DC Universe Online Q&A with Jens Andersen
The Older Gamers are proud to present a new Question and Answer session. This time around, Jens Andersen, Creative Director for DCUO, SOE-Austin was nice enough to answer a few questions for us about DC Universe Online.
While it is still early in the development cycle of this game, we at The Older Gamers are certainly showing an interest already and this Q&A should wet our appetites even more. Being developed at the Sony Online Entertainment Austin studio (also home of Star Wars Galaxies), for both the PC and PlayStation 3, DCUO will bring us a fast paced action style of game play mixed with some more traditional MMORPG aspects of game play.
Read on to see what Jens Anderson had to say about guilds, game economy, customization and more.
TOG: How are powers earned and their effectiveness increased? Is there a skill point and tree system?
Jens: We’re working out the finer details of our progression model right now. The first thing we keep in mind is the vision for the game. What reinforces the fantasy for super powered abilities and how can we harness that into our character progression. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel entirely. Players will gain power as they level and leveling occurs as players complete the game content. But we wrap this and tweak them in metaphors that make sense for these characters. In the DCU heroes, as well as villains, train, they discover new powers and they practice with the ones they already know to become more experienced.
TOG: During the DCUO panel at Comic Con, powers were briefly mentioned. Are you able to talk about/list any others at this time? Are there power rings ala the Green Lantern that allow for some sort of constructs or power in general? How about telekinesis?
Jens: We will have a wide variety of powers to choose from. We’re not releasing our full list yet because we are all about showing not telling. When we have new powers that are playable in the game they will be featured to the public. With a game like ours that has so many over the top physics mechanics tied to these powers writing about them pales next to seeing them. But you mention Green Lantern, one of the powers we have shown is the light power line and you do in fact make really cool light constructs that become physics objects in the world. My favorite combo right now is trapping someone in a globe of headlight and creating a giant Light Turbine to blow them down the street. It’s awesome. Hehe. And as for TK…oh just you wait and see what we have planned.
TOG: How open is the world? Can we run/fly/drive from Gotham to Metropolis? Or if not, are there still large areas outside of the cities that can be explored? Such as in EverQuest II where you can zone out of Freeport to the Common Lands and then run to the zoning gate of Nektulos Forest. Or, is it more like SWG where most planets in game are one contiguous land mass?
Jens: We have the main cities, Gotham and Metropolis, which are contiguous play spaces. There is no zoning from Midtown to the Tomorrow District, it’s all seamless. When going from one city to the next you do zone back and forth, so they are not connected by some super-powered highway system. As for outlying areas, yes, we do have several that are themed around key locations seen in the DCU. We call them Adventure Zones and they will be public spaces for heroes and villains to have some fun in some great points of interest from the DCU. Some of these are attached to Gotham and Metropolis and others take you to exotic spots around the globe.
TOG: Will there be non earth/parallel earth based areas that we can explore? Also, is there any plans to include quests that have a player go forward or back in time to experience portions of the DCU history that are not part of the main games timeline?
Jens: That’s getting a bit to specific for me to answer right now. I can say that the DCU is huge, so huge that we can’t build all of it up front. We’re focusing on our story that Geoff Johns is writing. It is a terrific plot that allows players to become part of this rich and exciting universe. From there, hey the sky’s the limit for our expansions.
TOG: Will there be any kind of “visibility” meter/penalty? Such as, the higher you get in “level”, will you be more prone to attack from random villains (if your playing a hero) around the city? Or, can your “cover” be blown if your not hidden from view when switching from your secret identity to your heroic self?
Jens: I’ll go back to my previous answer and mention our goals for fulfilling the fantasy. We’ve designed a system that allows villains to feel villainous and heroes to feel heroic without having it be an all out slug fest 24 hours a day seven days a week. It’s all about provocation. I always give the example of Bizarro flying through metropolis. Superman is not likely to just outright smash him to pieces. He would wait until Bizarro actually did something wrong. We transfer this to how we expect players to behave and set up mechanics to support it.
TOG: Can a villain randomly attack any NPC civilian that is walking down a city street? Can a hero stop a NPC who is robbing a little old lady of her bingo money? If yes, are both of these doable on the fly, or is all such combat specifically started via a quest system?
