Marv Wolfman: A Behind the Scenes Look at DC Universe Online

A game interview article by: Jason Brice
With the recent release of DC Entertainment’s DC Universe Online, Comics Bulletin Publisher Jason Brice sat down with writer Marv Wolfman to get an inside look on what it took to bring this gaming innovation to life.


Jason Brice: How did you become involved with the development of DCU Online?

Marv Wolfman: I was already writing videogames when I was asked by DC's Paul Levitz and Hank Kanalz if I'd be interested in working on the DCU MMO. Needless to say I jumped at the chance. Obviously, working with characters I knew so well was a lure, but also being one of the people who was making sure they'd translate correctly to games was even more important.

Brice: What different writing muscles did you have exercise in the development of the game as compared to writing a superhero comic book?

Wolfman: Comic book stories, or any printed media stories, have a beginning, middle and end. Stories have constructed as they have been for thousands of years. You can play with the structure but ultimately a story is about a character who goes through a series of problems and situations until it's resolved, for good or bad. Most videogames are the same. But MMOs are very different.

The structure of an MMO can't be beginning, middle and end because the player controls the game. They decide their world and what they feel is most important about it. You can try to lead them a certain way but they can choose to go a different way. MMOs are all about players deciding for themselves. So you have to construct story concepts more than a story. You tell them here and there and someplace else that certain events are happening and you hope they will choose to participate in them.

You build up over the course of numerous missions the bits and pieces of a story until they decide to follow it. But it's like presenting them with a map of the United States. You can tell them how to get from New York to Los Angeles, but they choose the roads they want to go. Of course if you show them there are a lot of great sites if they follow Route 66 they may choose to do so. My job is to find ways to move you through the story through suggestion. And even if you don't choose to do that, you will still learn about the story because it will be referenced every so often. And if you choose to follow the story you will discover so many other great missions and challenges.

Brice: What was the most challenging aspect to creating plots that interweave with each other between Metropolis and Gotham...and the other story locations?

Wolfman: As I said above, my job is to present material that makes the player realize there's a bigger thread they can follow. So you can plant something in Metropolis that might lead them to Gotham. And if what I do is intriguing enough, they may go there. That's the challenge.

Brice: Is there anything that you're particularly pleased with or proud of in the game that you can tell us about?

Wolfman: I'm really pleased that as many of my ideas, concepts, missions, etc. made it into the final game. After all, games are about play and play has to come first. That I was able to suggest story missions that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people will play is incredible.

Brice: Have you logged many hours as a player yet? Has anything surprised you as a player so far?

Wolfman: I was on the Beta and it was more beautiful than I expected. The backgrounds are gorgeous and the play, even on the PS3, is flawless. I'm expecting my comp copy any day now so I can play the actual game.

Brice: What power trees have you played? Are there some that appeal to you more than others?

Wolfman: Ask me after I've played the real game. I wasn't on the Beta long enough to get too deep into it. The PS3 Beta came later than the Computer Beta and I was away for the holidays for much of it. So I only got to play for a week or so.

Brice: How important will the "mentoring" aspect of player development be beyond providing missions and assistance in boss fights?

Wolfman: The mentoring is only a small part of the game. The DCU characters are there to fight alongside or, on occasion, to battle. This is not a matter of Superman standing there with an exclamation point over his head. You're fighting Brainiac at his side or helping him on a mission. Or you're fighting against the Joker. Or with the Joker. Depends on whether you're a hero or villain.

Brice: How closely tied will the game be to ongoing events in the paper and ink DCU?

Wolfman: It will be closely tied to the bi-weekly DCU Legends Comic that I'm writing along with Tony Bedard. Otherwise it's the DCU characters are in a story separate from current continuity.

Brice: Are there any specific plans for incorporating older events and storylines from the DCU into DCU Online?

Wolfman: Yes. You'll see concepts that harken back to some DCU material. But I won’t say what so you'll be surprised when you see it.

Brice: Will there be opportunities to travel to locations off-world, such as Oa or Apokolips?

Wolfman: That's for Sony to answer.

Brice: How far in advance have you been plotting "episodes" for release?

Wolfman: I wrote my parts of the game about two and a half years ago. I worked on it for about a year and a half.

Brice: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Comics Bulletin, Marv!

Wolfman: Thanks!


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