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We present City of Titans, a spiritual successor for the superhero MMORPG City of Heroes, being developed by Missing Worlds Media.
5,003 backers pledged $678,189 to help bring this project to life.

Building a Skyscraper City: What’s Special about Titan City’s Downtown

Posted by Missing Worlds Media (Creator)

Hello, everyone. I’m here to let you in on some design secrets—without revealing any spoilers, of course!—behind the lore of City of Titans. Today, I’m going to tell you about developing one of Titan City’s districts: its Downtown. As always, any speculations about launch features are, as of now, only that: speculations. But these are our hopes.

We’ve all seen games or TV shows set in the generic “city,” where characters are surrounded by bland and characterless “tall buildings.” For Titan City, I wanted something better. Yes, the city is ultimately just a stage on which the player characters and their nonplayer supporting characters act out their adventures, but it’s more than just a series of terrain obstacles painted grey and speckled with windows.

A city needs character, too. As players move through the city, they should see interesting and quirky sites, things that make them wonder, “What’s going on over there?” or “What’s around that next corner?” Further, even within a fairly small area, they should see variety in the architecture. The city’s landmarks, like the named characters of a combat faction, should offer story hooks for players to investigate. This is doubly true in an MMO, where exploring the world can be part of the fun. Titan City should be as diverse, impressive, and intriguing as any real city.

When our original team of writers began divvying up the city’s districts (groups of neighborhoods that share a theme or motif), I pounced on Downtown. The whole concept of “the big city,” is fundamental to the superpowered adventure genre. After all, it’s “leap tall buildings at a single bound!” And there are few more iconic images in superhero comics than a hero perched on a skyscraper, surveying canyons of glass and light below him. I couldn’t wait to get a chance to create an entire district of skyscrapers of my own.

In previous MMO’s I’ve seen, the best-rendered contemporary high-rise districts have usually featured a series of glass and steel boxes (or other shapes). That can be fine, but real-life skyscrapers come in many more varieties. This is especially true of cities in the American Northeast, which had their skyscraper building booms before World War II. (It’s long been one of my pet peeves that most imaginary video game cities look like they could only have been built in postwar, snow-free California.) Since I knew Titan City would be located in Massachusetts, I wanted to make use of the diversity real Northeastern cities’ downtowns show to offer players some visual—and story!—variety. Accordingly, I decided I’d divide up Downtown’s neighborhoods roughly by style of architecture and thus the period in which they were built.

In my college years, I’d become a fan of TV shows like Batman: the Animated Series and of Max Fleischer’s 1940’s Superman theatrical cartoons, which in turn had led me into an interest in Art Deco architecture. For those who don’t know architecture well, that’s the style of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and countless others built in the 1920’s through 1940’s. This is the same period that gave us the superhero, so I knew it would play a part in Titan City’s Downtown. Deco’s massed forms, streamlined curves, and interesting details, such as the bas-reliefs of heroic workers or mythic figures seen on so many Deco buildings also makes it interesting to look at, much moreso than a blank, grey wall.

Realism can play a role in game design, too, so long as it makes things fun. Of course, Titan City is a modern metropolis, so I knew I’d need to include some Modern and Postmodern buildings, too. What better place for a hero to fly past, pacing his own reflection in a curving surface of windows? I decided to give these dramatic, unadorned shapes of steel and glass their own neighborhood, too. I also knew by now that the city’s first mayor had been named Anthony Fitzgerald, so I gave players the opportunity to discover that bit of history and engage with the lore more directly by creating a “Fitzgerald Square” neighborhood of older buildings, complete with a statue of Fitzgerald himself. To provide variety in the “tone” of the district, I also included a less lively neighborhood, more like the downtowns of many cities in my youth, all deserted streets and sidewalks that roll up at night.

Skyscrapers are more than just places for mission doors and giant roadblocks to overland travel. They’re tall! That should offer more options for exploration or other kinds of gameplay. Thus, I created a network of skywalks connecting some of the buildings’ tops. This allows for enemies hiding in rooftop gardens, thieves rappelling down to enter offices, and aerial pirates swooping in from above. More excitingly, it lets PCs do things like rescue civilians being held over railings by villainous extortionists or navigate among colorful zeppelins in a zone event. Players should be encouraged to explore and enjoy the entire environment, not just an area’s ground floor.

Fun as this was for me as an architecture geek, a district is more than just buildings and neighborhoods and potential spawn points. Just as a faction of enemies has its named characters, so a district needs “landmarks,” unique buildings or other locations that offer special sights and special story potential. For instance, I knew that Titan City’s tallest building would be one of its Art Deco towers, but I also gave that building a backstory. More than seventy years ago, villains tried to destroy it with a fiendish, mad-science formula. Of course, this being a comic book story, you know that their scheme left seeds of adventure waiting to germinate in the present day and be investigated by players. A famous bank on Fitzgerald Square immediately suggested stories about bank robberies and leads for players to look into. A Puritan-era graveyard, created as an homage to those dotting the real urban Massachusetts, furnished a place for historical clue-finding and ghost-busting. Every time I created a landmark, even if it was just an oddly colored office building, my first thought was, “What adventures might a player find here?”

