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Article - 'Realistic Characters III' by fitz_tayo

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Mar 22, 2004


fitz_tayo's third article in the Realistic Characters series, this time dealing with villains and realism.


Realistic Characters Part III – Enemies are hit by Realism

Warning – This Article may contain spoilers in examples used by games.

This is Fitz Tayo, again with Part III of my Realistic Character series. This time I’m going to cover the Enemy character’s realism. I will cover the enemy and some of their motives to destroy the world. I shall also cover those minor bosses such as Pirates or Golem Guardians that you keep running into at the end of dungeons, surely the entrance would be a better spot for a Guardian?

First I’ll start off by going on about lesser enemies and then rising up to your evil villain.

Hard to start off with, so I’ll go on about Minor Bosses such as random guardians or demons in a cave.

Right, I have to say. These suck! Who in real life wanders into a random cave somewhere for some reason, then works his way through it fighting monsters (So far so good). And then at the end finds a dinosaur or some huge mother like that at the end of it that so happened to survive of eating other monsters, yet you still fight them in the cave. How many large creatures wait around at the very end of the cave, where it is most likely to get ambushed and killed? Honestly… the things these idiots do. How many times have you walked anywhere a fair 5 minute walk away, and suddenly encountered a ferocious wolf ready to eat you? I ask these questions so you think about it. Think before you place a monster right bang at the end of a long hike through mountains or anything. Put the monster somewhere towards the middle or some place where it can actually live. You always see these games where the hero’s have to cross a mountain that homes a particular breed of dangerous dragon or troll, and there are not even any caves or nests for these monsters, yet the hero’s never encounter one through their entire journey, except at the end of the mountain. How stupid! Think first! When placing particular monsters in a dungeon, give it some background information! It’s not all that hard, see, if you have a one of a kind monster appear in your everyday cave, how did it get there? Where would it’s parents be? Surely there would be others? Saying things like it must have wandered into the cave can be a bit tedious, but it can work. But don’t be an idiot and say it must like the dark or something, to return with; it must have wandered in here during the day we were out. Key Word: Day! Not so dark in the day time is it? To be realistic, have the cave go deeper, and say it wandered in from there. But have the heroes not wanting to head down there in case they have to face a dozen more of these monsters. Simple solution, no? And for the mountain pass, where the heroes are passing through “Shark filled Waters” as such, instead of encountering one at some random point. Maybe make a mini-game where you have to avoid being seen by some trolls or something, adding better game play, and also a chance to increase some custom variable that alters your game, like sneakiness value or something, which decides some other event later. I’m just full of ideas aren’t I?

Moving on to other minor bosses, that may have some relevance, it depends on the story. One of my biggest complaints is having to go to the back of a cave, to retrieve an ancient artifact or something, and when you get to the end of the cave, and nab the artifact, the room shakes and what’s this? Some one has shouted “It’s coming” for some reason and then you fight some boss. It’s understandable if the enemy was sealed away there some time in the past, or it’s a guardian, but just being there is plain wrong. This moves on to my next point, why are guardian bosses usually at the wrong end of the dungeon? Guardians should be outside waiting to stop who ever tries to even enter, despite the realism in this, it can annoy the player to waltz into a boss fight, then be forced to THEN go through the dungeon, unless they are smart and back track to a safe place. Guardians must be the most unrealistic thing I’ve seen in games. Who put them there, how in god’s name do they survive on just air? And when you defeat one, then return later in the game, why isn’t another one there? With guardians, think of them much more like terribly strong bouncers out side a club. Somebody must have put them there, and they must have some reason to stay, being paid or something, and when one bouncer is beaten up, doesn’t another show up to help? How about at least hiring more than one bouncer? What about hiring a new better one, who shows up later when/if you return to the place. Maybe even a secret boss for your game. You may also want to add Messages to random battles, to add realism, I’ve encountered tons of games where the monsters happen to all be mute but a few have messages in them, even the random battles. You may be wondering why I am asking lots of questions, answer is, I think this is the best way to prove my point here.

That’s those minor bosses pretty much covered, to make them more realistic, give them just enough background to make the player feel like the maker didn’t just feel like placing a random obstacle because there was a dungeon. Not all caves have to have a large monster at the end!

