Comic-Con International: San Diego 2008 saw the debut of DC Universe Online, the first massively multiplayer online game based on a licensed comic book. Sony Online Entertainment is using Unreal Engine 3 to bring the DC Universe to life as a persistent world for PC and PlayStation 3, and its creative team recently opened up about its experience with the engine.
“Early on we did testing with different engines to see what would be best for developing this game, and Unreal Engine 3 was awesome because it gave us the tools to build this world,” said comic book legend Jim Lee, executive creative director for DC Universe Online and artist for DC Comics.
“Unreal wasn’t originally designed to build MMOs, so there was tweaking that had to be done early on, but the results have been terrific.” Lee said the team of 70 at SOE Austin has been able to do remarkable things with lighting, specular effects and the building of iconic DC Universe characters.
“The Unreal Engine has been great because it’s allowed us to change things very quickly,” explained Lee.
John Blakely, vice president of product development for SOE Austin, concurred. “Unreal Engine 3 allowed us to start playing the game from the start,” said Blakely. “It gave us a tool base to get art into the game quickly, allowing designers to prototype what kind of gameplay we were going to be developing.
“It’s been really useful because we’re taking an action game mechanic and blending that with some of the online persistent world elements. To be able to prototype this from day one, learn what’s important, and then build the infrastructure of the game knowing full well what to expect has been invaluable.”
Blakely said the Unreal Engine’s toolset gave his artists all the pieces they needed from the start, which allowed SOE Austin to staff up quickly on this project.
“Usually with an MMO game, building the content – the environment and characters and all the things you need to create – is the long-lead item,” added Blakely.
“We got out of the gate quickly without a lot of disruption, which enabled us to focus on the other fundamental pieces we needed to build, while leaving the artists to work in their world undisturbed.”
Comic book fans know that Lee has a very unique style to his art. Chris Cao, studio creative director for DC Universe Online, said that Unreal Engine 3 gave the team a jump forward on a lot of the graphics and the ability to render these characters well yet cost effectively.
“Jim’s characters have a very cut feel,” said Cao. “Our DC characters have a distinct quality, and we didn’t want them to look soft or cartoony. Unreal Engine 3 helped us do that.”
DC Universe Online features approximately 150 characters from the DC Comics mythology, ranging from well-known figures like Batman and The Flash to lesser known characters like Hawkman.
The entire world of the DC Universe will be there for gamers to discover over time, and with DC Universe Online open to millions of gamers, there will be many ways to explore.
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