Kefka (Final Fantasy VI)
Kefka is fucking evil. He’s evil and he’s crazy and he’s hilarious and he’s not nearly as annoying as you’d expect from that picture. Kefka is probably the best-paced villain in all of gamedom; he starts out as an annoying little twerp you outsmart and humiliate while escaping from Figaro, and he mainly stalks around having funny dialogue and not being any threat at all. And then you get to Doma castle, where he goes against explicit orders from his commanding officer and poisons the water supply — not because it’s necessary or even expedient, but just because he wants those people to die slow, agonising deaths. He thinks it’s funny. It’s not long until he’s slaughtering an entire species of sentient beings just for laughs — laughs and power. Always power.
Back in 1994, when Final Fantasy VI first came out, this kind of evil was totally unprecedented in video games. Compare the villains from Final Fantasies IV and V, both of whom were evil wizards from space who didn’t have any real character traits other than "cackling." Kefka is always around, always a step ahead of you, and always more evil than you think he could be. That laugh — the insane cackling Kefka laugh — haunts you throughout the game; just when you think things are beginning to work out, you hear that laugh, and then everything goes to hell. The best part, though, is that after dogging you and outsmarting you from Doma through the Floating Continent, after conquering the whole world and gaining the power of a god, Kefka remains wholly absent from the second half of the game. We know he’s there, up in his tower, but he stays unseen and unheard until the very end when you actually go in to get him. This is perfect; the first half of the game builds a complete understanding in the players’ minds of how evil this dude really is and how urgent it is that we stop him, and then the second half allows him to be remote and sinister. As a result, he never gets overused, and the feeling of satisfaction when you finally get your revenge is impossible to overstate.
The 40k squad I’m working on now is coming along fairly well, so I reckon I’ll post some pictures here on the ‘tubes. Note that this is a work in progress, so there are plenty of rough and/or unfinished spots — I’m pretty pleased with the progress I’ve made so far, though, and wanted to show it off. Note also that I’m a fairly garbage photographer, and completely inexperienced with taking macro photos; I did the best I could with the lighting given the tools I had at hand, but there are a few places where I’ve done a terrible job with the focus. But I’m getting better.
For this post, since it’s somewhat image-heavy, I’ve made thumbnails. You can click on all the pictures for the large version.
This guy is my Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor Lord, the leader of my army. I’m playing Witch Hunters, which is an army that’s all about (as you might expect) purging heretics and unbelievers and (unlike historical witch hunters) actual real witches. This guy is the boss, so he’s a pretty intricate model. In his right hand is a force sword, which is a psychic weapon that ignores armour and can kill anything living in one hit (so not tanks or dreadnaughts, but it works just fine on giant demons and aliens). In his left hand you’ll see an inferno pistol — a rather short-range weapon that fires a concentrated blast of flame that does an extremely high amount of damage, and is highly effective against tanks and robots. As you can see in the larger picture, I haven’t really done his face yet, and I’ve only just started the flames from the pistol. There’s also a fair bit of detail on the back of the model I haven’t done.
This is an Acolyte. This guy (and all the remaining models in this post) are henchmen who work for my Inquisitor — they’re not very powerful on their own, but they give him a pretty decent set of buffs. This guy can take a hit for me; as long as he’s alive, I can redirect one wound per turn from my Inquisitor to the Acolyte. In his own right, you can see he’s covered with flaming this and fire that; that’s the dreaded Brazier of Holy Fire, which can set on fire the hell out of anybody who gets close, and can be used as a flamethrower once per battle. As with the Inquisitor, you can see I haven’t done anything on the face yet, and I’ve only just started the fire.
This big guy’s a Crusader. He makes my Inquisitor more effective in melee, and isn’t any slouch himself — that giant sword is a power sword, which smashes right through armour, and the giant shield makes him very difficult to hurt (and can also be used to bonk enemies in combat!). This model’s probably closer to finished than any of the others; mostly what I need to do here is cleaning up edges and fine-tuning details. The back of the model, which you can’t see, is very plain — really it’s just the back side of that big black cloak.
This is a Familiar — specifically, a Cherub-type familiar. This guy lets my Inquisitor use an extra psychic power and makes him move a bit faster in close combat, and he can also carry weapons for the Inquisitor — in this case, that bolter he’s struggling in vain to get off the ground. He can’t do much on his own, and is probably an easy kill for an opponent who gets to him. This model’s also in pretty good shape, though there’s a fair bit of detail on the back I haven’t worked out yet; I need to do some shading and clean up the edges, but he’s looking nice so far.
This is a Bound Psyker, which is pretty much a witch I’ve already successfully hunted. He’s strapped into some pretty sinister machines that prevent him from using any of the unlicenced psychic powers that got him into this predicament in the first place. Instead, he’s sort of a psychic shield for my Inquisitor — the codex describes him as a "psychic lightning rod," and that’s pretty much the size of it. If anyone tries to hit me with a harmful psychic power, there’s a chance that it’ll channel to "earth" through the Bound Psyker and have no effect. The model itself looks really good from the front like this, but the back is in much rougher shape; there’s a fair bit of detail back there I haven’t wrapped my head around yet, but I’m working on it. I messed up the edges on his gimp mask a wee bit while I was painting around it; it shouldn’t look choppy like that. But on the whole it looks pretty good.
