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What makes an antagonist?

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[b][size="4"]What makes an antagonist?[/size][/b]
Let me go ahead and preface this discussion by stating that I'm currently working on creating an [u]interesting[/u] and [u]unique [/u]antagonist for a little project I'm thinking about starting up. I'm having a lot of trouble defining what compels users (players) to defeat their fictional foes. So, I thought, hey - I might as well ask you guys for your opinion regarding what your motivation is as a player in defeating them, right? I feel as though establishing these motivations will definitely help me craft better adversaries in the future. By the way, [u]I'm also wondering what aspect of defeating the antagonist you think is the most rewarding[/u]. I've been throwing around a couple of ideas in my head but I'd like to see what you guys have to say about it.

In a sense, what I'm asking you is - what compels [b]you [/b]to want to defeat these enemies? What makes an enemy interesting? What emotional investment(s) do you harbor that most that compels you to triumph over their tyranny? Also, what do you think the best reward is upon defeating your enemy? Something visual like the restoration of a torn land? Or item or power acquisition?

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Some antagonists are quite cool but you don't particularly want to defeat them. But I'll stick to talking about ones you particularly want to defeat here, since you specified that.

To particularly want to defeat someone, they have to be doing something immoral and/or really annoying. The more contemptible or frightening someone's motives, the less sympathetic the character is, the less you hesitate to smash them. So a greedy sadist, maybe make him a bigot while you're at it, who is extra dangerous because he is smart, is one of the most contemptible and frightening types of villain. A psychopath who enjoys death and destruction and kills people in creepy ways because the insane voices in his head tell him to is also a particularly frightening type of villain because he is unpredictable and alien. A non-sentient but physically strong and fast monster which is motivated by bottomless hunger to eat people is another scary type of monster; more so if the 'eaten' people are converted into something creepy, like zombies/borg.

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Antagonists are the best fans of the hero. They admire the hero and recognize him as such. They care about the hero and take serious note about everything he does. Antagonists ultimate purpose is to denigrate everything the hero represents and in that way prove their own point as valid.

I could go on, but I'm urged to make a barbecue!

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[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1305930251' post='4813670']
Some antagonists are quite cool but you don't particularly want to defeat them. But I'll stick to talking about ones you particularly want to defeat here, since you specified that.

To particularly want to defeat someone, they have to be doing something immoral and/or really annoying. The more contemptible or frightening someone's motives, the less sympathetic the character is, the less you hesitate to smash them. So a greedy sadist, maybe make him a bigot while you're at it, who is extra dangerous because he is smart, is one of the most contemptible and frightening types of villain. A psychopath who enjoys death and destruction and kills people in creepy ways because the insane voices in his head tell him to is also a particularly frightening type of villain because he is unpredictable and alien. A non-sentient but physically strong and fast monster which is motivated by bottomless hunger to eat people is another scary type of monster; more so if the 'eaten' people are converted into something creepy, like zombies/borg.
[/quote]

Just a question, but do you think questionably moral villains are any [i]more[/i] interesting than say someone who's just innately evil? I guess what I'm asking is, do you think "villains" acting on rational emotion such as vengeance in an irrational way such as genocide are any more interesting than just say, someone who's corrupt - someone bent on domination (power hungry) without an immediate reason? Do you think it's any more satisfying to the player seeing for themselves human flaws within the antagonist that they're battling with? And please do expound on the villains that you aren't necessarily meant to hate - that's more what I'm aiming for.

I'm just trying to determine if it's worth writing in a back-story for a villain if the average player isn't going to appreciate it. In what ways do you guys think you can spice up an antagonist? You know, other than them just being hellbent on destroying the world.

[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305931016' post='4813671']
Antagonists are the best fans of the hero. They admire the hero and recognize him as such. They care about the hero and take serious note about everything he does. Antagonists ultimate purpose is to denigrate everything the hero represents and in that way prove their own point as valid.

