Sock! Pow! Bam! DC Universe Online – An Interview with Senior Producer Wes Yanagi

Posted Wed, Jun 30, 2010 by jeffprime

Since our first glimpses at 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 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!

Ten Ton Hammer: Ever since E3, we’ve been practically salivating over DC Universe Online 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 DCUO and what can they expect when they play the game?

Wes Yanagi: At its highest level, DC 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.

TTH: 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?

Wes 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.

TTH: 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!”

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Wes Yanagi: It’s 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.

TTH: 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.

Wes Yanagi: That’s how it’s all going to fit in together.

TTH: DC Universe Online 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?

Wes 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.

TTH: 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?

Wes 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.

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TTH: How did you come up with that decision originally? Instead of combining them, why not separate them?

Wes 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.

TTH: 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?

Wes 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.

TTH: Alright. Does developing a game for both platforms affect the overall design and development process?

Wes Yanagi: Mainly, 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.

TTH: 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?

Wes 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.

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TTH: Did you use your own proprietary engine for that or did you have something that you could go off and help build that up?

Wes 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.

TTH: 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?

Wes 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 console.


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