Have Fist, Will Subjugate

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Apr 11, 2007

Filed under: Game Design 40 comments

I asked, Corvus responded. His answer as to why he plays through the “evil” storyline of a game is really interesting. His post also got me thinking:

I could get into a game where the story was – by design – the story arc of an evil character. Like Corvus, I think it could be really enjoyable if done with a wink.

Take the classic tale of The Hero Must Round Up Objects X to complete Artifact Y so he can kill Villain Z. Except, in this game you get to be Z.

The hero is good-looking, blond haired, square-jawed paragon of sanctimonious virtue. He’s mighty, but also brimming with false modesty and driven by a need to feed his bottomless ego with the thankful cheers of the oppressed. The ladies love him. Take the intelligence of The Tick, mixed with the emotional depth of Prince Charming from Shrek 2, mixed with the condescending attitude of D&D Paladins, and there you have the template for our heroic antagonist. His followers are a collection of sycophantic sidekicks who stand in his shadow and direct incoming praise to their leader. He’s Fabio. He’s shallow. He’s arrogant. He’s a moralizer. He’s the guy we love to hate, and he’s just convinced he’s destined to win in the end.

Your plan, of course, is to take over the world. Just as good-themed games suffer a little when trying to allow you to do evil, I think this game would suffer if it tried to let you play a little good here and there. Instead of good vs. evil choices, you would make Law vs. Chaos choices. Yes, you’re evil, but what kind of evil? Certainly peasants mean nothing to you, but will you sacrifice loyal followers to get ahead? Do you kill your own men on a whim? Will you keep your word with those who do your bidding without question. When you tell someone, “Tell me what I want to know and I’ll let you live”, do you actually let them live once they cough up the info? Would you rather rule through control borne of loyalty (theirs, to you) or fear?

As the evil guy, your quests would be stuff like:

  1. Lure away one of the Hero’s cohorts and get them to betray him.
  2. Commit a terrible crime and blame it on the Hero, thus forcing him to waste time clearing his name.
  3. Follow in his wake as he goes questing about. Find the people he’s helped (who are gushing with praise for the guy) and make them reveal what they know about his plans to stop you.
  4. Get the rest of X objects before he does.
  5. Build up an army of unquestioning followers.
  6. Throw said followers at him in waves. Use them to to annoy, harass, delay, and frustrate that smiling, infuriating pretty boy.
  7. Once your men have softened him up, move in and defeat him yourself.
  8. Once he’s out of the way, you get to rule these filthy peasants like the heartless despot you are. You (and only you) live happily ever after.

Just imagine the conversations. The game practically writes itself. Comedy is sometimes tricky, but this is one of those ideas (like DMotR) where you just can’t go wrong. (Assuming you’re going for funny.)

If done right, I’d play that game in a heartbeat.


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40 thoughts on “Have Fist, Will Subjugate

  1. Someone will probably write it :)

  2. Harvey says:

    That… is freakin’ brilliant :-)

  3. Hal says:

    Makes me think of Evil Genius, which I’m told was similar to Dungeon Master, though I never played the latter.

    Evil Genius was great fun, and had many of the elements you talk about there. Start a villainous organization, steal priceless objects, train a bunch of loyal grunts, fight/kill off the James Bond-esque heroes thrown at you from time to time. It’s good stuff.

  4. Blackgryphon says:

    I would play that game too. I enjoyed Evil Genius, because of the similar theme, but it just didn’t have enough to it to keep me hooked.

    Hope someone comes out with a game like that.

  5. Ace says:

    That.. could actually work.. I’m a genius!

    Wait.. you’re a genius..

    Yes…… genius..

