Q&A: Marv Wolfman on DC Universe Online, Love for Video Games

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Marv Wolfman knows the DC Universe like few others. He’s written hit runs on Superman and Batman, along with a classic partnership with artist George Perez on the Teen Titans. Most memorably, he destroyed the multiple planes of reality that where alternate versions of the publishers characters existed in 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series. (And he’s also worked at Marvel, too, where he created vampire hunter Blade, among many other characters.)

So, the 64-year-old writer of comics, TV, animation and more makes perfect sense as the man for Sony Online Entertainment to turn to for making sure everyone from Booster Gold to The Calculator in DC Universe Online feels just the way they should. Wolfman’s continuing to lend his talents to the massively multiplayer game and when I went to the Austin offices of SOE to check out the beta build of DCUO, he was on hand to talk about the game’s iconic characters and the fictional milieu that players will be interacting inside of. Read on to find out his long history with video games, how technology changed his writing process and the game releases he can’t wait to get a hold of.

We’re here playing DCUO and you’re obviously somebody who’s had a long relationship with the DC Universe for most of your professional career. Did you ever think that you’d be working on a platform where you would be allowing other people to create on such a wide scale?

Well, when I started writing comics, there were no video games. And though I started with video games right from the very beginning, with more quarters than you could possibly imagine pumping them into the machines, the graphics certainly were not good enough to do anything that we’re doing today.

And even later when the graphics did become a little bit better, they were only console type games. Not the kind of characters that you could control to the degree you can now. So, no, there was no way that I could have ever thought, even playing games from the beginning, that I would ever be writing them, let alone writing the DCUO MMO. And this game is the ultimate fantasy for a fan, to create characters that interact with Superman, Batman or wonder Woman.

(More on Techland: DCUO Trailer Director’s Cut Explains Why You Must Become a Superhero)

As a writer, you’ve not just written iconic characters. You always created new characters, too. Do you see video games as a medium to introduce a new character or a new concept to a wide audience?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve come up with a video game that I’m trying to sell that would do exactly that because I can’t help but create. I don’t believe in just doing what’s there; otherwise, I wouldn’t have created several hundred characters. Video games are a great place.  Any work of fiction can create great characters.

And video games, because of their interactive nature, make you more personally attached to the character. So, to me there’s really no difference in whether I would have created a good character, hopefully, in comics and in animation, in books, or in video games. To me, they’re all the same.

You talk about creating a character, and it’s funny because I just built my mine and already, over the course of a day, I feel proud watching him level up and gain new powers. What follows is then feeling like, “Hey, I can take him, play his set of abilities out in this world, and see what happens.” And that’s super, super powerful.

To me, it’s a lot of fun. I love video games because–unlike even reading, or watching TV or a movie–if I want to escape for a little bit my whole attention has to be towards the video game. I can’t be thinking of something else. When I’m watching TV or a movie, I’m usually flipping through a magazine or something. I’m constantly doing several things at once. I can’t do that with a video game. So, it’s a way for me to just completely escape for a little bit.

And, as a creator, it must be very attractive for you too because you know you’re getting 100% full attention from your audience, from the players.

I hope they’re as attentive as I am when I’m playing.

I’m going to make a generalization here, and I apologize in advance, but it’s heartening to have somebody like you from a previous generation embracing the video game medium so strongly.

It’s a not a previous generation, though. I grew up with video games. Video games and I reached a beginning pretty much at the same time. I started with ColecoVision as a home console. Before that, I was pumping quarters into Pac-Man and Popeye and Donkey Kong and all that sort of stuff. People are surprised, and now I’m the one who doesn’t want to make a generalization, but they think that because somebody is older than they are that they wouldn’t enjoy the same things. My father-in-law bought his first video game console about two or three years ago and loves it. My father-in-law.

Wow! What did he buy?

He bought at that point a PS2 and he’s just bought an iPad. Age has nothing to do with it. It’s because I grew up in the tech world. I was the first comic book writer to have a computer. Only one other had a word processor.

Who was that?

Mark Evanier.

Oh, that makes sense.

In fact, he forced me to work on it to write a letter column and I fell in love with it. But I did some research and decided rather than a word processor, I would go to a computer, which had word processing on it. And I thought it was a better move. Mark was in California at that time, I was in New York. So I brought people over to the house every week to show them. Within six months, every single one of them got a computer.

Did you find that it changed your process at all creatively?

Totally. 100%. Because I know that half of what you did in comics, and in any writing, is rewriting. You would hesitate to rewrite because it meant retyping an entire page or maybe retyping everything. It was frustrating. Whereas, with the computer, you were able to alter what you needed.

You didn’t have to pull out the Wite-Out or start a new page.

Yeah. And if I made a mistake, I’d have to retype a page and stuff. I didn’t have to do that. So I’ve been into tech since the very first. I mean, this was pre-DOS with CPM86. And if you know computers, you know when CPM86 came out. No hard drives. One disk drive. You put the disk in. Put a program. You took it out. You put your disk in to what you were going to save. And that was it.

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