262: Bring On the Bad Guy

Richard Dansky

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Bring On the Bad Guy

With the medium's special limitations, making an effective villain is hard to do in videogames. Richard Dansky is a master at the craft and he imparts his villainous wisdom on how to create the perfect adversary for the player.

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Arcanist

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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...
 

omega247

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Darth Malak is also an awesome villain.

Destroys an entire planet out of frusration because he can't find Bastila, has some crazy head gear, driven to take over the galaxy, and sucks the life force out of imprisoned jedi during the final fight to gain energy... badass :)
 

Iron Lightning

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Oct 19, 2009
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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

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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).
 

Geamo

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This was a great article. Hit the nail on the head of the aspects of villainous behaviour; that's why I like Ra's Al Ghul so much as a Batman villain - he's trying to better the world consistently.

This is also the reason for one of the main changes I thought that Mass Effect 2 lacked that Mass Effect 1 did excellently; the lack of a personal rival/someone who was a beatable figure hindered ME2 from becoming an incredible game. Saren was an impressive villain, as he was constantly there to skirmish against you through your quest.
 

Frybird

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For all those "not really interesting or defined" villians, we gamers have at least Curtis Blackburn from Killer 7:

He's introduced in a first person sequence of him murdering an office building worth of people, and his business choice is kidnapping orphans, slicing them up, removing thier organs and keeping the hollowed-out bodies of the girls for...at least they did not explain this...

And if that's not enough, he raped and killed the entire family of his former business partner for taking his own share of female orphan bodies.

And he essentially brainwashed his girlfriend (who works at the board of education and provided him with literal busloads of victims) into becoming a crazed "magical girl" cosplayer...wich is also pretty terrible.


I think only few, if any, villians in all of fiction can top that.
 

Thorvan

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May 15, 2009
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Excellent article.
I think that that a series doing this particularly well is the Mass Effects, although both in completely different ways. In the first one, it's all about Saren. From the first beat to the very last, almost every scene is strictly about him, what he's done or who he's influenced, and boy do you HATE HIM FOR IT. He's always one step ahead of you, always killing your friends and allies, always taking every chance to stop you and, in the end, almost winning regardless of everything you've done. However, he gets very little screen or audio time; he's just there, more of a theme than a character for most of the game.

Mass Effect 2, however, takes exactly the opposite route, the game being less about a single, all influencing ambiguous force and more a series of hyper distinct villains that get as much screen time and exposition as possible in as little time as allowed (talking about the dossier missions) the best example is probably Warden Kuril, from Jack's recruitment level. Right at the beginning of the level, you're given the chance to learn all about his backstory, his occupation and personality in decent depth. Then, after he betrays you, you hear him constantly over the loudspeaker, until a final and very elaborate boss battle with him. That's ONE MISSION, maybe 20-40 minutes of gameplay, and he probably gets as much screen time as Saren in all of Mass Effect.

Geamo said:
This was a great article. Hit the nail on the head of the aspects of villainous behaviour; that's why I like Ra's Al Ghul so much as a Batman villain - he's trying to better the world consistently.

This is also the reason for one of the main changes I thought that Mass Effect 2 lacked that Mass Effect 1 did excellently; the lack of a personal rival/someone who was a beatable figure hindered ME2 from becoming an incredible game. Saren was an impressive villain, as he was constantly there to skirmish against you through your quest.
Hey, don't you ninja me!

I really don't want to classify either of them as "better" in the villain department, as they both play to completely different strengths. To put it in slightly nerdy terms, ME1 is a bit like Lord of the Rings, a very unanimously thematic world with a consistent group of travelers going to kill an all powerful bad-guy, RIGHT NOW AND ALL THE TIME. ME2, on the other hand, is more like James Bond; A growing and changing cast of characters facing off against a series of thematically unique villains with the goal of defeating the communists, eventually. None of the James Bond villains are as important as Sauron, but that doesn't make them any worse characters. Variety vs Consistency, both with strengths and weaknesses.
 

Rhino of Steel

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I'd say that the Early rule doesn't always have to apply. I've never wanted to tear a character apart more than in Jade Empire and you're over halfway through the game once you reach the point where that villain is revealed.

If you can avoid telegraphing it, I'd say a betrayal of some sort is a great way to make the player truly hate the villain. Of course, it happens so often now that it has become a bit cliché.
 

YesConsiderably

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My favourite villain from Mess Effect was Sovereign. The exchange between it and Shepard on Virmire was chilling. Not much about Sovereign was revealed until Mass Effect 2, but it just goes to show that sometimes a single conversation can really set a scene and establish a bad guy.

I'm reminded of a scene in the film Assassins. Where Antonio Banderas' character is in the back seat of a cab which Sly Stallone, who he is trying to kill, is driving. The bulletproof glass screen prevents either one of them from really doing anything to one another (although Banderas fires a shot).

Putting the player in such close proximity to a villain but having something in place which prevents a physical altercation can be an effective way to build up the bad guy.
 

TheMadDoctorsCat

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SHODAN. Like there was any doubt I'd put that one in there.

Although I think Steinman from Bioshock is a superb villain, if rather short-lived. The scene where you actually meet him must be one of the most truly creepy moments I can think of in videogames. And how can you beat a boss who screams: "You're HIDEOUS!" at you as he's running around shooting at you with a machine gun?
 

Crimson_Dragoon

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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.
 

