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December 18, 2014, 07:56:10 PM
TIGSource ForumsDeveloperCreativeWritingRelationship between Protagonist and Antagonist
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Author Topic: Relationship between Protagonist and Antagonist  (Read 10651 times)
AndrewFM
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« on: March 07, 2011, 07:37:31 PM »

What are some ways to make the relationship between a protagonist and an antagonist be compelling and memorable? I find that these relationships tend to be somewhat remote and detached. The antagonist is there to provide the conflicts which the protagonist must face, but otherwise, does not contribute to much more than that.

To try to explain this in a different way. Consider the relationship between two friends/partners/team-mates in a game. These relationships (when done right) create strong bonds with the player. The player can often relate to them, they're enjoyable, and they facilitate in growing an attachment to the individual characters.

Now, how can those same assets be achieved in a relationship where the two characters are in rivalry (even deep rivalry, such as wanting to kill each other), rather than friendship?

...Hopefully you understand what I'm trying to get at here. I'm having trouble trying to put my thoughts into words Tired
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radioact1ve
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2011, 09:05:12 PM »

Nice topic. I've been thinking about this myself my game. One thing I'm trying to avoid is by making them related (good brother vs bad brother) or once friends. But I'll admit, it's overdone for a reason: easy and effective!

But now to think of other ways...   Huh?
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« Reply #2 on: March 07, 2011, 09:09:59 PM »

I think a personal struggle would be best. One of my favorite conflict types is man-vs-self; How much more personal can you get than fighting with yourself?

Ways you can do this personal struggle with two entities...

-One entity that became two, good and evil, separate people.
-A person who wants revenge (Protagonist) and someone who wronged him (Antagonist), or vice-versa.
-A person fighting for what's right. This one's overdone, I believe, but you could easily pull it off with some adjustments.
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iffi
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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2011, 09:18:28 PM »

I'm sure many people, myself included, believe the relationship between Chell and GLaDOS to be quite effective. I'm no writer, but I'd say to create a memorable protagonist-antagonist relationship, you need a well-developed antagonist with a distinct personality.
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SundownKid
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« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2011, 09:27:28 PM »

I think giving the antagonist a realistic way to have become evil that might have befallen the protagonist if he was in such a situation gives the conflict more relevance. Or, make the protagonist be forced to do immoral things that bring him closer to the antagonist, or show where the Protagonist draws the line.

I think the Portal example is weak, since GlaDOS is a 2-dimensional character (stereotypical evil AI), Chell is a silent protagonist and the whole exchange is completely one-sided. Valve upped the ante in the sequel by making the AI more 3-dimensional, since he was once a person and has legitimate reasons for going crazy.
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azeo
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« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2011, 10:37:56 PM »

Never use binaries. Or rather, if you do use binaries, go all the way. Either make a character so evil you always hate them, or an antagonist you can relate to. And if you make a super evil character, go ahead and try and make them understandable. I guess the general rule, I find, is try to keep their relationship, and the characters believable. But that doesn't mean realistic.
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antymattar
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« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2011, 12:11:47 AM »

An evil silent-protagonist sounds  Hand Any KeyWizardHand Joystick
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SundownKid
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« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2011, 01:05:50 AM »

I hate silent protagonists in general. That's probably because I am the type of gamer who "guides" the character rather than "inhabiting" them. For me, it feels like an unrealistic shortcut that inhibits game narrative by making characters talk to themselves. In fact, I also dislike protagonists who aren't silent, but aren't voiced when everyone is. Unless they make up for it in bad-assery.

The idea of an evil silent protagonist has actually been done. Wander from Shadow of the Colossus kills innocent monsters to save his girlfriend.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2011, 01:12:02 AM by SundownKid » Logged

Tiderion
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« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2011, 01:44:53 PM »

There are a crazy huge number of relationships two characters can have that are compelling and understandably and yet overly competitive.

The easiest model is the "opposite number." The opponents are similar but on opposite sides. They might have been good friends if it were not for the conflict but the conflict compels them to hate each other in an overly dramatic way. The neat thing about this one is both characters are both the protagonist AND the antagonist depending on the side from which the conflict is viewed (which then opens the field for all sorts of possible plot twists).

I prefer that one over all others. The "I am your (relative)" model is too silly these days.
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Player Ʒ
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« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2011, 02:23:05 PM »

I prefer that one over all others. The "I am your (relative)" model is too silly these days.
"Luke! I am your father!"
"Cecil! I am your brother!"
"Lone Star! I am your father's cousin's nephew's sister's former roommate."

