262: Bring On the Bad Guy

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I was trying to think of a way to do the villainous deeds onscreen without always losing or always relying on forced failure scenarios and...it's not easy. I mean, we know gamers: if there is the slimmest chance of succeeding SOMEONE is going to do it once, get it down to a science, post an FAQ on how to win the Impossible Fight In The Warehouse In Scene 4 and then your villain is always losing again regardless of how finely tuned you thought you made that sequence to be both likely a win for the villain and not a completely forced fail sequence.

Then it occurred to me that winning and losing aren't the only options.

How many villainous events in games have choices involved? Anyone have good examples? I'm thinking of something akin to some skirmish with the baddies happening in Appropriate Location X that culminates in catching up to your nemesis as he's stealing whatever he's there to take...except he has a hostage. Not one he's holding in front of him like a shield, no, that's just a question of marksmanship. He has a hostage hanging out the window over there. You could stay and try to catch/kill him, sure, but that means the hostage is going to go splat. If you dive to save the falling hostage there's no way you're going to catch up to the villain before he makes his escape. Both are viable options, though staying to fight the big bad is no guarantee you're going to get him. There's no way of knowing if he has yet another get out of jail free card up his sleeve, and then you've let someone die for nothing.

Did I mention you don't have a whole lot of time to consider this? I mean sure we're forty flights up, but you'd be surprised how fast a body drops!

Rough messy thought just to get an example up there. I can't think of something like this in any games I've played, but I'm not good at that kind of memory indexing.

SNES Kefka.

I will always vouch for the Legacy of Kain games in regards to villainy, although not necessarily in regards to the 'villain'.

The relationship between Kain and Raziel throughout the saga highlights a tense struggle which evolves over the various timelines they pass each other in with expert writing (and VAs) which really highlights each others animosity to each other. Given that they are both playable characters across the saga, this demonstrates a fantastic degree of emotional involvement between the player and the character they are controlling, and really gives a unique insight into each others motives. Its something few games have accomplished in creating, and really sets it apart from other games in the fantasy hack n slash genre.

The early villain rule I don't think aids villains one way or another, I can think of many games that open with the villains and many games that introduce them literally hours into the game and both categories have about the same number of good villains.

In interactive media, one of the best ways to give the villains ample screen-time and to NOT screw the player with invulnerable or non-interactive scenarios is to have the villain be a playable character. Two of the best examples of this come from Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire 4.

Spoilers ahead.

In Chrono Trigger, the primary "villain" is Magus (I personally do not consider Lavos a "villain" even though he is the final boss.) Magus is interesting in that you hear tale of him well before you actually see him on screen. His reach in the world is primarily in 600AD medieval time period, but Magus worshipers exist in the present day (1000AD) as well. The first time you see him on screen is during one of Frog's flashbacks, and you don't see him again until you meet up with him for the showdown. AFTER you defeat him, you get to see a lot more of him, both as a prophet in the lost time of magic and as a young boy in the same period. Finally, should you chose to spare him, he joins your party. Magus is the first villain I thought of when reading this article after the Joker, and the only reason I was thinking of the Joker was because of his prominence in the article sidebar.

In Breath of Fire 4, you alternate playing the game from the perspective of the heroes (Ryu, Nina and company) and the villain (God-Emperor Fou-Lu). Firstly, this is one of the only games I've ever played where a super-powerful entity was sealed away from the world for 1000+ years and PEOPLE DIDN'T FORGET ABOUT HIM. When he awakes, he is greeted by the competent General Yohm who intends to kill him for the sake of the current emperor, and Yohm nearly succeeds. Fou-Lu's story basically alternates between being hunted down by humans and being saved by humans. Most of these humans who help him get destroyed by General Yohm and the Fou Empire. Fou-Lu is a tragic villain, and the game story is benefited greatly by this.

I also think the villains in Gunstar Heroes deserve mention here. Yes, they had stupid names (Pink, Orange, Black, Green, Grey, and Smash Daisaku) but they really felt like good comic book/serial villains, with varying levels of competence. Pink, Orange, Black and Daisaku represented the comically incompetent crowd. (Daisaku is the villain who gets the most screen time but he is technically second in command.) Green was the classic hero-turned-villain and is the only villain that shows the main characters a level of respect. Grey is the kingpin, and you see less of him than his generals, but he's a strong character just because of the lead up. The greatest scene in the game, and one of my favorite sequences in 2d gaming history is in this game: The last level is a kind of "Boss Rush" where the level is simple but you are confronted by all the games nemeses, which was common for games of the period. The twist was, the whole level was played on a monitor, with the bosses watching the heroes. As you defeated the villains, Grey would send out the next villain to stop the players. It's a really great sequence and I strongly suggest anyone who hasn't played this game and has a spare couple hours to do so.

ugg... "shooting your own henchmen" God what an overdone cliché, and it's not even a good one! When I see a boss kill his own henchmen for "failure" I don't see an evil overlord I see a moron with anger management issues and start wondering how the hell he got henchmen in the first freaking place.