Now onto more interesting enemies, those ones relevant to the story. All of your enemies should be like this, no matter how relevant or irrelevant, whether it’s connected to the main story line, or even just one of your allies. They should all add a tiny detail to the story, even if you have to have a certain character or particular characters in the party. Doing this will also add replay value, but not every one will find the secrets unless you hint to them about it or telling them about in a game manual or something like that. There are however, exceptions where you can add enemies without any back ground. Side Quests, where you go off helping someone for a reward, that usually involves running into some dungeon and beating the crap out of a monster for a memento of the person you’re helping. Though not realistic, every one loves side quests, and lots of them! But don’t add unnecessary bosses to them when they are perfectly fine when you run around trading items for an hour. But adding more bosses, how ever unrealistic, helps force the player train his party and maybe use some characters they wouldn’t usually use. This makes the player feel the game is less of one of those train for hours then do something then go train again games. I’m getting side tracked. Another point I’d like to make is Motivation! Give you’re enemies motivation for attacking the party, I know it’s complicated to program this, but a bunch of thieves aren’t going to attack a bunch of characters strolling along with no items or money on them are they? Most games miss this very important factor out, making the enemy seem like a complete idiot, unless it’s a comedy game, or the enemy is a complete idiot, the maker also comes off looking like an idiot. And if you make a game, do you want to look like a complete idiot? I doubt it.

Onto more motivational reasons and methods. The following is a list of tasks performed by enemies (Not including taking over the world, more on that later) and what should motivate, and how to put this across.

Robbing the Player’s Party – Again I come back to this, because it’s so, well annoying. I know this is realistic, and there are many, many muggers and bands of thieves out there all hiding in bushes waiting for us to innocently stroll past so they can steal our wallets. But back to that point I made before, thieves don’t steal from people with nothing, unless they are idiots and don’t know what you have on you. Also muggers rarely do this, muggers usually barge past people, knocking them over and stealing something then running off, not attacking from the front against a group of four with a bunch of weapons and magic spells at their disposal. So why don’t you bother making your game less linear, and give the players whose parties are too weak a warning by being attacked more often in certain areas in stead of having a big message saying, “You are too weak to enter this area and survive, do you want to continue?”, because if you do that, they’ll probably think the game is too linear and set. Also, I have to say, how come the player never gets robbed by a half decent thief who is actually good at stealing, and somewhere in a shop have the hero exclaim “My wallet was stolen”. This can also lead to more side quests and a more realistic believable game. Hard to speak on motivation here, as we all know people steal from people to get money or items. Unless they are being forced to by some malevolent annoying ass hole, otherwise known as the villain. This is sometimes seen in games, where a heroine (Spelt it right this time, eh?) steals a special pendant or item from the hero and the hero finds out some greater power forced her to or something. Enough on stealing.

Kidnapping the heroine – I’ve seen this happen tons in old games, and quite a few times in newer ones. This is very cliché, and the person who does it, rarely has any motivation to do so except to make the heroine their bride to be and or to extract some ancient magic. Which in fact, are the only times I’ve seen it in games; I’ve never seen an enemy kidnapping the heroine or some princess and demand a ransom. How dumb are these enemies, as dumb as the maker as the game, so remember, the game reflects you. And if so, why does the King or whoever the ransom is sent to, send four warriors off to get the kidnapped one, instead of being smart and realistic, and pay up. This is realistic, but also can bore the player, unless you made too many dungeons and they are bored of the game by now. This can also make your game less linear and add replay value, by making a variable for the King’s trust for you, and if it is high enough, he’ll let you chose what to do with the money. Brilliant, more side quests! There are few reasons to do kidnap the heroine or an important figure in a game, because whatever happens, with kidnap, it usually has to tie in with the game, so it depends all on the game. All I can say here is; think before making something.
Attacking A Village – I’ve seen this happen, not so often, but with good reason, when the player walks into a ravaged burnt village with few living people who say the evil demon king destroyed the village or something. Unless the village is under control of some evil king, and they refused to pay taxes, so he destroyed the village, there is little reason for an enemy to do this, unless they are the old crazy psychopath with extreme power and they felt like showing off by destroying the small peasant village in the middle of no where. If they are a crazy psychopath with such a power, and they want to show off, have them destroy a place of significance to the game, not like the hero’s/heroine’s old farm hick town in the middle of no where. Which is strangely a coincidental place to chose, you think? Unless they are trying to aggravate the hero/heroine. Really there are only two possible situations where this should happen, apart from the crazy psychopath going on a killing spree. First is the evil king who destroys the village for disobedience or something. Second is an advancing army willing to destroy a rival country, so they take the village for tactical position, or they destroy the village to engage some plan of enraging the opposition. This rarely happens in games and should stay that way.