I could go on, but I'm urged to make a barbecue!
[/quote]

I guess what I'm asking about is an indirect antagonist, or an overall villain - a common villain (such as an evil overlord avidly attempting to take over the world.) This is in regards to games - so, the villain wouldn't necessarily take note of the hero until the hero is his or her opposition, a thorn in their side.

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I think villains are often the most interesting characters in a piece of fiction - several of my all time favorite characters are villains. I agree with the fact that the villain often has a deeply personal relationship with the hero which can be satisfying to the player playing the hero. Villains are also important because they are typically the driving force behind the whole plot, the creative source of all the surprising problems the hero then has to solve.

Villains who are less utterly evil and more in a moral grey zone are more sympathetic. Sympathy is certainly a type of audience interest. It might be a trade-off because more sympathetic villains are less terrifying and enraging. But sympathetic villains are the ones you don't want to kill, you either want to see them either return repeatedly to deliver witty lines and be melodramatic or funny, or you want to see them get comforted and semi-reformed (not so much they lose their badass image, but enough that the good guys aren't obligated to kill and/or arrest them). Sometimes audience sympathy can even cause them to cheer for the villain to defeat the good guys if the good guys are annoying goody-two-shoes or morons, as they often are.

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IMO, I think the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2 was the true antagonist in that game. In spite of going after the harbringers, he constantly pulls strings. He's a power broker and his wealth is unkown to the large extreme. However, his methods of going about doing things more often than not put you directly in harms way only for you to find out he knew all along what would happen but never informs you before the fact. He plays sides against each other even when that includes human casualties even though his "mandate" is to protect humanity. In short, he's a scumbag. This type of character is unconscionable to most poeple. I know by the end of the game I wanted to take him out but never got the chance. :cool:

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[quote name='Crumbs' timestamp='1305945865' post='4813733']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305931016' post='4813671']
Antagonists are the best fans of the hero. They admire the hero and recognize him as such. They care about the hero and take serious note about everything he does. Antagonists ultimate purpose is to denigrate everything the hero represents and in that way prove their own point as valid.

I could go on, but I'm urged to make a barbecue!
[/quote]

I guess what I'm asking about is an indirect antagonist, or an overall villain - a common villain (such as an evil overlord avidly attempting to take over the world.) This is in regards to games - so, the villain wouldn't necessarily take note of the hero until the hero is his or her opposition, a thorn in their side.
[/quote]

[font=Georgia, Garamond,][quote]1590s, from Fr. [i]antagoniste[/i] (16c.) or directly from L.L. [i]antagonista[/i], from Gk. [i]antagonistes[/i] "competitor, opponent, rival," agent noun from [i]antagonizesthai[/i] "to struggle against, oppose, be a rival," from [i]anti-[/i] "against" (see [url="http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=anti-"]anti-[/url]) + [/quote][/font]
[font=Georgia, Garamond,]
[/font]
[font=Georgia, Garamond,]For more reference get some batman comics featuring the joker.[/font]

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[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305956092' post='4813762']
[font="Georgia, Garamond,"]For more reference get some batman comics featuring the joker.[/font]
[/quote]
Joker episodes from the animated batman are some of my favorites. Another excellent example of an antagonist/protagonist personal relationship is Death Note. They're each other's only intellectual equals, they have the urge to become friends, but from before they met in person one was bound to arrest the other (with a probable result of execution) and the other needs to kill the first to defend himself.

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[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1305995316' post='4813886']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305956092' post='4813762']
[font="Georgia, Garamond,"]For more reference get some batman comics featuring the joker.[/font]
[/quote]
Joker episodes from the animated batman are some of my favorites. Another excellent example of an antagonist/protagonist personal relationship is Death Note. They're each other's only intellectual equals, they have the urge to become friends, but from before they met in person one was bound to arrest the other (with a probable result of execution) and the other needs to kill the first to defend himself.
[/quote]

You gotta buy [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Killing_Joke"]this[/url].

