Digging Into Sony's "DC Universe Online" PS4 Launch Day Upgrade

Sony Online Entertainment's "DC Universe Online" is one of the biggest success stories in the history of comic book video games. The Massively Multiplayer Online game launched in 2011, and over two years later shows no signs of slowing down.

The upcoming Game Update 31 prepares the superhero online game for the big move to the next generation of game consoles, with "DC Universe Online"landing on the PS4 for the console's launch day. While the incentive to switch over to the new console is more for the enhanced graphical capabilities than any revolutionary upgrade, players itching for that technological bump have a lot to look forward to. Characters, progress, items -- all of it transfers seamlessly over to your brand new console. Game Update 31 is a massive technological update, providing fixes for over 2000 issues found in the core experience while streamlining the leveling system in anticipation of a brand new player base.

In order to get the full picture of what SOE has planned for Game Update 31 as "DCUO" begins its life on PlayStation 4, CBR News spoke with Creative Director Jens Andersen, who has been on the game's team for nearly 8 years. Andersen discussed the technological improvements the update brings, as well as the challenge in getting "DCUO" to run on PS4. Plus, he teases the new "DCUO" mobile app and speaks about content coming as the MMO enters its fourth year.

CBR News: Jens, the next update for "DCU Online" is said to be the largest technical update yet. How exactly will this update prepare players for the launch of the game on PS4?

Jens Andersen: To put this in perspective, we fixed 2000 issues that came up during our playthroughs. We looked at Game Update 31 as a relaunch of DC Universe Online on the PS4. We thought about that very carefully, about all the feedback that had been given to us by our PS3 and PC players about their experiences with DCUO from level one all the way up to the current endgame tier that we're at right now, which is Tier 5. We wanted to make sure the folks coming on board with the PS4 were going to have smoother and more refined experiences based on that feedback of veteran players.

We looked at the whole game, top to bottom, and we fixed over 2000 things that addressed their feedback, and made some improvements on our own that we've learned as to what worked and what didn't work for our players -- what they enjoyed most about the game -- and really put those things forward in the leveling content. Just from the game experience alone, leveling a character is much more intuitive, much more player-friendly, much more engaging. It doesn't have any peaks and valleys in terms of the progression and the grindy-ness of everything, so it's really a great new experience for new users.

Veteran users who are either sticking on the PC or coming over to the PS4, are going to notice a change to quality of life things just in the game mechanics alone -- camera enhancements, user interface enhancements, things like that. From a graphical standpoint, we needed to take all the assets in the game and the environment and we needed to improve the graphics. This was really going to benefit mostly our PS4 and PC players. They're going to see a lot more enhanced graphics in terms of the visual fidelity of the lighting and the texture detail. They're going to see environment level-of-detail settings pushed way farther out into the horizon. Really a lot of work from every department, from engineering to art to design. Everyone contributed a massive mount to get things ready.

The PS4 has an entirely different framework than the PS3, so much so that most PS3 games won't be able to run on the PS4. How much work has been put in to ensure that DCUO runs smoothly on the PS4, especially given the stability of the Unreal 3 Engine?

I'm not a technical guy, so I'll give you my best answer as a creative director: It's been a tremendous amount of work. We've had a dedicated team that's been working on the PS4 client and getting the game ready for the PS4 for months, for a really, really long time. Before PS4 was even announced, we had a heads up that we were going to be doing this. Back in the days when people were calling it "Orbis" and stuff like that, we already had a dedicated client running on it, because you're exactly right. I don't think Epic was planning on supporting Unreal Engine 3 on PS4, they were going to be moving more toward the new version of their engine. It was really going to be up to us to try and wrangle that.

Now, there was a lot of back-and-forth between Epic and us while we were doing that. I'm not sure where they ended up and what each side contributed, but I know it was a Herculean effort on our part to get it up and running. We basically had to start all over again from the ground up in getting every single feature working: the user interface, the renderer -- everything from the ground up. It was a tremendous effort and they did a really good job. They've been working on nailing down the fine details as we've gone through the submission process and submitted the game to Sony Computer Entertainment. They've asked us to address a few things, which we were addressing just last week. We're always trying to make sure it's as solid as possible, and it looks really good right now. I'm really proud of the engineering team and the work they've done to get it to work.

