When making a villain

Victor Hate

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Every good story with heroes always needs a good villain.


Am curious on how many of you deal with making the main villain for your games.


what made him evil or was he/she just always like that?


I am the kinda guy that likes to show how he/she turned to the darkness because all else had failed them, I love tales of guilt that make the player be like: "I kinda understand why they are doing this now."
 

Ghost of Christmas Kloe

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Um... I always make him seem to have an evil, epic, amazing backstory like you said, but then reveal it was all because it was a traumatic experience in his childhood where he wasn't allowed chocolate or cake or wifi or something like that.
 

Aoi Ninami

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My main villain isn't evil. Not every narrative has to be about good versus evil :)
 

Balako

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mine so far, is made by a human who got attacked by the negative feeling of everyone in the world and those feelings possess him and he has no control whatsoever, the feelings themselves have no purpose.


weep while reading my magnificent final boss insights!!!!
 

Dalph

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Villains usually have a purpose, a backstory and a meaning behind their actions, unless they are psychopaths or sociopaths like the Joker, in his case he works very well as a villain even without having a clear goal in life, besides being obsessed with Batman and spreading chaos.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Joker goes catatonic when Batman supposedly retires, he pretty much doesn't know what to do with himself anymore, feels lost and becomes a vegetable out of depression and boredom, like his life is forfeit and has no meaning anymore without his arch-nemesis. 
Joker is a complex character and basically an obsessive compulsive, psychotic, sociopath, sadist with delusions of grandeur, which breaks every rule and is extremely dangerous because of his unpredictability.


That's actually the kind of villain I personally like to write, the more complex he\she is, the better it is for me. 


I wrote many stories on paper and most of my villains have always a sparkle of insanity that flickers in their eyes, insane\twisted villains are often easy to write because you don't have to give them a real motivation, they are fascinating because the mistery behind their actions intrigues the player\reader, and they can also be incredibly fun if done right.
 

LadyHammer

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My rule of thumb is to always have solid motivation for every single character, especially the villain. Every time they do something, be like the annoying kid who always asks "Why?" When you reach a point when your answer is "I dunno" or "Just 'cause", you've reached a spot where you need to do some more work on character development.


When telling a fictional story - regardless of the media chosen to tell it - it's not good enough to have a character do something "just because". While that happens often enough in real life, it's kind of a weak excuse in writing. You can always give a character a reason for why they do something, and anytime a reader / player / viewer comes to understand this reason, it brings them a little bit closer to them. If anything, saying a character is doing it "just because" is a missed opportunity. :)


That process is super important for villains, since as a society we are taught not to do the things that they usually do, so we don't always connect with those characters. Why is your character a villain? What happened to them to make them think the way they do? Does doing what they do bring them some peace of mind (and if so, why?)? Do they think it will make the world a better place? Why?


If your player has a moment where they truly understand why the villain is destroying village after village, there is a split second where they may picture themselves as the villain. In that split second, they may develop a strange sort of sympathy with them. Even though they may absolutely adore the main character, and every horrible thing that the villain puts them through causes heartbreak and rage to the player, there may be a moment at the end of the game when the villain is defeated where your player - while overjoyed that the characters that they love are finally free of those terrible things - actually feels a little bit of remorse. They may feel remorseful that they had to kill a villain who they might have been able to "fix".


All those feelings are a beautiful, beautiful thing.  B)
 

Oddball

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i go into there charecter more. like maybe one likes to garden in there free time because they like eating fresh vedgtables. also i agree with Lady hammer in showing there motivations. which villian would be more memorable?


a villian who destroys cities just because, or a villian who does so so that it may be returned to nature.


Also, you could do somthing were one has nobel goals but with atrocous means
 

LaFlibuste

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Totally agree with most of LadyHammer's post. Also, I prefer the word "antagonist" because "villain" has a "good vs evil" ring to it that I don't like.

The only bit I kinda disagree with is this (and paradoxically it goes to reinforce her main points):

When telling a fictional story - regardless of the media chosen to tell it - it's not good enough to have a character do something "just because". While that happens often enough in real life, it's kind of a weak excuse in writing.



