Antagonists are often just serving as an opposing force. Something to create trouble for the protagonist to overcome. But some stories have antagonists act as vital and interesting characters. Sometimes even stealing the show from the hero. Villains are the characters we love to hate. When thinking about the kinds of villains I want to design for my games I look back to my favorites. There are a multitude of types to choose from too. Some villains are chaotic, some are calculating, some are both. Villains can be sympathetic and relatable, a combination of reasonable justification and giving into primal human desires.
I think everyone has a little bit of evil within. Thankfully, society keeps most of it under control and allows us to recognize that the benefits of good nature can outweigh the bad. Villains are characters that tap into that selfish part of our minds and demonstrate the fantasy of indulging in those dark desires.
When I think of great villains the first ones that come to mind are the chaotic ones. Characters like Moriarty (BBC's Sherlock), thee Joker, and Discord (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) come to mind. Their unpredictability leaves me on the edge of my seat every time. Somehow these guys constantly execute complex master plans flawlessly and even improvise solutions when things go wrong. I think what makes these villains so fun is the way they provide a mix of comedy and suspense. Chaotic evildoers are simply hilarious and carry a "I do what I want because I can" demeanor.
It always feels like a miracle when the hero eventually wins but even then this kind of villain has a backup plan and means of returning later, which makes me look forward to their next appearance. Even though it should be known that the hero will win in the end I always feel that the protagonist is absolutely screwed when the chaotic villain sets a plan in motion.
On the other side of the spectrum are the calculating villains. Ones with incredible power that sit back and throw their resources at the hero until a direction confrontation is reached at the climax. These villains are evil for the sake of being evil. They know they're jerks and do it because they're bitter for mysterious reasons or stand to gain at another's expense. Characters like Maleficent, Queen Chrysalis, and Shrek's Rumplestiltskin fit this definition. They taunt and tease the heroes leading them from one trap to another. Breaking the hero's spirit is always one of the goals and the sense of hopelessness usually carries over to the audience.
This kind of villain isn't my favorite, but is always memorable for some reason. It may come down to something as simple as aesthetics. Sometimes straightforward villains just look really cool and make you love seeing them in action, leaving all deep connections and characterization to the protagonist.
My go-to example of loving a villain mostly for design is Chaos Zero from Sonic Adventure. It was just some water guy with a visible nucleus that wanted to kill you. Add in how he betrays his master at the end of the game to transform into a giant city destroying monster you fight against as a super saiyan hedgehog and you have a recipe for a memorable foe.
|I've always really liked Hades' mannerisms.|
It made him a fun villain. He'd be cool to hang out with
if he wasn't trying to kill the hero and unleash chaos all the time.
Another type of villain I love to see is one with a clear motive. One that's after something that belongs to someone they're close to and has a great plan to get it. These guys tend to be in stories involving a privileged brother and a jealous one who betrays the other. Think of Disney's Hades and Scar. But this kind of villain isn't limited to stealing from close ones to gain power. I consider Sylar from Heroes to be in this category and he simply has an uncontrollable urge to cut people's heads open and steal their super powers.
It's that easy to understand drive that makes them so good. In their minds they're just working hard for what they think they deserve. Scar is the smart brother so he feels he should be king, Hades hates Zeus for making him work in hell for eternity, and Sylar wants to become an invincible god. With their clear goals in mind you get to watch them execute their scheme with more of their perspective being shown. If you really think about the story from their perspective you might even feel sympathetic, wishing something in their lives turned out differently so that they wouldn't be filled with so much hatred.
I'm planning on making multiple story ideas for Unicorn Quest then selecting the greatest one to actually use. Most of the story is going to rely on interesting characters, and that includes the villains. Villains is plural because I want the game to have bosses that are more than monsters at the end of a dungeon. I want every dungeon's boss to have significance in the story. Someone you encounter multiple times throughout the game, perhaps even fight multiple times with new techniques.
Recalling the multiple kinds of antagonists I know of helps me decide what direction to take the story. There are tons of villain archetypes out there and I feel the need to consider them all or else I risk missing an opportunity to do something amazing with a character idea. From destructive wildcards like Kid Buu and Majora's Mask, to masterminds taking advantage of dumb grunts like Pokemon's Giovanni, there is no clear answer for what a video game villain needs to be like.
I could have the villain act as a corrupt rival to Clover. One who becomes darker over time and battles you over the course of your journey like rivals did in the early Pokemon games. I could have the villain be a being with no moral conscious like Mr. Hyde. Maybe I could try to have you face against an evil doppelganger similar to Dark Link or Metal Sonic. Maybe I could take that idea another way and have you face your master's evil counterpart. It could be a means of Clover finally proving that she could live up to her late mentor's legacy and fill the world's biggest shoes.
All ideas seem very fitting and I will only get to make this game once. Just writing this is making my head spin with the countless villains I haven't considered yet. But this is a biweekly gushing post after all, so I might as well squeeze it all out here.
Twilight Princess's Zant was fun because he had Darth Vader's aura but with a lot more mystery. Everyone knows what Lord Vader can do and what he sounds like, but this guy is unknown. He just marches into Hyrule Castle like he's going grocery shopping. He has his demonic, faceless minions rush in and pin down Zelda's royal guard making her surrender in seconds.
When you finally get around to fighting him you have one of the most memorable parts of the game. You also find out that underneath the mask and the swagger is a raving madman. And under those sleeves are deadly sword arms.
I can't picture this kind of story in my particular game but looking into the dark side of humanity this way could activate an interesting idea. How do unicorns become dark unicorns? How do they justify it to themselves? In the latest Pokemon games the villains justify genocide with ideals of cleansing the Earth and starting fresh with the selected few. Whatever I decide on, I know I can use at least three archetypes. One for the final boss/looming threat, one for the minions, and however many else for the dungeon boss characters.
Is there a type of villain you like that I didn't cover? I think I covered too many, but if there is an antagonist you like a lot leave a comment for everyone to see! I'm curious as to what other people's favorite villains are. I know I'll be playing around with different ideas for the villain of Unicorn Quest until I decide to start writing down the definitive story.