As I'm sure a lot of you probably know (this blog does talk about comics a lot, after all), DC Comics is coming out with their very own super-hero Massively Multiplayer Online game, DC Universe Online. It's a great idea in a lot of ways; there are a heck of a lot of comics fans who love the DC Universe enough to want to live there, and bringing out a DC-themed MMO will give them that exact opportunity.
But as I mentioned once or twice before, I think it suffers from a pretty fundamental flaw--when I'm playing a DC-themed game, I don't want to be "the guy who hangs out with Superman"--that's Jimmy Olsen, and even though he got super powers every five issues or so, he still wasn't cool. I want to be playing Superman, or Batman, or Captain Marvel, or one of the actual heroes of the DC Universe. And in the DC MMO, those are all NPCs you interact with.
"But John," I hear you say, "that's an unrealistic goal for an MMO. You can't have a game with hundreds of players online at the same time, all wanting to play the DC super-heroes! How would they even decide who gets to be who?"
This is the casual brilliance of my concept. (Hey, I let you call me by my first name, you can let me indulge my ego for a bit.) My version of "DC Universe Online" would be an entirely instance-based game. The main area of the game would be essentially a giant lobby, where you can meet other players, chat with them, and find other players to join you.
Each character takes the role of a "guardian angel", an intangible being that inspires heroes at key moments to do their best and better than their best. In the "lobby", you're in your true form (an avatar that's customizable to the player's desire.) When you form up a team and enter an instance--each instance would be a story arc that you go through, set in various DCU locations and using different DC villains and plots--you select a hero that you're "inhabiting" at that time, and become that hero.
Naturally, you wouldn't start out with every hero. That wouldn't give you much incentive to keep playing, now would it? You'd start with a selection of five or six heroes--nobody too lame, of course, because wouldn't it suck if you started with nothing but a selection of Substitute Legionnaires? You'd get enough heroes that you'd always have a choice when joining a team, but not necessarily an unlimited one. Then, as you progressed through the game, you'd unlock different heroes by doing different instances, completing in-game tasks, et cetera et cetera. Some heroes would be unlocked later because they're powerful--even a bare-bones version of Superman is going to be scary tough when compared to the Ted Kord Blue Beetle--others get unlocked later because they're obscure and only their dedicated fans want them. (Yes, I would work long and hard to be able to unlock and play Tommy Monaghan.)
What's that about a "bare bones" Superman? Well, as you play the game, you get experience points that you store, and apply later to any character's abilities. So if you want to build up your Superman to truly unbelievable power levels, just pour all your XP into Superman. If you want to turn your Batman into a Grant Morrison-esque super-genius, pump him up with XP. If you think you'll have better luck finding a team if you're always playing someone nobody else wants to play, put all your XP into making the most bad-ass Elongated Man ever. Or spread them out. However you want to spend them, you can. (Naturally, as with most games, the more XP you've spent on advancing a particular skill or attribute, the more XP it takes to advance it further.)
So that way, everyone gets what they want. The guy who always wants to be Batman because he's the coolest always can be--sure, it means he's soloing a lot or takes a while finding a team, but Batman's a lone wolf anyway. The person who wants to get into lots of teams always has plenty of options--with the whole DC Universe available to them, there's bound to be someone they can play who's still fun. And hard-core DC fans will love figuring out how to unlock and play the various different "easter egg" characters, like Electric Superman and Turtle Boy. (And because of the vast numbers of unlockable characters, everyone will get to play their favorite super-hero. Firestorm might not get his own video game, but you could play him in my DCU Online.)
I know DC's going in a different direction. I hope their game will be good. But in my dreams, this is what DC Universe Online should be.