Into the Super-verse: Seven tips for designing amazing MMO superhero costumes

How near, how far.

While we all know that the real endgame in any MMORPG is fashion, superhero titles take this much further than the rest of the field. Your costume in a superhero MMO is a great part of what defines you. It’s your creativity that you’re putting out there, giving everyone else a sense of what your character is about.

Are you trying to strike fear in your foes? Do you have alien heritage? Are you super-patriotic? Did you have to assemble your outfit on a budget? Are you goofy? Are you part-robot, part-insect? Your costume can say any of this and so much more.

But of course, you’ve got to make it good. It’s incredibly easy to make a lackluster or copycat costume, but a truly amazing outfit takes a lot of sweat, nail biting, and practice. In today’s column, we’re going to go over seven tips to making the best superhero costume you possibly can — no matter what MMO you play!

Tip #1: Learn the color wheel

Let’s be blunt about this: Colors will make or break your costume. How and where you dye your costume makes a world of difference. So it behooves you to learn the color wheel — and learn it well.

The color wheel is a tried-and-true tool in the fashion and advertising world. It shows which colors pair well with each other, which are “cool” or “warm” in tone, and which clash like nobody’s business.

A good starting point for many costumes is to center an outfit around a pair of colors that are directly opposite on the wheel. If you want to be a bit more professional about it, have one of the colors be more vibrant and the other darker.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid of more than two colors

I’m going to stick to coloring for a little bit because it’s so important to a great costume. Perhaps the most common design choice that I see in games like City of Heroes is that players make a costume with two and only two colors. These costumes can be fine, but are rarely excellent.

A third or even fourth color, if applied right, can go that extra distance to really make an outfit pop. These colors don’t have to be applied all over the place, mind you; sometimes it’s nice to have an accent color. It just takes more work and care to make sure that all of the colors don’t clash or look garish (unless that’s what you’re going for!). Using greys, whites, and blacks as a third color is always a safe choice, too.

Tip #3: Be like Batman

If you want kind of a monochrome outfit, don’t slap one coat of color everywhere and call it a day. Batman doesn’t even do that. Use two or three different shades of the same color and discover depth and texture to your ensemble!

Tip #4: Be inspired — but don’t copy

This is a fine but important distinction to make. We all know that there are plenty of players out there who simply try to recreate classic superhero outfits, but that shows such a lack of imagination. I would instead encourage you to be inspired by elements of a hero’s costume design and incorporate those elements rather than slavishly copy them.

You like Iron Man’s suit? Cool. Ask yourself what makes his suit interesting to you. Write down some adjectives that describe it, maybe “sleek,” “metallic,” “sporty.” And then whip up your own creation that incorporates those elements in your own way.

Tip #5: Create a vision in your head before starting

One way to make a costume is to simply flip through options, pick what looks good in the moment, and then hit “play.” But a better way is to formulate a vision in your head for what you want to make before you even start going through the choices. Having that vision helps you make the choices and, more importantly, eliminate a lot of options that don’t fit what you’re trying to create with your costume.

Tip #6: Sometimes less is more

Here’s a thought that applies to all MMOs with wardrobes: Just because you can show something doesn’t mean you must. Often in World of Warcraft, I’ll disable about a third of the slots on my transmog — usually head, shoulders, cape — to focus on other parts, and it works great.

In superhero MMOs, you have access to so many slots and options, and an ever-present temptation is to use all of them up. But you don’t have to, especially if it goes against the vision you’ve established beforehand. You don’t need an aura and a giant smoking backpack and hulking shoulderpads and hissing snake boots just because you can… unless it’s what you wanted to do in the first place, of course.

Tip #7: Take notes from other players

I’ve long realized that there are always others who are far better at being creative than me, and if I want to get better at anything creative, I need to be observant and take note of what they did to catch my attention.

It might be silly to apply this to MMO costumes, but yeah, I totally do. I love going to costume contests and scouting outfits to see what ingenious ideas others put out for display. Other players have a lot to teach you, if you’re willing to learn.

What are your tips?

I hope this is just the starting point of an engaging discussion on costume design, so post your own outfit creation tips and tricks in the comments below!

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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Bruno Brito

The lack of Batman who laughs in that Polygon article is making me sad.

Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

Great article. I agree about the 3rd or 4th highlight color adding a touch of spice to a superhero costume. Superman has red and blues with a touch of yellow. Batman has black and gray with a touch of yellow. Flash had red and yellow with a touch of white.

