E3 2008: Sony Online Entertainment

What happens when film crews invade showcase/meeting rooms? You sit in the back because you can't go anywhere, have a mango smoothie and chill. Or at least, that's what we did for a while before we managed to move to see a couple of new SOE games, DC Universe Online and Free Realms.

DC Universe Online (PS3, PC)

We talked to Matt Slagle and Chris Chao about the upcoming superhero MMORPG... was this just another City of Heroes/Villains?

DC Universe Online offers a new angle to the online genre. The point is to create a paralel world, like a door between our world and the DC world, as seen through the eyes of Jim Lee. It's a different kind of MMO. Although you have your leveling up, loot and a long-term story, it plays like an action game, similar to the Spiderman and Superman console games. It's a fantasy sci-fi modern shooter action game, all in one type of thing.

You start off as a new hero or villain, and you pick a special power, which obviously won't be fully available right from the start. This superpower will grow as your character levels up, allowing you to do more with it and gaining new powers. Say you pick flying as your main power... don't expect to just take off and go anywhere on level 1, you probably will only be able to hover just a little bit above the ground. There are no pre-set classes to pick from.

Physics play an important role in the game, since you can use the environment and objects as your weapons. It's an open world where you can patrol or prowl, do some missions, engage in 4 player parties or 16 player raids (for leagues or legions).

PVP is planned for an optional server, as to not impose it on all the players. There is no open PVP, but there is something that can lead up to it. It's an interesting concept revolving around gradual popularity/reputation. For example, as a villain, you commit crimes and your reputation goes up. If you do some more, the cops will come after you. Do even more, and you become PVP flagged, making you fair game for the heroes.

DC Universe Online is planned for PC and PS3 (with trophies), with possbility of cross-platform multiplay like in FFXI. The release date is yet to be announced, but you can keep up with updates at the DCUO page on Myspace.

Free Realms(PC)

Free Realms was described as an online game for the casual gaming market and boys and girls aged 9-14. This is a free to register game, where you can play mini-games, a bit of a simulation (pets and house), socialize and have some battles with cartoony monsters.

The character creation screen in flash-based online, and basically happens while the game is streaming. You pick a starting location and off you go. Since the characters aren't tied to a server, you can log on to whichever you choose.

Your character has a profile page inspired on social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, containing messages, images, friends list and mini-games, with parental controls to unlock the chat function.

The user interface is also flash-based, with some basic functions at the bottom middle portion of the screen and a mini-map up top that you can customize to show certain things only (such as shops, combat areas, mini-game locations). In the character menu, you can choose a profession or class: medic, wizard, miner, ninja, adventurer, postman). Depending on the profession you pick, you get different kinds of mini-games and tasks to do, as well as different skills you can use, but you can switch between the different professions at any time. As a postman, you go around delivering packages on a timer, and your special skills will be sprinting and throwing bones to distract pesky dogs.

Combat instances are marked, so that you know if you go through a particular gate, there will be monsters on the other side to attack you. Everything is very cartoony and low violence, monsters are knocked out and there is no blood. The stardust required to level up can be obtained by defeating monsters or playing the mini-games so you really don't need to fight to advance.

Mini-games like Bejweled and other simple puzzles overlay into the game and are also embedded in flash on the website, for players who don't really have the time to log on and do much adventuring. The controls are fairly simple, either keyboard and mouse for 2-hand control, or just point and click with the mouse only, and the game is fairly easy on system requirements (GeForce 3), all features that make Free Realms accessible to all kinds of players.

The game will be available in English, French and Spanish at launch, with more languages coming later. The beta will begin in September, and Free Realms will official launch in 2009.