At the Las Vegas SOE Fan Faire 2010, members of the DCUO dev team answered questions about appropriate levels of villainy and stealing Lex Luthor’s cakes.

At the Las Vegas SOE Fan Faire 2010, three members of the DC Universe Online development team – Director of Development Lorin Jameson, Lead Systems Designer Thomas Blair, and Content Designer Mark Norris – sat down in front of eager fans to answer their questions about the upcoming superhero MMOG.

The plot of the game is immediately evident from the rather awesome trailer: Brainiac invades a world where most of the heroes and villains have killed each other off, having drained most of them of their powers by little machines called “exobytes.” Lex Luthor, not enjoying living in a post-Brainiac world, travels back in time and releases the exobytes onto the earth to create more heroes (and villains) to keep the world un-invaded so he can keep on keeping on with his villain gig.

The core of DCUO is fast, physics-friendly, superpower-based action gameplay that’s designed to immerse the player and make them feel like they’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Superman in the DC Universe. It’s a “hybrid [MMOG],” explained the developers. You have your superpower abilities – with six of them in the game at launch (fire, ice, mental, nature, gadgetry and sorcery) – but you need to engage in melee combat to generate resources to activate your powers. Because you need to use melee combos to activate your superpowers, the designers want to encourage healing-type heroes to get up in a boss’ face rather than staying in the back and spamming heals.

The environments in the game will be largely interactive, said the SOE team, using an example from EverQuest II – when you enter Freeport, there is always a cart near the entrance to the city. In DCUO, the cart equivalent might not be there all the time, because someone might have picked it up and hurled it across Metropolis with their super-strength.

There are three planned movement powers in the game – flight (like Superman), acrobatics (think Batman), and pure speed (the Flash) – each of which will have their own skill tree. An acrobatics hero might start off with a grappling hook gun, but they’d eventually unlock a glide jump, and then a rocket-powered glide, on their way to the game’s level cap of 30. There will also be “races” in the game to test these movement powers, though the designers teased that friends would be able to interfere with races by, say, throwing buses at people (and the game would screw with players by spawning loot shinies randomly in the streets).

Much like the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, DCUO is a story-focused game, with six potential stories depending on your character’s origin and moral alignment. There are three superpower origins – technology, metahuman, and magic – and both the heroes and villains have an “iconic” DC character who mentors the player character on their way to superstardom or infamy (Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman and Joker/Lex Luthor/Circe, respectively).

In the story line, there will be solo boss fights with other iconic characters (I saw Harley Quinn in my hands-on), and the stories will lead up to crowning moments of heroism and villainy for the player character. Heroes will fight side-by-side with Wonder Woman and save Batman’s life, while a villain might betray the Joker and try to take his place. Every “episode” end will be concluded by a short motion comic drawn by Jim Lee himself.

The trick for the villains is to make them feel like villains – so instead of beating up other thugs like in City of Villains, you’ll be screwing with civilians. One task has would-be-evildoers helping Brother Blood to resurrect Trigon by turning innocent people at a magic show into horrible demons, and you can be sure that those on the Joker path will be delivering doses of his laughing gas soon enough.

Naturally, there will be loot – though given the superhero nature of the game and its presence on the PS3 as well as the PC, it’s not the standard MMOG system. Every time you get an item that changes the appearance of your character (in my case, Harley’s jester helm), you have the option of keeping your character’s current look or displaying the item, though it’ll change colors to match your chosen color scheme. The cool thing is, even after you throw away or change a piece of equipment, the game remembers everything you’ve ever had, and you can go back and change it whenever you want.

Naturally, there will be hero vs. villain PvP, and you have the option of either playing as your character, or – in what will surely be much more popular – playing as one of the game’s “iconics” like Batman or Lex Luthor.

There will be achievements called “Feats” in the game, and from the sound of it they’re having a bit more fun with them than otherwise – for instance, there is a feat to defeat Solomon Grundy without wearing any pants. Other feats are references and in-jokes to existing DC storylines: While playing as Bane in the iconic PvP, you get a feat for taking a Batman player and breaking his back over your knee. On the lighter side of things, the developers would really love to include a feat for stealing 40 cakes from Lex Luthor, but it isn’t yet in the game.

DC Universe Online is scheduled for release this November. Check out our hands-on of the game!

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