But there’s still more to do in developing a district. As I mentioned earlier, the city is a stage on which PCs and NPCs play out their electronic lives. Downtown would be nothing without plenty of superpowered characters and factions (not to mention ordinary people) thronging its streets. By the time work on districts began, writers had already developed at least half a dozen business-oriented factions, all of whom now had a place to put their offices. The tall buildings immediately suggested visits from the skygoing Aether Pirates, while even the staid Titan City Stock Exchange furnished a potential site for missions or zone events featuring villains interested in financial shenanigans. A mixed-use development that’s been under construction for years proved the perfect place for villains with sinister schemes to stop or control the building to lurk. And so on.

That, from a writer’s point of view, is Downtown, and, indeed, Titan City as a whole. It’s not just a stage set; it’s a dynamic environment offering players gameplay opportunities as well as a feast for the eyes. Whether you enjoy in-depth, instanced stories, pyrotechnical, outdoor theatrics and rooftops chases, or just discovering secret alleys and quirks of architecture, there’s something for you to discover in Downtown. We look forward to transforming my design suggestions into a game environment full of adventures.

Jack Snyder


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    1. Red Warlock - Phoenix Rising Ranger on

      Happy 4th of July everyone!

      Not sure anyone ever checks back on this thread anymore, but since the thread relates to city design, I was just reading about this story on skyscrapers of the future and thought the story might be interesting to share with the creative team...…

    2. pud on

      *An Ironworkers thumbs up*

    3. Catherine America on

      Leveraging the vertical not only for exploration, but for actual game play is a terrific move!

    4. Red Warlock - Phoenix Rising Ranger on

      I love this post. It gave me lots of ideas.

      First, I love that you want to see diversity in architecture and not just simplistic glass and steel. Some of the most interesting modern sky scrapers I think are in Singapore, where they have merged green rooftops and 'organic skin' of buildings to create a metropolis that is toweringly modern, and yet lush with plant life. Also, imagine if Antoni Gaudi (who designed so much of the wildly artistic buildings in Barcelona) were able to design downtown sky scrapers for a neighborhood of City of Titans? Art and sculpture could be developed not only as statues and gargoyles of a Gothic style (like Batman is often done), but the buildings themselves could have organic, artistic shape emulating nature to add to the architectural diversity. There could be so much fun to explore!

      Second, I really love the style of architecture in City of Villains, and I hope that you at least reserve a neighborhood of Downtown that is reminiscent of COV architecture (especially Cap au Diablo). It could be a nod to the prior game that would memorialize something we love.

      Third, I really hope you make use of the sky if you are going to put so much time and effort into creating so many beautiful sky scrapers. I always felt like the sky areas in CoH/CoV were underutilized. I loved flying to the rooftops and would meet other heroes/villains in the sky, but it was mostly a place to explore, not a place where game play seemed to be very developed. I would love to see villain classes that only spawn on the tops of sky scrapers or flying in the clouds; it would be awesome to have an Arch Villain that lurks in an area of the sky that you would need to fly to fight him, or transport from the ground onto a floating structure (like the SHIELD Hellicarrier in Marvel Comics) to be able to fight it. If you failed the fight, you wouldn't just die, but you would fall all the way to the ground. (Imagine being on the ground below an AV raid in the sky where suddenly heroes would be falling all over the place from a failed raid - like it's raining heroes... Just that alone would be pretty awesome to witness!)

      Other ways you could create game play in the sky would be to populate the rooftop areas with mission contacts, explorer badges, and to create social gathering spaces at high elevations. Pocket D was a fun 'secret' getaway place, but it would be great to have a social gathering spot elevated within the high floor of a skyscraper with an open pavilion on the side of it so that characters could socialize outdoors with great views of the City. Imagine if it opened up into an aerial pavilion like Ouroboros, a full neighborhood of the sky city. Imagine if that space rolled out into a long stretch of sky pavilion (like the Singapore Sky Park) with pools, gardens, statues, dance areas, and bridges to adjoining sky city areas with landing ports for zeppelins and things – so much could be so fun!

      Finally, cities don’t need to be flat. I love San Francisco because it’s hilly. Beautiful sky scrapers can be seen more if they are raised on hills so you can see more of the buildings. Plus, cable cars are just fun. And cities don’t need to be dry. Some of the best cities are built on rivers and their most iconic architecture is at the river (Tower Bridge, London; Notre Dame Paris; the Brooklyn Bridge New York; etc.). I hope that Downtown is located in a beautiful natural space, and demonstrates iconic use of architecture within that natural setting to inspire us all.

      Your post clearly inspired me, and I’m going to donate more!

    5. Tessachan of Phoenix Rising on

      I'm in a personal relationship with the Commonwealth ;> So very glad it will be there! And all the wonderful buildings all over (don't forget the abandoned asylums!! After all, there really is an Arkham, MA... this being the hometown of none other than H.P. Lovecraft [Call of Cthulu author.]) I'm wicked excited about Titan City, as if I weren't before, lol. Now, though, it's personal...