Lullabye

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I think the truest part of that article was when talking about the screen time a villain gets. resident evil did this wonderfully I think, with Wesker. You got to fight him, and the forced failure conditions didn't seem so much "forced" as "OMG OVERPOWERED!". As the games progressed and your equipment got better along with your skill, beating Wesker seemed more and more plausible. Finally, when you get the next chance to fight him with a full arsenal and ego to boot, the game makes you remember why you were scared sh*tless facing him.
"Think you're tough Wesker? Eat Rpg!........Oh crap, he caught it. RUN FOR YOU'RE LIFE!"-personal quote from boss fight
Another good villain I thought was Ocelot from MGS. Like the article stated, MGS made use of it's sci-fi nature and gave the villain some amazing stuff that let him survive Snakes relentless assaults. Beating him was bitter sweet though because a) I truly liked him as a character and b) during the final boss fight he kissed me which just felt weird watching.....*shivers*
 
Apr 28, 2008
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Saren from Mass Effect was a fantastic villain. He was deep, flawed, and had understandable motives.

He's the reason I liked Mass Effect 1 more than 2. ME1 had a strong villain that you saw often and interacted with. ME2 had a faceless army, and you never even meet the main villain.
 

Rad Party God

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The only game to come up to my mind that had this villain thing done right was, besides Half-Life 2, GTAIV. GTA Vice City didn't had a single villain from start to finish, it kinda had "commrade turned bad guy" almost at the end of the game, and it had a couple of crazy mobsters, but none of them did anything specific for you to build that negative empathy.

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.

Be Onscreen - He's onscreen almost from start to finish. He doesn't get a lot of screen camera time, but also has enough pressence to know his character and to really hate him. He even doesn't kill his own henchmen to demonstrate his villainy!

Do Villainous Things - He made you kill his own best friend (BFF), he burned to ashes your appartment, he tried to kill you many different times, he even tried to kill your cousin many different times and at the right circumstances, ends up killing one of the main characters of the story.

Be a character - Right before you start hating him, you kinda like him, he's like that little voice telling Mikhail (his BFF) to please "stay calm". You even got the time to know he has lots of friends/contacts that not only know him, but they respect him as someone who has done many favors, they even see him as a friend.

Beating the villain has to feel good - You get to kill him, but first you need to get to him in one of the most difficult missions the game has to offer.

Make Your Cut Scenes Count - He doesn't have lots of cutscenes, but simply enough to get to know/hate him.

Get Your Hate On Early - You get to know him pretty early on the game and when he starts doing villainous things, that's when the story really starts to build up.

Remind The Player - Sometimes, you kinda forget why you hate him until he calls you from time to time to remind you how much he wants you dead and sometimes he even sets you a trap of somekind, or kidnaps your cousin, he even sends you a picture of him tied up and bleeding.

Henchmen Are Your Friend - Thank goodnes he doesn't kill his own henchmen, but he does indirectly by sending hundreds to kill you.

Don't Just Take Them Out of the Plastic - He helped your cousin by sending him to the hospital when Mikhail shots him, in some of the conversations with Mikhail, you get to know they are very close friends (BFF), they endured very harsh times to get where they are. He even had a very tough decission by asking you to dispatch his own best friend.

It's no secret GTAIV has the best story a GTA game has to offer and this is one of the reasons why it's a great story.
 

Ne1butme

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Crimson_Dragoon said:
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.
As i read the article, at each bullet point is kept thinking "Yup, Kefka has this"

Seriously, who is a better villain than Kefka?
 

Rowan Kaiser

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Good article with good advice. Having the villain on-screen doing villainous things is crucial.

Kefka's great. Luca Blight is also a superb example of a villain, which we started discussing in the comments of my Foozle piece. Kreia from KOTOR 2 is fantastic, in large part because I agree with her that the Force should be destroyed. Arthas is great because you played him in his descent into villainy.
 

Covarr

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Slow builds can be just fine, as long as they're not TOO slow, and the player has another villain (even a minor one) to deal with in the mean time. Kefka did this, starting out as little more than a high-ranking henchman, before he eventually lost it and took over the role of main villain.

Sephiroth was the biggest villain in FF7 right from the start, but you didn't know it at first because of a heavy focus on stopping Shinra early in the game, before Sephiroth eventually kicked his scheme into overdrive.

Then there's games like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which mostly gets it wrong. You have obvious villains at the start, ranging from incompetent (Bowser) to slightly less incompetent (everyone else), but it's apparent that they're of no real consequence and that Mario can easily stop them. The only real threat in the game is the last boss, which fails as a villain by never being seen until the very end of the game, having no backstory as a character, and not actually doing anything particularly evil.

P.S. Thanks
 

BehattedWanderer

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Jun 24, 2009
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I kept reading the article and thinking of InFamous. Kessler is that villain. He destroys part of a city, decimates the life of the protagonist (in both a very personal manner and an emotional one), has an amazing purpose for being there, and, through the dead drops, is revealed to have some nasty expository elements. By the third part of the game, you want to beat him, and damn if it doesn't take all you've got to put him down when the time comes. Whether you play the good or evil route of the game, you are supplied reasons for wanting to take down Kessler throughout. I will disagree with the early part, though, because sometimes it's better to realize there is something worse pulling strings than what you're currently dealing with, something that shouldn't be revealed until a ways into the game.
 

Gh0st1y_H

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I liked the majority of the article. Tom Reed wasn't a good villain though; if you didn't watch the trailers, it took you all of 2 seconds to figure out he was the bad guy by portraying him the same way one would do in a B rated spy flick.