Zombies, Aliens, or Nazis? Designing the perfect game enemy.

The net's full of debate about the perfect game protagonist (ninjas, pirates, or robots?) but too little real debate about what makes the perfect in-game enemy.

In comments on yesterday's post about upcoming Xbox 360 (Japan) zombie stomper Oneechanbara, Joystiq reader Gimbal posited that risen corpses may well be the ideal enemy: "Zombies, like Nazis, are the perfect enemy for video games." Zatso? What makes a perfect enemy anyway?

The perfect enemy is:

  • Ugly: the perfect enemy generates involuntary revulsion on the part of the beholder. Examples: Alien, Klingons, Predator, zombies, headcrabs, trolls, orcs, snakes.
  • Inherently dangerous: It's in the enemy's nature to damage humans or the human way of life. If the enemy is to live, humans must suffer. Whether driven by pure malice, the need for a warm, wet place to lay eggs, or mere appetite for brainsss, the enemy's existence must be predicated on human destruction.
  • Foreign: the perfect enemy cannot share the same values as the protagonist. Whether that means the enemy believes that Democracy is wrong (and Communism right) or the believes that humans are tasty: foreign values allow all sorts of wonderful misunderstanding and conflict. The enemy should not speak our own language.
  • Sentient: the perfect enemy is smart enough to maliciously plan your death. The Atlantic ocean, for instance, is inherently dangerous, but tends to be at the mercy of winds and doesn't appear to be plotting against us all.
  • Politically appropriate: the perfect enemy is culturally and politically acceptible to hate and destroy. In ages past, the perfect enemy might have been the Visigoths, Muslims (remember the Crusades?), people with different skin color, whatever. Nowadays, it's generally more politically correct for the enemy to be inhuman. Zombies and aliens make great enemies precisely because it's hard for America's religious extremists to object to ostensibly wholesome themes such as "protect the human race from Martian invaders!" or "Defend your homeland from unholy swarms of undead!"
  • Difficult but not impossible to eliminate: The perfect enemy needs to be vulnerable (else there's no hope, and no way to win the game), but not so vulnerable that the enemy doesn't pose a credible threat.

Is this definition sufficiently inclusive? Any examples of enemies that fall outside of the requirements?

This article was originally published on Joystiq.