Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Motives

Tony Hancock: It's a self portrait!
Mrs Crevatte: Who of?

That's M5 plotted!
I've taken this opportunity to play with a properly dark antag.
But what makes a properly dark antag?

One of the first things a writer learns about the art of creating characters is that they need a motive. Or a motivation.
Subtle distinction between the two words - certainly nothing that's going to bother us here. But if you're interested in what people reckon, you can start here. I might even flit between the two just for the sheer mischievous thrill! Ha!

So let's take a gander at The Last King of Scotland which was on t'other night.
We have a young doctor, the ink on his diploma still wet. And we have Idi Amin.
The doctor is introduced to us as a carefree spirit (hedonist), defiant against his parents' regime. He recklessly spins a globe to decide where he will abscond to, and picks Uganda. Within virtual seconds, he's sleeping with a woman he met on the bus, and shortly after meeting a lovely missionary doctor, he's trying to have his end away with said missionary's wife.
He, and we, are then introduced to Idi Amin, the ink still wet on his presidential diploma. What a wonderful fellow! He's big and cheery like an inflatable teddy bear, and he's so kind and friendly and charming, and all the people adore him!

And gradually we watch the character arcs imploding and reversing.
What's fascinating is that we initially see the doctor as a self-serving git: he sleeps with women for his own pleasure and doesn't care who gets hurt; and we see Amin as the saviour of his people, slaughtering only those who would threaten his leadership and, hence, his beloved country. In these instances, the motivations are far more powerful in defining (our perception of) character than the actions. The murders are (apparently) justified; the marriage wrecking is not. We approve of people making sacrifices for other people; we disapprove of people hurting others for their own gain.
Before the film ends, we bear witness to Bob McKee's assertion that character is defined by choices made under pressure. (Certainly worth bearing in mind here.)

Perhaps the epitome of this peculiar dichotomy is the character of William Foster (Falling Down, played by Michael Douglas). We cheer as Foster defends himself against gangsters or threatens the storekeeper who charges exorbitant fees for a soda or, eventually, murders an army surplus storekeeper who harbours extreme right wing views. When he's finally cornered by Robert Duvall's cop, he is stunned:

Sergeant Prendergast: Let's meet a couple of police officers. They are all good guys.
Foster: I'm the bad guy?
Sergeant Prendergast: Yeah.
Foster: How did that happen?

Wonderful, breathtaking dialogue!

Another magic moment from The Rebel. It'll make sense soon...

So the reasons why a character behaves in any given way is key to our judgement on their placement on the good-bad scale.
If memory serves, the daleks were elevated to a new degree of evil a couple of seasons back when they revealed that they killed for fun. It's simple, clich├ęd, and effective.

I gave my M5 antag a super motive which I've been longing to fiddle with for ages. I confront the question: How far will a father go to save his daughter's life? (You'll perhaps be interested to note that I set this up in the very first scene in M3. Ooh, you'll never spot it! ;o)
Naturally, I introduce the father as the good guy - as a victim of prejudice - by having villagers pelting him with stones. He shuffles away, his head bowed, a tear meandering down his cheek. Ed meets him and he's charming and kind and softly-spoken.
Now you can run this through all manner of ethics philosophies: deontology - or adherence to rules - to include Divine Command theory and Kant's ideas on duty; consequentialism - the end justifies the means; utilitarianism - loosely reduced to 'the greater good'; and so forth.

In order to save his daughter, my antag was required to hold another character hostage for many years. Even now we can still debate the virtue of his actions. But to be certain - to elevate this chap's motives beyond any rational doubt - I had him shackle his hostage in an unnecessarily hostile environment and fashioned a neck shackle to resemble a dog's collar, and, to top this off, placed a dog bowl at her feet. In short, he went beyond the functionality and humiliated his hostage. The act of degrading her through extremely simple and powerfully iconic devices transcends our sympathetic/empathetic bond.

And just for good measure, (and I'm still undecided about this) the hostage is clothed in a red dress which, if I can pull off the connotation, will suggest that she was dressed by antag; which, in turn, suggests that he stripped her; which, in turn, can suggest very horrible ideas. (I particularly like this concept because the red would work brilliantly in the environment. I'll reveal more anon.) I even foreshadow this event with a mirrored affordance.
An affordance is an action verb - it's what we allow our players to do. If I give her a hammer, she is afforded the action verb 'hammer'. So if I introduce a dressing up mini-game/inventory item quest, my player is afforded the action verb 'clothe'. This'll be lurking under her skin when she absorbs the subverted horror of such an affordance!

Tony Hancock again. Keep going... it'll all become clear.

In other news:
Ben has started blogging! He's down there on the 'talented chums' roster. I'll have some more of his astounding concepts for you soon.
Still interviewing potential artists. I have to confess that I've been so disappointed; dozens upon dozens of applicants rejected, half a dozen interviewed, and only one artist who comes anywhere close to the required standard. I actually enjoy the process though: it's just great fun chatting with talented and passionate folks! I feel terrible for the poor chap who almost passed out after he saw fit to criticize with unreserved ignorance the functionality of one of my zoom windows in the interview, to which I calmly responded with a five minute detailed explanation of why my idea was ten billion times better than his. Yes, you're quite right, I am. Sorry. I. HATE. EGO. But rest assured, I took him outside for some air and we sat in the sun and had a lovely informal chat. Divested of his brash arrogant exterior, I had revealed a very likeable and insecure fellow and he went away with a smile on his face.
As you might know, we give potential candidates a brief to do at home - simply take our pre-rendered mermaid statue and overpaint it to age and weather it. Our favourite response so far was from the fellow who accompanied his work with a super-confident email. We read the email as the image was downloading. He explained how he disliked the piece we had asked him to overpaint, and had made it much better. The image opened. We rolled about in fits of laughter! A hideous monstrosity which reminded me of Tony Hancock's Aphrodite at the Water Hole (The Rebel)!
And he had taken the liberty of adding a caption to his work:
I've made the boobs bigger. Everybody loves boobies!

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