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[quote name='owl' timestamp='1306008829' post='4813954']
[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1305995316' post='4813886']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305956092' post='4813762']
[font="Georgia, Garamond,"]For more reference get some batman comics featuring the joker.[/font]
[/quote]
Joker episodes from the animated batman are some of my favorites. Another excellent example of an antagonist/protagonist personal relationship is Death Note. They're each other's only intellectual equals, they have the urge to become friends, but from before they met in person one was bound to arrest the other (with a probable result of execution) and the other needs to kill the first to defend himself.
[/quote]

You gotta buy [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Killing_Joke"]this[/url].
[/quote]
Eh, I really like the lighter portrayals of the joker better. Best thing about the animated series is that the joker's completely insane but not really evil. He plans his crimes, usually thefts, as much to entertain everyone and make himself famous as to accomplish anything. Some of the episodes show him as genuinely loving Harley Quinn, though others aren't consistent with that. When I saw the Dark Knight movie recently I was really unhappy with how nasty that version of the joker was. [insert my usual rant against "darker and edgier" here]

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[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1306013907' post='4813971']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1306008829' post='4813954']
[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1305995316' post='4813886']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305956092' post='4813762']
[font="Georgia, Garamond,"]For more reference get some batman comics featuring the joker.[/font]
[/quote]
Joker episodes from the animated batman are some of my favorites. Another excellent example of an antagonist/protagonist personal relationship is Death Note. They're each other's only intellectual equals, they have the urge to become friends, but from before they met in person one was bound to arrest the other (with a probable result of execution) and the other needs to kill the first to defend himself.
[/quote]

You gotta buy [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Killing_Joke"]this[/url].
[/quote]
Eh, I really like the lighter portrayals of the joker better. Best thing about the animated series is that the joker's completely insane but not really evil. He plans his crimes, usually thefts, as much to entertain everyone and make himself famous as to accomplish anything. Some of the episodes show him as genuinely loving Harley Quinn, though others aren't consistent with that. When I saw the Dark Knight movie recently I was really unhappy with how nasty that version of the joker was. [insert my usual rant against "darker and edgier" here]
[/quote]

I remember watching not long ago this episode (or movie) of batman animated about the Joker brainwashing robin and turning him into a "joker". It was quite nasty. Very much on the tone of "The Killer Joke". I'm not going to tell you the end in case you didn't watch it.

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[quote name='owl' timestamp='1306026942' post='4814049']
[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1306013907' post='4813971']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1306008829' post='4813954']
[quote name='sunandshadow' timestamp='1305995316' post='4813886']
[quote name='owl' timestamp='1305956092' post='4813762']
[font="Georgia, Garamond,"]For more reference get some batman comics featuring the joker.[/font]
[/quote]
Joker episodes from the animated batman are some of my favorites. Another excellent example of an antagonist/protagonist personal relationship is Death Note. They're each other's only intellectual equals, they have the urge to become friends, but from before they met in person one was bound to arrest the other (with a probable result of execution) and the other needs to kill the first to defend himself.
[/quote]

You gotta buy [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman:_The_Killing_Joke"]this[/url].
[/quote]
Eh, I really like the lighter portrayals of the joker better. Best thing about the animated series is that the joker's completely insane but not really evil. He plans his crimes, usually thefts, as much to entertain everyone and make himself famous as to accomplish anything. Some of the episodes show him as genuinely loving Harley Quinn, though others aren't consistent with that. When I saw the Dark Knight movie recently I was really unhappy with how nasty that version of the joker was. [insert my usual rant against "darker and edgier" here]
[/quote]

I remember watching not long ago this episode (or movie) of batman animated about the Joker brainwashing robin and turning him into a "joker". It was quite nasty. Very much on the tone of "The Killer Joke". I'm not going to tell you the end in case you didn't watch it.
[/quote]
I did see that one, it was rather extreme. I'm not sure whether that was in the Batman Beyond movie or whether it was referred to there but original elsewhere.