Seriously.... what is it with games and Evil = Stupid... the most scary evil bastards are the smart ones that convince people to do hideous things of their own free will.

Building a believable villain is very, very hard, even on older media, and we're talking about a medium that's still struggling with how to represent women. If you need to show your villain but can't have the player be unable to defeat them and can't have the player defeat them, what do you do? There wouldn't be as much memorable villains in this list if video games weren't essentially about conflict (but since they are, it fires a lot more shots, so some of them are bound to hit the target).

I'll say that if a character is well written players will hate him no matter how much of those little boxes get ticked.

SupahGamuh:
GTAIV on the other hand, had Demtri Rascalov. The only thing he was missing was an evil laugh, but everything this article checklisted, this guy has them all.

I don't know if I mentioned it in here before, but I felt that GTAIV had a good end and a bad end not in the usual sense, i.e. good and bad for the character, but for the storyline. Choose 'Revenge' and a great villain is wasted early, an unimportant character dies and another unimportant character is upgraded to bad guy out of the blue for a final level you aren't invested in (bad end). Choose 'Deal' and Nico gets to see one more betrayal, a character that's been along with Nico during his worse times is killed, striking Nico deeply psychologically, the big villain is still loose, and the revenge theme the game has is heavily underlined (good, as in satisfying, end). I honestly can't say if this was the devs' idea or if they crapped out the bad end to make players play a second time. I'm still not sure if the fact that there are no consequences whatsoever of whether or not you kill the guy that betrayed Nico in the war is a comment on the futility of revenge and how it never changes anything or if the devs just couldn't think of any content to add either way.

Crimson_Dragoon:
My favorite video game villain will always be Kefka from FF6. He's balls-to-the-wall insane (in a good way, like the Joker), he has the evil laugh down to a science, and he actually succeeds in taking over the world.

Kefka is the perfect example of how to do a villain. Let me just put it this way: half way through the game, your quest stops being about saving the world and starts being a quest for revenge. I will not spoil it any further than that.

Seriously play through this game if you haven't already.

Shjade:
How many villainous events in games have choices involved? Anyone have good examples? I'm thinking of something akin to some skirmish with the baddies happening in Appropriate Location X that culminates in catching up to your nemesis as he's stealing whatever he's there to take...except he has a hostage. Not one he's holding in front of him like a shield, no, that's just a question of marksmanship. He has a hostage hanging out the window over there. You could stay and try to catch/kill him, sure, but that means the hostage is going to go splat. If you dive to save the falling hostage there's no way you're going to catch up to the villain before he makes his escape. Both are viable options, though staying to fight the big bad is no guarantee you're going to get him. There's no way of knowing if he has yet another get out of jail free card up his sleeve, and then you've let someone die for nothing.

Happens in Mass Effect 2 on Zaeed's loyalty mission. You choose between saving the people or catching the villain (for that specific mission). You can't do both no matter how hard you try. Not only does this determine whether the villain survives or not in the next game, it also has consequences on you as a character, giving you either paragon or renegade points depending on your action.

I have three villain picks of my own. Two of them come from the same game, strangely enough. The game is Iji, a free indie game for PC that everyone and their dog should play. Anyway, in Iji, the Tasen (an alien race) surprise attack earth with an "Alpha Strike", decimating the planet. It is unknown whether any human besides the protaganist's brother survived. You eventually find out the Tasen are on the run from the Komato (another alien race) and broadcast a message to them in an effort to rid the planet of the Tasen, but the Komato aren't who you think they are... then in a specific sense, there are a few named "villains" as well.

As for the third villain, the Ur-Quan from "Star Control II" (or the updated and independently released "The Ur-Quan Masters", also a free game) are absolutely amazing. Right at the beginning of the game you arrive at Earth to find out it has been encased in a "slave shield" by an alien race who defeated them. The game starts off with you staring at a defeated Earth. Can you imagine how chilling that would be? The worst part is, you can understand the fears of the Ur-Quan, even while you sit there disagreeing with them.

