Evil Lairs
May 15, 2009 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Game developers are unconstrained in their designs for the enemy. Such designers will be punished with poor sales, not death in the gulag, if their designs for the overlord are unpopular. They could go anywhere with the homes of evildoers: halls of electric fluorescence, palaces carved from corduroy, suburban back yards. And yet, in spite of this freedom, most videogame designers choose to make a definite connection to familiar – or real-world – architecture ...
posted by jim in austin (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The real world architecture of fascists and dictators would be pretty easy to use in video games and film, they definitely tend to emulate the excesses of size.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2009

I've always wished that more games had real-feeling environments. Nowadays, it's usually the case that any given room is realistic, but the composition of the building is not.
posted by LSK at 7:04 PM on May 15, 2009

I've always liked the castle of Zot for being a manifold. Really confused me when I was a kid and trying to map it out. The cave of the Wumpus is, of course, the classic.
posted by wobh at 7:22 PM on May 15, 2009

I think a good part of it has to do with the fact that storming a castle or climbing a tower has so many obvious heroic connotations that it becomes very tempting material to use for a finale that is building up to an epic final showdown. The other one that I notice but gets used less often is interrupting a magical ceremony or summoning, which can happen outside as well as in a building so it's not as limited for architecture.

Two games that buck the final showdown trend in an interesting way are Riven and Silent Hill 1. Both games are ones where the entire game environment has been corrupted by the hand of the enemy and what once was a livable area now bears numerous testaments to their evil influence.

In Riven, the island has fractured into pieces due to the antagonists actions, the villagers are fearful and subject to ritual executions, the forests have been clearcut into areas of ugly devastation, and he's constructed huge gilded edifices in his honor. And yet, the final confrontation with him happens in his modest home hidden away on a different world, his only refuge from an inhospitable rocky wilderness that he's crafted around himself. The home itself, which can be explored after he's been imprisoned, shows little of his tyranny and is instead is a mix of furnishings that speak towards his aspects as an explorer, a scientist, and a man desperately homesick for the world he originated in. After he's been safely made a prisoner, the game goes out of its way to humanize him a little.

Silent Hill is a game about a spreading supernatural corruption that is twisting a small town into a bizarre and deadly version of itself. The town itself acts as the antagonist for most of the game and it is later revealed that its spread is being directed by the vindictive spirit of a young woman who very nearly burned to death by her mother in an attempt to unleash her magical energies. Near the end of the game the player is thrust into a labyrinth of disconnected areas that are an amalgamation of previous locations, literally called Nowhere on the map. Two rooms that were already visited, a very ordinary and uncorrupted school room and hospital room, both return to show themselves as being key influences that were formative in shaping the antagonist's eventual revenge. Finally, at the very heart of a surreal maelstrom of passages, the player stumbles into a little girl's room. There are drawings of animals, and a butterfly collection on the walls, and it becomes clear that the monsters that have shown up are all shadows of the things that she cherished here. The Silent Hill series has always had a complicated relationship with its antagonists, but that moment in particular was a very disarming and unexpected detail to appear right before a fairly conventional final boss fight once you exit the room.

I'll also add that games about a spreading corruption of some sort, or an alien threat to humanity, often tend to skip the Gothic castle at the end and go for more organic final environments, though perhaps that falls under the articles mention of H. R. Geiger related material. Examples would be Doom (to an extent), Half-Life 1, American McGee's Alice (literal pulsing walls in this one), the original Tomb Raider (again with the pulsing walls), and Quest for Glory 4 which manages the awesome double climax of infiltrating a vampire infested Gothic castle followed by interrupting a summoning ritual for an Elder God in an organic cave of evil! I'm only being a little bit sardonic there, it really is well done.
posted by CheshireCat at 7:45 PM on May 15, 2009 [6 favorites]

It's interesting that Shadow of the Colossus is mentioned, since the Colossi in the game are simultaneously antagonists, landscapes that need to be navigated, puzzles, and ultimately, victims. My wife actually couldn't finish the game; more and more she got the feeling that the "hero" was doing something terrible and evil, and after a point, she couldn't continue. That's possibly a rare identification with a fictional scenario, but she IS a writer.
posted by happyroach at 8:15 PM on May 15, 2009

Good article, but that's a hefty spoiler for Shadow of the Colossus it's got at the end there.
posted by rifflesby at 8:41 PM on May 15, 2009

Yeah, and that spoiler was the part BoingBoing decided to excerpt without any warning. SotC is on my list of acclaimed-PS2-games-I-need-to-play-some-time and I don't know if my anger at BoingBoing for the spoiler is justified. Is the game old enough yet? I'm not usually a stickler for spoilers (I've got a friend who thought my revealing the total number of stars in Super Mario Galaxy was over the line) but that really pissed me off. And the result is that I'm not going to read the article. Argh!
posted by palidor at 9:11 PM on May 15, 2009

Don't worry too much about the SotC spoiler. It's vague enough that the ending will still surprise you. Aside from that, the game's plot is bare and archetypal enough that it's less a matter of what happens in the ending and more about how the ending happens, if that makes sense. Definitely check out hte game if you can, it's fantastic.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 10:08 PM on May 15, 2009

That's actually my usual reason for not really caring about spoilers. I still plan on playing it of course, along with Ico. Yes, I'm that lame.
posted by palidor at 10:48 PM on May 15, 2009

What are you talking about? Ico rocks! As does SotC.
posted by brundlefly at 10:15 AM on May 16, 2009

I suppose he feels lame for not having already played them by now?

I haven't made it very far through SotC yet, myself. Keep getting bucked off of the second one's back, and after umpteen attempts, I give up. Sigh. I love Ico to death, though.
posted by rifflesby at 4:55 PM on May 16, 2009

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