Attacking a Large City – Very realistic prospect, if used with the right reason. This can be done by many people, though weaker ones are usually in comical games. I’ll just quickly cover them all:
Evil Psychopath – These characters usually attack cities for fun, because they take pleasure in destruction, or they attack it because to prove their power to the people of the world. Though you never see an Evil Psychopath with the power to destroy an entire city holding one ransom and getting lots of money or followers out of it. I say followers, but I mean they forced people to bow down to them. Think about it from a different point of view, if you had limitless power, and no one would do anything you said, and you were generally evil, wouldn’t you take control of the world and make people treat you like their god for the next eternity? Better yet, tell them you are god, and make them worship you for the rest of eternity. But never, ever just make the villain or power crazed person go round destroying things randomly and yet maintaining sanity, that just really, is a stupid and idiotic thing to do in a game. But beware of doing this, if it’s generally nice city, the graphics, the shops, houses etc. then destroying it can change the player’s feelings also, it can either make them get angry at the maker for destroying a perfectly good city, or get angry at the person who did it, E.G. the villain.
Evil Emperor (Maybe being controlled) – These are very cliché, and unrealistic, especially if they are being controlled by some other force. Either way, these people have no sense of logic whatsoever, they always believe the best way to control the world is by taking over places by brute force, you never even see an emperor making peace with a country to drop it’s guards then attacking it while it’s back is turned. Going back to the mind control thing, this is very much overly used, and you have to wonder, if they can control the mind of the king, why don’t they control the minds of all the nations and do whatever they want? Unless they can only control one mind at a time, which would be a pretty useless thing because people tend to up rise against crap leaders. If they aren’t being controlled, you need a reason other than, they are greedy, even if the players start off by thinking that and it turns into some deeper plot, I mean, if they are greedy, how the hell did they become the emperor without being overthrown?
Thief Gang – Sort of like, if the Mafia took over New York, you know they could probably do it some how. Just in game form, a private crime gang takes over the city through an intricate network of crime. Not really attacking, the city, just controlling it. This is realistic, and probably true in quite a few cities, if you use this in a game, have other gangs too, otherwise it’d just seem stupid. And if they literally attacked a city, well they wouldn’t be a very good crime gang would they? They’re supposed to be subtle. This also adds originality to the game, because there aren’t many games with Gangs and Cults, (The Way does, it’s brilliant!) I can’t say much more on these, um, so I won’t
Hordes of Monsters – Well unless monsters are going on a rampage and this city happens to be the closest, monsters have little reason to attack the big cities. Usually when this happens, how ever rare in games, the monsters are being controlled by some even greater force, which could probably destroy the city on its own but doesn’t feel like wasting time with its master “plan”. This helps the person controlling them look two things, either cowardly and unwilling to fight themselves, or like they feel that a capital city of a huge nation is not even worth their time and presence. This can make the player get pissed at the enemy even more so. Which is what you want, right? I always see that instead of the player’s party defending the city, they always arrive late to beat the crap out of monsters, or arrive when everything is destroyed. How about making your story less linear and giving the player a chance to save the city, and give perks to either option though you can do this with any of the above also. Good idea, I think…
Just to finish up on attacking large cities
Manipulating the King – I said things on this somewhat in the Attacking a Large City thing paragraph above, just saying. Overly used, but not completely bad, and can make a brilliant story. Yet it is getting very cliché.

