SOE Austin, the studio responsible for Star Wars Galaxies, is creating the upcoming DC Comics based MMO. Last week, we brought you our interview with VP of Development John Blakely on Star Wars Galaxies. Today, we give you the man's thoughts on that "other project" and the coming comic book MMO war.
It's no secret that the next big thing from SOE may well be their DC Comics MMO. It was originally revealed as DC Universe, but as Cryptic is also hard at work on Marvel Universe, logic says that the name may not be set in stone. It's absurdly early in that project, but we do know that it uses the Unreal Engine, is coming out for both the PC and Playstation 3, and that they hired famous comic book artist Jim Lee as Executive Creative Director.
Lee, Blakely told us, has surprised the whole studio since he came on board with his MMO knowledge. He was a hardcore EverQuest player and combines a passion for the IP with the genre they've chosen to build it out in. That's not to say one should expect EverQuest with super-heroes - far from it - but the man at the creative wheel, despite being on his first project, is very familiar with the medium.
Blakely told us the main goal of the DC MMO is to make sure they deliver on what fans of the comic books see when they close their eyes and pretend they are in that world. It may sound simple, but that's no easy feat.
What about a rivalry with their counterparts at Cryptic Studios who are hard at work on Marvel Universe Online for the PC and Xbox 360? One company is backed by Sony (Playstation 3) and DC Comics. The other is backed by Microsoft (Xbox 360) and Marvel Comics. Clearly, there are going to be some comparisons.
For those who sometimes get confused by the brands, DC Comics includes characters like Superman, Batman, The Flash and the Green Lantern. Their competitors at Marvel have the rights to Spider-man, the Hulk, Captain America, the X-men and the Fantastic Four. Both are big properties.
Blakely firmly believes to win this battle they need to provide the best, not necessarily the first, game to market. The two will likely never go head to head on any console (with overlap limited to the PC audience), which should give both a chance to survive on their own merits, but MMOs remain dominated by the PC market and the competition will be fierce. According to Blakely though, not only are they committed to being the best - if not necessarily the first of the two comic MMOs - but SOE has a renewed commitment to quality and will provide them with the time necessary to launch their game correctly.
They have also learned a few harsh lessons of development through Star Wars Galaxies and Blakely's experience on the EverQuest franchise. In the past, MMOs were always developed in pods with the idea that they would converge at the end. We've all heard developers talk about how a game just isn't "a game" until close to the end. At SOE Austin, they believe they should never lose sight of that and should always ensure the game is a game, even if it's a small one, so they can play it from the earliest possible stages of development. The last thing they want to do is see the pieces come together and then realize, in the words of Gob, "I've made a terrible mistake."
With the expansion of SOE as a whole, SOE Austin has had to transition from a single project studio (Star Wars Galaxies) to a multi-project developer. Blakely told us he brings experience of that kind from his days in San Diego at SOE's main headquarters and one of the biggest challenges they face is simply to find the appropriate people. They spent their time at their hometown show in full recruitment mode.
It will be years before the battle royal of comic IP MMOs takes to the ring, but already SOE and Blakely are hard at work to make sure they have every chance to win this fight.