Bring On the Bad Guy

Richard Dansky | 13 Jul 2010 12:58
Anti/Villain - RSS 2.0

Beating the Villain Has to Feel Good - Here's where the confusion with the boss battle comes in. Defeating a villain has to feel satisfying - it's the culmination of the player's journey thus far. However, to be emotionally satisfying, the triumph needs to be appropriate. Taking the villain in a Tom Clancy game and suddenly giving him bat wings and the ability to shoot fireballs may make for interesting gameplay variety and a tough encounter, one that a player can feel justifiably proud of winning, but it's not appropriate for the franchise or context, and it turns the villain into a skill challenge.


I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with a tough boss fight. The final encounter with a villain should be difficult, should be satisfying to win, and should require all of the player's skill. However, the player should want to beat the villain for reasons other than "it's the boss battle." A well-constructed villain should inspire feelings of antipathy, of wanting to take this guy down personally, of it feeling right to do so. As numerous observers have noted, it would take Superman about twelve seconds to take down the Joker, but nobody wants to see that. We want to see Batman do it, however, because of the emotions involved - the shared history and the sense of intertwined destinies.

That's four key issues. With all of this against the creation of a memorable villain in videogames, how can it be done?

Fortunately, there are several techniques and rules of thumb that can assist in the creation of good videogame villains that don't handicap gameplay. They're not always direct, they're not always easy, and sometimes they require an investment in additional assets, but, if done right, the end result is a memorable villain.

Make Your Cut Scenes Count - Whether or not you take control away from the player is up to you, but, if you do, you have to make it count. If you're taking the time to establish your villain in a cut scene (or on a monitor that the protagonist is forced to watch, or an in-game news broadcast, or, well, you get the idea), don't pussyfoot around. Hit the villainy, hard. If it's large-scale wickedness, show the carnage and don't pull punches. If it's small-scale, show the murder or torture so that it reinforces the notion that the character doing this is a bad, bad person whom the protagonist - and player - should hate.

Get Your Hate On Early - Slow builds on villains are useful for 19th century Russian novels and serialized media. In a game, you want to establish the villain as the opposing presence early and with authority. Start the villain off with a bang - killing a friend of the protagonist, blowing up her hometown, or killing his puppy - so that the player isn't left wondering who this guy is or why they're going after him. You can fill in the blanks later - why, for example, the villain hated that particular puppy - but if the player knows that they're supposed to hate the villain right off the bat and has a good reason to do so, then you've gone a long way toward building an emotional connection.

Comments on