Allying with the Heroes – Many times I see a game when some strange person joins the party and later on they turn around and say to the party, “Haha! Now I can achieve perfection!” Then they knock the party out. Which is really unrealistic, because if they are very strong anyway, they should have killed the party when they had the chance, they wouldn’t knock the hero’s party out, they’d kill them, and they wouldn’t even need the parties help in the first place. Unless they are pretty weak to begin with, which is quite realistic, but it would be more threatening to have an amazingly strong person gain even more power. And we all want our enemies to seem bigger and scarier without trying? Don’t we? Though this does give the player a glimpse of the enemy’s power, but we can still get game over, and they can still be killed. And when we fight them eventually, they are eight times as strong… which is just plain wrong. Give them exactly the same stats if they haven’t improved somehow, or just make their stats so good that the battle would be hard even if they had low HP. Very realistic, no? Any way, we’ve all seen this done, and now people can just predict it using some strange sixth sense they’ve picked up by playing too many games, so your game may be predictable if you do this. This can also be tied to controlling the hero or one of the main characters, like in Final Fantasy VII, where Sephiroth controls Cloud. This can be used to get what they want, and to affect the characters in some way, forcing them to change or anything. But yet again, I have an idea to make your game less linear by using this. Have some resisting Mini-Game, that if you complete, you get to keep the rare artifact the enemy wants and in turns activate some event relevant to the game, or you can lose and change the story appropriately. I do love non-linear stories you know… I’m just enforcing them… Any way, you have to think, if they are strong, they shouldn’t need the hero’s help, unless they aren’t strong, or there is some evil sealing devise upon which they desire, so think again, just like mind control or allying with the party.

Wiping the Hero’s/Heroine’s Memory/Senses – This one usually takes place before the game, and is usually more of a whole storyline. Or happens sometime in the middle of the game, where the enemy wipes the main characters memory and the hero or heroine has to help them remember or help them stop being an ass hole. Undoubtedly it is very unrealistic, because usually people rarely remember everything in such a rush, and they are less likely to remember if a spell was cast on them. This can also be used to enforce a love between two characters, E.g. The Heroine loses her memory thanks to the enemy towards the end of the game, and she is under enemy control. Then the Hero tries to make her remember despite the fact she’s kicking his arse, then finally the hero makes her remember, and they fall in love, or one of them dies… you know, you can chose. That’s if there is romance in your game, and you don’t want a soppy ending. But to be realistic, the end would probably end up with someone dying, because people rarely survive things like that. But yet again, main characters dying towards the end of the game is becoming more and more frequent in games, but you could also have alternate endings for a less linear game. (Surprised I’d say that?)

Enslaving the World – This can also be the main plot, but it isn’t destroying the world so I put it here. This is when the enemy enslaves a country or the entire world because they want to control it all, like a god somewhat, with followers and things. It’s hard to note this down as realistic, because if a rebel alliance of a few thousand people can’t defeat the enemy, what says four people who have an abnormal sense of friendship are gunna do any better. This should only be used if the characters have some special chosen power or they are chosen, or the entire rebel fraction help out in weakening the enemy and the player strikes them down. Otherwise, this could be considered unrealistic… yet people who play these do not question or believe it unrealistic if it is a good game in general, well in my knowledge. So if you are going to have an enemy do this, you better make it realistic or hope it’s a damn good game.

The rest have to be all relevant to your game, unless I missed some, if so, inform me. Just a lasting note, think before creating things and ask yourself is it realistic.

Now, onto the main enemies and last bosses of the games. As always I shall list the personalities and their realism, then I’ll move onto their motives. I do start talking about story-lines in the following paragraphs because the main enemy usually connects with the story-line pretty much all the time. One last thing I have to say adding a last strange boss that you’ve never heard of right at the end of the game is quite… stupid really. Who wants to fight some random evil looking thing that popped up out of no where saying they are the bringer of death… I mean who actually does that in real life… think about it people!