Agreed, it gets silly. Another silly relation is fate. It always seems to pair a chosen one versus another chosen one. I'm amazed this probably wasn't done for the Versus compo. Correct me if there was.
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tsameti
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« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2011, 09:36:21 AM »

If you want to make an antagonist more interesting, you've just to to give them more focus in the story. Make sure that even when they're not present their presence is 'felt' in absentia.

Example: the main villain from the first Mass Effect was the Spectre Saren, real jerkwad. But the way that the developers made ABSOLUTELY sure that you hated this guy is that the game over music is the very same as Saren's theme music.
You're conditioned to hate him.

Meet characters who know the antagonist, his victims, his conspirators, the momma who dun shor knew he wasn't all right as a babeh. The point is, you can't really hate someone until you know them.


Here's a good way to frame a situation where the protagonist and antagonist don't know each other before the story opens. Construct the story as if the villain is learning about the hero. The more successful the player, the more manpower and attention the bad guy spends on our hero, up until it becomes obsession. Your antagonist's investigations actually help define the main character, because you get to choose the answers to the questions he poses.
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« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2011, 03:38:47 PM »

I think Dragon Age 2 is using something similar to this as a frame narrative; the game opens with the interrogation of a dwarf who knew the player character. He starts off with a big epic battle that also serves as a tutorial for the combat system. The player character becomes more powerful as the fight progresses, allowing them to taste some of the skills unlocked later in the game. Once an actual dragon joins the fray, the interrogator calls bullshit, and the dwarf backs up and starts the story again with a more realistic beginning. It's pretty brilliant as a way of combining narrative and gameplay, and it even incorporates time skips. You can see most of all this in the demo they recently released, it starts from the very beginning of the game.

The reason I feel so many loved to hate GLaDOS is not because of "her" relationship to Chell, who acts as a shell for the player to inhabit, but of the relationship between the player themselves and GLaDOS. The AI teaches you how to play the game, but she also mocks you at every turn. You suspect something's not right, and when you complete the challenges laid out for you, she reveals her true motivation and sends you to your crispy death. The ensuing breakout and final "boss" battle give the player a chance to fight back against their snarky oppressor, and even though they're still being guided by the invisible hand of Valve, you still feel like you're the one mucking up all of the systems and gaining power and control over your enemy.
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« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2011, 06:07:33 AM »

What about an evil antagonist that actually LIKES the protagonist? Muppets Treasure Island did it, and it was pretty awesome. For added magnificence in your bastard, try having a confused hero-sort as an antagonist who, amidst the atrocities, is working for a better way for everyone. Legitimately. The hero winning would, by all means, mean that you've lost, while every time you lost, that would mean that the world was saved (even at tremendous sacrifice).

And keep it blatant from the start, not mentioned once to add a twist, but more a point really driven home.
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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2011, 08:46:05 AM »

The stereotypical protagonist is virtuous while the stereotypical antagonist is thoroughly corrupt. A traditional story uses culmination like this as a way of delivering the author's message, leaving little room for interpretation.

If you want to break this formula, you'll need to blur the lines between "good" and "evil". A story is involving if it manages to present an ethical dilemma for the viewer. A game plot becomes twice as involving when interactivity is introduced and the player can answer the dilemma in several ways.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 12:32:32 PM by sublinimal » Logged
Areku
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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2011, 12:00:46 PM »

^True, that. In my current game project, I'm trying really hard to make the antagonist a  perfectly normal and reasonable person the player can relate to, yet definitely evil by today's standards.

...

You know, sometimes it seems me as if nowadays the focus of game stories is moving more towards the antagonist than the protagonist. Take, for example, Bioshock. Mostly everyone will agree that Ryan, the "villain", received much more of a backstory and character than the player character, who was in fact left nameless for most of the game.
I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but sometimes I'd like to see a game with more focus on the development of the protagonist's character than the danger he has to go through or the character that he opposes.
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Xion
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« Reply #15 on: March 12, 2011, 02:22:32 AM »

I find relationships to be more powerful when the player, if not in regular direct contact with his opponent, is constantly reminded of their presence and dealing with their effects.