Nitpick:

Superman might be able to easily beat up The Joker in a straight fight, but that doesn't mean that he's not a threat. Superman's biggest vulnerability isn't Kryptonite; it's his friends, who can be hurt and killed like any other normal human being. The Joker might not be able to hurt Superman physically, but when it comes to psychological damage, Superman is as vulnerable as anyone else - and the Joker is a master of inflicting it. Indeed, there actually have been several times when The Joker went up against Superman and came as close to victory as any other villain ever gets.

Thats bull. There are plenty of ways to give a game villain screan time. Cut scenes for a start. Or just have you're character anable to attack during his in-game apearances. Tons of games implament this.

The rest is just kind of niether here nor there. There is nothing stopping a narritively rich story being told through the medium of game. Villains and all.

The bad guy is usually my favorite character.

Can anyone picture a game where Poison Ivy & Ra's Al Ghul work together to try & whipe out humanity, fully intending to stab eachother in the back after the deed is done? But Batman (& possibly some other DC companions) must save the world. An open world with 2 major bosses & lots of stuff in the environment only comic book readers would recognize.

Great article. I was suddenly reminded of Ghaleon from Lunar: The Silver Star. While I only played the re-release on the PS one, he was such a prick, and the game constantly reminded me that he was a prick. Yes, a prick with good intentions but a- well you get the message.

Arhy:
...Dr Nefarious, from the Ratchet and Clank games...

Ah.. Nefarious. My favorite Ratchet and Clank Villain. One of my friends got me interested in the games after mentioning I'd make a good Dr. Nefarious. xD

ME2 is interesting in this regard. There is a primary antagonist, but you don't meet it personally. Instead of coming to the battlefield itself, it possesses its minions, which means it gets to blather at you constantly and you can fight it without ever finally defeating it. It's just a shame the climactic showdown is with something else entirely. A proper fight with the Collector General would have been nice.

A very interesting article, which can also be interpreted for the purposes of creating a recurring villain in a tabletop RPG as well.

I have drawn some experience from various sources, most notable of which would be the Legacy of Kain series of games, where Kain starts off as the hero / main character in Blood Omen 1, before being painted as the villain in Soul Reaver 1, ripping the bones from Raziel's wings, before tossing him into the abyss, no longer of any use.

As the story progresses there, we see the two characters realise that they must work together to face a much greater foe, as their goals share very close parallels, which expose plots from other factions, who have been ignored, while this power struggle ensues.

Dammit EIDOS, you need to make a final chapter to this saga! I want to know what Kain was going to do after killing that squid!

*sigh* This skeleton of a storyline seems to be where I am taking my Exalted game, in that the Celestial Exalted are perceived as evil by the Terrestrials, but both must join forces in order to save the world.

Different mediums need different types of villains. Typically video games need enemies that don't need you to feel particularly sympathetic to them, unless you plan on doing some types of bait and switch, such as the Legacy of Kain series. Other mediums where you can add a larger variety of villains, you can do much more with each of them.

If you want to look at villains where you can feel sorry for them, the single greatest example I can think of is Spider man's Lizard. You know he's an amazing scientist and he hates what he does as the Lizard, but he can't control himself. Normally with video games, you can't actually do something like this, because normally without an obvious and constant opponent, a lot of the game loses the luster if you have no enemy.

Of course, sometimes in a long running series the bad guy is just a jerk, and you pretty much only feel for the protagonast and their friends. Probably the best example I can think of is an Anime series Martian Successor Nadesico. The hero Akito Tenkawa is a guy you can feel sorry for, but his rival, Nagare Akatsuki is just a jerk you love to hate. Okay, hate might be just a bit strong, but you don't have a reason to like him.

I think the best way to get a player emotionally connected to a villain is have the player play as that character for at least a little while, maybe playing his backstory for a little while could be a very cool way to introduce some gameplay elements and get the villain established early on, but then coming back to that as the villain needs to accomplish some difficult/evil tasks while achieving his nefarious goals. I haven't really seen any games do this at all, but I think it would be incredibly cool. Full disclosure, a good villain usually ends up being my favorite character.

Nicely done. Thank you.

dathwampeer:
Thats bull. There are plenty of ways to give a game villain screan time. Cut scenes for a start. Or just have you're character anable to attack during his in-game apearances. Tons of games implament this.

And all of them fall to the very sin Richard Dansky described. All together now!

The Original Article:
If the player can't shoot him or otherwise has their interaction with the villain hamstrung (Hello, forced failure conditions!), then they're going to be frustrated, and hate the game designer instead of the villain.

If you're going to take pot shots, at least address the article's actual arguments, please.

Oh, and my thoughts? Yeah, I'm with those who agree Saren was a truly epic villain, one of the videogame greats. You get the good hit of how villainous he is right at the start, he frustrates your efforts at numerous points in clear, well-handled ways (although a latter one counts as 'forced failure scenario', sadly) and his death is handled beautifully.

