It’s not like a typical MMOG that most people are used to
with kind-of turn based combat. It’s very visceral. We have a
lot of physics in the game, and you move around in the environment and
position yourself as well as launch your attacks and feel really
connected to the character. All of that has kind of wrapped into the
type of game that we’re building and that is kind of
independent of the platform.
So what you’re saying is that the actual process for
developing the game for both platforms is based upon the player base
you believe plays that particular platform? Like a PC player is
different from a PS3 player?
Yanagi: No, no, no.
Basically, we want to play an action game play experience that you can
play with lots of people. All of our decisions were based on that, and
that is separate from the platform.
Alright. Does developing a game for both platforms affect the overall
design and development process?
it’s affected through the input and the UI. Most PC players
play keyboard and mouse, and virtually all console players play with
controllers on the PS3. So, we had to spend a lot of time making sure
that they work well together. That you could support moving around the
world and firing off your powers. Instead of using hotkeys, we could
have all those controls available on your controller, even with little
things with the UI, such as how you enter text in the game, how you
communicate, or even how you navigate through menus.
Is it safe to say that that’s been the biggest challenge so
far to the game or has there been a bigger challenge in creating a game
in the DC universe?
Yanagi: I think that
that’s been kind of a layer on top of everything else. The
core of what we’ve spent years developing is the action
combat, making sure that it feels visceral and that it works really
well in a latency filled environment. A lot of what you saw at E3 was
running off our live servers in San Diego and it didn’t feel
like it was running in a latency filled environment there. The other
part of it is that we have a full physics simulation. One of the rooms
that we showed in the Joker’s Funhouse, we had thirty to
forty balls bouncing around the room and those were replicating over
the server to the client, so if you were in the room with somebody
else, you would both see the exact same thing being modeled. Bringing
that kind of action experience to this online experience is something
that we’ve spent a lot of time and is probably the biggest
challenge in making sure that it feels right.
Did you use your own proprietary engine for that or did you have
something that you could go off and help build that up?
Yanagi: Well, we’re
using havoc for the physics and we built our own server on the back end
and we’re using Unreal on the client side.
This game is being pitched as an action-packed experience where players
are going to love beating the crap out of all sorts of things. How fast
paced is the game? Is it faster? Slower with more thought processed
combat? Is it a quick beat the crap out of somebody fast and then move
on type of game?
Yanagi: It plays like a third
person action game. We do have tactics in the game; a lot of it is
using the environment positioning something between you and your enemy
giving you something to hide behind or if they shoot at you, the
projectile will hit the object and not you. Or if you’re an
acrobat, climbing up the side of a wall and you can fire down on an
enemy that might not be able to get up to you. It’s all of
that, plus the visceral combat like, “If I push a button
once, I punch once. If I push a button twice, I start going into a
combo.” It feels like an action game you would expect on a
You’re talking about a lot of abilities, which is great.
What sort of system is in place to prevent something like me creating a
character named $uperman with all of Superman’s abilities? Or
can players do that? Is it encouraged?
Yanagi: Obviously, we
don’t want a million Batmans running around everywhere. What
we do want to do is to let you create a character that is inspired by
Batman or some other superhero/supervillain that you have in your
mind’s eye. The way you go about that is you pick your super
power, which I mentioned earlier such as fire, ice, mental, or gadgets.
Then you pick your weapon like a rifle, dual pistols, unarmed, maybe a
staff, and then your movement mode. So if you wanted to create somebody
like Batman, you’d pick gadgets as your power;
you’d be unarmed because he’s kind of a brawler,
and then he’d be an acrobat. If you wanted to do
somebody more like Green Arrow, then you’d pick gadgets
because he has all of those trick arrows, and you would use a bow as
your power source, and then he would also be an acrobat. For somebody
like Mister Freeze, you would be ice powered and his power source would
be a rifle.
From what I’m hearing, basically, whatever your base power
is, say nature, is it possible to have a weapon that shoots naturey
stuff at people? Is that what we’re getting at?
Yanagi: Yes. Nature has
powers that would have healing or being able to shape-shift into
Ok. So you could…FORM OF EAGLE…and then fly away.
I like that.
You mentioned all these powers, and what if, at some point down the
road, I realized that I made poor choices. Is it possible to change
powers later on?
Yanagi: Yes. There are going
to be some mechanisms that you can do that with. We’re going
to have your standard style level progression with talent trees and
stuff like that which you can reset to reconfigure your character.
