This week we return to a style of update we haven't done in a while, and introduce you to one of the people working to create City of Titans.
By Jack “Olantern” Snyder
Hello, City of Titans fans! You’ve seen plenty of teasers and tales about the game lore from those of us in the Composition department, but today, we’re giving you a peek behind the curtain into the glamorous world of volunteer game development. Let me introduce you to Cy “Aquashock” Coughlin, one of the great unsung heroes of City of Titans development, self-described wearer of “the Mean Editor Hat,” and the first person I go to when I doubt my own artistic judgment. I sat down with Cy (we were in different cities at our computers, but I presume she was sitting down, too) not long ago to ask her some questions to illuminate what she does.
What is your name? What is your job title? What is the capital of Abyssinia?
I’m Cy Coughlin. I’m the Continuity Lead for City of Titans. I joke that I’m the Composition Team’s resident ghost. The Ethiopian empire or a different one?
What does the Continuity Lead do? And why does it matter to a fan?
I serve as the content editor for all in-game material. This includes everything from NPCs, to landmark buildings, to missions in the game. My job is to refine, elevate, and workshop the concepts created for the game. We have a lot of writers and need to create a singular worldview for the game; I help make that happen. When a fan enters the game and finds an engaging, immersive world that lacks plotline black holes, that means I’ve been doing my job well!
Wow, that is a lot of work. How much time does that take?
I spend several hours a week reviewing writer submissions, which can be a challenge since I usually work six days a week in the real world. And that’s not even counting the time I spend working on concepts, mission structure, and writing content for the game in my spare time!
What special demands does writing for a shared setting place on writers?
It’s quite a challenge, that’s for sure. As a digital-only enterprise it can be very hard to keep everyone on the same page without a central office space and meetings. In an office, scheduling your team for a 2pm meeting isn’t usually a challenge--finding time for writers from across the world to meet poses quite a problem. And, given the nature of our team and project, our writers have vastly different backgrounds and voices in their work. We have to make sure that Anthem sounds the same every time she appears (unless, of course, the plot is going somewhere else) and that can be hard when ten people are all writing content in which she appears.
With "superpowered adventure" having such a vast potential scope, how do you know when something fits or doesn't fit the tone of the game?
Part of it is, unfortunately, going with your gut. When I read a submission, I think about how it fits into the universe we have. Would it stand out as strange and not in an intentional way? Does this duplicate another concept we already have? Does this idea impact other writers’ work in a negative way? And, of course, how would this idea be worked into something for player interaction? I’ve honed my superpowered adventure senses by reading and critiquing comics for many years.
How do you decide what to share with fans now and what should be a secret to be discovered in-game? It seems like a delicate balance.
Oh, it absolutely is. I tend to be cautious when it comes to spoilers because, in the end, they exist for players to experience. We want to put in some hooks and plant some clues along the way, but not show our full hands. I think there’s something special to the first time you interact with a piece of media--the first time you read your favorite book or watch an episode of a tv show that becomes a part of your life for years to come (hi, I’m a Transformers fan). We don’t want to deprive our fans of that experience, but we also want to keep people engaged until they can finally don their capes.
What is the most interesting part of your job? What has been your proudest moment so far?
I’d have to say getting the chance to help plan how a character moves through the lore has been the most interesting aspect. I’m primarily a writer and editor, so getting the opportunity to think about what types of mission content should exist, how players could interact with them, and how we can ensure that every aspect of how we build the game allows players to customize their experience. When I review a dialogue chain in a mission, I’m making sure that the writer isn’t accidentally putting words in a player’s mouth or railroading them.
My proudest moment was being able to work on the Paragons. While I worked with all of their concepts, I was able to take a role in writing two of them. I very much wanted to create characters that really stand on their own and aren’t versions of heroes you’ve seen with the serial numbers filed off. I think we’ve achieved that with this group and I cannot wait for players to learn more about this group.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
Time is always a challenge. We’re all working on this project in between our rent-paying jobs. Unlike a major studio with paid employees, we’re really doing this for the love of the concept and the chance to build something new. This means that we move slower, and that writers can be pulled away due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control. I often wish I could spend more time working on my always massive pile of tasks, but real life just doesn’t allow that. We do what we can, when we can, and we’ve gotten pretty far!
How did you get involved with City of Titans?
I’m one of the longest-serving members of the team--I’ve been involved since the first two weeks of people going “let’s create our own game.” I was a long-time player of City of Heroes and wanted to help build something for both that community and those who hadn’t had the chance to join it.
What advice would you give to someone interested in writing for a shared universe?
One of the biggest challenges of writing in a shared universe is sharing the road. In a larger product, it’s easier to find niches that don’t interact with the rest of the world, but there are still rules one has to follow. It’s about respecting both the universe you are creating for and the other writers (past and present) who are also working on it. Respecting doesn’t mean you can’t critique or deconstruct a universe, but there needs to be balance in how you approach the material.
What do you do when you're not reviewing City of Titans content? Has your outside life helped you in your Continuity or writing work? How?
In my day job, I lead the glamorous life of an art historian. Being able to research, think logically about visual cultures, and organize information is certainly useful when it comes to my work for City of Titans. As a writer, a broad base of experience can be quite useful and, when it comes to superheroics, knowledge of the ancient world, religions, and stories certainly helps! Being able to make a spreadsheet is also an underappreciated ability in the world of writing.
When I’m not working on either my day job or my night job, I’m usually reading books about dragons, checking out comics, or doing something related to Transformers.
What part of the game lore are you most excited for our fans to experience?
I cannot wait for fans to begin playing our Path mission arcs. Paths are, essentially, a character’s solo comic run inside a shared universe. When we were thinking up mission structure, I very much wanted to build something that could both allow players to have a meatier story and be able to really choose their own in-game destiny. Paths allow us to have the type of story experience found in a single-player game and put it into an MMORPG. And it’s an easily expandable type of content since we’re rooting paths in character archetypes, and we all know how many of those exist in a world of superheroics!
What do you enjoy most about MMORPGs yourself? What kind of player are you?
I’m a role player. Back in the day, I was a Virtue-only kinda girl. I love being able to craft a character and let them interact with a broader world. On the mechanics side, I’m a bit of a min-maxer and firmly believe that support characters make great tanks.
I have to ask ... if you could have any superpower in real life, what would you choose, and why?
Superspeed, hands down. I would love to be able to avoid annoying commutes and move freely where I want, whenever I want. I’d also kill so many keyboards but being able to type at superspeed would make writing so much easier!
Does the Mean Editor Hat have tassels on it? Where can I obtain such a hat myself?
It’s more of a tiara. After all, editors are unsung royalty. It is earned by spending more time thinking about 1990’s X-Men comics than is generally considered safe for the human psyche in my experience.
Thank you Jack and Cy for giving us a few minutes of your busy schedules.
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