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Soulmate Development 6: Villain Design

Posted by A Tobias 9 months ago
Phew, this one took ages! And I'm not even sure I like where I've gone with it so far.

The main villain of Soulmate is Ego, Oneira's 'inner critic', who berates and belittles her constantly, as our own inner critics do to us.

I wasn't sure how to depict something like that as a character. At first, I wanted her to be masked, so then her identity - that is, she's Oneira, sort of - would come as a surprise at the end, and so then she'd have an element of mystery or menace about her that villains such as Darth Vader have. I wanted her to look like one of those villains, but modern, so...

A hoodie was the first thing that came to mind that could hide the non-masked part of her head, and which had 'dangerous' or 'threatening' connotations. The design looked quite plain, but that was sort of the point at the time. I wanted her to look like the sort of person you might see - or even know - in the real world, rather than some extravagant costumed fantasy character. I wanted her mask to be plain, too; a symbolic emoji sort of design that might magically change as she expresses herself. And I wanted to have an open eye design on her top to mirror Oneira's closed eye one (and I wanted to use the moon-as-a-pupil design from the owl-eyes top somewhere). Maybe "open your eyes" would be her snarky catchphrase as she 'helps' Oneira by pointing out her flaws.

I tried to think of additional layers of meaning I could add to the design, and imagined the ego as some kind of constructed mask that we wear to face the world. That led to me trying to give her the traits of a golem, without actually making her into one. I also wanted her to represent earth, to contrast the aetherealness of Oneira; the ego is the 'dirt of the Earth' that cakes the 'soul' as we spend time in the world, preventing us from being pure and blissful and innocent and such. I wanted to use jagged lines to represent earth via stalagmites and stalactites, mountains, fissures, as well as lightning of the destruction sentiment and spikes to mean pain.

I didn't feel that direction was working, though. Golems are more associated with mindless servants than the 'inner critic' effect I was going for. They also looked increasingly fantasy-like; the last one looks alien to me.

So I tried a different direction:

I started by aiming for something that looked strict, aristocratic; the sort of person who'd look down on you (or something like ∞ this ∞; he's called Ego too, coincidentally). Her face was on full display this time, as I felt that making her identity as Oneira's inner critic a secret would lead to more loss than gain (players might go through the whole game not realising what she's supposed to be, and interpreting her words as those of some generic villain or something, and she wouldn't be able to emote facially). Other elements of the design were just experimenting with the elements from before, in different arrangements.

I decided to give the hoodie design another go, though. I imagined this one being more like some trollish teenager, who'd tease and bully Oneira in a 'lulz' kind of way, whereas the aristocratic one would be more cold and sarcastic. I thought the former might be more relatable and modern, but far more infuriating; off-puttingly so, and more unpleasant for me to write. I also think that Oneira's personality would give rise to the aristocratic sort of inner critic rather than a troll. These designs - with their skull masks - just reminded me of Halloween, and felt generally wrong.

While experimenting with her hair poking out of the hood, I stumbled upon the idea of having it resemble a noose. I've got mixed feelings about this. I like it, as I feel it represents suicidal tendencies that an especially intense inner critic would provoke, but on the other hand it's perhaps 'triggering'? It also looks like some kind of tie, especially in the designs on the bottom row. I'd prefer it to wrap around her neck, as in some of those designs, but it's harder to make out what it's supposed to be with this limited 2D view. It'd be clearer in 3D, but that's not an option, unfortunately. Often you have to design characters around technical limitations like this; I'm concerned about the dress thing, actually, because it's hard to do leg-hugging dresses like that on the sort of models I'm using. So I might change that.

Her hair on the bottom row has multiple designs and meanings, though perhaps too many to the point of overcrowding! There's the noose, but also two cowlicks, drawing a direct connection to Oneira's but also looking like devil horns, and also a bit like a crescent moon (a recurring design element). A three-spiked fringe goes back to the jagged spikes connotations I described earlier, as well as looking vaguely like the teeth of a skull. The V-shaped tuft was added in the middle of the 'horns' to make the negative space look like skull's eye sockets, but I don't think that was working. Little hair ornaments might suggest eyes instead.

There's more I could say about every tiny little detail - everything's added carefully and with reason - but since I don't even know if I'll keep this design, I won't bother!

