The most ambitious crossover in DC video game history just keeps getting bigger. With over 275 iconic characters and vast, fully realized locales straight from the comics to explore, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game DC Universe Online refuses to rest on its laurels even ten years after its launch. But with all the worlds DCUO has conquered, where does it have to go from here? On the brink of this weekend’s DC FanDome, we thought the time was right to get caught up on this game that lives or dies on the support and love of DC fans. We had Dimensional Ink Games CEO Jack Emmert drop in for a chat about all things DC Universe Online, from his roots as a game designer, DCUO’s major upcoming events, implementing a real world city into the DC Universe and how to keep a decade-old game fresh and inviting to an expanding player base.
You started your game design career as a Dungeon Master. How is running a tabletop campaign like running an MMO?
You know, let’s put it this way, in my early career as a DM, it was very similar in that I’d have to prepare for what every possible player behavior was in the game session. That’s basically what an MMO is. You’re presenting out this 3D interactive world, and you, as the game designer, need to figure out every possible way that a player could interact with something. Not only in the way that you’d like them to, but what are all the alternative ways they can approach it?
Now, obviously, as time has gone by, I can pick up and GM or DM anything, without needing to do all that planning, because I’ve had all that practice. I can think on the fly. Whereas a video game doesn’t really have that opportunity. It has pre-set rules and boundaries that determine what a player can and can’t do.
As we’ve seen in the FanDome presentation, DC Universe Online features over 275 iconic DC characters. How does the Dimensional Ink team use these characters to make your world feel like a lived-in universe for DC fans?
When players go out on missions, sometimes they’re asked by the heroes themselves—and the villains, for that matter—to intervene on their behalf. Sometimes players will encounter these iconic characters in the midst of adventures—either their battles against foes like Lex Luthor, Ares the God of War, Hera, Cheetah, or any number of villains, and villain characters can fight against Superman, Batman, and all of the well-known DC icons. And sometimes you’re fighting alongside them in a mission. Or you’re fighting against them, or you’re freeing them. So, really, it’s a world in which you as the player are standing alongside these greats that we’ve all been reading and watching over the decades.
Two recent updates have significantly changed how people interact with DCUO. First, your most recent update, “House of Legends,” introduced a hub location for the first time shared by heroes and villains. Second, you recently made every episode of the story up until now and going forward free to play for everyone. How has this altered the dynamics of the game?
Community! We now have more people playing and interacting with each other than before. Previously, the game was divided between hero and villain, so that immediately split our player base. In addition, we had, effectively, paywalls. Meaning there was a point at which a free player would completely be stopped from progressing forward. So, as a result, you would end up with fewer and fewer players to play with. So, being an MMO, being a game that’s all about multiplayer, this is not a good experience for anyone involved.
We wanted to find different ways to reward our great members with special benefits, but at the same time allow for more players to enjoy the game. You know, at the end of the day, somebody comes and plays DCUO, and they spend a lot of time playing, and even if they never spend a dime? They’re still just as valuable as someone who spends a lot of money. They’re an enthusiast. They’re giving their time and their energy, and they’re helping raise the community being there as a teammate, being there to help out, being there on the forums. And so, we wanted to remove barriers to help more people become enthusiasts.
The Halloween season is here, and the horror genre has always been baked into DC’s history and legacy. What manner of tricks and treats do you have in store for us?
Actually, it’s a wonderful time for this interview. We’re just starting Fall Fest, and as part of that players can log in and claim a free character advance until October 20th, 2021. That means players can create a brand-new character at a high level and skip all the early levels. That applies to everybody under the sun.
So, that’s number one, and then, number two, we have a regular fall event, but we refresh the rewards and we’ve added some new missions. My personal favorite: there’s a race where (your character becomes) a vampire bat and your rewards are based on how quickly you can finish it. We’re also bringing back an old piece of daily content, but now we’ve redressed it up for Halloween, and there are some wonderful rewards. Actually, there’s this Crimson Chroma aura effect that is free for all of our members, but it is something you can earn by playing this Halloween content if you’re a free player.
Your next update, “Legion of Doom,” is introducing Perpetua to DC Universe Online. As essentially the creator of the DC Universe, Perpetua’s arrival was a pretty enormous deal in the comics. But what does it mean for the world of DCUO?
It’s rather unique, I think, in all of DC gaming, in that we’re taking players to that metaverse, to that multiverse, to the very foundations. Whereas fantastic games like Arkham Asylum and Suicide Squad are more focused, we have a much broader, bigger picture that we’re talking about. Namely, the very creators of the DC multiverse.
Our storyline with Perpetua, which is a riff on what goes on in comics, is that the Batman Who Laughs has created a rift in the Source Wall, which has allowed Perpetua to break in, and now she’s working through Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom in order for her to impose her will on the multiverse and recreate it in her own image.
Perpetua does seem to be the big threat here, but the update isn’t called “The Rise of Perpetua.” It’s called “Legion of Doom.” What puts those guys front and center?
Those are going to be the people that the players are really encountering, and Perpetua is the figure standing above it all, manipulating the current events. And this is only Part One! There is going to be a continuation of this storyline. So, we’re certainly introducing her, but this isn’t the climactic battle against Perpetua.
This is the “Legion of Doom” chapter of the Perpetua Saga.
You have got it. Yes.
But “Legion of Doom” isn’t just introducing Perpetua. It’s also introducing the Hall of Justice for the first time. In the very real city of Washington D.C.! What is it like dropping an actual city in a world of Gotham and Metropolis, and what can we expect to see in the Hall of Justice?
Well, you know, the Hall of Justice is iconic for even people my age, back in the days of Super Friends. And even in the pages of comics today, it is the headquarters of the Justice League. Washington D.C. might actually be one of the first real world locations we’ve ever done, now that I think about it. It is a landmark currently in the open world, so players will be battling outside of it, and they will get a chance to go inside of it in a special set of missions. However, those will be set in the Sixth Dimension, so a lot of strangeness is going to be occurring.
So, it may not necessarily be the D.C. you went to on your 8th grade field trip.
No, no, probably not.
But I’m very excited to see D.C. in DC, and it seems like now is the perfect time to jump into this universe.
DC Universe Online is currently free to play for everybody on PC and all major consoles. Don’t miss the first chapter of the Perpetua Saga in “Legion of Doom" this December!
DC FanDome returns on October 16, 2021! For more articles like this one, and to stay up to date on all the latest news, visit dcfandome.com.