  6. Wraithshadow says:

    This makes me wonder- have you ever played City of Villains? Because that’s the basic idea of it, more or less. You have an evil overlord whose organization keeps everyone in line to a point, and various villainous groups who inhabit the islands. The players start off getting broken out of prison and then proceed to do the usual array of tasks to prove you’re worth allowing to live. From there, you get into a general theme: head to a new part of the islands and scan the newspaper for potential heists, kidnappings, assassinations, or robberies. Do enough and you get clued in to a big job, the Mayhem Missions. Head over to Paragon City and you’re on a timer. Destroy the environment and police forces to earn more time, beat up small groups of villains to get side quests (such as pulling a robbery they were about to do) for even more time and bonuses, and eventually make your way to the bank. Once you blast through the guards and the vault door, a hero’s dispatched. Beat the hero and accompanying police/paramilitaries to win the mission.

    Once you’ve got a Mayhem under your belt, you get news on people who want to hire you for various illicit activities. I want to say that each provides a story arc, but I’m not 100% sure, as I haven’t gotten every contact in the game. Most do, however. These can be anything from a mob war to sacrificing someone’s soul as part of creating a mystical artifact to corrupting heroes to destroying school books. Once you’ve done enough, you move on to the next area, and things repeat.

    At the highest levels you get involved in truly epic story arcs, where you’re dealing directly with the big guy’s lieutenants. My understanding is that in at least one of these arcs, you end up fighting the master archvillain. Win, and you can pretty easily claim to be the most powerful villain on the islands.

  7. Vegedus says:

    There are 2 kinds of villains I like:

    1: The completely insane. The one we love to hate.
    These are the over-the-top kind. They may have been exposed to some tragic events in their lifetimes that have broken their minds. You may feel sorry for the person because of his past, but not because of his present. This kinda villain acts without rationale, and the only thing you can expect from them, is that they will bring pain with them. What is cool about them is that they almost define the meaning of “evil”. For what is more evil than killing innocent people for money? Killing innocent people for no reason at all. If they have a reason at all, it would be sadistic tendencies.

    2: The deep villain. The one we hate to love.
    This is the one you may take pity in. This is the one that was created by his enviroment. All the evil stuffs he’s doing, may not be entirely fault. The player can indentify with him, just as they should be able to with any good protagonist. He has reasons to do the things he does. While you may not agree with his philosophy, you can at least see it’s point (like the true way of the closed fist). This is a great villain because it shows what real evil is: not evil at all. In real life, no one does things without motivation, no one is truly evil, and in fact, some of these people might have a good heart. This guy, could have been you.

    What usually goes wrong, is that a lot of games aim for number 2, but don’t give them enough play time. In any “save the world” story, the hero is given lots of playtime. We understand his reasons, because they’re fairly obvious, since most of us wants the world to persist. In all that, the villain personality and motivation is not padded out enough. At the end, right before his final breath or before the battle that leads to it, he may reveal his reasons in 2 sentences. We often don’t get to dive into their minds, they don’t get to defend their reasons (because they’re often pretty absurd). I think more games should focus more on the villain, even if you’re not playing him. If you are, well, you get to come up with your own motivations, which is fun, but usually doesn’t mix well with the choices you’re given and breaks character.

  8. Ariel says:

    Hmmm… makes me think of Dungeon Keeper. It’d be fun to play it as an RPG, and not a sim/strategy game.

  9. Ditto the “sounds like Dungeon Keeper” comments.

    My wife, who is not a gamer, has an odd soft spot for that game. The original was a good three or four years ahead of its time. It’s also a great example of how the jump to 3D really gutted the richness of many genres; the sequel was made several years later in 3D, presumably with a bigger team and bigger budget, yet it not only is nearly the exact same game (what new features there are were worthless), only in 3D, it wasn’t as much fun, either. All that extra 3D work just to tread water.

    A good thing to pick up if you can find it. Other than the 640×400 resolution (and that’s the high resolution option), it’s surprisingly modern and doesn’t have many of those little annoyances that old games can sometimes have.

  10. Shamus says:

    I was actually thinking of a story-driven RPG, like Jade Empire or Kotor.

    Not enough comedy games out there.

