RPS-ish At-Ish E3: Housecleaning – SOE

By Mathew Kumar on July 20th, 2008 at 11:19 am.

[Thanks to extreme tiredness, I didn’t manage to write up all of my impressions from E3. Over the next couple of days I’ll clean house and post up my leftover thoughts.]

So if the Sony Online Entertainment game that you are looking forward to is DC Universe Online, well, E3 wasn’t for you. Because cleverly, SOE are going to reveal all of the details of the game at the San Diego Comic Con (which, in retrospect, I should have stayed for) in front of the slavering hordes of nerds that they want to impress the most, instead of wasting the details on the slavering (but smaller) hordes of nerds at E3. What did I learn from my brief chat with the developers? Well, that it’s going to be a heavily physics based MMO where characters be able to “use the environment as a weapon” – and they made a pretty big deal about how hard it is to put proper physics into an MMO.

The footage I saw was amazingly weak (the animation clearly wasn’t finished for it) but the way they’re talking about the game is interesting – that they “run it like it’s live already” writing “patch notes” for each revision as they develop it in house and maintaining a “community” of players (who I guess are just the developers) so the change of rhythm from developing to being live doesn’t have an intense culture shock for the team. The thing that creative director Chris Cao told me that will be most divisive (I think) is that “moment to moment, DC Universe Online is an action game.”

Quite what that means isn’t clear, but I do think it’s unlikely to follow City of Heroes’ example in that case. Similarly, they explained they want the UI to be “invisible” (or at least intuitively undistracting) as a result of the joint PS3/PC joint development.

Ah yes – the PC/PS3 joint development. Now although SOE have been developing titles for PlayStation for years, it does seem that it’s really recently (since the acquisition by SCE) that they’re really pushing their development to cater to the PS3 first, rather than creating spin-offs or cut down versions. The Agency seems like a perfect example of this.

Now I really like the concept of The Agency. Actual “espionage” rather than just “stealth” is such a great and completely underused concept that it would be nice to see something done with it – and hopefully done well.

Of course, I can’t guarantee on the basis of the short demo – not even running live on hardware – that it’s going to be done well. There’s something kind of hilarious about the concept that in the world of the Agency almost everyone is a spy if it’s part of the world rather than a side effect of all of the players being spies (think if DC Universe Online was to take its cue from Alan Moore’s Top Ten, for example). The game shown had only reached alpha, but the short demo had its highlights – a group of spies working together in a firefight to disarm bombs while fighting off henchmen looked fun – but its lowlights were more obvious and incongruous.

There was almost a “Giant Enemy Crab” level of uninsightfulness in showing a sequence where a group of spies carefully “tailed” a henchman as he headed to a lair in Prague by running around dressed in futuristic military gear (brandishing weapons) mere pixels behind their prey. It looked incredibly stupid.
Okay, so that’s sort of negative. But there’s a lot to like about The Agency. For one, the art style is really nice, and it does look different from most MMOs. Also, with the current climate of flexibility for players in MMOs, your skills and levels are tied to your individual “outfits” so if you get sick of playing as a stealthy type, you can switch to playing a medic.

PS3 is the primary platform, though, which means they’re promising to put in quick time events. Urgh. And they haven’t thought about how they’re going to charge for it (they’re not even confirming a subscription service) because they’re waiting to see how Free Realms does.

Free Realms is a little MMORPG they had on show that’s being aimed at 9-14 (looking all cutesy as a result) and its funding options includes microtransactions. Plus it shares a lot of similarities with The Agency – skills and levelling attached to outfits, for example – but it diverges by following the ideas of social networks.

The title includes a home page on the web for your character, the ability to share pictures, links and videos with friends and so on. One of the cool ideas included is that the game is downloaded while you create your character and launched from within your browser, so it’s all been very cleverly put together to make it as easy as possible to begin playing (and it runs on everything with a GeForce or greater).

