How to create the ultimate villain for your game

The ultimate villain. Every James Bond has one (in every film a new one!), Sherlock had his prof. Moriarty, Luke Skywalker had The Sith Lord, Snow White had the evil Queen and the list can go on and on. Even in Tetris, there is one archenemy – the “I” tetromino. Your next game will probably also need one.

Except living soldiers, you might be facing an artificial intelligence “living” in a computer (Shodan in System Shock games), complex machine or a vehicle (Death Star from Star Wars), the Time (yes, ticking clocks, just like in every other game) or even a whole, partially anonymous corporation (our case).And you will be fighting them face-to-face or just face them indirectly. Still the question is, how to bring an evil character and various enemies to life, or better said into a game? I can offer few simple points to consider. We used them when we discussed and designed enemies for The Great Wobo Escape as well. They are applicable to both living and artificial enemies.

1. Make sure it enforces the theme of your game

It is not just about fitting in or stepping out of the line just a little. Making sure that this opposing force fits into your game’s setting is just the beginning, often a necessary pre-requisite. Of course, if your game’s main enemy is a pig, the boss will be a larger, smellier pig and not a broccoli or a spoon. The extra mile here is to make the main enemies (or at least those you will fight against most often) designed in a way that will bring more depth to the story, your main playable character or to the overall arts of the game.

This is also probably the most creative point. Sometimes a little controversy, a sharp contrast or a direct shock to gamer is just as appropriate.

2. Must be worthwhile and challenging to fight

The higher the stakes the sweeter the return, right? Would you choose to fight a thug that is stealing ice cream from children in the local park or rather a whole alien race set to destroy all mankind? I’m not underestimating your sense for community, but the chances are that you will go for the latter. Simply because the threat is bigger.

3. Must be rewarding to beat

What a bummer when you have beaten the largest, strongest, ugliest, smartest and most evil character… and the game goes on. If that happened in the middle of a game, you might get so disappointed or demotivated that you might put the game aside. So make sure the challenge and the gratification of your successes progresses with the game well. Keep the best for the end.

You are right after the colossal mass of the beaten enemy falls down, the ground shakes, fanfares are playing, your buddies are high-fiving you. You broke some sweat, but the victory is sweet. And so should be your reward in form of experience, new items, shiny new guns or unlockables (or the combination of all). The harder the battle, the better the reward. But make it the other way around (or just not satisfying enough) and you send a signal to the player that her/his effort was worthless.

4. Must be evil, do evil, speak evil, look evil…

In short, it must really, really have this evil feel. Most importantly the player must know it. It is not enough to mention that we have an ex-criminal, cured psycho or dangerous bank robber, only because the rumor has it. It must be shown there, on the screen, in bright colors, directly to the face of a player. What he/she did and how awful that was. And boy, it was a definition of awful! Just don’t get too crazy, the line is thin and it’s easy to burn it too much.

One more aspect, I think very important in games (and especially in video games, which are heavy on visual presentation to players) is the look of the villain. A cute bunny from the middle of a meadow will most probably won’t be potential threat to the Earth and nearby parts of the universe. Unless you go for very strong contrasts or the bunny has some really sharp and glowing teeth : ) I usually don’t mind some clichés like scars, huge muscles or teeth, evil gadgets or badass vehicles and weapons. With proper evil look, you set the expectations right away, sometimes in advance. But why not? (wink, wink: what a great place for some unexpected surprise!)

5. (Bonus!) Not every character is simply good or bad

This is a bonus point to consider. If you want to dig deeper, or you are a fan of psychology. It requires some skills and a little more preparation, planning and design in advance. The idea is simple – not everything is just bad or plain good. Adding some shades of gray to a bad character makes him more alive, more realistic. By the way, it also works the other way around – design some vicious traits to a generally good character makes it only interesting. The question is, how to spice things up the right way? A little hint: if the saying “A road to hell is paved with good intentions” rings a bell, you’ve got the idea.


Now just wait and see if we did our own homework and used these principles in our upcoming game – The Great Wobo Escape.