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I think the key to a really compelling antagonist is complexity. Someone who's a villain for villainy's sake to me isn't very interesting.

I would argue that more often than not, the antagonist ends up being the driving force of the story: if the protagonist's main motivation is to thwart the antagonist, then the antagonist's motivations better be pretty damn interesting, or else you have a really vanilla story, The hero is on a journey of exploration and discovery that is dictated by his/her nemesis' motivations. I'm a firm believer that a villain should have just enough sympathetic qualities to make the audience feel conflicted, and the hero should likewise have just enough flaws to create that same feeling. Conflict is the essence of good fiction; the most impressive stories are able to make you identify with a character that isn't perfect - cause let's face it, perfect isn't interesting, and it doesn't require any risk.

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As for classical villainy, I always seem to lean towards the fanatical religious villains. See the antagonist from Devil May Cry 4, Kefka FFVI, etc. They are bad because they do mean things, but they do it in the name of their deity, so in their mind it's like these "executions" are the "right thing to do". That and for some reason the churches always make really bad-ass final scenes. Especially those modeled after the Gothic-era churches.


Another note I would like to point out is when there isn't a clear antagonist for a story. My main reference for this kind of design is in the game Shadow of the Colossus. For those that haven't played (and if you have a ps2 I HIGHLY suggest you get this, it's fantastic) the plot is basically this:

You're a knight, and you venture onto some forbidden land with a (dead/unconscious, can't remember) girl that you love. You find a temple and rest her there, an ominous voice says you can bring her to life by slaying the Colossus that walk these lands. You have a sword, a bow, why not? You venture out to find these Colossi, and each one is rather sentient, and doesn't look like it's bad. It's not even overly aggressive until you engage it. However, you kill them anyway. After each one you kill, this dark plasma stuff leeches on you, and as the game progresses you can see the effects on your character. From posture, to look, to mood, everything.

This was interesting, I didn't pay much attention to it, but after a few Colossi were slain, I started thinking "What are the significance of these beings?" "Why is that voice telling me to kill them?" "Is this even worth it?" "I've grown to look quite mean, is this to say that I am the bad guy?" "But how can I be the bad guy if I'm doing this to resurrect the girl I love?"

Maybe I'm too emotionally attached to that game, but its story is highly complex for being little-to-no plot.

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One of the classic antagonist archtypes is that of the antithesis of the hero. The villain embodies the qualities or characteristics that make the opposite of the hero. Batman and joker a classic example of this batman is symbol of control and order to absolute degree, to the point that batman refuses to use guns or kill any circumstance. In fact his whole life is defined by one instant as child that was out of his control. By contrast the joker is an agent of chaos who lives solely to cause death and destruction. Even his past is unknown and contradictory.

You could take this approach. What qualities does your hero possess and exemplifier ? Then invert and exaggerate them.



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A good antagonist should threaten something that the player holds dear to them or to others. Does the antagonist just want to destroy everything? If so, why? What leads to that psychologically? Why is the antagonist the way he is? This could lead to the player not so simply "hating" the antagonist, but feeling sorry for the antagonist, pity. The antagonist might not even be truly 'evil' in the sense, he may just stand in the way of what the player wishes to achieve. Does the antagonist have to be evil at all?

The trick with writing anything is asking provokative questions. Question anything you come up with, it will reveal plot-holes, flaws, it will provoke different thoughts and at the end it might create something totally different to what you first thought, but you'll find it is also totally different to what anybody else has done in most cases.

Through following these steps I created an antaognist who is not in the sense an 'evil being' but has been twisted to do evil things by his diminishing state-of-mind due to the plot devices within my story. The players come to realise this later on but they have no choice but to oppose him and kill him as he is threatening something great to the plot device. So in a sense, the player is hesitant, and can feel the hesitation of the characters into defeating this antagonist too. It creates more depth than simply "one day there was somebody who wanted to rule the world, let's kill him".

Hope it helps in your thinking process :)

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