I’m not the kind of person particularly swayed (or impressed) by the current “everything and the kitchen sink” angle of socially-orientated MMOs, so it remains to be seen if Free Realms is able to make it all work rather than being a disjointed mass of mini games, social areas, pets and everything else they could imagine rather than the fine balancing any game requires. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for it, though.

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11 Comments »

  1. Duoae says:

    I think the art style of DC universe online is complete trash. I mean, thunder thighs Batman up there looks like he’s about to show his neon cheerleaders how to do the chattanooga or something. I think it’s easily the least visually appealing game i’ve seen in a few years.
    I’m just wondering – do any of you guys actually like the style? Maybe it’s just me and i’ve somehow become a raging anti-comic fanboy…

    The agency looks cool but there are two stumbling blocks to me liking it: affording the cost of a PS3 and the subscription model – which hasn’t been announced yet. I’d like to play it but i doubt i’ll ever get the chance while it’s still running… I mean, what happens if SOE decides to stop the servers? Can it be played locally on a PS3, networked even?

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    All the guys in that to picture look like they’re going to pop. The dudes on the right have something going on in their pants.

  3. Mr_Day says:

    Well, Batman is a fine specimen.

    Why, they all look like they both want to spring into ACTION! but also like they need to nip to THE LOO!

  4. Drakkheim says:

    Uggh, why is it e3 ‘interviews’ are so often just a guy regurgetating mindless marketing babble.. Its obvious that whoever wrote that guys spiel hadn’t thought that maybe some of the attendees at e3 ‘Might’ have played an online game before. Yeah DC online, yaawn.

    Agency.. I have a feeling it will be full of ‘Gather 20 pieces of Super Secret Intelligence from TLA’s henchmen.” que..er..missions.. But I can hope that it will be better than that, but Sony hasn’t exactly had an inspiring track record lately.

    p.s. When did wonder woman gain flight as an ability?

  5. Damien says:

    You can blame Jim Lee, who created the art the design is based on and seems to have learned how to draw from Rob “What is this ‘realistic human anatomy’ you speak of?” Leifeld. A guy who used to draw people with, like, 16 rows of ab muscle.

    Champions, however, now that has a design you can get behind.

  6. Vollgassen says:

    It’s strange to me they chose Jim Lee’s work as the definitive DC look for this game.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if the game had the option to choose which artist’s style you want the game to appear as?

  7. Kieron Gillen says:

    Damien: That’s really not far to Jim Lee. There’s nothing per se wrong with his anatomy in the way that Leifield errs towards.

    I dare say they went with Jim Lee as he’s the artist whose name leads to most instant sales for DC comics.

    KG

  8. Damien says:

    I completely agree Lee is better than Liefeld. At least Lee can draw feet. But for me his style too heavily references the design and poses from Image’s early 90s ridiculously over-muscled tendencies.

    And yes, on paper, Lee is currently one of the hottest draws in comics, which makes him an obvious marketing choice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good stylistic fit to translate into a video game.

    If at least in hindsight, after seeing the results.

    Imagine had they chose Adam Hughes, or Ryan Ottley or Gene Colan or Brian Bolland! Imagine a Brian Bolland-designed DC game! Oh, to live the dream.

  9. Stromko says:

    I’m a bit put off by the DC online art style as well, the screen shot at the top of the page made me think they’re really going for the ‘gay porn’ angle. Seriously, that’s a really twisted concept of male physique, they’re just pieces of meat. It’s more than gay porn, it’s gay serial killer porn. Or professional wrestling fan.

    I’m exaggerating a bit, but look at the Hairless Boy Wonder up there. They’re not ready to spring into action, they’re ready to drive on over to the fetish club.

  10. Five says:

    Jim Lee is my favourite comic book artist ever.

    The last thing I thought when looking at that top screenshot was Jim Lee.

  11. Crizztoball says:

    I wouldnt touch any product of SOE’s with a 1000 mile pole!!
    I still hate u for killing SWG!! Burn burn burn!