DC Universe Online interview - Squashing bugs, animation glitching


Last week, I had the opportunity to interview DC Universe Online's Game Director Chris Cao. We talked about everything from what bugs the dev team is focusing on fixing first, March's big update, future power and weapon sets being added to the game and if they're planning to add mod support for the PC version. We'll be releasing a new portion of the interview every day this week up through Friday! Today we talk with Chris about what the dev team's top priorities are right now and what's really going on with major bugs like animation glitching.

PCG: What do you see as the top priorities for the dev. team to address?

Chris Cao: Well, I can tell you that we don't' spend a lot of time making a list--we just start working on fixing problems. Right now we're actually working on chat actively and we released some more fixes this last weekend and early Friday morning [to help improve the stability of chat on live servers].... We've found that [the problems with chat] have been very population-dependent. Because our leagues are so big (like I'm in a league that has 750 people in it) its' basically stressing our systems so we had to put in more tech to make sure that that whole thing works.

Voice chat is the same thing. We've done a bunch of changes there, but there are more coming in the February update. Communication is the number one thing. for us right now. Actually to that point, as a part of the March update, we're re-designing the social pane and moving a lot of aspects currently in the social menu out onto the quick menu, so that they're much easier to get to, instead of it being buried in the PDA.

Basically, right now, the thing that's making everything not work or more annoying is the chat and communication. Right after that, is grouping and group queuing. The queuing logic that we have in there right now, we actually had hot fixes go out for it--I think it was Friday again. We're starting to address these issues. We tried out a configuration for launch which favored Duo Modes over Alerts--it let Duos suck up all the available cues instead of letting more of the alerts show up. We're looking at re-balancing that right now. [Balancing that sort of thing] is just a matter of finding out what people like to do and whose using what. We're also adding in logic that makes sure that incomplete or dead instances get killed off faster, because they are also taking way too long right now.

So those are the two biggest things, because (1) If you can't talk to people, it isn't an MMO. And (2) If you can't do things easily with other people then, that's an issue. Now of course, there are lots of issues. Like we sped up the load time on the PS3 for a lot of menus which will speed it up on the PC even faster. That's just basic usability stuff. That's the thing: we have a great fun game, but there are some bugs and stuff that's making it hard to use, and that's really what we are focusing on more than anything.

And of course adding more stuff for everybody to do, but the focus is really split between making it easier to group and easier to see whats going on. Swapping group loot and cycle stance, which is a minor thing, but you look for group loot a lot more often than you cycle stance. So it's those little things. We're playing end game, we're playing the leveling game, trying to get those things that we just want to smooth out and not like a rough edge to you.

PCG: That's a lot of the changes that I, personally, was hoping to hear you mention.

CC: Yea, and there's a ton of other fixes going in there, like in some cases, there were duos where you could get locked out of a boss fight. There are a ton of that type of changes going in. We usually don't wait for the [major monthly] updates for those, because its server side. We actually change that stuff as fast as we can. If it involves physical assets that we have to do in the game, though, then we have to patch those and we wait for the update for that.

PCG: Another major problem that you didn't mention is the animation glitching that people are seeing in PVP, which lets cheaters chain together a crazy number of abilities. Is it going to be difficult to fix that? Is that even fixable?

CC: Well we're actually trying to find out what's going on, to be honest, because what's interesting is that what people are calling "animation glitching" [isn't really a bug at all]--it's inherent to our system. It's complicated to explain, so let me know if it comes across. Our system allows you to interweave weapon combos with abilities in your ability tray. That means that, in some cases, your ability tray needs to override your combo animation. In other words, if you gotta heal, you gotta heal right now because someone is about to die. So what we do is actually cut off the animation you were doing with your combo, and just instantly play the healing animation.

So sometimes people see what looks like a “glitch animation” which is actually our fail safe for when you need to heal or when you need to taunt or when you need to stun right away. We're gonna override our own animation and make sure that that ability gets played, [but it's not resulting in additional attacks]. The reason I bring that up is that this issue has actually grown [out of proportion] in peoples' heads in the community, because we didn't communicate well that "Yes, our system actually does allow inner animations to get interrupted." Now at the same time, we've been watching the YouTube videos and doing detective work to figure out how the guys are doing 20 attacks a second. We've actually found in some cases that its a data problem, because we've allowed abilities to continue through [weapon attacks].

So we fix some of those. We also have cheat detection which I won't go into the details on how we do it. But we've been logging and learning a lot of that stuff and fixing it back end on our side. In an MMO, you are always racing against the people. The game's evolving in both gameplay and technologically, we have our logging in place and are applying fixes (which I won't talk about specifically, but we are addressing these types of glitches). We don't seem to have anything duplicating what we saw in beta, where we had a few exploits like the track and field ones or the specific one with the Amazonian gauntlets where you could stack stuff up.

Obviously, when you're in PvP and you get unfairly ganked, it's one of the most emotional things that can happen. That's just gonna piss you off. But what's happening right now is that I've been playing a ton of PVP and I've never had [animation glitching] happen to me; and I'm on a pvp server! Obviously, this is anecdotal, but what I have seen is people calling out what I already do (which are my normal combos and abilities) and call that glitching.

The way to really tell if someone is glitching is to look in your combat log. If you see that you got hit repeatedly by someone in a span of time--instantaneously twenty or thirty times or constantly dodging or rolling--that's the exploit that we are hammering down on. We've already done a bunch of fixes on it, but because of our combination of systems, we gotta make sure we're covering all the holes. We don't have them all yet but we are working on it.