It was amazing we were able to get it to work on the PS3 in the first place, and I never thought I'd attribute that statement to the next generation of consoles; you'd think it'd be easier, but it was really challenging taking that game from PS3 and going to PS4 because of the technology we were using for PS3. I think it turned out great.

You've been on the "DCUO" team since the very beginning. Looking at how far the game has come, looking at the updates for Game Update 31, what are you most excited about moving into the next generation of consoles?

Well, I'm really excited about a lot of things. The thing that makes me most excited is it shows that Sony and DC are committed to the game, because we originally didn't have the rights to put the game on the PS4. They worked with us to change the terms of our deal so we could move forward into the next generation of console with this title. The fact that Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Online Entertainment are supporting the effort of putting it forward on the PS4 says a lot about how all parties involved really view the next generation of consoles on the PS4 and what it really means to gamers, but also that DCUO is going to be a part of that; that it was an important part for them. Not only is it a free-to-play title, but it's a really great experience for people that want to have this superhero/supervillain experience. There's nothing else like DCUO out there.

I'm excited on that front, about the commitment on that front it really shows from the partners behind this game -- that's really exciting to me. Also, I really, really love playing our game on both platforms, but there is a tremendous difference playing on the PC as compared to the PS3. The PS4 is going to offer our console players a glimpse into what the true potential of this game is on a powerful platform. Not to say that PS3 wasn't powerful, but DCU Online certainly stress-tested it given the size and scope and ambition the game had when it first came out and over the years of live development it's seen. I'm just excited for the extra power we're going to get. New people aren't going to notice anything; they're going to go in and say, "Wow, this is amazing, this looks great, I've never played a game like this before with my friends on a console. This is badass." But old players that make the transition from PS3 to PS4, I just think their jaws are going to drop. They're going to be like, "Holy smoke, this game is off the hook!" [Laughs]

I'm really excited about that moment for new and veteran player alike.

As DCUO moves to the PS4, what does it mean for the established player base? Will players on the PS3 still be able to play with users on the PS4?

Yeah, that's one of the things we wanted to do early on. When we were showing this game in beta, we had PS3 and PC playing on the same server. We had to change that at the last minute for legal and business reasons, but we wanted to make sure we did allow the PlayStation 3 players and PlayStation 4 players to play on the same server precisely because we didn't want players to have to choose between friends and getting a new console. That would have been a terrible position to put players in both from a platform perspective from Sony and from a gaming perspective from SOE. We wanted to make sure there wasn't going to be any interruption. You're not going to have to start the game over, you're going to get your account status ported over seamlessly and you don't have to worry about leaving your league and starting a whole new community over again. If you're a veteran player, you get to preserve all of that. That's one of the things that we're most excited about.

Beyond the enhanced graphical capabilities, what kind of draw is there for current PS3 DCUO users to upgrade to PS4?

None, and here's why: We don't want our loyal PS3 players who aren't necessarily porting over to feel shunned or left out in the cold because they didn't make the conversion. If we do something for new players because we're trying to capture new players, we have to do something for our old players at the same time. Then it starts to get really complicated figuring out what we'd do for our PC players as well. Especially since the players are sharing platforms, those types of items could breed resentment between the players on the same server that have different consoles. We stayed away from that.

However, I know that Sony is definitely interested in promotions for PlayStation Plus and all kinds of things that are going on for the PS4, so down the road, there may be opportunities that could be platform exclusive. We have done that in the past, but we don't want to show any favoritism to loyal players that are making the jump and loyal players that are actually staying back on the PS3.

Sony Online also plans to launch a DCUO Companion App in the coming months. What's the advantage to checking in with a smartphone?

