Into the Super-verse: Why Ship of Heroes’ character customization tool is so important


What kind of hero are you going to be today?

In most MMOs, that question and its possible answers are watered down and homogenized, but in a superhero MMO, it seems to carry a special weight and meaning. You’re not merely a class or a role so much as an identity, forged from many parts to be something distinct, unique, and memorable. And the best part is that a good deal of this identity formation happens before you even step a single foot into the game world.

There’s a good reason that people still gush about City of Heroes’ character customization system. It was one of the first MMORPGs to hand over nearly every aspect of an avatar to the players, allowing them to envision a final product and then work toward making that a reality. It’s also why it is so vital for Ship of Heroes to not only get its character customization tool out to its fans but to absolutely stick the landing in this delivery.

Sparking the imagination

As we sit on the verge of Ship of Heroes bringing out its character creator for us to test, I think we need to realize how important such an element is to a superhero MMORPG. As a spiritual successor to City of Heroes, this game wants to draw in many of the same players who fell in love with the flexibility and options that was in the former game. Pretty much, if you could imagine a character, you could make it — or something within spitting distance of it.

Unlike other MMORPGs, in which your visuals are defined by whatever armor or cosmetics you collect, superhero MMOs ensure your look is solidified from the first hour. You have almost complete control over your body type, your height, your outfit, your colors, your auras, and all of the rest of these details that come together to make a package. If you can pair that look up with a clever, striking, or punny name, so much the better.

Because of this wildly greater degree of customization, Ship of Heroes’ character creator tool will serve a few purposes. First of all, it’ll let people check out the visual style and see if it is up to expectations. Second, it’ll function as a very clever piece of marketing that will grab in the public and make them pay closer attention to this upcoming title. But third, the tool will start players on the epic journey that they will continue when the game actually launches.

Such tools spark imaginations and spread possibilities on the table before you. It might even be a better thing to have a character customizer without an accessible game behind it for a while, because we won’t be in a hurry to blitz through this crucial process just to get to the world itself. It is not unknown for players to spend over an hour or two on a single character design, tweaking it just so and picking out the perfect color palette to complement the hero.

Random factors

The Ship of Heroes team recently highlighted the randomization feature for the character customization tool. You might think that this is a counter-intuitive option, that it is for lazy people who want to speed through the process as quickly as possible. Sure, it might be used that way, but I have come to realize that there is a greater use for such a tool.

In short, hitting that randomizer button throws possibilities on the screen — combinations and colors — that you might never have thought to try if you were flicking through menu options by yourself. It might be a hideously garbled mess the first several tries, but sooner or later something may pop out at you that opens up a new concept to you. Take that concept and then add to it, and you might end up with an amazing superhero that you would have otherwise neglected.

It’s also a great move to take the randomizer a step beyond what City of Heroes had by offering randomization for specific parts of your character: head, look, costume, and color. Sometimes you don’t want a full overhaul, you just want to see what other color pairings might look like on the costume you’ve slaved over for 45 minutes. Having the option to lock specific parts of your look so that the randomizer doesn’t touch it is a must-have, and I’m glad to see it’s here too.

Ready to dig into this

It’s a big jump for Ship of Heroes to put this character customizer out there, and I’m holding my breath to see how it will be received. I’m not worried so much about complaints over the lack of options; from the videos and screenshots we’ve seen so far, there are plenty of details from which to pick for any given character. My worry leans more toward the art style.

MMO players can be weirdly picky (and even snobbish) about graphics, especially on the avatars that they want to impress an identity upon. In games that are still being developed, finished art assets usually come later on, leaving rougher and less refined versions for the early test stages.

To my eyes, Ship of Heroes’ avatars are serviceable-to-good in the looks department. I think they still have a bit of that fake plastic sheen to them, but that’s much less noticeable than it was in earlier videos (for example, the team posted, “All of the hair models are new, and higher quality than in the past. We’ve upgraded them to enhance the look and feel of the game.”).

I can certainly see myself whipping up a small army of superheroes to grow to love, and I’m hoping that the community will show some grace to that visuals that this small studio is trying very hard to produce.

I hope that this marks the real start to a great run for Ship of Heroes. It might seem like a small thing to outsiders, to be able to make your character and nothing else, but to those former heroes who have been in hiding for the last decade, they know better.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.
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