I would also add, in addition to color, check out materials. After years of COH, CO expanded on the options, assymetry, more costume parts, more options, more layers and materials: Cloth, Leather and Metal (and later Holograms, moving Shadows). Especially now it’s easier to have a computer that can show the difference between cloth and a shinier leather in light or reflective metal. Putting on a simple shirt, blue jeans with leather jacket and leather shoes looks nice. Or having armor with metallic plates with leather undersuit can look cool vs just having the same materials.

VALIANCE ONLINE and SHIP OF HEROES have captured the look of COH.
CITY OF TITANS is pushing what options players can use in 2020 to take COH options to the next level.

Matt Redding

Related, sometimes if you pick a different texture for some part of the costume (or sometimes there’s just something off about the texture in a part of a set) you may need to tweak the main color by a shade to compensate for that. For instance if you want the body to be slick, glossy like tights that suggest armor but the gloves & boots to be matte to suggest doeskin type textures you’d probably need to go a shade darker for those items.

Tee Parsley

I once played a CoH alt who was a very insecure superhero. Any comment on his costume would lead to him adopting that suggestion. Some were good, some terrrible! Was a fun internal amusement.

IIRC, his last iteration was mostly dark orange and black.

Kickstarter Donor
Legend Of Vinny T

A few additional tips from my own personal experience in CO:

1: CO and CoH both let supergroup leaders choose a pair of colors for the group, so members can coordinate costumes for group activities. My first CO SG chose eggplant and charcoal grey. Moody, but not edgy. (See #3 below.) That didn’t stop some of us from lightening up that mood by using bright colors from our regular costumes. One player used the SG colors as trim on a white base. I was already using black, gold, and white like a dyed-in-the-wool yinzer, so I kept the gold trim with eggplant and grey and it *popped*.

2: Neutrals and muted shades are your friends once you’ve chosen your base colors. I recall CO costumes getting a lot better all around after Cryptic expanded the palette with some desaturated shades and cooler and warmer greys.

3: Black can look great, or it can look cheesy. Black and red (or any one primary color) will probably get you made fun of unless you’re careful to vary shades and materials or add a third color. For a while there, CO had quite a few characters we’d call “blackredders”. They were almost always demons or Punisher knockoffs, and they’d show up for CCs with a costume in which absolutely every color channel of every part was either rgb(0, 0, 0) or rgb(255, 0, 0). They’d never win. I recall somebody once calling them “Saturday morning edgelords”.

4: Yeah, don’t be that guy. And watch that you don’t accidentally evolve into that guy. I ended up scrapping a recent costume because, after trying to blend elements of a few other looks, I landed on a recolored Rogue without the white streak in her hair.

5: I’m going to give a counterpoint on this one, because sometimes playing around in the tailor will lead you from the costume to the character. I once came up with an alt by playing around with club-themed clothes and landed on a psionic DJ who was so good because he’d use his telekinesis as a third “hand” on the 1s and 2s.

6: If you need help in this department, decide what part of the character’s body best expresses their story or powers, and work from there. My main never wore any sort of mask, so I always concentrated on her arms as a focal point. Another CO player’s main (Hi, Caliga, wherever you are!) was a deposed king. His costume invested heavily in a distinctive crowned helmet and a bold red cape with a fur collar, but kept the rest sleek and simple.

7: The evolution of my main’s costume took a dramatic turn when I saw somebody win a CC with an effect I had no idea existed in CO. I had to ask how they did it after the CC, and they were more than happy to share. Which leads me to my own point…

8: Pay attention to how the visual effects of powers affect your costume. For example, that trick I learned in #7 had to do with the translucency effects on certain CO accessory parts. The brightness of the color would determine the degree of translucency, so you could make them disappear completely when set to rgb(0, 0, 0) black. Their trick was to set those accessories to black, then activate the Inertial Dampening Field defensive toggle, which would pulse a colored glow on the player’s geometry, *including the “invisible” parts*, causing those accessories to appear and disappear at regular intervals. They used it for “ghostly armor” on a mystical character, but I was able to use it on my cyber-post-punk main to give her force fields. It worked even better after CO branched some of those effects out into the aura system. Now she has always-on force fields on her arms (see #6), and the other force fields are black and “activate” by means of an in-combat aura with the same color as the arm parts.

Dug From The Earth

I cant stress how important #2 is. Very rarely are 2 color costumes good. Most of them look like you hit the “random generate” button in the character creator. Even different shades of the same color work (like black with grey)