Into the Super-Verse: Putting City of Titans’ character builder through its paces

No mitten hands!


Mark this date in your history books because the battle of superhero MMO character builders is on! Both Ship of Heroes and City of Titans are releasing their character builders for supporters to tinker around with, giving us superhero fans a unique preview into the customization and flexibility of these all-important tools.

And while we’ll undoubtedly be looking at Ship of Heroes’ builder this weekend (as it’s launching into beta today), Titans got its “Titan Builder” out of the door first. This move certainly helps to project some momentum for this long-brewing project and gives us our first hands-on look as to what the characters — if not the world — will look like.

Both of us (Eliot and Justin) spent some time experimenting with the Titan Builder this past week, and we figured that it might benefit you to post both of their impressions as well as plenty of screenshots in today’s column!

Justin’s impressions

What was perhaps the most encouraging factor of the Titan Builder is that it shows the City of Titans team hasn’t been putzing around. It’s a very full-featured product — perhaps too full-featured, as I’ll explain in a minute — with some nice music and sharp looks. I was really expecting a builder with only a small handful of options, but if you’re willing to put the time into this, I have no doubt you can create a very unique avatar.

That said, this is obviously an early alpha product. Some options are missing entirely, some don’t work at all, and some are just mystifying to figure out from the icons. Probably my two biggest issues with it were that there were far too many sliders (which you may love or hate, depending on how much you like to tweak body dimensions) and the costume options were difficult to handle. These sorts of builders should be, in the end, very intuitive and fun to use. City of Titans has a ways to go before it gets to that point.

Some of the more fun options that you can pick include android looks, a “chipped paint” skin that’s pretty unique, a “skull bulge” slider that is both disturbing and amusing, mouth sliders that can make horrifying expressions, ears with adjustable pointyness, the option to make your belly so large that you can be pregnant (pregnant women already have super-strength), and some interesting costume pieces that show promise. There are also a few costumes that are direct callbacks to City of Heroes, in case you forgot the whole “spiritual successor” thing.

I had good intentions with my first try, thanks to the cool factor of the android skin that looked like something out of I, Robot. Then I got into the sliders. Before I knew it, I had picked a giant helmet, a third arm (which I think… I think was a glitch), and a coat that won the Guinness World Records for clipping. Also, she got pregnant along the way because the world is ready for a super-powered pregnant android with a Juggernaut head.

Clearly, I failed.

I started over, thanks to the helpful reset button that erases all abominations. This time I had a simple goal: to make a superhero that at least looked good, if not one that fit a concept. I don’t think City of Titans’ builder is anywhere near the point where you could envision a hero and then bring it to fruition. So “looking decent” was my goal here.

This was tougher than you may think. So many options are disabled or simply not working, especially on the costume side. I ended up picking whatever worked, didn’t clip, and had a nice visual to them. Eventually I produced a buff-looking guy that was probably ready for American Gladiators but not the Justice League.

Conclusions from my time in the builder? There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s as rough and glitchy as might be expected from something in a very early stage. If this is any indications of City of Titans’ development as a whole, we have a long way to go… but it might be very interesting when we do get there.

Eliot’s impressions

I find myself in an odd position when it comes to superhero character creators. On the one hand, I absolutely expect any such creator to be at least substantively similar to the creators from City of Heroes, especially when you’re dealing with a game like CoT that is explicitly looking for that connection. It should give me a whole mess of options and impress me. At the same time, there’s also a certain element of having… too much power and not enough point of comparison, so you find yourself asking “did I make a tall but otherwise normal-ish person, an enormously tall person, or… someone just on the normal spectrum here?”

That's not a coat.Fortunately-ish, the early character creator here does come with several pre-made characters that at least give you a default starting point. In fact, there are a lot of things on display even in this prototype stage that I really do like. For example, the fact that you can mix and match shoulderpads as you wish? Inspired! The ability to tweak poses? Welcome! The ability to teak expressions so you can wind up with a permanent smirk if you wish? So pleasant, even if that does mean that you’re really only a few clicks away from permanent Dreamworks Face.

Less fortunately, though, the current version of the character builder has perhaps a few too many options for any of them to feel entirely functional, and a lot of work has clearly been devoted to making sure that the sliders are functional before the outfits. Some of the sliders also affect things that… well, have the same problem a lot of these slider-heavy creators have, where it’s hard to get a sense (for me, at least) of how tweaking these sliders really fits together on a conceptual face/body/etc. instead of just from a moment-to-moment experience. I’m willing to chalk that up to my own issues, but when you also have costume parts like the pictured jacked-mass that’s not really anything like a jacket, you… run into problems.

Of course, that’s also dragging a character creator’s alpha for being an alpha, which strikes me as poor form.

In the grand scheme of “does this work for creating a character,” while it needs a lot of work for fixing costume options that aren’t working, refining some of the slider descriptions, and fixing bugs (for example, the skin color field doesn’t quite work correctly for closing), the test version is still a functional character creator. It clearly has the fingerprints of an early alpha, but it also does show some of what can be done. I really do enjoy the breadth of body sliders available to allow you to make characters further away from idealized physiques as you so desire, and the layering at work for items, while not wholly functional just yet, is a worthy idea that specifically overcomes one of CoH’s longstanding limitations.

Perhaps that might be the best way to look at the creator: It’s a proof of concept as much as anything, and that concept is that you can create something distinct from what CoH did. This still bears some of those fingerprints, of course, but it also has the potential to deliver a lot more. A lot will depend on the parts that are refined into usable forms and addressing the bugs, but I do at least feel that the tools are there.

And hey, no mitten hands. That alone is worth more than a few points to me.

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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