I honestly believe it doesn't really happen much at all in real life either. It's possible people might say so, maybe because they won't admit their motivations to others (or even to themselves) or even be unaware of their motivations, but I really think people, even in real life, always have motivation to do whatever it is they do. Maybe it's just to stand out, act rebellious or piss off some authority figure or something or any other number of reasons. But I doubt any body acts without reason. Why do anything if you don't gain anything from it (and by "anything", I really mean "anything", be it a sense of self-worth or hurting someone else, directly or not). Do any of you really do stuff without reason? I certainly don't, anyway.
 

LadyHammer

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I honestly believe it doesn't really happen much at all in real life either.



No, I'm with you completely! When I said that it happens in real life, that was more or less of a "disclaimer" because I figured someone would jump out and say "but I do things for no reason all the time!" lol
 

watermark

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Ok I'm going to take the devil's advocate position here for cardboard characters. We still need cardboard villains!


Mainstream media likes "realistic" characters these days. I mean I get it and it does make for more interesting characters. Just look how popular all the Ice and Fire characters are. Plus all those Marvel charas that are villains one day and anti-heroes the next. And who can forget Sephiroth even after all these years?


Still, I am getting a little sick of how almost every single villain is required to be gray these days: How this villain had a traumatic childhood experience and how she turned bad and how we should sympathize and how it's the fault of the society in general and not the person. yada yada yada.


Why all these vulnerable villains?! What happened to the good ol fashioned I'm just evil there's no explanation villains?


I mean back in the early console era we had great cardboard villains. Jaquio from Ninja Gaiden. Dracula from Castlevania. Mother Brain from Metroid. Ganon from Zeldas. The immortal Dr. Wily. All those evil demon lords that I can never remember the names of from Dragon Warrior. etc. etc. Did we question why they were evil? No. Did we ask why we need to go kick their ass? No. We just do.


Sometimes this simple, fairy-tale kind of good vs evil is appealing. I want an evil villain to beat up! I don't want to sympathize with him/her! I don't care about his/her backstory! I mean I play games to take a break from the real life for crying out loud! I don't need more "real" people here too!


I think the best example of the cardboard villain is Zemus from Final Fantasy 4 (or 2, depending on your ver). I mean this guy just popped up out of nowhere in like the last five minutes of the game. There was no foreshadowing, no one ever mentioned him, he had like 3 lines of dialogue and zero personality. When he showed up it was like wtf Z-who? He went against all the best practices of writing good characters. But it was damn fun fighting him.
 
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Azurecyan

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Most of my villains are gray villains(neither good nor bad), but seen as the bad guys because of how they're portrayed. My evil villain(s) all have a backstory and a reason to why they're doing it and why people think it's evil. In my story, the evil villains gave people free will allowing them to do whatever they want, but in came some good people who decided that from free will, chaos is born and so established rules. The evil villains disliked it and pretty much went to war and lost and was sealed away for good. Some of the evil villains slipped out/escaped, took revenge on the good people and now hide in the shadows awaiting the day they can reopen the door to free their people and give back free will to all.
 

Balako

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this reminds me of squall (ff8) point of view on this type of convo

Right and wrong are not what separate us and our enemies. It's our different standpoints, our perspectives that separate us. Both sides blame one another. There's no good or bad side. Just two sides holding different views.





but ofcourse, i prefer to whack an evil entity rather than feel guilty about wrecking the life wreckers life
 
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Ghost of Christmas Kloe

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Ok I'm going to take the devil's advocate position here for cardboard characters. We still need cardboard villains!


Why all these vulnerable villains?! What happened to the good ol fashioned I'm just evil there's no explanation villains?

Oh my god... I couldn't agree with a post more!! We need more cookie-cutter-characters when it comes to villains, the long "My mum was killed, society sucks" or whatever in a big monolouge or "This is why I'm bad" gets so so so boring after a while! It's so refreshing to see some guy with a cape and black clothes and cool purple hat go "BWAHAHA! I AM BAD!!"
 

