Monday, August 13, 2012

What Makes A Good Villain?

Robuttnik? When did you get all cool?
While reeling in the massive suckage that was the NBC Olympics broadcast, it brought up a good idea for a blog posting. “What does it take to make a good villain?” So there’s one good thing that came out of that mess.


For any story to progress, there needs to be some form of antagonist, physically another person/thing or internally. The video games that we remember are the ones where the bad guy is as memorable as the hero(s). Case in point: Final Fantasy 7. No one would have given a crap if Sephiroth weren’t so badass. Except for me, the worshipper of all things SquareEnix.

Before someone starts yelling about FPS, there is still this good guy/bad guy mentality. Even if there isn’t a central figure you’re going after, there is a goal of defeating the bad guys that progresses you in the story.
Not to worry Wesker.
You get to look way cooler soon enough!

With so many varied stories and concepts it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact specifications on what makes a good villain. Wesker works in Resident Evil as the fallen hero and his progression into batsh*t crazy-too cool for school villain land; however if you placed him in a Disney game (removing the gore and all that business), it wouldn’t work. Disney’s villains are much more black and white. You know who’s good and you know who’s bad from the get-go. Wesker doesn’t fit in that paradigm.

The villains that work are the ones where you can hate, even despise, their actions but you feel some form of empathy towards them. You know why we love The Joker from Batman? Because we have a connection to his past that helps us to understand why he’s crazy. Certainly he’s nuts and his antics give us a range of emotions from humor to terror, but he was crafted with the intent to get us to connect with him at a level we don’t see with other Batman villains. Think about duality with this one: he’s the counterpart of Batman. All the things that Batman isn’t, The Joker is and vice-versa. It’s another level of connection that allows us to see The Joker on a level of villainy that we don’t typically observe.

Wesker falls into this category as well because we were able to see his progression into villain-hood. We saw him as a hero and he descends into the darkness. Like Anakin Skywalker. Enjoy that image.

Clothes: 90% evil.
Pose: -15% evil.
Here’s a good key feature of this villain creation: you become way cooler when you turn evil. The clothes, the hair, the walk, the talk, all of it immediately upgrades when the good guys turn bad. I have to use another Batman reference, but how about RedX from Teen Titans aka Robin? Way cooler as RedX.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the villains that are so f*cking crazy that our understanding is 0. They are nuts just to be nuts. The best example of this is Kefka from FF6. I know, another FF reference. Deal with it. Kefka is a psychopath for no logical reason then he’s just crazy. And people LOVE him. It’s not just an insane fashion statement when people dress up as the clown. They have reasons for it. Kefka was a crazy ass character, and it worked for the setting he was in. Again, not Disney friendly. Imagine Kefka in Kingdom Hearts. *falls over*

Sometimes the extremes work. Sometimes they don’t. Mother Brain from Metroid was a little weird for my taste.

And then you have the “evil for the sake of evil” concept that just doesn’t work. Example: Command Sheppard from CoD Modern Warfare 2. He really did nothing to expand the story. He’s just there. That doesn’t make for a good villain or even a decent character in general. These are the villains that make us scratch our head and wonder why. Villains need to exist with a purpose. To say “he’s the bad guy” isn’t enough. Why is he the bad guy? What did s/he do that will make me want to destroy her/him? What is s/he about to do? Motivation to go after the bad guy is part of the process.

There are a number of paths we can take to developing a good villain. What’s important is that they fit the situation and help develop the story. Beyond that, it’s your call on what you do with them.

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