For example, rather than simply having the bad guy appear in the intro cutscene and summoning a bunch of monsters, leaving the player to spend the rest of the game plowing through said monsters until they're finally reminded of their ultimate foe in the final battle, let the baddy taunt the player regularly, or have several conflicts or near-conflicts with the big boss throughout.

Even if the interactions are never direct, signs of the antagonist's presence can be powerful as well. Like that one scene in Mulan where they came across the burned village, too late to save the people. I know that's not a game but whatever. Dialogue constantly referencing the antagonist, and proxy characters through whom the Great Evil's impact is made known - not necessarily bad on their own, but driven to ally with your opponent for one reason or another.

I think the main thing though is just for the antagonist to have a real sense of presence throughout the game, be it through direct interaction or an overall atmosphere of Being There.

This way, when the ultimate conflict finally occurs, it will be like, "okay, this is what it has been building up to. This guy is the source of all my problems. He has been my driving force, my motivation to persevere through all other obstacles."
as opposed to just
"oh, look, it's the final boss. Kind of like the previous bosses, but the last one of the game."

I think this is why allies, as you say, tend to have such 'stronger bonds', because they have a presence that is felt - they are there, with you, and they matter throughout the game. Same thing with glados. Make the antagonist Actually Matter, either on a personal level or in the game world as a whole - not just by being the guy who summons monsters at the beginning of the game, that only barely matters, but let them never be far from the player's mind - and I think strong feelings will naturally arise.

Beyond that, characterization is another matter entirely, methinks. Maybe he can be your typical super villain, or maybe he will be a complex character with a history closely tied to that of the hero's, or maybe he's the hero that stands in the way of your plot to take over the world. It doesn't really matter. But having an actual presence in the world is much more fundamental for creating relationships, I think.
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Mipe
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« Reply #16 on: March 12, 2011, 02:36:36 AM »

Were I a villain, I'd have mercilessly crushed any opposition, not throw weak monsters at them, try to kill them in ways that could be turned against me etc. That's just downright stupid and fit for Darwin Award.

I wish there was more to this "protagonist-antagonist" relationship than just good-evil.
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eclectocrat
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« Reply #17 on: March 12, 2011, 05:40:35 AM »

IMHO Comic books are a great source for complicated antagonistic relationships.

Batman - Joker
Joker is batmans darker side, what he could become if he let his rage take over. In batman, there is a sense of almost compassion for a kindred soul who has gone over the edge, while joker continuously tries to provoke batman to let go and embrace the chaos.

Superman - Lex Luthor
From Lex's perspective there is the respect for an extremely difficult challenge, and the refusal to let luck dictate the results of a contest in which his enormous ego has a large stake.

Spiderman - Venom
In his adversary spiderman sees... ah, hell this one kind of suck.

Indie hero comics are all over the dynamics of such a relationship.

Personally I like a relationship where it's not pure, neither pure hatred or pure love. Their needs to be some tension, there needs to be give and take, the potential for characters to change and even roles to switch.
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antymattar
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« Reply #18 on: March 12, 2011, 12:57:00 PM »

Wait. Am I missing something. What was the difference between the two again?  Embarrassed
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Pineapple
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« Reply #19 on: March 12, 2011, 04:18:20 PM »

Something that few stories do in any medium is provide the motives of the antagonists and protagonists in a sensible and not clichéd way. Almost every relationship is essentially the same - the bad guy wants to do something bad and the good guy is the only thing that can stop it. Some media adds a little bit to this and makes it less clear which is the good and bad side by making the motives and characters morally gray, but the story's root formula stays the same. What seems to me to be the next-most common is inner conflict, either in an individual or an organization - just another cliché.

I want to see games (and other media) to use more plots where all the characters involved have much more interesting motives and generally less morally monochromatic circumstances.

In addition to this, almost all characters in different forms of media are completely static in their personality. I can think of few examples of media in which a character fundamentally changes between the beginning and end in any meaningful way.

Although this could just be my personal taste. My favorite film genre is the psychological thriller, where linear or clichéd stories are less common.

For games, I think this issue is more substantial than anywhere else. While in other media we are observing these changes, games are interactive so we should be able to see the motives of characters in a more meaningful way. Instead of being presented to us through the same cues tried over again in other media, we have the opportunity to discover them ourselves and perhaps even alter them by actually interacting with these characters. For one example, I think Bioshock deserves a good deal of praise for its plot, but the player was choiceless to do anything but kill the unwaveringly hostile inhabitants.
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