As a polar opposite, Dragon Age was fascinating in that it functioned really well without a central villain of any sort. Yeah, there's the Archdemon, but it's not a villain, per se.

(And as much as I liked Conviction's plot and narrative, I didn't buy Reed as a villain either. The most interesting character of Conviction, the supporting character who drove it, was always Grimsdottir.)

BlindChance:

dathwampeer:
Thats bull. There are plenty of ways to give a game villain screan time. Cut scenes for a start. Or just have you're character anable to attack during his in-game apearances. Tons of games implament this.

And all of them fall to the very sin Richard Dansky described. All together now!

The Original Article:
If the player can't shoot him or otherwise has their interaction with the villain hamstrung (Hello, forced failure conditions!), then they're going to be frustrated, and hate the game designer instead of the villain.

If you're going to take pot shots, at least address the article's actual arguments, please.

Oh, and my thoughts? Yeah, I'm with those who agree Saren was a truly epic villain, one of the videogame greats. You get the good hit of how villainous he is right at the start, he frustrates your efforts at numerous points in clear, well-handled ways (although a latter one counts as 'forced failure scenario', sadly) and his death is handled beautifully.

As a polar opposite, Dragon Age was fascinating in that it functioned really well without a central villain of any sort. Yeah, there's the Archdemon, but it's not a villain, per se.

(And as much as I liked Conviction's plot and narrative, I didn't buy Reed as a villain either. The most interesting character of Conviction, the supporting character who drove it, was always Grimsdottir.)

How the Hell is that a sin? If you get frustrated by a game moving the narrative along don't play story driven games. It's never once bothered me that I can't attack a villain because he's out of reach, or I've been knocked to the ground and temporarily lost my gun. ect.ect.ect. In-fact it builds up tension and makes the game better for it. Honestly it's not game the designers fault that everyone seems to suffer from ADD and must shoot everything in the first 5 seconds of it appearing on screen. That's probably why everyone found the library section of Metro so hard. Patience is in-fact a virtue.

And ye Saren is a good villain. Bioware manage to find a way to give him enough on screen time to develop as an antagonist without it getting stale. General Scar from starfox adventures. I had an unbelievable loathing for him. That was due to the fact that whenever he appeared on screen he made his getaway before I could do anything about it. I honestly find no problem with this technique and think the OP is talking out of his ass.

dathwampeer:
How the Hell is that a sin?

Because the whole point of a game is agency. If a cut-scene or game mechanic arbitrarily de-powers you (Far Cry 2, I'm lookin' in your direction. Stop laughing, Resident Evil 5, Shamus Young wants to have a word with you.) yeah, it's frustrating as can be. If it's done well, ala Saren... well, it works.

Now, fine. You've addressed the original comment. Which is cool. But my complaint with you was that you made an argument the original article already addressed. You can't leave it at that without rebutting his rebuttal, man.

BlindChance:

dathwampeer:
How the Hell is that a sin?

Because the whole point of a game is agency. If a cut-scene or game mechanic arbitrarily de-powers you (Far Cry 2, I'm lookin' in your direction. Stop laughing, Resident Evil 5, Shamus Young wants to have a word with you.) yeah, it's frustrating as can be. If it's done well, ala Saren... well, it works.

Now, fine. You've addressed the original comment. Which is cool. But my complaint with you was that you made an argument the original article already addressed. You can't leave it at that without rebutting his rebuttal, man.

But you can't have complete control over everything that happens in the game. That doesn't leave room fo human error. If you want a strong narrative you have to sacrifice a little control. I thought that kind of went without saying.