There’s also going to be a core set of elements that you
can’t change, like your faction (hero or villain) or your
base power or origin. The reason is that those mainly cover your story
experience or that they’re really the key foundational
aspects to your character. For example, powers are probably our closest
analogy to a player class and to change that would be effectively
changing classes. So, you would want to start up a new character.
So, if you’re from a distant planet and your power is nature,
there’s no way that is never going to change. But, if you
wanted to change from dual wielding to brawling, that’s
Yanagi: Yeah. Also, in
relation to the nature thing, we have different sub-specialties in
nature that you could reconfigure. So, if you really didn’t
care about shape-shifting into different forms and you wanted to focus
more on the healing aspects of the power, you could change your
That makes sense. The game is separated into episodes. What does that
Yanagi: When you think of the
DC universe, you think of all the stories and all the things that go on
in the world, and we want you to feel like you’re a part of
that. So, as you’re progressing through the world,
what’s driving you are these little vignettes or storylines
that are weaving their way throughout the game. They might take place
in Gotham with a storyline about the Joker or Mister Freeze, or it
might take place in Metropolis with a storyline with Zantanna or
Gorilla Grodd. Basically, as you’re going through,
you’ll get these missions, progress through, and develop your
relationships with the iconics in those areas as you progress through
your hero’s journey within the game.
How does one gain these episodes? How do they become available? Do you
have to do one to unlock another or is it from an item or ability or
level gain? How do you get the new episodes?
Yanagi: For the most part,
you’ll get them automatically as you progress through the
game. There’s going to be some along the way that
you’ll unlock, but those are going to be more like side
So, are the episodes different if you’re a villain as opposed
to you being a superhero?
Yanagi: Yes, absolutely. To
various degrees, they will be completely different experienced and will
be like the opposite sides of the same coin to that mission.
If you play a villain, then the heroes of this world will be your
enemies. They’ll be the guys you’re fighting in the
game. How does that sort of thing work? If I make a hero, and you said
that I can get in good with other heroes, is that factions where I can
gain reputation or something like that with them or is it something
going to be various lines of heroes. We have the major iconic lines in
each of the sides. Everybody knows Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman
while on the villain side, there’s Lex and the Joker. So as
you’re going through these lines, you’ll be
building relationships with those iconics and progressing through the
story that way.
So if you’re a villain, you can do it the exact opposite? You
can be buddy-buddy with the Joker? I don’t know what level of
buddy-buddy you can get with the Joker, but is that possible as well?
How is the gameplay different from any other MMOG out there? What can a
player expect from this fast paced action paced, episodic game? What
else is there that sets this game apart from the others?
Yanagi: Like I
mentioned earlier, it’s the fast paced combat, that console
based combat model, that, to my knowledge, I’ve never seen in
another MMOG before. Some of the games that we’ve used as an
inspiration are style="font-style: italic;">Hulk: Ultimate
Destruction, Infamous, Prototype,
and those types of games. We thought it would be awesome to have that
kind of experience, but with lots of people online.
With the combat being action based and with heroes and villains with an
almost infinite amount of abilities, movement styles, and weapons, how
do you design an episode so that it’ll be challenging for all
the different kinds of players?
Yanagi: Lots of gameplay. We
have a philosophy around the studio here where it’s proof
through play. A lot of times, we’ll put together a power set
or movement type or something like that, and then we’ll put
it in front of the team and the company and start playing it.
We’ve been showing the game to the public for a couple of
years now and collecting lots of feedback. We spend a lot of time doing
that: getting feedback and using that to balance the game and then
putting it right back in front of people again.
Along those lines, we’ve talked to a lot of developers
in the past and there always seem to be the challenge that whenever you
design something new or add something new to your game, players are
going to find a way to use it to their most advantage. My question is
if you introduce a new power, for instance during the development
process, and you find that it’s a little too bit
overpowering. Say it doesn’t work too well in a certain
episode or it makes a group too powerful, are you more inclined to
adapt the power or the ability itself or are you more inclined to tweak
the episode that’s causing the problem?
Yanagi: I think it depends
upon where it is and what kind of
problem it is. I know that for us, it’s been balancing the
power in an episode versus PvP play. It’s great to go into a
combo and juggle an enemy and then hit them in the air, go up into the
air with them, punch them a few times, and slam them into the ground,
but it’s not too much fun if you’re a real player
on the receiving end of that. So we’ve been kind of tweaking
the different powers, adjusting counters to them, and how you break out
of them. It’s really a case by case basis.
Let’s talk solo versus grouping.
