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

A Conversation with DCUO Game Director Chris Cao


The MMO Gamer: On the subject of your combat system, I did get to play it, and it is quite different from most of the other MMOs in the market.

I talk to a lot of other developers doing this job, most of whom have the fairly standard MMO set up,  you know, the hotbar… tab target, press one for fireball, etc.

And if I ask them why no one ever seems to innovate on that, their answer is generally that players do not want innovation.  They want comfort.  They want press one for fireball.  The hotbar has been around for 25 years. Why reinvent the wheel?

Is there any concern on your part that they’re right? That action-based combat might turn MMO players off?

Chris Cao: Well, I think any time you have a convention around that’s established you’re going to get people who do it very, very well.  And there are games that do it very well.

But I go back to a quote of Henry Ford who said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, it would have been a faster horse.”  What he did was invent a better way to do what they needed to have done.

And really, DC Universe isn’t innovation for innovation’s sake.  The physics is there, the action is there, the license is there to make you feel like a superhero in a recognizable universe with characters that matter. That’s really all it comes down to.

All the rest of it…  I love MMOs.  I’m a huge MMO player.  I work in the industry.  It’s where I came from.  And I think they’re great and people should keep making PC-only MMOs.

But if you want to play with a lot of other people, if you want it to get broad mainstream, more and more people playing them, you’ve got to go to the console, and you’ve got to start to bringing stuff that they just don’t have.

So it’s not that we’re better or worse.  It’s that we are a superhero experience like no other.

If you like the turn-based stuff, then that what does it for you, cool.  I do too.  Just depending on my mood.

But it doesn’t suck to sit on your couch, throw cars at people, gain levels, gain gear, and still get to raid.  That is the experience that we deliver.

The MMO Gamer: Working with a license like the DC Universe, and coming from EverQuest, which was obviously an original license by Sony where you had a freer hand, let’s say…

Chris Cao: Definitely.

The MMO Gamer: Have you ever run into instances where you wanted to do something, but you went to the license holders, and they said, “No.  That’s not DC.  Forget it.”

Chris Cao: Well, it’s interesting because every licenser that I work with, you go through a period of a relationship where you have to build up trust.

Because, especially in an MMO, it’s not just a contained thing you’re building.  You can’t define it, put it on a piece of paper, and go hey, here’s the game, that’s what it’s going to be, and they can go check, approve.

You’re basically setting up a relationship that’s going to continue for years, where you have to solve all kinds of new problems, because MMOs bring all sorts of new opportunities.

So really, we’re lucky that at the ground floor, Jim Lee came in, and he started off with us.

Jim is actually a hardcore MMO player.  He was the first Paladin on his server to get his epic.  Jim knows MMOs in and out, and he knew what we were after, and he’s one of the creative forces at DC.

So he understood when I said raid, when I said loot, he knew what it meant and he helped translate it.

A great example is the raid armor that we have in the game now.  We have these super suits, right?  The Spectre Batsuit, the House of El Warsuit.

These are suits where you to wear the iconic logo on your chest.  These are the end game ultimates.

And at the beginning, they were very cautious about this.  They were like, “Whoa, we don’t want players to confuse it with the iconic characters.”

Over time, building the game, having them playing it, DC understood better where we were coming from.  They educated us on the value of their license and how to maintain its integrity, and we work with them to expand it because we realized there’s never been the DC Universe Online before.

So all of the things that we get to do, we get to do because we work so closely with them.  In fact, just a couple weeks ago, Geoff Johns and I were talking, and we thought of a feature we wanted to put in, and he goes, “No problem, we’ll write it into the comic books.  So now it’s instant canon.”

I don’t think you can get much better than that.

The MMO Gamer: I like to wrap my interviews up on a more philosophical note, as opposed to, “What is your game, when is it coming out, how many exclusives are you going to give me?”

So, why do you make games?  Why do you wake up every morning, go to work, and do what it is you do?

Chris Cao: I make games because it is the last truly collaborative creative medium there is left.

While movie directors, and authors, and TV and everything else has a lot of people helping out, only in games does everybody’s opinion on the team matter, from the lowest designer to the highest executive.

And while that can sometimes cause some confusion, that collaboration, especially on an MMO, gives you creativity that you wouldn’t otherwise had.

Other games that are more narrow in scope, as a game director, I could say what I want everyone to do.

But I have 40 some designers right now back there, making DCUO, and what I had to do was set the vision down, and that meant have them see what I see, not make them do what I want to do, but give them that imaginative spark that I have, and then have it set fire and change the game.

All sorts of things have been added by artists, and engineers, and producers that I would have never thought of myself, and there’s no other medium where you can direct it, but you also can just live in it and love all of that creativity.

And of course, that continues to expand when you’re in live, because then the players are playing and they’re contributing, too.

So why I do what I do?  It’s because I get to be creative, but I get to do it with my team, and with my community.

The MMO Gamer: Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it, and we hope we can do it again some time.

Chris Cao: Alright, thank you.

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  1. […] Universe is out, people! If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s our interview with Game Director Chris Cao. A fascinating piece in […]

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