  11. Dirk says:

    Dungeon Keeper isn’t an RPG, but it has the almost unique (at the time, definitely unique) feature of letting you possess your own creatures and play first person. Combined with your creatures having levels, skills and even basic needs like food and sleep, it makes for a really shallow RPG. It’s really fun to walk through your own dungeon as a creature, especially an awesome dignified creature like a vampire. And the lens effects for each creature are awesome – it’s good to think of how much effort was applied for what is technically a really minor and ignorable part of the game.

    Then an update made the game 3D accelerated, improving some of the graphics significantly, even though all objects were still muddy sprites.

    I wouldn’t speak out against Dungeon Keeper 2. A lot of fun things were nixed for balance, since the game would have multiplayer as a first-class consideration rather than an afterthought like in the first. The graphics are a lot nicer and not too taxing of hardware. Nice things are there like more vivid creatures, conveniences like large carry capacity and selecting rectangles instead of individual cells. It’s fun enough that I’d consider pulling out my CD now. Hey, what other game has an embedded copy of Disco Inferno? Just thinking about that makes the world seem nicer, for me at least.

    Bullfrog was later absorbed into Lionhead, and they now make really forgettable games. Black & White was impressive at the time. Who even *pirated* Black & White 2? Nobody I know cares. Shame…

  12. ngthagg says:

    “4. Get the rest of X objects before he does.”

    This could be fun, except for the part where you have to get there first, then hang around for half an hour so you can grab the jewel just before the Hero enters the room.


  13. TooMad says:

    Pretend OOTS is about Xykon and not the OOTS and you already have this :).

  14. Erekibeon says:

    Hi, guys! I think you all have played the supreme “bad guy” CRPG: the Grand Theft Auto franchise. I only played Vice City, but I think the rest of the games are pretty similar.

    Looking at the list of missions Tommy Vercetti had to do in order to be the Vice City Kingpin (http://www.infoideas.net/Vice-City-2/Missions.htm), it appears that almost all of them are too “videogamish” (kill all the cubans with a sniper rifle, sell X icecreams, etc), but if you focus only in the reasons that lead Tommy to do them instead in how must he do it, you can have a fair of good ideas to evil adventuring. And with no “do-gooders” opposition.

    In the game there is no difference if you go the violent way or the smoother way… as long as you make it so you don’t attract too much police attention. It’s just a videogame after all. A good DM can overcome it easily, I think.

  15. Daktylo says:

    This reminds me of what I was thinking of last week. My buddy was trying to figure out what alignment to play in Neverwinter Nights 1 (even though alignment really doesn’t matter). The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion if I need to play a good character, I would have a much easier time playing Neutral Good, as there is a point for law and a point for chaos at any time, and picking one exclusively would be difficult for me to play.

    However, when thinking about Evil alignments, I came to the conclusion that Lawful or Neutral Evil would be the best for an empire builder. Chaotic would be too random. Although possible, I think a Chaotic Evil lord would fall before his own men/servants before falling to an adventuring party.

    I think what also instigated this was my friend who insisted that Chaotic Neutral should be one of the last choices for alignment, as they seem torn within themselves on what is right and wrong. I believe my buddy said it was as close to being Evil without taking that final step.

  16. eloj says:

    With all this CRPG talk it’s worth noting that the third part of “The History of Computer Role-Playing Games” came out a few hours ago: http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070411/barton_pfv.htm

  17. phlux says:

    I like the idea of that game, except for the bit about the heroic antagonist. For me the game is better if the hero really is a hero. He’s not an egotist, he’s not doing it for acolades, he’s not perfect and he’s not followed around by sycophants, but rather by loyalists.

    Stories with three dimensional antagonists tend to be much better than ones with a flatter character. If the hero is really true and just and right, then what does that make you? It makes you wrong. It makes you evil. For most of us that means you’re actually playing a role, being an actor, stepping outside of our normal ethical tendencies.

    That’s the best part of playing evil in a roleplaying game. You get the chance to pretend to be evil. And if I am going to pretend to be evil I want to go all the way.