Yanagi: We actually have
three core elements or tracks for the game
player. The first is playing by yourself, the second is playing with
others, and the third is playing against others. The solo gameplay
experience is following the storyline, the hero’s journey of
starting out, learning your powers, proving yourself, and ultimately
getting invited into the Watchtower or the Hall of Doom and possibly,
at the higher levels, getting a suit of raid armor given to you by
Batman. That’s one part of the journey. There’s
part that is the group play, and that’s similar to
our typical “dungeon” experience. And finally, the
PvP experience, which we showed at E3 this year.
Is there different sort of abilities for group play rather than solo
play? How does group play work? Are we looking at our standard holy
trinity of tank, healer, DPS, or are we looking at something different?
similar to that in that we have a set of powers and abilities that
you’ll unlock and learn over time, and the analogy that we
use is that you have a golf bag full of abilities that you can use, but
you can only take so many clubs with you. It’s the same thing
with powers. You’ll load out a certain set of powers, and if
you’re in a solo kind of area, then you’ll probably
want to take a certain set of powers with you. If you’re with
a group or going into an instance with a group, you’ll want
to take a different set of powers, and if you’re playing PvP,
you’ll probably want a different set of powers.
How much of the game is solo based and how much is group play?
Yanagi: It’s pretty
balanced. We do have the solo lines culminate in what we call our alert
instances, where you queue up and get put into a group instance similar
to a public quest. You can be playing solo at home, jump into a queue,
go into an alert instance, play with a bunch of folks through that
instance, and then go back to your open world stuff.
What if I don’t like a particular style of gameplay? What if
I don’t get into PvP, for instance? Will I be missing out a
lot of the game if I only do solo or group play or any mix of the two?
Yanagi: Absolutely not. We
really want to have something for everybody. If you’re just
into the PVE, perhaps part of a guild or a group of people you play
with every night going through these epic missions, then we definitely
have a lot of content for that. If you’re the type of player
who loves that thrill of playing against another human being,
we’ll have a bunch of missions for that too.
Speaking of epic missions, can you explain to us how one of those would
work? How does, I don’t know if the word
“raid” applies here, but how would something like
that work within style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DC
Universe Online style="font-weight: bold;">?
Yanagi: Without revealing too
much, there are a lot of cool areas in the universe that are awesome.
Just imagine breaking into Arkham Asylum to break out Mister Freeze or
Poison Ivy. You could have a huge, huge set of adventures along those
lines. Or something like Star Labs or Stryker’s Island or
other well known areas in the DC universe.
If this is episodic, can you go back to those things? Episodes
don’t section off parts of the game, they’re more
of storytelling devices, right?
So, anytime you can go back and, for example, whoop up on the Arkham
Asylum security guards again just for fun if you wanted to?
Yanagi: Yeah. If you went
back there and depending upon which side you were, if you were on the
villain side, there might be some JLA guys helping them out.
Is there any point and time in the game where grouping is forced or can
you pretty much solo the entire thing?
Yanagi: You’ll be
able to solo the entire game. Like I said, there are lots of
opportunities that it’ll be easy for you to get into a pick
up group, but you’re not required to do so.
What is your absolute favorite part of the game right now from what
you’ve seen and played?
Yanagi: For me,
it’s really the PvP. I just love playing against other people
and it’s really exciting just being able to use my powers. We
have a gadget power set where you can actually encase someone in a
force field, pick them up, and beat his buddy over the head them and
then throw them off the top of a building or something. It just has
that fast paced, adrenaline rush action that I love.
How do you defend against something like that? If someone has powers to
control you, how would you, as the other player, defend yourself
against that ability?
Yanagi: We have different
mechanisms for that for contesting abilities like that, so you can
actually break out of that encasement through a mechanism in the UI.
Are there any items that can negate powers, say something like
Yanagi: You know,
that’s a great idea. Right now, no.
Everybody at Ten Ton Hammer wants to play this game badly. When is the
beta and how do we get into it?
Yanagi: We haven’t
announced it yet, but we should be announcing it very shortly, possibly
at an upcoming event in the near future.
Hmmm…I wonder what is happening at the beginning of August?
Yanagi: I was thinking more
of the end of July.
Is there anything else you want to share with us about style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">DC
Universe Online style="font-weight: bold;">?
Yanagi: I guess I should
elaborate a little bit more. We have a big event coming up at the end
of July in San Diego Comic-Con and we have a lot of cool reveals for
it, so keep your eyes peeled for it and look out for the news.
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