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Beyond good and evil: Creating relatable oppressors in Tyranny

"Fiction that centers around good versus evil tends to be unsatisfying, as evil always exists as a strawman for the underdogs to beat up with the power of naïve violence and good intentions."

Good versus evil: it's a well worn trope that serves as the foundation for so many fantasy tales and fables, but why? 

The real world isn't filled with "goodies" and "baddies." It's full of people with their own unique experiences, perspectives, and agendas, and I'd be willing to bet none of them look in the mirror and see a bad guy staring back. 

Those are the nuances Obsidian wanted to replicate in its well-received RPG, Tyranny. In a recent interview with Rock Paper Shotgun, the game's narrative designer Matt MacLean explained the studio didn't want to churn out another black and white yarn. Instead, it wanted to create a world full of grey ambiguity -- one that felt a little more human. 

"I find a lot of fiction that centers around good versus evil tends to be unsatisfying, as evil always exists as a strawman for the ill-prepared underdogs to beat up with the power of naïve violence and good intentions," said Matt MacLean. 

"Our Overlord needed to have some sort of empire that wasn’t comically sadistic to the point of imploding, so Kyros needed to be equal parts ruthless warlord and stable civilization builder.

"The regular folk needed to be universally afraid of Kyros and that meant they should be chronically ignorant, as understanding tends to counter fear. Most importantly, the agents of evil that the players meets in the game needed to be a proper mix of revolting and relatable."

Like our own world, he says, it was important everyone in Tyranny saw themselves as the heroes of their own story. After all, even if we perceive someone as evil, it's foolish to think they get up in the morning and wonder how they're going to inflict more misery on the world today.

“Evil isn't a thing most of us set out to do," he adds, "it's more the unintended consequences of learned mistakes. [We had] to make sure whatever giant society of evil we created made some sense."

You can find out how Obsidian did exactly that by checking out the full interview over on Rock Paper Shotgun.

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