Post­cards Poost­cards From The Th he Clip­ping Plane

James Leach Leeach picks through the th e DNA of off videogame bad­dies

EDGE - - SECTIONS - JAMES LEACH James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

Right now I’m at the stage of a game project where the main bad­die has to be cre­ated, and, as I have the lux­ury of a lit­tle time, I’ve taken the bold de­ci­sion to ac­tu­ally think about bad guys in games.

First, there’s the idea of the boss. If you’re bat­tling an or­gan­i­sa­tion, some­body has to be the ar­chi­tect of all the un­fold­ing evil. Imag­ine a game where le­gions of war­riors ram­page across the plains, burn­ing and wreck­ing, while the Arch-War­rior head of the army stands by the side and begs in­ef­fec­tu­ally for them to stop, in the man­ner of a sup­ply teacher at an in­ner-city com­pre­hen­sive. No, we need the bad guy to be in con­trol.

The bad guy needs to be big, too. Crime em­pires and mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions work, it would seem, on the same prin­ci­ple as colonies of chimps. The most phys­i­cally im­pos­ing gets to be in charge. He’s of­ten a few feet taller than ev­ery­one else, and he’ll pos­sess unique fight­ing tech­niques and weapons which, to be hon­est, you wouldn’t ex­pect from some­one who has so many other de­mands on their time.

Bad guys can only have two emo­tions. Anger is the first and most im­por­tant. They can’t be busi­ness-like or qui­etly ef­fec­tive; they must be al­most per­ma­nently en­raged. Af­ter all, which of us doesn’t do our best, clear­est think­ing when we’re in­can­des­cent with fury? The other emo­tion is pretty much a lack of emo­tion. What’s not to love about an evil uber-dude with an icy, dis­pas­sion­ate line in sar­casm? It says in­tel­li­gent, English – as of­ten as not – and it also makes the bearer ap­pear dan­ger­ous. Some­one that dis­con­nected can­not feel sym­pa­thy or com­pas­sion. They can, though, do a mean line in piti­less, hol­low laugh­ter de­signed to chill the soul.

Ac­tions speak louder than words, so the bad guy needs to be de­fined by what he’s up to. Of course, there’s the grand plan – the thing the player is up against. It’s usu­ally evil enough to stand on its own mer­its, but there are other ways to re­in­force the egre­gious­ness of the vil­lain. In screen­writer cir­cles it’s called ‘kick­ing the dog’, and re­quires our neme­sis to carry out per­sonal or petty acts of mean­ness. It might not be enough that he’s send­ing fleets of star cruis­ers to wipe out our So­lar Sys­tem. It’d es­tab­lish him with more so­lid­ity if he bat­tered a ser­vant or threw a hen into a fur­nace. Now we know what he’s re­ally like, the swine.

Early in Fable’s de­vel­op­ment, one of the ideas floated for Jack Of Blades, a par­tic­u­larly nasty boss, was that when he spoke, he’d do so ac­com­pa­nied by a pierc­ing ring­ing sound. The player would be able to make out what he was say­ing, but hav­ing to lis­ten to him would be a pro­foundly un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. We played around with this no­tion, even go­ing as far as getting some record­ings made, but even­tu­ally the idea was shelved. The con­sen­sus was that it’s fine to hate a boss char­ac­ter, and great to fear him a lit­tle too, but to find him purely an­noy­ing robbed the game ex­pe­ri­ence of some of its majesty.

Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is fun, but there’s no getting around the fact that evil char­ac­ters in games all have a lot in com­mon. We, as play­ers, like it that way, since we know what we’re getting. Other el­e­ments, if not too an­noy­ing, can be added. We’re happy for them to have a sur­pris­ingly weak side, which might give us pause for thought just be­fore we dis­patch them. We’d prob­a­bly be dis­ap­pointed if our boss wasn’t in fact a cow­ard, who has an elab­o­rate way of try­ing to es­cape his doom. We’ll even al­low him, once he’s close to death, to gain a whole new slug of health or power, born of how an­gry be­ing killed is mak­ing him. And if he wants to dou­ble in size, or glow or some­thing, that’s OK too. As long as he’s an­gry and cal­lously mock­ing by turns, we’ll be de­lighted. What we will not stand for is clear and should be lam­i­nated and tacked to the wall. We draw the line at the Wizard Of Oz trick, where it turns out the bad boss is, un­der the mask, tiny/fee­ble/dy­ing/a lit­tle Ja­panese girl. Nor will we al­low the boss to be ab­so­lutely any mem­ber of our char­ac­ter’s fam­ily at all. No re­la­tions. Ever. And fi­nally we need the boss to die. Sur­viv­ing for the pur­poses of a se­quel is not an op­tion, but frankly it’s been years since I’ve seen any­one ac­tu­ally pull that one.

Bad guys are, it turns out, easy: two emo­tions, the sim­ple act of pop­ping a kit­ten into an in­dus­trial cof­fee grinder, and an ar­ray of im­pres­sive com­bat skills. All that re­mains is to give them a short name with a few spiky con­so­nants: Rex, Marok, Xerxes or some­thing. Next, re­mem­ber to add at least a few scars and a mask or a hat, and the job is done. All that re­mains is to rue the fact that Alan Rick­man isn’t around to do the voice work.

It’d es­tab­lish a bad­die with more so­lid­ity if he threw a hen into a fur­nace. Now we know what he’s re­ally like, the swine

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