Jim Lee, Marv Wolfman Talk DCU Online Game

Video games and comic books have been crossing over for years ‘ both in terms of content and via the growing gaming presence at Comic-Con ‘ but few things are coming as close to exciting fans as the chance to play in the original comic book universe in Sony Online Entertainment’s upcoming DC Universe Online.

The MMO game was being demonstrated at the annual comic book confab and we got to take a look at both the game and talk to comic book legends Jim Lee and Marv Wolfman about making the game.

The game lets each player create his or her own hero or villain and enter the DC Universe as an auxiliary member of either the Justice League or the Legion of Doom. Players take part in missions alongside the likes of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman on the good side, and Lex Luthor, Joker, Sinestro and dozens of other baddies on the not-so-good side.

The demo level featured an extensive mission in STAR Labs, with characters able to define their own powers, power source and how they move (flight, super speed, etc.), as well as their own look. The game allows each player to pick their own color palette, with any objects or modifications they pick up automatically conforming to that color scheme to avoid the ‘hobo’ look other games have encountered.

The players work alongside the established characters of the DC Universe and attempt to create their own legacy ‘ earning enough credibility through completing missions and defeating enemies an invitation to the Justice League or Legion of Doom.

The game also will allow PC and PlayStation 3 players to run off the same server ‘ and be in the same world.

What’s still a mystery is when the game, which has been in development for several years now, will be released.

Lee, the blockbuster artist who defined the X-Men, created the WildC.A.T.s and Wildstorm Studios, and of late has been defining Superman and Batman for a whole new generation of DC comic book readers, was the lead designer on the game. He likened the process ‘ now four years of work since he started ‘ to weight training.

‘It’s hard work, but at the end of the day you come out better, stronger for it,’ he said. ‘It’s been a real learning experience ‘ not just learning about how to build an MMO, but also learning about the DC universe.’

Designing the characters involved breaking down all the powers in the DC universe for the players to choose from and use in the game, a process that Lee says gave him a new appreciation of DC.

‘I never really thought about what kind of material these costumes are made out of, I never thought about the environments, I never thought about what the neighborhoods of Gotham City and Metropolis looked like,’ he said. ‘Having those answers, I feel much smarter as a DC fan than I ever did before.’

When it comes to animating characters that he’d previously only drawn for the comic book page, Lee says he turned, as always, to a bit of research.

‘In some sense, it’s the same. When I draw certain things, I’ll actually stand up and pose it out. I’ll be looking in a mirror or having someone take a photograph,’ he says. ‘Even standing up and posing, and feeling how your body feels at that time ‘

it helps you convey that when you draw it.’

Lee says he designed hundreds of DC characters for the game, including ‘almost every major, secondary and tertiary hero and villain.’ His favorite, however, was one he had a hand in creating for the comic book page.

‘Hush actually looks really cool,’ he says, adding the character’s facial bandages were a challenge to make good looking. ‘That’s the thing about DC villains, is they all have a weird element to them. Like you’ve got a big question mark on your head or bandages on your face.’

Having put so much work into the game, Lee says he thinks it will follow him for the rest of his life. He also says he’ll be playing the game and likely playing a villain first.

‘I’ve almost always done everything hero-centric in terms of the stories, and it would be fun to create a villain and see the DC universe from their perspective,’ he says. ‘That’s not something that’s been explored a lot in comics, at least for me.’

Lee says the game has afforded him the ability to make an impact on a lot of characters he likely will never get a chance to do in comic books simply because there’s not enough time.

‘But now I’ve drawn characters like Egg Fu or Ambush Bug,’ he says. ‘I drew Doomsday and the first time I drew Doomsday was for the game.’

He also says he’ll be getting back to comics soon, having two scripts ready to go from Frank Miller for All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. ‘It’s been absolutely my fault why the book’s late and I’ve obviously been working hard on the game,’ he says. ‘Right now, the plan is to have several issues in the drawer, come back out with the second half of it, the back half of it, and get it wrapped up soon so I can do something besides just draw Batman. But it’s good stuff and it will hopefully be worth the wait.’

To say Marv Wolfman is an accomplished writer is to say nothing new. But while fans may know Wolfman’s credits on such hit comics as Tomb of Dracula for Marvel and The New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths for DC, the process of writing video games is a harder concept to grasp.

Wolfman has worked as a writer on many games and says each experience has been different. ‘I’ve been brought into games very late, where what you’re doing is essentially just organizing the game they’ve set up and writing dialog, and I’ve been brought into games before the first thinking process is done,’ he says. ‘I’m not writing the game, per se, the playing part. I’ll lead up to it. I’ll come up with the basic stories that you are playing.’

That means coming up with material that the game designers can then run with to break down into missions for players to work through. ‘It might be something that’s a paragraph long or a page long, and they’ll spin out endless variations that accomplish that goal.’

Wolfman says he is definitely a gamer and has been so from the days of Pong through the Atari and Coleco Vision days through to computer games like Wolfenstein, Doom, Myst and current games on PCs, PS2, PS3 and Wii.

He says Sony Online Entertainment is committed to making the game as true to the DC Universe as possible ‘ and hiring folks like himself, Lee and Green Lantern writer Geoff Johns only proves it. ‘The characters will act in character, the little things that make the DC Universe will be there, almost everything is absolutely DC,’ he says. ‘This isn’t a game ‘ and I’ve written some ‘ that sort of just touches on the characters. This is, pure and simple, DC Online.’

The amount of work required to pull all this off is far from minimal. ‘This is comparable to writing 150 novels all the size of Lord of the Rings,’ he says. ‘Fortunately, I’m not writing thousands of pages. I’m writing: here’s the concept for this mission or this story and here are a few twists and turns. And they’ll turn it into 40 missions. And that’s the best way to do it because I’ll come up with the DC stuff, I’ll come up with the stuff that can only be done with those kinds of characters. Then they will turn it into great video game stuff because that’s what they know best.’