Seacliff

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If all it takes is the change of perspective to make the hero the villain, and the villain the hero, with the story still working in it's original format, then I think you have a good villain. Motivations are important, and if that motivation is justifiable, then it should make sense why the villain is doing what he/she is doing.


Granted, this isn't always going to be the case. There are some top-tier villains out there that won't be justifiable at all. Sometimes your going to have villains that are naturally evil or just mentally unstable, but I think that's okay as long as they hold up as characters. Bowser and Eggman are great examples of this, personally.
 
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LaFlibuste

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Seriously, though, nobody thinks of themselves as "evil" and nobody does anything just to "be bad". It doesn't mean the person can't have objectively bad intentions that everyone should oppose as much as they want. A few real-world examples would likely include Hitler and Stalin. Do you really think Hitler did what he did because "Haha frick the world, let's destroy everything"? No, he did what he did for a variety of reasons, his main agenda being a purity thing and proving the superiority of his people, with different underlying frustrations and traumas. You can understand where the character comes from, does it mean you should feel some kind of remorse for stopping him or suddenly think he's somewhat likeable? I wouldn't think so.

That being said, I think the pitfall to avoid might be the villain overly justifying himself. Let's take Hitler's example again. Let's say he's your villain and you just wrote him up. It can be understandable from the author's standpoint: you just worked very hard on creating a villain with a detailed, comprehensive and coherent background, you want you audience to aknowledge this, you're proud of your work. Cool! But really, when France is liberated, Russia is advancing on his capital and the heroes are in his lair and have just defeated him in single combat (I know WWII didn,t end up like this, don't worry), should/would Hitler really spew forth a 5 minutes cry-baby monologue on how he's so frustrated he hasn't got accepted in art school and has a flatulence problem? Well, maybe, if you wrote that kind of Hitler, but it also is a bit lame. The actual Hitler couldn't bear it and actually committed suicide before getting there. I guess my point is: it's not because you crafted a great background that you have to show it off every chance you get. Even if your villain has some gray tones, you are allowed some "this guy is a pure jerk" moments. In fact, another point I often make about storytelling is "your writing is poor if you have to explicitly state your intentions". Having a character say "this is so sad" doesn't make the scene actually sad. Having your villain saying "I'm not really evil because ~" every chance he gets doesn't really make him more interesting or likable or whatever. But if you took the time to finely craft your villain and carefully think over his every move and line, there certainly are ways for those little details to show every now and then. And the player might be able to draw his own conclusions. Some might miss it altogether and just remain at the state of "this guy is evil, I'm glad I kicked his arse", but others might understand and will like your game so much more for it.

Aside from all that, I guess cookie-cutter villains can work in some settings, especially in more comical, light-hearted ones, but I personally don't really like 'em. I don't buy "good vs evil", "black and white" settings. Honestly, in most such settings or with such characters, I generally hate the good guys as much as the bad ones. A good example of this is Snow White in the Once Upon a Time tv series. Urgh, how dumb and stupid can she be? I'd seriously have let her die of her own stupidity more times than I can count or thrown her under a bus or something.
 

LadyHammer

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Ok I'm going to take the devil's advocate position here for cardboard characters. We still need cardboard villains!



While I personally disagree, I think that this is okay and that this divide comes from a couple of things:


1. Character Driven Stories vs. Plot Driven Stories - these are two very different types of stories and people have their preferences, and because I prefer Character Driven Stories, I have high expectations for the level of development in the cast. Check this link out to learn about Character Driven vs. Plot Driven


2. Writers are starting to recycle the same old things into villain / antagonist after villain / antagonist. Which makes people eyeroll at the thought of a "well developed" villain, because to them that means "boo hoo tragedy made me evil and sad and killing people is how I cope!" There are so many different things that could make a person do terrible things, but lately in media, the same thing is being barfed out and served to us. If anyone watched Kingsman (highly R rated but a hell of a watch), the "bad guy" was a breath of fresh air! He had a great idea and just took it a liiiiitle too far. And he was hilarious. A+ job Samuel L. Jackson.


