• Member Since 27th Dec, 2011
  • offline last seen January 27th


You'll find, my friend, that in the gutters of this floating world, much of the trash consists of fallen flowers.

More Blog Posts135

  • 128 weeks
    Haze's Haunted School for Haiku

    Long ago in an ancient era, I promised to post my own advice guide on writing haiku, since I'd written a couple for a story. People liked some of them, so maybe I knew a few things that might be helpful. And I really wanted to examine some of the rules of the form, how they're used, how they're broken.

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    1 comments · 284 views
  • 151 weeks
    Studio Ghibli, Part 1: How Miyazaki Directs Slapstick

    I used to think quality animation entirely boiled down to how detailed and smooth the character drawings were. In other words, time and effort, so it's simply about getting as much funding as possible. I blame the animation elitists for this attitude. If not for them, I might've wanted to become an animator myself. They killed all my interest.

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  • 194 weeks
    Can't think of a title.

    For years, every time someone says "All Lives Matter" I'm reminded of this quote:

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    1 comments · 405 views
  • 196 weeks
    I first heard of this from that weird 90s PC game

    Not long ago I discovered that archive.org has free videos of every episode from Connections: An Alternative View of Change.


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    2 comments · 362 views
  • 203 weeks

    This is a good video (hopefully it works in all browsers, GDC's site is weird) about fairness in games. And by extension, stories.


    Preferences are preferences, but some of them are much stronger than that. Things that feel wrong to us. Like we want to say, "that's not how stories should go!"

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    7 comments · 388 views

How Do You Use A Villain? · 5:04am Dec 24th, 2017

Villains! :pinkiegasp:

There's an interesting dichotomy I've noticed, but never seen anyone talking about it. When writing a villain, it helps to ask yourself which of these 2 types you're going to use.....

A bit late, but I finally got around to watching the 2007 documentary, The King of Kong. It's about Steve Wiebe's attempt to set a new world record in the Donkey Kong arcade game. The protagonist is a likeable, humble guy, but what really sells the story is the villain. Billy Mitchell is the cocky, arrogant rival who will do anything to defend his title. Critics and audiences loved to hate him!

I liked the movie, but I think I got a slightly different effect. I was already familiar with Mitchell from his Pac-Man world record, so I was a little skeptical of his portrayal in Kong. Everyone reports different accounts of how what really happened. The filmmakers probably had no idea what to do when starting out, until they discovered they could shape it into a certain narrative. That's what filmmakers do.

Though years later, Mitchell doesn't mind being turned into the heel, saying it made the movie more exciting. Would the documentary have done nearly as well if it hadn't been exaggerated into a drama full of scheming and backstabbing? Perhaps not, the whole "watching other people play games" thing (LPers, streamers, esports) was still extremely niche, just 10 years ago.

Anyway, I'm sure Wiebe is a nice guy, even though the documentary kinda paints him as the only decent guy in the story. On his own, he might even be a little too polite and "neutral" to be a movie protagonist; it's hard enough to generate hype for such an old arcade game that nobody cares about anymore. Get a colorful villain, and you can turn nearly anyone into the hero Gotham needs.

It feels like such an obvious storytelling trick, but we're so addicted to it that we almost seem blind to it sometimes.

Are you reeaallly cheering for the hero? Or do you despise the villain so much that you'll support any bland cardboard cutout who opposes them? :eeyup:

... or do you actually prefer the villains, because they're far more interesting and usually seem to have all the agency? (Yeah, I had that teenage phase too).

Lesson learned: writing a sympathetic and interesting protagonist is apparently a luxury, not a prerequisite, for getting an audience.

But that's okay. Because this leads to another interesting shortcut. You can shift the audience onto any villain's side.... by revealing an even bigger and badder villain!




I'm not saying this is bad, just that it's everywhere, and we eat it up. When done right, it can feel great. It's not the only way to "redeem" a villain, but it's pretty effective.

Come to think of it... Sunset Shimmer wasn't very popular at all after the first Equestria Girls, though Flash Sentry bore the brunt of the hate. The next movie, they show how nobody at the school trusts her, and a trio of new villains arrive that need to be stopped.... and boom, she's got a huge fanclub. She's redeemed by serving as the underdog, not at the moment of rainbow-laser brainwashing scrubbing those evil desires out of her. :applejackunsure:

Okay, maybe MLP is relying on this a little too much. :unsuresweetie:

:ajbemused: Gahh, another surprise villain who.... oh wait. Okay, they don't do it all the time.