  18. Ralff says:

    I would pay $1000 for a game like this, if it was well made.
    Well, maybe not $1000. Maybe like $75, including sales tax.
    But yeah, I’ve never liked how in most RPGs that allow you to be good or evil, you get at least one of these things happening:
    A. One side is extremely difficult and frustrating compared to the other side.
    B. Playing “neutral” is just alternating between evil and good.
    C. You end up doing the same quests and fighting the same enemies whether you’re good or evil.
    D. There’s no attention paid to law vs. chaos. Usually, Good is considered lawful, while Evil is considered chaotic.

    So yeah, I think a game like you’ve just described would be great. Definitely a refreshing change of pace, at least.

    People have mentioned Evil Genius and Dungeon Keeper; while these do basically follow the “evil overlord” style of play, neither of them are RPGs and in both you’re not following around or harassing one specific hero or group. In fact, you spend most of your time defending yourself against the heroes’ troops.

  19. Corvus says:

    Phlux, don’t you see? From the perspective of a cardboard cutout “evil for evil’s sake” villain, all heroes are idiots and egotists surrounded by incompetent sycophants! The portrayal of the hero and forces of good in this game concept are filtered by the villain’s world view.

  20. Luke says:

    OMG Shamus! I want that game! Someone make it! Quick!

  21. -Chipper says:

    Shamus, I would like to see your idea taken one step further. At the game start you choose which character you are, and are given a feel that A is the hero & B is the evil industrialist. If you play A, your goal is to take down this bad guy & it plays pretty ‘normal’. But when you play B you find out that he isn’t necessarily evil. There may be smoke, but no fire, and you slowly discover that, though he may not be sweet & cuddly, he’s accomplishing good things and stays on the right side of the law. So in the end you have to re-evaluate who is the ‘good guy’ & who is the ‘bad’.

    I’ve had similar thoughts about writing stories. Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, talks about the 13 or so common elements of the hero quest story, regardless of the culture it comes from. It usually includes things like: the wise, old mentor (who dies or is otherwise separated from the hero), the hero disguising himself as an enemy & entering the enemy’s lair… off-hand I can’t think of others. Anyway, I’d like to see stories tweak that format from time to time – have our protaganist trained by the kind old wizard & then go to fight the bad guy, only to realize the bad guy ain’t really bad & his mentor is.

  22. Matt says:

    Someone has already mentioned Dungeon Keeper – which is one of the things this whole thread has reminded me of. The other is this:


    A list of all the things a real evil overlord should do, rather than the Chaotic Stupid we tend to get in films and, to a lesser extent, RPGs.

  23. Anders says:

    Hmmm, sound like a rather interesting game. And I’ve played DK I, DK 1 Deeper Dungeons, DK 2 and Evil Genius. All games where quite nice and enjoyable.

  24. The Gneech says:

    There was a card game to this effect, called “Before I Kill You, Mister Bond.” It was slain by a lawsuit, but I think it may have been re-released as something like “Before I Kill You, Mister Spy.”

    -The Gneech

  25. Deoxy says:

    OOTS keps coming up, but the other comic at that site (Erfworld) is basically following the “bad” side…

    Oh, and that link mocking Tolkien was GREAT, by the way – a “love/mock relationship”, heh.

  26. Kilderon says:

    Long time lurker, I’m pretty hard to lure out of hiding, but I thought I should point out this upcoming game: Overlord


    The basic premise of the game seems to be that you are the re-incarnation of a evil overlord who was defeated by seven “legendary” heroes sometime in the past. Or at least your minions seem to believe so, you begin in the destroyed ruins of the old overlords keep, which through the game you slowly build up to it’s former glory as you go about reconquering the entire world. The seven heroes which defeated your predecessor still exist but are corrupted by their successes are are typified by the seven deadly sins. The Halfling hero for instance is gluttony, and has taken over a farmer’s village to provide him with food.