I mean, I don't hate it or anything... It just might not be exactly what I had in mind. I might just keep it like this for now so then I can move on, though; I can always come back and change it later if I come up with a better idea.
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26 United States INTJ 5w4 SpSx RcOEi MelancholicPhlegmatic
I might have an idea why this design doesn't feel right to you. To me, having the inner critic be a wholly separate entity that belittles and looks down on you, like some nasty villain to be defeated, doesn't really reflect the actual feeling of having an inner critic.

I would picture it more like Sadness from Inside Out. Someone who is bonded to you and shares your desires, and is theoretically on your side, but who constantly brings you down with doubts and fears and pessimism that they only say out of genuine concern and an exaggerated lack of self-esteem.

If Oneira's inner critic just made snarky, passive aggressive remarks like some bully, the player wouldn't understand why Oneira would ever listen to her or give any power to her. But if the remarks were made with sincerely good intention, even if they ended up being harmful, the challenge posed by having this inner critic would come across in a more relatable way.

The goal wouldn't be to outright defeat the inner critic, but to either improve their outlook through your own confidence and achievements so they become less harsh, or simply learn to give less weight to their criticisms by proving to yourself how misguided and unhelpful they are.

Going with this approach, I would picture Oneira's inner critic as just a more miserable and pathetic looking version of her, like what Oneira herself would be if she gave in to all her doubts and anxiety. Things like baggier eyes, messier hair, a gloomier expression, and worse posture.
26 United States INTJ 5w4 SpSx RcOEi MelancholicPhlegmatic
After giving it some more thought, I think I see where you may have been going with the aristocratic version of the inner critic. I can picture it being like Mother Gothel to Oneira's Rapunzel, but not as overtly duplicitous. It's certainly a valid take on the concept.

The critic would be all about sheltering/controlling Oneira, playing her up as precious and fragile and unfit for the cruel outside world. She'd go on about how much she loves Oneira and how much Oneira needs her for protection and guidance, and how she'd never make it on her own.

But rather than these being outright lies to take advantage of Oneira like with Mother Gothel, the inner critic would genuinely believe the things she said, at least to an extent. And Oneira would believe these things too, at least at first.

The goal would be for Oneira to realize that she's more capable than, and that the world isn't as scary as, what the inner critic believes. Like Rapunzel, she'd start taking risks, develop a more healthy and accurate worldview, and eventually break free from the inner critic's control.

But in this case the inner critic, rather than turn to dust, would either lighten up somewhat, or simply become too weak to hold Oneira back anymore, because inner critics never really go away completely, and moreover aren't inherently evil. A little self-doubt and humility can be good, just so long as it's kept in check.
29 United Kingdom INFJ EII 459 SxSo RLxaI AIS MelancholicPhlegmatic
That's exactly what I was planning to do, actually; I think I just didn't describe it very well in writing! Though I described her as a 'villain' (I should have used the word 'antagonist'), the whole point of this game is that it's not about 'fighting' in order to 'defeat' something seen as 'evil'. Rather, it's about 'taming' dark thoughts and accepting them as a part of yourself in order to grow through integration rather than destruction and conquest.

I interpreted the inner critic (perhaps based on experiences with my own) as someone who's in a sense a 'superior' version of Oneira, rather than the worse version that you described. She'd put Oneira down, but only because she's not as perfect as she (Ego) is. I felt she had to seem aristocratic for that reason, and that Oneira herself should look like a child by comparison (and be treated as such by Ego). It's why I felt the 'troll' version wasn't working; that would just be a one-dimensional bully. The version I went with might be more like the sort of strict parent who wants their child to be something amazing by criticising their faults and mistakes.
18 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
Wow! I really liked the design of a lot of these!

I realize you said the "Golem"-esque features didn't really fit so well with Ego, but I do like them a lot. Maybe it's just my general liking of robots, but I feel like they could be used for something/someone else. There's always the "Just stop caring" sort of thought that arises when faced with isolation or fear... maybe something more mechanical would work there? The variety of them and the hoodie thing makes me feel like it's a sort of rebellion movement. Like alternative rockers or teenagers who smoke electric cigarettes without nicotine just outside school grounds as some kind of ambiguous statement that they tell you to "figure it out for yourself."

Anyway. The more recent designs.