This is a Chiurgeon, which is pretty much a highfalutin’ way of spelling "surgeon." She’s pretty good at keeping my Inquisitor alive, and allows him to ignore the first wound he takes every turn. When combined with the Acolyte’s wound redirection power, this helps make my Inquisitor stunningly hard to kill. As you can see, this model’s not as complete as the previous ones; I still sort of don’t have a handle on where I’m going with this one. My goal was dark red armour and a black cloak with white lining, but I don’t know how well that’s working out; I might go for the more traditional black armour / white cloak if I can’t get the red armour to work how I want it.
Finally we have the Sage. With a sage around, my Inquisitor gets bonuses to his shooting, and he also carries ferocious Inquisitorial Mandates that allow me to pronounce doom upon pretty much any fool crosses me. As with the chiurgeon, I don’t really have a complete handle on what this model should look like yet, but it’s improving; it also helps that I fucked up this photo really badly. You like how I threw the focus up there on his left shoulder? Yeah, that was great. His face looks terrible, but that’s because it’s barely started; he has a half-mask on that I haven’t painted at all, and I’ve only done a single coat of flesh with no details on the non-masked part.
Chairman Drek (Ratchet & Clank)
Chairman Drek is the ruthless, greedy ruler of the evil Blarg race. The Blarg’s homeworld of Orxon has become so polluted that they need to find a new home — or, as Drek has planned, make one. So he’s literally tearing the galaxy apart, removing the choicest sections of various other inhabited planets and fusing them together to make the new Blarg planet.
Drek is a teriffic villain because he’s so cool and calculating while he destroys whole planets; he cheerfully announces to the populace of a planet that they’ve been chosen to participate in the creation of a new world — sure, they’ll all be killed in the process, but "sacrifices have to be made." Then he signs off and tells his work crews to hurry up and wreck the planet already, and heads off to crack jokes and make sarcastic comments at his shadowy hired muscle. Drek is a very obvious villain — at no point in Ratchet & Clank is there ever any confusion about that — but very effective due to his extreme evilness and high comic value. The way he’s built up through the game we have no trouble believing him when he announces that he personally polluted planet Orxon so the Blarg would have to buy real estate on the new planet from him, and that he plans to repeat the whole process again to make even more money.
The fight also is worthy of the buildup; it goes through multiple stages and is definitely the hardest thing in the game. Much like we observed last week, the only thing better than gunning down an evil dictator is gunning down an evil dictator in a giant robot suit, and that’s exactly what happens. So he giant-robots around and we run around him and try to figure out the best method of shooting the shit out of him, and then we grindboot around and try to figure out the best method of shooting the shit out of him, and sooner or later his shit is well and truly shot and he gets killed so thoroughly that Insomniac still hasn’t figured out a way to get him back into a game. It’s sort of a pity, but at least they have integrity!
All the above awards go to the cover for Madonna’s new album. Seriously, have you seen it? I’ve seen some bad album covers in my day, but that’s even worse than the classic Beatles butcher cover. If you haven’t taken a good long look at it yet, you need to do it now.
I’ve run a fair few of my villain profiles so far, and, in the last sidebar, I talked a mountain of shit about some of the baddies that don’t make the cut. This time around I’m going to go into more detail about why some villains succeed where others fail.
The single most important thing your villain has to be is memorable. Whether it’s because he’s funny, or because he’s scary, or evil, or campy, or maybe just because he does that thing with his eyebrows, the players need to be able to pick your villain our from the crowd. If your villain is likely to get forgotten or obscured by other baddies the players would rather be fighting instead, you’ve already lost the battle. Make the villain count!
Your villain needs to be clearly defined. The players need to know what he’s up to and why they need to stop it — don’t just tell us some garbage like "holy shit, time compression!" and expect us to care. Tell us what it is and why it’s bad. It’s important that we have some clear comprehension of why we’re fighting against this guy and it’s not just something we’re doing because, hey, we’re bored, let’s kill somebody.
Last, the fight should be a good one. Sooner or later your players are going to have to deal with this guy, and if you’ve spent the game building him into a really significant baddie, it’s just going to be a letdown if beating him is easier than getting to him. Make the fight detailed and exciting and hard, but, for God’s sake, do not make it some type of bullshit minigame or perhaps an extended cutscene with button-presses. The final battle should be something memorable; something that’s really interesting and that the players enjoyed and thought was satisfying.
Addendum: One more worst villain ever!
Isaac (Castlevania: Curse of Darkness)
How did I forget this asshole? No, he’s worse than you think. You haven’t seen him move. Or heard him talk. Isaac is pretty much a gay raver who somehow found himself transported back to the fifteenth century to do battle with the world’s first hardcore metal fan. He is the most repulsive villain in all of video games, and by that I don’t mean you’ll want to kill him so much as you’ll want to shut the game off so you won’t have to watch him prance around and overact any longer. At least the game wasn’t particularly any damn good anyhow so it won’t be a big loss if you do.