The Crazy Psychopath – I’ve mentioned this a lot in this article. These characters are quite realistic, yet they miss one tiny detail, if the enemy is truly crazy, they’d have just blown up the world strait away through sheer bewilderness. The realistic part however, is that they couldn’t handle some great power they obtained some time in the game which caused them to go crazy. But they have to obtain the power in the game, otherwise people would have known there was a crazy nutter with eternal power on the loose and destroyed it already. One thing I have always wondered with these sort of characters, is that if they are crazy, why do they always want to destroy the world, why aren’t they some inept person like the sort you get in mental homes? Surely they could become any type of person, which is a good idea for a comedy game. Having your power drunken enemy turn out to be an insecure wreck who needs a blanket. A bad point in this personality is that sometimes the player will assume you couldn’t be bothered to do much with the enemy’s personality, which again reflects on you, the maker. Their reasoning for destroying the world, well, they’re complete nutters who do whatever they feel like. I think you should only use this personality for your main enemy if you have given everything else such detail, and given all other characters personalities. A good way to come off using these characters, is giving them a personality that people quite like or find amusing before they get “drunk with power”, this makes the game more emotional a good story, because you’d end up making the player kill off a character they liked. This actually involves the player more, and actually creates real emotion, rather than ones just shown by the characters in the game that can seem fake and unreal. Hmm, enough said about the psychopath character.

The God wannabe – These are the sort of characters who would destroy tons of people to do something like collect their souls and absorb them into themselves to become a god-like figure. Well could be an interesting story, but then the whole story would end up centering around the fighting and destroying of the god-like person, with only a few spare bits where life is normal. But we’ve all seen this story done before, and then the god-wannabe tries to save time and creates some final light or something to destroy half the world, and then collect souls or whatever. Perfect example of this is Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, where he tries to wound the planet with a huge meteor, and then he’d absorb the spirit energy gathered to heal the planet and use it to turn into a god. That’s the stupid thing though, if they can cause damage like that normally, they wouldn’t waste time on something as big as becoming a god, unless they are a complete moron. Also if you produce a game with that story-line, any one who’s played Final Fantasy VII will think it is just a complete rip of it and therefore think they’d rather play the original. This is because on many levels, you probably are ripping from another game, even if you don’t know it. But the most frustrating this with this enemy, is that in some games they become like a god, yet the player can still beat a god, with more ease than some random creature created by some evil scientist. And now that you think about it, it makes no sense, doesn’t it? Their reasons for destroying the world, is usually they have a grudge against everything, or they don’t, but they would in the course of becoming a god, which makes the enemy look like an idiot. And both can make them look like a crazy psychopath who doesn’t realize what they’re doing, which would have the same effects as I said in the Psychopath paragraph. So to rap up on God Wannabes, don’t use them if you want your game to be seen as original, unless you put your own half decent spring on things or you have better ideas than those already used.

Powerful person with a grudge – This is also connected to the psychopath somewhat, and this story is overly used. A person with a normal life to lead, something happens to them, somehow they end up hating the world, then they obtain unfathomable power, then they aim to destroy the world. And usually, the maker doesn’t give them enough background to explain why they want to, I mean, getting divorced wouldn’t want to make you destroy the world would it? Unless you’re a nutter. To make this character in a game more interesting, show the world from their point of view, and show how they got round to hating everything. Show their thoughts and feelings so the player can actually understand why they want to destroy the world, and not just commit suicide like normal people who hate their lives. In the sum of it all, we’ve all seen this, some good takes, many bad, it’s an okay story-line if you want to settle for being a game that has no effect on anyone. If you want to stir people’s emotions and thoughts with your game I would make a very good game in general or not chose this story and personality.

People with different Purposes – This is actually a great story-line, as I’ve seen it once in the game Tales of Phantasia. WARNING SPOILERS – Where Daos is actually from another planet and is in fact just trying to save his own planet. Doing something like this can give you the opportunity to make two games in one, one where you follow the people of the planet being attacked, and one where you follow the character from the other planet trying to save their own planet. I loved Tales of Phantasia, one of the reasons is that it’s very original. I have not seen another game that has the main enemy trying to actually save something close to them, so in many ways you force the player to wonder if what they did was wrong. Though one of its faults was I didn’t want to play it again for a LONG time, yet having two story-lines can add to replay value. Or you can have one story-line that switches between the two, and in the final confrontation you can chose who to play as. You can see them from two points of view, a good person trying to do something good that destroys something as a side effect, or an ass hole for trying to destroy your planet. There is little much else you can do with this personality, except I came up with one idea, which can also change the story of the game. The enemy is actually trying to resurrect an even greater force, yet the player has the opportunity to stop them, yet if they fail, the player has to train harder to destroy the even greater force. This is a very original character personality, which is rarely done and realistic enough to seem believable. I hope someone who reads this article makes a game with one of these characters.