This is why Pyramid Head is a perfect example of a villan, in my oppinion:
Be Onscreen: He doesn't appear too many times, but when he does, you're usually struck wih terror, hate, and helplessness.
Do Villanous things: He rapes other monsters and stabs the only person in the town you could call "friend" to death 3 times.
Be a Character: Pyramid Head may not seem to be very characterized because he never speaks, but once you figure out (if you EVER figure out) that every monster in the game is generated from the psyche of the protagonist, you find a deeper and slightly less villanous motive being carried out in very sinister ways.
Beating Him Has to Feel Good: It does feel good and feels like you've exterminated the biggest threat in the game, but it also feels like you just murdered the only person in the game that REALLY wanted to help you. I'm not going to put any spoilers, but once you figure out what his motives are, you figure out that he's truly trying to get you to finally accept the truth.
Make Your Cutscenes Count: Pyramid Head is more commonly encountered out of the blue and only on several occasions you see one with him, and even these are unexpected. The best parts are when you're walking down a hallway and hear your radio, the thing that signals the approach of monsters, goes crazy and you think there's going to be a weak, killable enemy. You turn the corner and find Pyramid Head. Truly frightening.
Get Your Hate on Early: Pramid Head doesn't have too many inital reasons to be hated. until about the final part of the first level, he's more just a prop and never does anything to hurt you. Then, you get locked in a room with him. The terror of being locked in a small room with a monster that can't be killed with instant kill attacks is scary, and you have to wait until sirens blare to be free of him. Considering how many times you die in that encounter, and the times he kills your only human companion in brutal ways, is good reason to dislike the guy.
Remid the Player: The game usually waits until you've just forgotten about him and things are looking up for the protagonist, and boom. He shows up.
Henchman are your friends: Get this straight and get this well: NOBODY is your friend in Silent Hill.
Don't Just Take Them Out of the Plastic: There wasn't too much advertising when Silent Hill was released, and the developers wanted to make their horrific monster a surprise.
Not only that, but he looks extremely threatening too. He's a heavily muscular man in a bloody butchers smock with tall boots and surgicla gloves. But, let's not forget the main course: he has a giant, rusty, blood splattered Pyramid shaped helmet. And a giant knife that kills anything instantly. He's a good Villan for all these reasons and many more, and will remain my favorite villan for a long time.

Another good example is Mecha Hitler from Wolfenstein 3D. Instead of making sure you hated him before fighting him, they picked probably the most hated man in the history of the planet. He sent 6 Million innocent people to their deaths, and you can get some virtual payback on the bastard. With a Chaingun.

Iron Lightning:
One of my favorite villains is Andrew Ryan who exhibits almost none of the characteristics described in the article. I don't see how we expect gaming to grow as an art form if every game needs to have a cliched foozle, even if the game has a cliched "good" foozle. A bit of moral ambiguity (I don't mean just not killing puppies, but being quite courteous to them sometime) really goes a long way towards making an emotionally compelling game. Can't we have the player kill a few puppies too? I'm not saying that gray hats need to always be in season, but it would be helpful to the art if at least every third bloke sported one.

Garrett Richey:
GlaDOS... doesn't exactly establish villainy early but still one of the best game villains of recent time. Being an AI running the entire complex you're in certainly doesn't hurt being able to have a constant presence that gets ever more menacing until the appropriately climactic boss fight that sticks to the games mechanics and feel. Portal is a great game because GlaDOS is there from the beginning making references to things like 'baking' the player character. All without any real enemies (the adorable turrets are simply part of the environment like everything else designed to kill you).

actually both of these villains display all the characteristics discussed in the article.

Andrew Ryan:

Glados:

btw it is my opinion that prince of persia and cod 4 do the final bosses perfectly. the bosses are strong and tough skill driven fights, but in the end it comes down to a story driven, single, powerful action. in COD4s case,


as for the prince of persia

Arcanist:
I'm liking this!

This is why I hold Wallace Breen of Half-Life 2 fame as the gold standard for this generation's videogame villainy. The first thing we're greeted with as we enter City 17 is his visage on a television screen giving a speech about how 'lucky' we are to be relocated to his seat of power, and it only gets better from there as he gives lipservice justifying the Combine's atrocities.

That, and his voice acting was phenomenal. It's a shame his VA is dead...

Agreed. Another villain who used the Breen method of being seen via video communications and us just seeing the evil his followers do were The Prophets of Truth and Regret, and people unanimously though of them as evil as well. The problem with villains who have too much character is the ability for the player to side with them. For example, Dane Vogel, the villain of Saints Row 2 was an asshole businessman who's favorite song was Everybody Wants To Rule The World. However, he was trying to get rid of gang violence in Stilwater, and The Boss, who you play as, makes Gat look nice and kind in comparison. While the asshole businessmanness made me dislike him, his goal was a good one.

A lot of the pointers just seem cliched and uh.... It must be said that the entire thing was kind of ruined by that little bit at the end. And in Conviction I genuinely didn't clock on that the guy I beat the crap out of and the guy at the end were the same person. Reed did not make the slightest impression on me.
Edit: A good example of following the pointers is.... What's his name from Uncharted 2. He followed a lot of those pointers (obviously evil, easily recognisable with the scar an' all, etc.) and all I can remember about him is his really annoying boss fight. To be fair, he didn't use his henchmen like the article advised.

i always liked the dhaka from prince of persia:ww and the sa-x from metroid fusion they were an inoxorable force and all you could do was run. Also "BROTHER!"

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