Jim Lee Dishes On DC Universe OnlineS

Sony Online Entertainment treated members of the press to a luncheon earlier today, part of the Comic-Con 08 push for DC Universe Online. The massively-multiplayer online action RPG, coming to both the PlayStation 3 and PC platforms, will be playable by the public for the first time tonight. We'll be going hands-on with the title this evening, taking part in an in-game Brainiac themed live event with other DC heroes.

We sat down with DC Comics executive creator Jim Lee earlier today to talk about the SOE-developed, DC-branded game. Lee told me that he was the one who had approached SOE after catching wind of the project, an effort which had experienced multiple starts and stops.

As a fairly serious EverQuest player — Lee played Paladin, for the record — the artist turned exec knew his stuff. He dropped MMO-isms (LFG, instances, the grind) like it was his natural language, and with a working knowledge of the DC universe, fans of the genre and the brand should feel confident that it's creatively in good hands.

Players will be given the option of creating a good or evil character in DCUO, each with a possible dozen unique characteristics, such as power type (ice, fire, mental, sonic), power source (ring, elemental), and movement type (flying, speed). Given Lee's background as a serious MMO player, I had to ask what he was planning on playing in DC Universe Online when it shipped.

"I haven't decided," he said. "I'll probably have one public character and one private character — a villain."

I asked Jim if he was partial to any particular DC mainstays, if he'd lobbied for the inclusion of anyone in particular.

"I kind of have to be impartial," he said, noting that it was more important to ensure that DC's classic characters and classic designs were integrated accurately into the massive multiplayer world.

Sadly, that doesn't include some of the more off-kilter characters, non-humanoids like Krypto the Super Dog, Bat-Mite or various multi-limbed things from the Green Lantern Corps. They may appear in the game in some form, but if you're looking to create a super monkey that can ally with the Superman family or even Gorilla Grodd, you might have to wait for the expansion.

One surprise that Lee mentioned is that alter-egos will play a role in the game. You may have to spend some time as a lowly photographer, for example, one who walks among the regular citizens, preserving your secret identity. "We have to have it be meaningful," Lee said of superhero alter-egos. This aspect of the gameplay, Lee hinted, may address the dreaded "grind", something he says players won't spend much time worrying about.

As far as the look of the game, for which Lee is largely responsible, we learned that some characters that we've already seen are undergoing visual refinements. "The Joker is one character I wanted to tweak," he said, noting that the Heath Ledger/Christopher Nolan take on the Joker from The Dark Knight may have been part of the catalyst for the change. Part of the reason for the change, however, was that the current model of the Joker simply didn't fit with the rest of the game's non-playable DC heroes and villains.

We'll be going hands-on with the game soon and will report our impressions of DC Universe Online later this week.