Evil Bringer of Death – These are less main enemies, but more the sort of last minute show up and fight enemies who want to destroy the universe for whatever reason. They usually are made because of some spur of the moment impulse from the maker in a feeble attempt to deepen the plot. Though undoubtedly, using this makes the maker look like they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a half-decent final boss. Nothing to say about their personalities as they are all maniacs trying to destroy things. Most people I know get disappointed when one of these shows up, it sorta affects what we think of the entire game. Because unless they have a background that turns out they were controlling all the bad guys so far for their own malevolent needs. Even a little background helps, though it still seems pieced together and random. I think the world would be a better place with less of these.

Evil Emperor – There are two types of these characters, The cliché over used emperor who is being controlled or generally greedy then comes round in the end right before death, and the underused mad sorta king who believes they are creating a new world order, or a utopia with what they are doing. The latter is the way to go with this one, as the first has been seen too many times in pretty much everything. With the second is also more realistic and a generally less evil character, who actually appears to have some sort of personality and belief system. Where the first just seems flimsy and unfinished. Though truly the actions they perform are based on the story, but they are usually the same, especially in the first. The first usually is a kingdom waging war against a country and they attack it, breaking all laws and treaties. Being basically annoying and stuff. The second, is doing less predictable things, but usually with the same goal; destroying the world in order to make peace with the motto if there’s no one to wage war there has to be peace, taking control of all kingdoms in a hope to create peace under one ruler, or destroying all but one nation in order to make “Peace”. Things generally like that, though deemed crazy and stupid, they have back grounds and beliefs that they stick to through madness. These are reasonably realistic and easy to comprehend as an enemy, note I am not talking about the first, controlled emperor person, but the second. These make good story-lines and can make your world seem like a more believable place to exist in, rather than some world with dumb ass kings who entrust the fate of the world down to 4 level 1 heroes.

The sealed one – These are your average sealed away overlords of death that somehow managed to get sealed away by 4 magical warriors. The game would always start leading up to their resurrection, then their control, then the way to beat them, then beating them. Final Fantasy V is a perfect example of this, yet despite being a good game is at a loss of realistic ideas. SPOILER ALERT - Galuf, one of the persons that sealed X-Death away, starts the game at Level 1, which makes you think. Why can’t we all seal this X-Death away again at level 1? Who is X-Death, wear did he come from, everything like that is important. If you have a sealed character, do not just give them a background of; they were once a powerful evil force, but we sealed it away, now it’s back. Give it more, like, when and where was it born, how did it get sealed away? You have to explain these in order to make your game not look like some shamble story made up in a few minutes. This character was very Cliché in the past, but is becoming less and less because it was cliché, but that’s no reason to use it. You have to think very carefully about choosing the enemy personality, because this one is usually set, and they always turn out to be this evil enforcer who loves death and pain and things as such. Only use this character if you are willing to give them enough background to make them believable and realistic.

The rest are all based on the story of your game, and I’m sure there are hundreds more personalities I could cover, but they are all too similar and are usually based on the above. They all seem to be based on craziness or insanity, or they seem to be devoid of logic and in thinking ahead to what will happen to them if they destroy the universe. So here are some final Points on all your enemies, again starting from less importance to more importance.

Lesser Enemies –

- Give them all a background, if your game has a library, have information on enemies and monsters.
- Give them a reason to do what they do, random battles included. Things don’t attack you for no reason
- Where did they come from? Things to not pop up out of thin air.
- Things need to eat to live, how do they survive off just air?
- Give things a reason to exist, don’t place things there purely as an obstacle.

Important Enemies –

- Give these ones backgrounds too, but more than lesser enemies.
- Try and make things realistic, hundreds of weak rebels have more chance of beating one than four strong ones.
- Make sure they do things for a reason, not because you want to have at least one fight with them so you change the entire story.
- Try not to make them too predictable, people love twists and people hate knowing what will happen.

Main Villains –

- Give them as much background as the main characters.
- Do the same as the Important Enemies.

That’s all for now, next time I will be covering Non-Playable-Characters or NPCs. Wow, this is long… how did I write all that…? 6100 words!

Fitz Tayo