I actually find the above example pretty interesting for how criticized it is. I definitely agree that Starlight's backstory explanation was flawed and rushed. It doesn't thematically link to any of the time-traveling adventure. Her motive for messing with the timeline is to get petty revenge on Twilight for ruining her town, not to prove a point about her cutie mark philosophy. Compare it to everything Discord does in his 2-parter. He's not just messing around randomly because chaos is fun!, but he's showing Twilight, your friends all have a cynical dark side, therefore harmony is an illusion.

On the other hoof, Starlight's concept by itself is fine. It's not a good reason for destroying the timeline because it wasn't meant to be. It's not presented as an excuse to deflect blame, but to explain why she sees the world this way. This is why she started her town, just misplaced in the wrong adventure episode script. It's plausible, just maybe needed a little more to support why this event was so impactful on her.

It's basically no different than Tempest Shadow's backstory, which feels like it fits the movie's plot, though her explanation still has just as many holes if you think too hard about it. Tempest was much better received in general.

Then again, Tempest also had the Storm King to jump in as the TRUE villain. Or those ungrateful kids who abandoned her, they seem more at fault than anything Sunburst did.

Devil's advocate here: maybe Starlight's story instinctively feels wrong to us, because we've been conditioned to expect that this is when she'll deflect the blame onto her own TRUE villain, and we didn't get one? :trixieshiftright:

Another documentary I watched recently was Tim's Vermeer. Johannes Vermeer, a 17th century painter, created works of near photorealistic precision, yet no one has ever been able to recreate his techniques. A proposed theory is that he used an optical device for assistance, rather than painting by human eye. An inventor, who has never painted in his life, tries to test that theory by reproducing a Vermeer painting from scratch. It raises interesting questions about art and technology.

In some interview, I can't remember where, Penn Jillette talked about the production of this documentary. He said there were naysayers, people who strongly opposed the theory and its implications. And it would've been so easy to include them in the movie, so the story could argue against their view. He was quite familiar with this technique, using it on every episode of the TV show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Set up a villain, then tear them down. He observed that people never cared about being shown as the bad guy, they were happy enough to get their side heard (and the narcissism of being on TV for a few minutes).

But he decided not to do that for Tim's Vermeer. Not to silence the opposition. He felt that the story being told would be interesting enough on its own, without needing a villain.

Thinking about the movie in this light, the ending of the movie is cathartic in a strange, uncommon way. Not the usual kind of catharsis in overcoming a villain, which I think we've become addicted to. Everything's just.... finished, over.

I guess this is what I keep coming back to, figuring out these stories with no conflict. :derpyderp2:

The whole intro of this blogpost was a trick. :trollestia: I had no intention of categorizing villains. Even the title is a lie; take out the first word. Do you use a villain? Do you really need to at all?

Sometimes, yes! No shame in that, if that's exactly what the story calls for.

But sometimes.... is there another way to do it?

Spoiled Rich felt like such a cheap shortcut to me. None of the teasing or bullying was ever Diamond Tiara's fault, she was just being told to act that way. And now we just have to defeat the villain by standing up to her and rejecting her. Viewers might quickly recognize that it was all a retcon, but that addiction for defeating villains is still satisfied while going unnoticed.

There's dozens of ways to do this development better, already shown in the show itself. Most of the best classic episodes of MLP have been about characters learning to admit they were wrong. Opening their heart to another, rather than standing their ground.

Not identifying that someone else was wrong, and we can instantly be "correct" by comparison.

Report hazeyhooves · 433 views · #villains
Comments ( 9 )

I so wish I could add blogs to shelves

okay so now every time i don't comment to figure out some way to nitpick your ideas, it means i'm just avoiding being a cliche villain to make you look better; this is great

i like the insight

tim's vermeer is a really good movie

uhhhh. all i know about billy mitchell was that time he hated speedrunning and thought it was dumb compared to getting infinite scores while simultaneously admitting to never watching any ever

I have successfully tricked the villain into non-action. the crowd cheers for me.