I rather liked those ones on the second row with the shorter skirts and the sort of cloak-mantle bits. They seem serious and down to earth, but just off enough to come off as a concept more than person. Or rather, they convey the intent of the character as a sort of practical, disdainful critic better than the business woman or advanced hair stylist ones further on. Number 6 on the second row in particular is my personal favorite.

So, uh, yeah! Glad to see more!
22 United States MelancholicPhlegmatic
I like this design a lot! It looks 'darker', but also not exactly evil either... which is good! I particularly enjoy the skull at the top of her hair... I wouldn't have noticed the eyes for a while unless you pointed it out, but now that you did, I can't not see it, and I like the idea behind it! It'd be silly if you put an owl between the noose hair part and her chin... but that's out of character for her and stupid, so... yeah, forget that idea.

As for the noose topic, it is a bit unsettling... but I rather like that, and it doesn't bother me, though I can see some being concerned. Not everyone, but some... Personally, if I were to play, if she were executed well enough, she might end up being one of the most interesting characters in the story. As she'd probably appear somewhat frequently, the unsettling but 'tense' feeling she gave off would make me want to know why she does what she does, and how.

When you see something tense or 'intimidating', when you stand up to it, it become less scary and more comfortable with each additional confrontation if you can overcome it, like with facing anxiety each day (in a stable state of mind) or dealing with a big change... by giving her this design, it would both draw us in and challenge our thoughts. The noose is distracting, but the more i look at it, the more... natural it seems? If it was too bothersome, it could always be in some sort of 'braid hanging from her hair' or 'slung over her shoulder like a scarf'... that way you could also give off that formal aristocratic look while also sticking with your design. Lastly, you could use the noose design earlier on, then move it to the side or something if Ego herself were to ever develop or shift in personality... that would both keep the representation as well as show how she's changed overall.

Her masked design seems a bit odd, yes... and them having the same proportions and such could have tipped off some people to them being the same person, if she wasn't cloaked in some way or very highly disguised... at least that's my experience with hidden identity stuff.

I rather like the second row design model that's second to the right, for some reason not for this character. It's pretty, but it doesn't fit much, as I think you figured with some of this stuff.

I like the end result model seems to match the 'dark/evil' vibe the 4th row has, while also having that 'pretty/aristocratic' feel the 2nd and 1st row bring across very well! My personal favorites in the first image is the happy derp one for the second image of Ego's design, as well as the intimidating alien one seen last at the bottom (though that one seems a bit.. power rangery? Mandalorian? That kind of thing..)... I love the brown cowl over the purple dress in some of those second models, really, at least aestetically.

Also, is that a crown on her final design hinted there? Awesome if it is!

My only 'complaint' is the owl eye on her top makes me stare at her... lower section more carefully... so maybe it could be moved or shrunk down or something (like placing it on her upper hip on the right or left side or something? Only one of them though, not near the breasts though?) Yeah... um... j-just my opinion there. I like the design of the eye, it just focuses the image too much in that area...
18 United States INFP LII SoSp RLUAI AIE PhlegmaticSanguine
I honestly didn't even notice the eye bit until you pointed it out. But I see what you mean. That's why I liked those third-and-second-to-last designs on the second row, they're on her chest, yes, but not having two rather diminishes the implications. Centered makes me more focused on her neck/face, and rather reminds me of where the heart physically is located.
20 Hong Kong INTJ 612 ICR MelancholicCholeric
My first impression of Ego was overwhelmingly positive, in a "omg she fits so well" sort of way. I liked the use of dark purple (reminded me of Maleficent in ∞ LINK ∞ ) and so immediately linked to a "villian" character, but also more relatable/cute/Oneira-linked with the freckles. She's certainly imposing, and I like all the details and symbols in her hair.

It was a surprise for me to scroll down and see how different the picture was to the earlier designs, and I have to say I much prefer what you've settled on than any of the previous conceptual designs!
23 Canada INTJ 513 SpSx PhlegmaticCholeric
Tama Yoshi
I wonder if there'll be an angel to the demon, or if the demon will itself act as the angel. It seems logical for the evil to show good in order to be alluring, but that might be in a more of a "qui veut faire l'ange fait la bĂȘte" (Whom wants to act an angel acts a beast) archetype than what you're aiming for. Still, I wonder where 'goodness' would come from in the game. It would seem a bit uneven if the protagonist was basically all alone fighting against the incarnation of everything that's wrong with her.