    6. Curt Arndt on

      This is all VERY cool. I used to sign-out in CoH with my Main on the roof of what I considered HIS home apartment building in Steel Canyon, the one across from the lake. Like he was headed home after a long day of "heroing". Sounds like I won't be the only one up there anymore.

    7. Bruce T - Yorian of Phoenix Rising on

      This sounds absolutely wonderful. One of my favorite things to do in COH was to explore the city. I loved the crazy signs on the stores, the Open signs, the building details and the district feel if each area. This is exciting!

    8. DeathSentry on

      Oh god. This reminds me of the first time I got to lvl 20 and made my way to talos. So much to see! You have me dreaming again of the day where my rad/rad would swoo in debuff, and "apprehend" the vill ains and fly away. Its been a long week and yet I'm so happy to know that I'll b going home soon. Thank you for giving me hope once again.

    9. Zer0Morph on


    10. Missing avatar

      Heavy Ion on

      I'm glad to hear so much thought is going into developing the look of the city. Architectural variety, landmarks, the "feel" of a neighborhood - those are the details that will foster subtle immersion into this world.

      I look forward to a day when, after clubbing a few baddies into the ground with my metal fists, I will look around and think "This place is nice. I wonder what an apartment rents for in this part of town?"

    11. Krislyn Dillard on

      Wow! I love it! Art Deco and roof top stuff and puritan grave sites. How exciting! I can't wait to swoop in and rescue a hapless victim from plunging to their doom! And...PIRATES!! :D

    12. Missing avatar

      Talon- NIMH refugee of Phoenix Rising on

      Your all evil you know.. Now i have the urge to increase my pledge..keep going at this rate and i'll be broke...must be villains running this KS

    13. Michael Prieto on

      Alex... that building is pregnant... VERY pregant. ;)

    14. Robin Harvey on

      Wonderful update. I can't wait to see the environments in this game. These sneak peeks are so encouraging!

    15. Missing avatar

      Alex Norton on

      Challenge: Find a home for this guy -

      What a brilliant way to mix shapes together in one structure.

    16. Malkyre on

      One thing I'm constantly impressed by: the writing involved in this Kickstarter. It hit me the first time I read the full copy, and every bit of world building since then has been consistently detailed and engaging. I cannot wait to see the stories the writers come up with.

    17. Missing avatar

      ScRyiER - PhOeNiX RiSiNG on

      Sounds amazing. Simply AMAZING !!!

    18. Missing avatar

      Anna Simpson on

      Loving these insights into the world building!

    19. Michael Prieto on

      And may I suggest, in the midst of those skyscrapers, sometimes there might be some 'legacy' buildings - usually mansions or historical buildings (or old hotels) - like the Schinasi Mansion in NYC. (The one seen on the White Collar TV show). They often stand out,usually exceptionally beautiful, extremely high value for location, and could be centers of heroic/villainous activity.

    20. Missing avatar

      Christopher Gurney on

      You must be a mind reader Jack, because that would be my vision too! Good to know the direction of CoT is in good hands!

    21. Missing avatar

      Suicide Squid on

      If I hadn't already signed for a pledge, this would have finally convinced me to do so... :)

    22. Trev-MUN on

      I had to put on SimCity 3000's "Updown Town" while reading this.

      Love hearing the plans so far!

    23. Missing avatar

      Joel Aelwyn on

      Did somebody say "High Water Mark"?
      Oh, wait, different context.
      Move along, nothing to see here.

    24. Missing avatar

      mrinku on

      Currently, the high water mark of game cities are those in the Rockstar games.

    25. Missing avatar

      Luke Johnson on

      Aether Pirates?! AETHER PIRATES!!!

      This is already the best game ever.

    26. Mandrake - NameSake Radio on

      I have to say that I am more impressed and more confident in this project with each update so far. Great stuff.

    27. William Lewis Taylor II on

      I had a villain group called Glass and Steel because they so acutely represent civilization to me. I love the way you approached your designs. Thank you.

    28. David Guillot on

      cool sounding I hope you do a better job than DC Online the biggest minus I have seen in MMOs is the vast empty spaces devoid of anything to do

    29. Lord Nightmare on

      Yeeeesss... we need beautiful, big cityscapes in which to smash heroes around in! Plenty of areas to RP in like alleys and rooftops.

      Actually another disappointing thing about DCUO, so many large areas devoid of enemies (But not character or NPCs!) yet no one RPs there.

    30. Rotten Luck - Brute of Phoenix Rising on

      Okay I must Must MUST! Be able to clime buildings! I so want to leap from building to building griping window ledges and scaling skyscrapers in Downtown!

    31. Missing avatar

      Andrew on

      I agree the city is more than a level. The city helps make the character. What would batman be without Gotham? Would he still be the same batman. Superman without metropolis not the same. The city helps make the hero.

    32. JMadden_Phoenix Rising Initiative on

      sounds pretty awesome. I am a big fan of art deco myself. Can't wait to see this district. Keep it coming gang!!!!