"DC Universe Online" has always taken the approach of trying to allow players to access the game remotely in different ways. In fact, we had a partnership early on with Vivox, and we had a lot of intention of -- the in-game voice chat had a lot of features that were really appealing to us where you could use your phone to call in to the in-game chat and talk to your league. None of those features ever came to fruition, but the reason I mention it is because it's something that's always been interesting to us that we've been wanting to do.

To have a central hub where people can get in touch not only with our social media -- we have so many different channels: the forums, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube -- these all get centralized down so people can have one-stop shopping for all that information. We think it's important to be able to touch base and see what's going on in-game. If you're riding on the bus, you can check what your character's stats were after putting on that item last night. We want you to be able to go to the site and look and manage your character; maybe manage your evening to see what you're going to go for that evening when the raids unlock; or on the weekends when you jump on with your league mates. You'll be able to instantly see all the various social channels and links will be there for YouTube and Facebook and all that.

We also have a section for guides, so you'll be able to look at different pieces of equipment, see the stats and information about them. Let's say you really felt like after your last play session, you wanted a new kind of Utility Belt. You're going to be able to go onto the companion app while you're waiting for your food at the restaurant and check out the various Utility Belts that are out there, maybe even find out where you can get those things by visiting the forums and asking questions there.

SOE has had some really great success with [a mobile app] through "Planetside 2," and we're using the same developers that produced that app to do the "DCUO" app. They had a really great leg up on how SOE does things and what it means to have a companion app in this type of free-to-play game with this type of community and they've really perfected that with the "DCUO" app.

You can also search for players and see information about other characters' stats, which you can only really do in-game by inspecting someone. You'll be able to do that in the companion app remotely, which is really exciting.

The 8th DLC, Sons of Trigon, launched in September. What can players expect from future DLC as the game moves into 2014?

The PS4 release is going to precede the release of the next DLC, so players will be able to enjoy DLC 9 -- "War of the Light" -- the first part of a three-part DLC trilogy. At SOE Live this year during our keynote, we announced that we were going to be moving to a particular DLC cadence where we alternate between big and small group content. I also announced that we would be doing trilogies with these DLCs. People really liked how we did continuing stories in launch content. I decided I was going to blow that out into the DLC scene as well. What we did with a lot of DLCs was finishing a lot of stories we had in the launch content and now we're going to start seeding new story lines that will go through multiple DLCs.

"War of the Light" will have three parts -- the first one will be DLC 9 -- it's very exciting. I also announced two other DLCs -- one called "Halls of Power," which is going to introduce the New Gods and characters like Darkseid and Scott Free to the game; and then we're going to be doing an Amazon-themed one with Wonder Woman and Circe with the working title "Amazon Fury." All of those will be trilogies and you'll see them alternating between large- and small-group content. They'll be introduced over the next couple years and you'll see them playing out. It's obviously going to take advantage of the PS4 in terms of the graphics we'll be putting out there, but people shouldn't forget that we're going to be supporting the PS3 with these DLCs. I don't think you're going to see a dramatic change in our format, because we're still supporting our previous platforms just as much as the PS4, but you are going to see amazing graphics.

What we're doing with these DLCs now is we're reskinning Metropolis for the "War of the Light" trilogy. You're going to see Mogo and Ranx above Metropolis because the War of the Light is spilling out onto the streets of the city. These strange prismatic myths are appearing all over the place. All the Corps are going to get introduced over the course of the DLCs. A lot of new characters, a lot of new content, a very exciting re-use of Metropolis and new locations and instances dealing with the Green Lantern lore. Approaching these in trilogy format allows us to think further ahead and understand how we can apply our resources to making a really epic finished product through three DLCs, as opposed to the smaller, bite-sized chunks we've been doing since we launched DLC, which introduces similar things -- new characters, new environments, new powers -- to the game, but it does it on a very small scale. Now we're thinking about how to link these things and grow them so that you'll have an experience like you did leveling in Gotham City and Metropolis.

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