The Anatomy of a Video Game Villain
Most video games have a villain. From the Hungries in Munchies’ Lunch ( http://www.munchies-lunch.com/ ) to Kefka in Final Fantasy 3 and more, villains drive our motivation and the story line in games. It could be said that every game has a villain, even if it’s as simple as the physics in The Incredible Machine ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incredible_Machine_(game) )
Now my own focus is narrower as I am developing RPG games in fantasy settings. While my game has many nasty little creatures, nasty traps and general nastiness it also has a villain. I won’t ruin the story right now by letting you know WHO the villain is, but heres a breakdown of what he/she needs:
Realistic Personality – Villains who are just cardboard boxes with a scowl painted on them don’t create great story lines. If Darth Vader had the same amount of personality as the average storm trooper we probably wouldn’t have loved the story line as much. This isn’t to say that they have to be more human then human and be tortured about the choices they have made. Look at the aforementioned Kefka. Even chaotic and maniacal can be a personality we fall in love with. (Especially when they have a laugh like his)
An Advantage – We seem to take this for granted but a lot of times when I’m helping out others in their pre writing work I ask the question. “What advantage does the villain have over our heroes?” This can be hidden, overt or anywhere in between. It needs to be reminded though because sometimes we have the tendency to make our heroes super powered uuber versions bent on saving the world from the villain. But if my hero can toast a legion of bad guys and an under powered villain we aren’t going to be engrossed in the fight.
A Flaw – On the other side of the coin is the villain’s flaw. Have you ever wondered why the villain sends wave after wave of ‘flying monkeys’ after our heroes? Why doesn’t Dr. Wily just have all his creations gang up on Mega Man right out of the gate? Why doesn’t Garland just ask Warmech over? Your villain needs a flaw that the heroes can survive because of. Ming the Merciless invented gloating, villains all across the spectrum have horrible hiring practices on goons. Same as the advantage, if we realize our heroes have no hope we lose immersion in the story telling.
Survivability – The best villains are those that grow with the characters and escape in the nick of time to grow another dastardly plot. We might not even have to fight them every time as they throw obstacldes in our way. One of my favorite villains is Dhoulmagus from Dragon Quest VIII (most likely because my second favorite is Kefka). I enjoyed chasing Dhoul around and thwarting him as he thwarted me up until the bitter end.
Now the most important thing! – Ignore this list… Forget it… When you are creating a villain, a hero, a story or just a first fountain that will be the basis for a town which is the basis for a country which is the basis for a whole world you need to make sure you are listening to the voices of the characters. The above things will come naturally. Once you’ve got the villain come back and read it again and perhaps something will tick that you were missing.
Now a better question! What is your favorite video game villain?