A Conversation with DCUO Game Director Chris Cao — The MMO Gamer

A Conversation with DCUO Game Director Chris Cao

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Steve has a seat with Chris Cao to discuss some of the particulars of SOE’s upcoming action-superhero MMO, DC Universe Online, currently scheduled for a November release date.

Topics covered include the decision to make the game cross-platform, working with license-holder DC Comics, and departing from the standard MMO control scheme of “press 1 for fireball.”

Read on for the transcript.

The MMO Gamer: First of all, for those among our readers who may be unfamiliar, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what it is you do at SOE.

Chris Cao: Sure. My name is Chris Cao, and I’m the game director on DC Universe Online. My job is basically like a movie director, I make sure all the parts visually, technologically, and gameplay wise come together, and give you a rocking superhero experience.

I’ve been on the project since middle to late 2005.  So, it’s coming up on five years, but it’s all been worth it.  We have crazy technology that no one else has, that really lets you have physics-based superpowers and action combat right at your fingertips.

The MMO Gamer: So you were there all the way from the conceptual stage of things?

Chris Cao: I was.  Actually, I was there really early on when we first signed up Jim Lee.  Went around pitching it, figuring out what it is, and it’s amazing to see it now five years later.

The MMO Gamer: I’m curious, what kind of conversations went on when you were deciding to make it a cross-platform game?

Chris Cao: It was actually one of the things that attracted me to the project, was the fact that it was going to be on the PlayStation 3.

While there had been some pretty good MMOs on the various consoles, with the online connectivity coming on the PS3, it was a no-brainer that hey, MMOs need to be there.

A lot of console fans might not have known about them, and they still don’t really, so it’s great to be the first one on there and to give people that sort of attachment and understand what’s so cool about an MMO, but then also bring to life all of the action combat that you’d expect from a console action game.

So, a lot of people ask us, “Are you an MMO or are you an action game?”  And the answer I like to give is, “We’re DCUO.”

We just took inspiration from wherever we needed to, to make the best superhero-supervillain experience.  It wasn’t about following conventions,  it was about following that superhero fantasy.

The MMO Gamer: The reason I asked this is because, as you’ve pointed out, there haven’t been a whole lot of MMOs on the console.

Chris Cao: Yeah.

The MMO Gamer: The only one that really springs immediately to mind would be Final Fantasy XI.

Chris Cao: Well there was EverQuest Online Adventures too, but yeah, a couple here and there.

The MMO Gamer: Of course, that starts up that whole debate where the PC players might be wary of it because they think “Oh, you must have had to dumb down the controls and the UI for the console players,” and the console players might be turned off because they think “Oh, it’s also on the PC, it must be too complicated. I can’t figure out anything that’s not right trigger to shoot my machine gun.”

How do you come to a happy medium with that?

Chris Cao: Well, I think the answer is to just make a great superhero game.  And I go back to that because honestly, why do you want to play a DC game set in the DC Universe?

It’s because you want to be a superhero or a supervillain.  You want to have crazy over-the-top powers.  You want to be able to fly, leap, super speed.  You want to be able to do all of that.

And that’s really what it’s about.  Now, you can do it alongside your friends and alongside thousands or millions of other people.  That’s even better.  And so, that’s what I really look to.  For that PC MMO gamer, our two platforms are split.  PC gamers are with PC gamers.  PS3 guys are off on their own.

So, we can best customize the game to those audiences, but we’ve developed it cross-platform the whole time because we want it to be the same superhero experience, right?

At its core, we’re not making an MMO for MMO’s sake.  A good example of that is tradeskills.  Everybody asks, “Hey, do you have the old standbys?”  Well, we do so long as they support the superhero experience.

Batman doesn’t really go out and harvest flowers or mine ore.

The MMO Gamer: He does craft his Bat Grenades.

Chris Cao: Right, exactly.  Now he does go back, and he’ll figure some things out in his Batcave, so you can make some stuff.

But a lot of times… I mean, I was the lead designer of EverQuest 2.  I’m very familiar with MMOs.  And they are fantastic, and they do what they do well.

In fact, we took a lot of inspiration from some of the other comic book MMOs, and what they did well.

But really, do they get you to that punch-the-guy-in-the-face visceral image?  Do they get you to leap off of the building?  No.  So we had to go bigger with it, and that’s really what we’re after.

It’s not so much satisfying the conventions that are out there as inventing our own, so that you feel like a superhero.

The MMO Gamer: Back in 2005 when the project first started, superheroes and MMOs weren’t really that conducive to each other.  I think you had City of Heroes, and that was about it.

 

Chris Cao: Yeah, actually, it just came out the year before.

The MMO Gamer: Now, the field is slightly more crowded.  How do you stand out from the crowd when you’re dealing with City of Heroes, Champions, the Marvel MMO… I’m sure I’d probably missed about five or six others in there.

Chris Cao: Well, in light to your point, there’s even more fantasy MMOs.  It’s a huge genre now.  Everybody likes it.  Everybody wants to get into it.

So, it’s not just differentiating ourselves from superhero MMOs.  It’s what do you get that’s better in DC that you don’t even get in another MMO, or in another action game.

And what it really comes down to is two things:  You get action combat.  No bones about it.  On the PC or the PS3, you have visceral combat.  I know if you had the chance to play you’ll see what I mean.

This isn’t an MMO that sped up or dressed up.  This isn’t just animation.  This is connection with that superpower.

The second thing you get is a persistent world.  Now, to MMO players, they’re like great, I have that already.  But console players don’t.  They have the great action, but they don’t have a place that they can share with their friends, adventures they can go on forever, continuing updates every month, and a persistent world that you can just run across anybody and something serendipitous can happen.

So when I say take the best of both worlds, we’re dealing what no one else has done.  We’re taking all of the scale and scope and size that MMO brings, and that makes you feel real.

And then we’re adding in the instant action that you’d love to get and you do get out of all of your console games.  Those together give us really a unique kind of game.

It’s not a hybrid.  It’s just the ultimate superhero experience, because you’re really in the streets and you’ve got them.

You’re not playing Batman this time.  You are there with thousands of other players, working for and against him.  That’s never been done.

Continued on next page…

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