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Writing great villains

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There's a lot of conventional villains out in games, even from highly reputable writers and studios. And you have your bad guys that are well done, intriguing, maybe even redeemable, have actual depth, or are just plain fun to play against. However, I don't think writers are doing enough to make a villain more than someone who is selfish and wants to kill a bunch of innocent people. Disagree if you will, and I'm just fine with that. What I'm getting at is why aren't more villains breaking conventions, or being infused with more depth? Sure they're fun to beat up, shoot at, blow up, or chase down at the end of a game. Perhaps I've not played games that have those types of characters. That's on me. I also could be really nitpicky, because I enjoy a well thought out character in the more "serious" games that I normally play. 

I want to see writers create bad guys that are more than what we usually see. Although not every game needs that to be fun, as fun is the biggest value for a game, I personally want to write bad guys with more dimensions and depth, when I see it can work well. For others that don't need to be all that, I suppose them being on the simpler side of the spectrum is fine. As long as they're fun to play and beat!

 

Kinda in conflict about this as you can see haha.

Edited by Matthew Birdzell

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A more nuanced villain might require more complex decisions (and therefore more development and balancing work) from the player.

With a black and white 'pure evil' villain, the player need have no compunction fighting and likely even killing the villain.  If the villain is more complex, perhaps understandable or relatable, the player will probably want at least an option of dealing with them non-aggressively.

 

I don't think that necessarily means it shouldn't be done, and I think such situations could actually be very interesting experiences if done well, but I thought it was worth noting in the discussion.

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It would be easier to create a more complex, experimental villain as an indie than a big studio since making a profit is usually their first priority so there may be a game out there with a more nuanced villain, it just won't be from a triple A game title

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I tell you, like I heard many times before, to just do the game you want to do. Or, in this case, do the villain you want to do. If you want complex villains, go for it. Keep in mind that not everybody will like them (the same way you don't seem to like shallow villains very much). It's inherent to this decision.

jbadams above makes a good point. A villain with deeper and more complex motivations can be good, but will require more effort from your part to be convincing. It's obvious, of course, but the more you look for complexity, a lot more work is needed.

One way you can look at it is: what you villain achieves in terms of gameplay (not only plot)? For example, in (all?) Mario games, Bowser just wants to rule the mushroom kingdom (and marry Peach). A pretty shallow reason overall. But that works because the plot is a small part of the game, the gameplay mechanics are way more important than the villains motivations. Mario games don't need complex villains because that's not the focus of the game.

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I have found that it is actually easy to create deep characters of any kind, whether good or bad, by just always having a lesson or "moral of the story" that their character is teaching.  For example, my Andrea Takahashi is technically a "bad guy" even though she is obsessed with bringing down oppressive governments.  It is the lengths that she is willing to go to do that, and her complete lack of concern of how many people she has to kill to do it, that makes her a "bad guy".  She does the right thing, in the wrong way... which is the lesson that she teaches to the audience.  A focus on the morality of who and why a character is just naturally gives them a depth that raises them out of being the same old "good guy" or "bad guy".

Of course... the fact that she is actually the Greek goddess Cora adds a bit of "Oomph" too her, as well;-)

 

Edited by Kavik Kang

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Toby Fox used to say that the best and only thing that he has done to achieve his level of writing is to keep making conversations. He observed that just from doing that, the characters would start to grow and develop personality traits with time, and they would also be pretty entertaining to watch.

He just kept doing that, and the more he did, the more sense all the characters started were starting to make. Things have a way of figuring themselves out.

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I didn't expect to see so many responses when I saw the notification today. Thanks!

I have an idea or two for my own stories on this matter, and one includes gameplay reasons as well as plot reasons for the villains being as they are.

This all comes from my goal of creating "simply complex" characters in games, when I achieve my career as a game writer: balancing fun with plot reasons. I know there'll be stories where its a simple plot, thus it requires simple characters because of its focus. I'm perfectly fine with those. On that note, I personally might not enjoy that as much as I do a more nuanced villain, as jbadams points out.

Balance...oh boy its challenging. It can lead to immense reward though!

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Many traditional writers mistakenly think writing interactive fiction is the same as writing traditional fiction. There are vast differences, but there are also a few commonalities. Writing villains is one of them.

The key is that there are no villains. There are only other characters who are sure they're the good guys of the story.

It may be that you've come across interesting villains in games and didn't even think of them as villains because they were rounded characters. They're not villains because they're evil but because their beliefs oppose the PC's, and this conflict is the fuel of story.

As mentioned, there are some AAA games with good stories and villains, but these larger games are such big technical productions that often the story gets tacked on, or at least heavily modified, at the very end. This just leaves opportunities for indies! :-)

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3 hours ago, Tony Li said:

Many traditional writers mistakenly think writing interactive fiction is the same as writing traditional fiction. There are vast differences, but there are also a few commonalities. Writing villains is one of them.

The key is that there are no villains. There are only other characters who are sure they're the good guys of the story.

It may be that you've come across interesting villains in games and didn't even think of them as villains because they were rounded characters. They're not villains because they're evil but because their beliefs oppose the PC's, and this conflict is the fuel of story.

As mentioned, there are some AAA games with good stories and villains, but these larger games are such big technical productions that often the story gets tacked on, or at least heavily modified, at the very end. This just leaves opportunities for indies! :-)

This can be said of any genre, to have a realistic enemy and an enemy which creates an impact, they need to believe they are the good guys. Of course there are some villains who just descend into madness but they still think they're doing the right thing

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