    The decisions are basically Evil, and even more evil. It’s possible to complete the game with a 100% uncorrupted rating, which doesn’t mean you’re good, but rather you went about conquering the world and enslaving it’s people without random acts of genocide and village burning. Or you can acquire such titles as “the exterminator of the elven race” by committing said acts of genocide. Your minions are loyal, and will obey your every command, you can even toss them into your forge to make weapons, the example given is sacrifice your red minions and you may be able to give your sword a form of flaming ability. However they’re limited and when you first acquire them they’re without weapons or experience and thus a precious resource you’ve got to conserve.

    You also have a pair of mistresses who manage your tower, one more lawful, the other more chaotic, each brings different things to your tower, and which you have modify your tower changes it’s appearance and abilities. You begin the game little more powerful then the average peasant, but reclaiming the artifacts taken from the former overlord from the world and specifically the seven “heroes” you grow back into your former glory.

    The entire tone of the game is fairly tongue in cheek, not a spoof per say, but rather dark humor taken from the “absurdity of the characters and situations and the twisting of fantasy stereotypes.”

    It’s a nice looking title with next generation graphics, there’s a trailer and some screens for the Xbox360 version of the title here:


    The game made the cover of February’s edition of Play Magazine, but otherwise seems to have gone under the media radar. Not really sure why, it took Gamespot’s “Best Surprise of E3 Award”, and Codemasters and Triumph Studios are fairly well known publisher’s and developers (Triumph came out with the Age of Wonder’s series – which garnered fairly good reviews if I recall correctly)


  27. Kilderon says:

    Forgot 1Up did a preview of the game as well (PC Version) Here:


  28. Hal says:

    Hm . . . what if they made a game similar to this, only it was more of a good and evil “chess” game, where one player was the hero and the other player was the villain. The villain’s job is to commit dastardly deeds and the hero’s job is to thwart said deeds.

    Could it work?

  29. Christopher Weuve says:

    FWIW, Dave Langford wrote the short story version, where the POV character is the evil overlord explaining to the Big Dumb Hero why the EO’s actions really actually benefit everybody. It’s called “The Arts of the Enemy” and is available for $0.53 at some website I don’t remember (but found through googling the title), or in Langford’s collection _The Silence of the Langford_, which is well worth the cover price.

  30. Acksiom says:

    I’m trying to think of ‘sympathetic’ villains in recent popular fiction and the only one I can come up with is Hannibal Lecter.

    Any other suggestions?

  31. Matt` says:

    Playing the bad guy, if done well, would be great.
    Or maybe pick up where many games end – where the good guy has defeated the evil guy and acquired his source of supreme power/doomsday weapon/whatever it was supposedly tipping the odds in his favour.

    Then, instead of doing the good guy thing and destroying it, he takes over as the bad guy and begins a new reign of terror. It creates hard choices – do you try and persuade your companions to join you but risk them betraying you, or have them killed, all the chaos/law, or psycho/regular-grade evil things mentioned above, and then you face a new hero and get a game out of that.

    TO extend it further, at the beginning you could have the choice to be good and hand the powerful item over to someone trustworthy (the mentor type, there’s always someone like that) but then they go all evil and you have to defeat them in the normal way.

    Essentially there’s 2 games there, but based on your choice at the very beginning you get to see both sides of the coin.

  32. Hanz says:

    The concept of playing a villainous figure would be awesome. Perhaps you could play a somewhat Blackadder-like figure (a conniving self-centered yet intelligent figure with a great wit) who’s pitted against a more heroic figure somehow. I don’t mean jerky heroic, but the classic Anime Shonen type heroes AKA a spiky-haired punk with idealistic and bullheaded attitudes spouting all sorts of stuff about Determination/Strong Will/Hearts/Honor/Etc.

    Personally villains are at times more fun than basic heroes. In forum RPs I tend to play fairly amoral and at times just plain wicked figures that tend to do things for the hell of it, though I ultimately try to keep it comedic and satirical. I mean, one of my character’s companion is that of a perpetually pissed Parrot Lich.

  33. Jeff says:

    Hm… was the new Bard’s Tale protagonist a good guy or a bad guy?

