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SxSW: SOE Austin’s John Blakely On Taking DC Online

Continuing our coverage of South by Southwest, Gamasutra sat down with Sony Online's former Everquest II producer John Blakely to talk about working with DC Comics on its forthcoming MMO, and his views on Sony’s Home service and how it overl
Continuing our coverage of the ongoing South by Southwest festival and conference in Austin, TX, Gamasutra sat down with John Blakely, in charge of Sony Online Entertainment’s Austin development house, to talk about working with DC Comics, as well as his views on Sony’s Home service. Blakely began his game career in Austin, was producer on EverQuest II, and returned to head SOE Austin two years ago. As a father of four, he particularly enjoys that quality of life that Austin affords his family... What’s the Austin studio working on? JB: We’re working on DC Comics Online. We just started working on that a year and a half ago. Still early on in development, we’ve got a team of about thirty right now. We’re going to be growing that team to a little over fifty this year. We’ve got our core team put together. And it’s really going to be about delivering superhero power fantasy, so stay tuned: a lot of fun on the PS3 and PC. And you’ve gotten to work a lot with the original artists as the game’s creative director? JB: Yeah— Has that been interesting? Has it been different than your previous game development? JB: What’s great is Jim Lee is the executive creative director of the project, and his team at Wildstorm is doing all the concept work for us. What’s great about Jim is, number one, he’s a total pro, really good at what he does. And he’s also a big fan of MMO games. He was the first person on his server on EverQuest to get his Epic. Which, back in that day, was pretty impressive. So he’s been around all those products, loves to play EQ, loves to play all the current generation of games. That knowledge as our approver and our creator really kind of helps us create a game in the context of working with a licensee. It’s been a great relationship working with those guys. It’s a different relationship from corporate approval, or a film licensor. JB: They have a vested interest, all the way up to the top at the top of DC. They’re realize the potential of a product like this, and they’re giving us the support we need to get that done. So we can take some risks, make some innovation, and really make a statement with the product. Sony's Home was announced at GDC. What did you think of that? JB: I was really excited by it. I see a lot of potential. I mean, one of the things it clearly ties into the kind of games we already do. We have housing in most of our products already. The extension of that to kind of a meta situation where all users have access to that really gives us a great way to reward that. It's something we’ve been working with and are familiar with, so we’re hoping to push that envelope a little bit, and tap into that with DC. Did you work on the technology at all, or was that all out of SCEE? JB: That was out of our platform group, so the technology they did work on, I think, was more the underneath infrastructure part. Specifically to Home, I’m not sure what we actually contributed to. Did you find out about it at the GDC, or have you know about it for a while? JB: We had a little bit of a heads up in terms of a conference call, but we got the full impact with everybody else at GDC, which was pretty exciting. And then LittleBigPlanet just looks fun. JB: LittleBigPlanet looks awesome. It’s a really clever game. One of the things a lot of people were questioning is the investment in technology for the PS3, I think, but you really saw those products and that service look next-generation. In my mind, that's really going to set us apart as an organization, as a platform moving forward as the developers realize that, learn how to program that, learn how to create for that. It’s going to really get people’s attention. Now one of the things they talked about was the user created content in LittleBigPlanet would be rated by other users, so the good stuff would rise to the top. Is that something you see as a technique you could use in MMO development? JB: We’re trying to figure that out, actually. I was out there with my creative director, we were sitting there riffing on what kind of ways... Really, for us, it’s a different type of thing. For a YouTube or a SingStar, or like LittleBigPlanet there are users creating that. I don’t know that we’re going to give them that much freedom in DC to do that, because what they want to do is they’re coming to tell the stories of the DC universe. So that’s a little different approach in terms of our product that we’re making. But this certainly does create a lot of opportunities and opens up a lot of doors because it is a shared experience. A lot of the fundamentals of MMO are there, just a different presentation for it. Which is why I thought it was pretty inspiring. Is this your first time at South by Southwest? What do you think of it? JB: Yes it is. I’m enjoying it so far. It feels a lot more laid-back and a lot more casual than some of the other conferences. And I’m really digging that. It feels like some of the old GDCs I used to go back in the day. The pamphlets out on the tables, and all that cool little parties behind the scenes thing. I’ll be back next year.

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