Jens: No and Yes. Our base population is driven by our content scheduler. This scheduler spins up encounters that could be anywhere from a bank Heist to a super-powered baddie trashing downtown. These could include civilians as objectives but they are part of the encounter. The civilians that are normally walking around the city are a backdrop. They react to the players and contribute to not only the flavor of the city but the provocation system I spoke of earlier as well.
TOG: Will there be quests/live events that present situations that will make it possible for heroes and villains to team up?
Jens: Yes. If Starro is going to take over the world and enslave humanity, that’s just not good for anybody.
TOG: Will all iconic hero/villain interaction be quest based or can we run into Lobo or MR. MXYZPTLK somewhere in the world and engage in battle of some sort?
Jens: Yes there are open world encounters of the iconics. But I would caution against just running in and trying to take down either of those two, hehe. The galaxy’s nastiest bounty hunter and a fourth dimensional being will be probably give you a good thrashing, so get your league together.
TOG: Aside from being able to pick up a car, bus or other player with the physics engine, are we also able to do damage to the surrounding environment during combat (or other wise)? Such as smash store front windows, breaking the brick wall down to that same store front and so on?
Jens: We’re not going to that level of destruction, first, our combat is fast paced and people will be moving through encounters to different parts of the city. It is important to us that the stage doesn’t get demolished every time we spin something up. If we went that route in a Massively Multiplayer game there wouldn’t be a structure standing on the map. Metropolis would be a smoking pile of rubble. We do what we need to sell the power fantasy. Craters appear on the ground or the wall cracks and shatters, physics objects deform, but the environment itself remains roughly intact. As designers we may do some special tweaks to destruction in the environment as part of the encounter or world event, but players will not be bringing down the Daily Planet.
TOG: While we know that there will be player run guilds, will players also be able to belong to any form of an NPC legion? Such as the Green Lantern Corps or the Sinestro Corps.
Jens: You will have a lot of interaction with groups like the Justice League or the Society. Joining them is certainly something to expect…if you can earn it.
TOG: Can bases of operation be subject to attack (either PC or NPC)? Or will these be instanced “safe zones”?
Jens: Once we have a resource in the game we will use it as creatively as possible. The Watchtower is an HQ that functions as a main hub for the Hero PCs, this is something we will use in events for sure, whether it is the public version or an instance will be determined by the needs of the story. Nothing is ruled out on that front at this time.
TOG: Will players be able to use iconic symbols with their own characters costume? Such as a bat or an “S” on their chest?
Jens: We are going to be very, very careful about infringing on existing characters from any IP. So put your creative hats on and think of something original folks.
TOG: Will travel only be done with super powers such as flying and running as well as with grappling hooks/zip lines or will we also see automotive type of transportation?
Jens: The player is the vehicle. We have to make sure that all movement modes keep the group together in all types of environments. So right now the car is staying in the garage and folks will need to rely on their ability to fly, super-speed, leap or perform some of the other super-fun movement modes we have in store.
TOG: Will there be an economy, along with a trade/auction system?
Jens: Yes we will have an economy for both heroes and villains. That’s all we’re saying at this time about it.
TOG: During the GameSpy Comic-Con 2008 interview with Jim Lee, Jim made it sound as if once we make a costume selection, then we will have that costume for the life of the character. While, upgrades and some alterations are to be had in game via loot drops and the like, will we ever have the chance to change out our costume or at least re-color it so that it may still look the same and identify us, but yet feel different because of a color change?
Jens: Our character customization and itemization system is something we will delve into at a later time. As I have said a few times already, we are about showing not telling. However, with that in mind I can say that we are going for a system that allows characters to retain their identity but also allows them to grow and evolve over time. Your initial look is something you can choose to retain or update as you find items in the game. By integrating items into your costume it can change. These items become part of a collection so that as you get more and more stuff you can maintain a desired look or change it as you customize each item you integrate into your suit. We’re trying to capitalize on the fact that Batman always looks like batman even though he changes his items.
We would like to thank Jens Andersen for taking time out of what is undoubtedly a very busy schedule to answer our questions.
To learn more about DC Universe Online, please visit the following links.