Anyway, I also think a cardboard character is better only for certain genres of games, where the story doesn't really come out a whole lot, and you are really just focused on gameplay.


I apply a lot of rules for novel writing to game writing, which may or may not be necessary. One of those rules is that the writer must know their characters in and out. Even if the information that you develop never gets seen by the players / readers (and much of it won't and much of it shouldn't! OVERLOAD) it is still incredibly useful to you as a writer. You, as the writer, should know your characters motivations for things, including your villain / antagonist. This does not mean that you have to state that to your players so obviously. That's dumb. But you, as the writer, should know what drives all of them, for the sake of your story and your plot. It makes a difference. Try it! :)
 

Allusion

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LadyHammer pretty much drove my own thoughts home. Cut-out villains are fine for cut-out stories, but if I'm purchasing/playing something that has a serious point to the world and situation...I kinda want to have a serious point to the bad guys as well.


Villains, antagonists, anti-heroes, etc...are a massive representative of any story that requires them in the first place. I (personally) don't fondly remember heroes just because of their look or skills--I remember how they stood in the face of their opposition. That opposition is usually the villain. If that person is one-dimensional and full of the lulz, it probably means the hero won't have to pull any unusual stops to beat them. Which kinda takes the fun out of it for me.


For me, I like my antagonists to simply fit the bill for whatever story I'm trying to spin~ If I want a feel-good, cute, not-so-serious tale, I'm not going to equip it with the same kind of villain I'd put in a gritty, psychological one. I look for uniqueness and satisfying execution/resolution. I need to understand his/her motivations, even if they're simple, and I need to believe in what they're fighting for. :)
 

captainproton

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Tragic Freudian backstories are great for providing motivation for your villain, but there's something wonderful about a bad guy who just loves hurting people and destroying things.  Just like you can't entirely explain why a person likes being kind and compassionate, sometimes you can't explain cruelty and spite.  


And this isn't the same thing as the villain being insane.  Insanity means they're trying to kill the princess because the villain believes doing so will resurrect his lost love, or open a dimensional gateway, or simply because the green kangaroos in his brain want him to.  Sometimes, a really good villain is totally, frighteningly sane.  No mommy issues, no trauma, no hallucinations from eldritch Things from the Outside.  Just a deep and abiding satisfaction in destruction.
 

Balako

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Just like you can't entirely explain why a person likes being kind and compassionate






*cough* kefka *cough cough*
 

watermark

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It was fun bashing the plethora of vulnerable villains. And I still firmly believe we have too many of them.  :guffaw:


But let me get back on the writer's side for a bit cause I am all for good writing. LadyHammer points out something really important: What kind of story are you writing? I believe the author Orson Scott Card also mentioned this in his book. He believes some stories can be character driven, some plot driven, some even milieu (settings) driven. As an example, he listed Lord of the Rings as a milieu driven story where the characters actually take a back seat to the rich history and lore of Middle Earth.


So let's apply this to gaming and you can see why cardboard villains sometimes work quite well. In a Megaman game the action is the star, so Dr. Wily/Sigma is merely a goal to beat. The Angry Video Game Nerd mentioned on YouTube (quite amusingly) how adding more story and dialogue in Megaman X5 actually made the game worse and less fun to play.


In some of the open world games like the Elder Scrolls, while you can arguably say they have good stories, their main attraction is the world of Tamriel itself. If you take out all the exploration elements of Elder Scrolls, I say you have a mediocre story at best. 


Or maybe you have a character driven story but the focus is on the heroes. A good example of this is Chrono Trigger, where the focus is on the heroes and their friendship. The villain Lavos is simply an abstract supernatural force that must be defeated. It is not necessary for Lavos to have a strong personality.


And finally you have ones like the Telltale games, which requires very thorough designs of all the heroes and villains, down to how they speak, their little quirks, and rich back stories.


So think about what kind of game you want to write first. Then you will know how deep you need to make your villain.
 
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