  34. Ishmael says:

    Oh GODS yes.

  35. Tola says:

    Hm… was the new Bard's Tale protagonist a good guy or a bad guy?

    Neither. Coin and Cleavage is what he’s all about. Hell, you can WALK OUT from the final fight, and it has an ending for that.

  36. Otters34 says:

    At least the hero isn’t apathetic.

    Hmmmm, faint praise.

    Also, why does everyone hate D&D Paladins for some reason?

  37. Ben N. says:

    It just occurred to me… this IS Overlord.

  38. Pete says:

    On a small tangent, if you liked Firefly and/or anything Joss Whedon’s ever done, check out the 3-part miniseries he published online, called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. It makes me think back to this post whenever I see it.


  39. Shoku says:

    Actually I think there is room for heroes of varying depth in a “play the evil guy” type rpg. In the usual hero setting you encounter bosses that are random monsters in the way, a mildly evil jerk in local authority position, other heroes who are either greedy or misjudge you, and stuff actually directly related to the big bad, in no particular order.

    If the big bad takes a real focus on the heroes early on then they usually make them go through monster lairs and point the evil sherriff’s attention at the heroes and so on and the game could certainly have you doing that but there’s a problem:
    The heroes overcome all of their obstacles on their way to the climactic battle. You can’t have a game like this where virtually every encounter ends in failure. Taming or otherwise utilizing big monsters, corrupting the hero’s allies, and racing to artifacts can all be won but if you can beat the hero left and right why not just kidnap them and throw them in your slow-death-by-magma chamber early on?

    Instead in RPGs there’s that whole situation where the bad guy throws bigger baddies at the hero in a progressive sort of way. Obviously they are getting pretty annoyed after having a few schemes thwarted and start to actively make assassination attempts but why do they keep sending what should be just enough to kill the hero?

    After he has killed half of your generals and humiliated your most recognizable set of henchmen half a dozen times wouldn’t you just throw everything at him all at once?

    Well there’s an ovious reason not to: dealing with numerous hero groups. Once a villain has a country worth of territory under their control there should be dozens of fairly charismatic guys running around killing wolves and similar pests as they start to attract some battle-damsels and war veterans and whatnot to their cause. You could just be trying to keep all of them from sabotaging too much of your plan and generally have bigger fish to fry, namely the groups like them that have grown powerful defeating your krakens and surviving certain doom after you sealed them into that tunnel full of deadly something somethings.

    Having your black knight regularly run around killing the forces of good who are strong enough to be worth his time (and maybe even requiring he get some rest once in awhile,) is both a good reason for him to have not squashed the hero’s group back when they were level 12 or so and a good reason for you to have expected him to be able to handle the heroes that actually beat him.

    And if you wanted to go the comedy group Fabio should be just one of many flavors the good guys come in. Every heroic archetype would be up for grabs ranging from the dark gunslinger to the young girl that met some talking animal and transforms sailor moon style into some ribbon-y outfit in order to shoot love and justice out of that baton she carries around.

    I don’t know how to write a story for something like this with one hundred and fifty different groups of heroes running around the place but if you just picked a general setting and narrowed it down to the suitable themes it should be a manageable group that you could even give some actual 3 dimensional personality to, if that was the direction you decided to go.

  40. Cameron says:

    Not that my two cents are particularly asked for (considering this is an old thread and I’m not much of a forum-dweller… well, anywhere, really), I’m reminded of a Squeenix game that came out awhile back. It was a Crystal Chronicles spinoff, I think, “My Life as a Dark Lord” was the title if I remember correctly. Basically it was just a tower defense game, but the pitch was something along this line. You play the obligatory “Final Boss” figure, you have a tower the heroes want to scale, and you get to place all those annoying traps and monsters that JRPG players have learned to hate.

    I never played it myself so I have no clue if it was brilliant or atrociously dull, but the concept sounded refreshing and comical in a revisionist sort of way. At least the attempt was kinda cute.

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