I can see Mitchell's point

Come to think of it... Sunset Shimmer wasn't very popular at all after the first Equestria Girls, though Flash Sentry bore the brunt of the hate. The next movie, they show how nobody at the school trusts her, and a trio of new villains arrive that need to be stopped.... and boom, she's got a huge fanclub. She's redeemed by serving as the underdog, not at the moment of rainbow-laser brainwashing scrubbing those evil desires out of her.

As a baconhair partisan, I have to speak up here: what turned her around in my eyes wasn't the bigger villain. The sirens were, eh, well, the movie needed a bad guy. (Granted, they were a pretty awesome set of villains in their own right! That just didn't magnify Sunset's awesomeness.)

It's absolutely that underdog-ness that made Sunset special — but not relative to the villains. It was her struggles with her former victims, owning up to the damage she had previously caused. That gave her character struggles a rare depth.

I'm still bitter about Starlight Glimmer's crappy heel-face turn (for some of the reasons you cite -- including her ridiculous original motives), but Season 7 has done a lot to palliate that simply by giving her interesting struggles. Her taking out Chrysalis was eh. Her ongoing back-and-forth with Trixie, and her tendency to straight-mare and point out the rest of the cast's attempted idiot balls, are two of the best things about the recent season.

that's fair. there's good parts about both the characters that i wish they could've been combined into one great character. I never got that excited about Eq Girls because they focused on adventures instead of slice of life.... which Starlight gets plenty of.

It's weird, I was an early defender of GlimGlam while all my friends couldn't stand her. and after season 7, they're actually starting to find her enjoyable, while I'm thinking "yeah, maybe they were right in the first place." I don't dislike her, but the inconsistency in writing her arc seems to bother me more than it used to?

I've always hated Starlight while admitting she was interesting to watch. It's the primary reason I hate her, as you well know. ^.^ Glad to hear you're coming to the side of truth!


and her tendency to straight-mare and point out the rest of the cast's attempted idiot balls

This used to be Twilight's role.

I'm switching back. The character's fine, just individual writers are bad. :scootangel:

Nooooo. Am I the lone sane man in mad world?! :raritycry:

Oh wow! I was thinking nebulously about something like this recently (more that "Obviously Wrong Villains" are less interesting than nuanced antagonists or anti-villains), but this hits the nail on the head and fixes that point more securely in my mind. Suddenly it makes more sense why some stories have been bugging me in a way I couldn't articulate.

Like that Spoiled Rich example you bring up: it really bugged me in that episode how Diamond Tiara's motivations, agency, attitude, and so on suddenly stopped being hers and started being the strings that made her a puppet to someone else. At the time, I said it was because it robbed DT of agency and invoked a pretty boring, stereotypical "mother's fault" excuse for her behaviour (I'd much preferred the idea that, as with Filthy Rich, her parents were actually not on the same page as her, and DT was acting on her own script).

But this makes my dissatisfaction more coherent: it enables DT's redemption by just propping up a bad guy to beat. Since Spoiled Rich is suddenly retconned as the main reason for DT to have done anything interesting up to this point, once DT rejects her influence... well, we've just robbed her of almost all her starting points and idiosyncrasies as a character in her own right. Given what interesting details could have come from her appearances so far, it's literally robbing the character of anything worthwhile. No wonder the show dropped her like a stone after this! They'd left her virtually nothing to do!

This in turn also bugs the heck out of me, because "Find bad guy and beat them" has got to be one of the most simplistic approaches to conflict resolution possible.

Again, I don't want to overstep my bounds and say it's bad, but it's so easily used as a go-to narrative prop. Like you said, it can apparently excuse a thin protagonist: we just want our satisfying "beat bad guy" fix so much that we stop paying attention to things like that which should make us think and feel more maturely.

Now you've brought it to my attention, I find myself very much opposed to its use as a traditional go-to. Especially in this day and age, when we should have a more thoughtful and adaptable approach to dealing with opponents (most obviously, opponents can sometimes have important things to say: it's bad form to shut out all your critics, for example, and pretend they're just jerks to "beat". Even if some people are so simple, they're hardly worth engaging with in the first place).

So thanks for writing this post. You've given me more food for thought, and I'm going to enjoy chewing it over more thoroughly. Maybe there are different varieties and different ways of dealing with antagonists, like there are different types of anti-villain or different ways to find a villain engaging? Different ways to tell a story, then, and keep a series fresh. The list goes on...

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