Hey hey, I’m not actually dead. I just took a few days off from writing, since I’ve already posted thirty-two articles this month and I’m a little burnt. I was going to resume updates tonight, but then I stayed up until stupid doing other things so it will be tomorrow. Check back tomorrow for the next update in the villains series and possibly other detritus if I’m so inclined.
Reuters tells me that the rash of sorcerers stealing people’s penises has now grown to encompass the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How? How could this happen to my beautiful homeland?
More to the point, I suppose, how can people actually believe this? I have a pretty good insight into mystical and/or religious thinking, but this one puzzles me a bit. It’s not just that people think wizards are stealing their penises in the abstract — there are reports by people swearing that their own penises have been taken. And somehow pointing out that they’re still there doesn’t seem to convince these people that no penis theft is taking place; they just declare that what’s left is tiny and impotent. This is especially confusing to me because when I look down and see a tiny penis, hey, par for the course.
Ganon (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
When you’re a Zelda game, all roads lead to Ganon. No matter what the game’s on about, no matter how hard it tries to pretend otherwise, sooner or later it ends up Ganon. So what I’m saying is that it ends up pretty predictable who the villain’s going to be. It’s also rather predictable what his plan is: he’s going to get the Triforce and then make some wishes and probably take over the world. Honestly, it’s hard to play a villain for serious drama in the tenth Zelda game when he’s the exact same villain with the exact same plan that’s been in the other nine Zelda games, and even moreso when he doesn’t really have any character to speak of. Oh, hoo har, he’s an evil one, he is. But that’s really all the character we ever get to see.
Enter The Wind Waker. This game was almost universally reviled by Zelda fans, which is because people are morons. Don’t get me wrong; it certainly had its faults, but Wind Waker was like a breath of fresh air for a series that was growing stale, both in gameplay and in art design. Especially, however, it gave us a fresh take on an old villain. Ganon really shines this time around; he gets a bitchin’ new look that makes him look a lot more like the evil warlock he supposedly is than like Judd Hirsch’s evil twin brother, he gets good dialogue that really fleshes out his character, and by the end of the game we really almost feel sorry for the guy, even though we know he’s the same old evil Ganon he’s always been. He even has lines that indicates that he really doesn’t want to hurt Link and Zelda; they have something he needs, and he does intend to get it, but he’s perfectly content to do them as little harm as possible. Here’s a video of the scene in question. Major spoilers involved, and I apologise for the minute-long bullshit epeen titles and the several moments of idiot commentary, but it was the best clip I could find. This is Ganon how he should be done. You see that moment when the rain starts? Chilling.
The Great Mighty Poo (Conker’s Bad Fur Day)
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is full of great, surreal moments, and probably the surrealest of them all is when you fight your way past the scouse dung beetles into the giant dung heap and you see this hopping boggly-eyed piece of corn. "Hey! Sweet corn!" Conker yells, and then you run around in the dung heap throwing all the corn into the center. Once you’ve done it all, this giant, brown… thing bursts up out of the river of dung and announces his presence: lo, for it is the Great Mighty Poo. As surreal as that is, it’s completely trumped a few seconds later when the dialogue scene pauses while the background music vamps a bit and it slowly dawns on you that he’s going to sing.
And sing he does. It’s a truly intense experience; the fight revolves around it, as the Poo sings a verse, and then vamps for a while while Conker runs around grabbing rolls of toilet paper and throwing them into his mouth until he breaks down and gets flushed away. I mean, it’s not exactly shining gameplay; Conker wasn’t known for its gameplay. It’s basically cutscenes punctuated by minigames, and that’s the case here as well. But it’s really odd and funny, and, hey, sweary. Can’t ask for more than that!
Hitler (Wolfenstein 3D)
Adolf Hitler was the final boss of ID software’s classic shooter Wolfenstein 3D. What not many people realise, however, is that he’s actually based on a real person. The historical Hitler was the chancellor, and then führer, of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Under Hitler, many reforms were enacted in Germany, including the restoration of the country’s military, the reinvigoration of the economy, and the state-sponsored murder of millions and millions of people because they didn’t agree with the party line or were perhaps the wrong race or religion or maybe related to somebody who was the wrong race or religion. He is the best boss monster history has ever produced, and, in a startling coincidence that I didn’t even actually plan, it’s his birthday. So, you know, happy birthday and all that.
In Wolfenstein 3D, ID Software realised and tapped the boss-monster potential in Hitler like no game before or since. They understood that if there is any experience producable in a video game that turns out quite as vicserally satisfying as mowing down Hitler with a machine gun, it’s mowing down a giant armoured robot Hitler with a machine gun. The fight itself is relatively straightforward and bland, but it doesn’t even matter — it’s Hitler. This is really the one case in video game history where the simple fact of the villain trumps anything else the designers could add to it.