DC Universe Online devs bracing for big bang

Comic-Con 2010: Creators and developers of Sony Online Entertainment's upcoming MMORPG reveal the backstory behind the PS3 and PC game.

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Who was there: Comic writer and artist Jim Lee, Joker voice actor Mark Hamill, creative director Jens Anderson, game director Chris Cao, and writer Marv Wolfman came to Comic-Con to detail the backstory to the upcoming massively multiplayer online role-playing game and pass out beta keys to a room full of eager fans.

What they talked about: Like many of the panels, the DC Universe session kicked off with a Comic-Con-exclusive trailer. The clip started with Lex Luthor talking about his master plan to take out Earth's true enemy once and for all.

DC Universe will let players step into the tights of their favorite characters, but only in an in-game simulation mode.
DC Universe will let players step into the tights of their favorite characters, but only in an in-game simulation mode.

The action picks up with a massive battle scene featuring Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Batman taking on the likes of Luthor (in power armor), Deathstroke, Black Adam, Joker, and Harley Quinn. At one particularly catastrophic moment, Black Adam calls down lightning by invoking the power of Shazam at the exact moment Green Lantern's ring goes critical and a sprinting Flash collides with the pair. A massive explosion levels multiple city blocks.

After a momentary pause in the fray, Batman and Deathstroke get to their feet and continue fighting. Joker, who survived by using Quinn as a human shield, tosses her aside and sees Deathstroke readying the killing blow on the caped crusader. "Nobody kills the bat but me," yells Joker as he disrupts the execution with some high explosives.

A defeated Wonder Woman calls out to Superman, who shows up with red glowing eyes and takes out Black Adam. Decidedly crueler and darker than usual, Superman disposes of Adam and Luthor with contemptible ease, yelling, "You don't deserve to live." He goes to check on Wonder Woman but is run through from behind by Luthor and his giant spear. The evil genius appears to have finally emerged victorious and wiped out the heroes. That's when Brainiac shows up to mop up the remaining heroes.

It's revealed that the whole sequence was part of a dark future, and the Luthor of that dark future is visiting the past and telling current-day Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman about what he has seen. In that future, Luthor was able to get his hands on the technology Brainiac used to steal the powers of Earth's heroes. Having brought that tech (with the stored powers) back in time with him, Luthor releases them on the world, causing an abundance of new, super-powered beings to arise in advance of Brainiac's invasion and providing a handy excuse for why there are so many new heroes with all the DC Universe Online player-created characters.

The extended trailer draws a huge round of applause from the crowd, which is standing-room-only around the outside of the auditorium. Wolfman said that he saw the trailer for the first time last night and that even though he has been working on the game for years, he's finally thinking, "It's better than anyone ever thought it could be!"

Lee said it's "a little surreal" to see the game nearing its release date, since he has been plugging away on the project since 2005. It's also rewarding that he can finally tell people the game is set to launch November 2.

On reprising his role as the Joker, Hamill said it's "fun to get behind the wheel of that crazy car." Acting for an animated feature is liberating in some ways, Hamill said, because it lets him take more chances knowing nobody can actually see him. He also added that he has been pleased with the sporadic nature of his work as the Joker over the years, likening it to an excellent seasoning in a stew. Doing a few episodes and projects here and there has helped keep the character special, he said.

Hamill isn't the only familiar voice in the game. Kevin Conroy is also stepping under the cowl of Batman once more, and Adam Baldwin is taking up the role of Superman. Gina Torres rounds out DC's heroic big-three cast as Wonder Woman. While the game does feature iconic characters like those three, Lee said he's happy the game features Ambush Bug, Egg Fu, and other lesser-known characters that fans of the comics have never seen in games before.

While players are stepping into the role of created characters, they can still take control of the big-name heroes in an in-game battle simulator. Those heavy hitters will also interact with players through the actual game, offering them mentorship or becoming entangled in their own quests.

There are other limits as well. When asked if players would be able to join the Green Lantern Corps, Cao pointed out that the Corps is a very special thing, and the last thing the developers wanted was to all of a sudden have 50,000 Green Lanterns running around on Earth. It was pointed out that there's a Green Lantern film coming out next year, and Lee teased that it would be a great cross-promotional opportunity.

When asked about reports that the upcoming Arkham Asylum 2 would be Hamill's last turn as the Joker, the actor mused, "I keep saying that…" He actually hadn't wanted to do a sequel after the original Arkham because he takes the character seriously and wants to go out on a high note. But in a number of ways it's not up to him, he said.

Quote: "I think he'd have a real connection to so many people here. Because you are all insane."--Hamill, when asked what the Joker would think of Comic-Con.

The takeaway: After five long years of development, DC Universe Online is nearly here, and Lee, Wolfman, Hamill, and company have done their best to bring the flavor of the comics to an MMORPG in a way that pleases both fans and gamers.

Who knew?: The PS3 game will not require a PlayStation Plus subscription, a revelation that drew a nice round of applause from a relieved audience.

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