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Default Next Gen - State & Future of Boss Battles

April 29th, 2008, 22:20
NextGen has an article up examining a common convention in game structure that has managed to work its way into the hallowed halls of gaming tradition on all platforms and in many genres. I'm talking about the ubiquitous boss battle:
…everyone must have at least one nemesis that they’ve never conquered, one boss that turned them away from a game that they were otherwise savoring, and turned them away for good. Careless boss design can be ruinous. Rote boss design can be a significant mood killer. And good boss design won’t necessarily count for much, in the grand scheme of an adventure. No one seems to consider the 'future’ of boss fights. When was the last time you were recommended a game on the strength of its bosses? They’re the elephant in the room, albeit one that can – and often does – gore you with its tusks. Their persistence is reptilian, and cold-blooded in manner. No one has ever said that boss gauntlets are a great idea, and yet you’ll find one in a game as self-consciously accessible as Devil May Cry 4, where it feels like a habitual, reflex inclusion…[yet]…whenever a game abandons traditional boss fights, the absence isn’t lamented. Developers seem to reach for them as automatically as cinemagoers reach for popcorn. Bosses cheat. They lie. They repeat soundbites over and over, and sometimes come prefaced by an unskippable speech that, swiftly, makes layers testily jab at the buttons, even though they know they can’t break the patter. They conceal multiple energy bars or, worse, they only reveal their 'true’ form once you’ve expended all of your resources defeating their 'pretend’ form. Talk about entrapment.
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Last edited by magerette; April 30th, 2008 at 01:06. Reason: corrected weird characters
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April 29th, 2008, 22:20
I disagree with their complains.

If there was something really great("really great" meaning much better than "average good") in DMC4 - it was the size of the boss enemies and how spectacular the battles with them were.

Bioshock's final boss battle was done greatly: it wasn't too hard, but needed you to concentrate and use all you've got. I loved it.

They get to the real point of the article on pages 2 and 3 sying something like "if you absolutely have to include bosses, take real care about their design". Yeah, that's true, better game design is always good, but I can't agree that boss battles are designed badly nowadays. Either I'm lucky with the games I play or that horrors they're talking about like evading patterns for five minutes before landing single blow(1 out of 12) are from somewhere around early 90s.

And I really missed good boss fights in Mass Effect. There only were, like, two! Did I learn all the advanced abilities and stuff to dispose of regular cannon fodder enemies?
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April 30th, 2008, 02:11
I absolutely HATE boss battles where you think you've finally defeated him/her and they morph into an even more powerful form while your chars are totally spent, AND, you are unable to save either!!

On the other hand, I was completely underwhelmed by the final boss battle in Two Worlds!! Surely devs can find a balance.

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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April 30th, 2008, 09:39
I myself hate boss fights as well; they are the put-off points for me in any game. The sole exception I can think of off the hat is Bioshock, where the endgame was very well done. I say boss fights should be done away with;they are absolutely useless and mood-ruining.

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April 30th, 2008, 09:58
One of the first games I bought for my Xbox 360 when I joined the dark console side about a year ago was Ninja Gaiden Black - a game that was hailed all around the globe as one of the greatest games ever … and one of the hardest. I started the game on easy and all was well … then I came to the end of the tutorial and encountered the first boss in the game. For the next 30 minutes I got my rear end handed to me in a whole plethora of different servings until I was so soundly beaten I felt like crying.

I didn't touch the game again for more than 10 months until I stumbled upon a way to unlock the ultimate wussy mode in the game the that would allow us mere mortals to play the game further than the first boss. Even so it was still ridiculously hard but in the end I managed to complete it and it really IS a great game, if only it wasn't so damned hard.

A game like Lost Planet is very dependent on the boss fights and it is evident that most of the efforts were put into creating and designing these boss encounters. The result is also some really great encounters.

The one thing I really REALLY hate about certain boss encounters is when you fail and have to retry you find out that you have to go through all the dialog and the cinematics and whatnot leading up to the actual fight again and again and the damn thing is unskippable. That really cooks my bacon and that is what almost had me quiting The Witcher when I came to the boss fight at the end of chapter 1 (you know perfectly well what I'm talking about).

However, a well made boss encounter is priceless and I, for one, would be sad to see them go. Especially since they are needed for story purposes if for nothing else (How else will you square off against the arch villain of the story?).

"Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks around, the whole board could've been a republic in a dozen moves." - Commander Vimes in Thud! by Terry Pratchett
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April 30th, 2008, 10:04
Well, a recognizable boss battle is never good in a game where you're supposed to be immersed in another world. I thought Bioshock's boss battle was a particularly horrible example of what not to do in a game of that nature.

However, I found out about halfway through BS that the game was mostly pretentious and had little to say in terms of profound statements. So, in that regard I guess it must have worked for those who didn't expect more. I personally expected a lot more, because I found the introduction and premise extremely appealing and it seemed to have something very interesting to say.

In the end, it was but an inferior System Shock with mediocre shooter gameplay.

But about boss battles, I think they can work in a certain kind of game where the typically ridiculous nature of the encounter doesn't interfere with the game as a whole. But to be honest, I think it's showing of a lack of imagination on the part of the developers - and I would hope there are other ways to end a level or a game as a whole.
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April 30th, 2008, 10:24
Like any convention there are good and bad examples, I don't mind boss fights themselves but they often seem to be there for no reason other than convention.

Originally Posted by fatBastard() View Post
However, a well made boss encounter is priceless and I, for one, would be sad to see them go. Especially since they are needed for story purposes if for nothing else (How else will you square off against the arch villain of the story?).
I liked how FarCry handled it;

Spoiler – Spoiler
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April 30th, 2008, 13:34
I generally hate boss battles - they are often completely illogical - often forcing you to use some predefined tactic to defeat said boss. My own take on this is that i) a boss battle must make sense (from a story-telling point of view) and ii) it should be winnable using reasonable tactics. Meaning, if you treat it sensibly and use the weapons and/or environment at your disposal you could *reasonably* expect to triumph without a titanic struggle. A real person would *not* have the luxury of multiple attempts to kill a boss - when h/she died that would be it. It smacks of macho bullshit to insist that you work through several pointless deaths to find some "sweet spot" which allows you to take out the critter. *That* is poor design! E.g having to batter against a monster for ages before realizing that, hey, its not actually taking damage from my weapon….oh dear! Or "Ah, so I have to use the energy crystal up there, then run 3 times widdershins about the monster and invoke this mantra! Gee why didn't I think of that before?" Give clues people! And not obscure clues - and more than one preferably… It's not hard, really. Personally I would prefer ludicrous boss battles to vanish - or at the very lastest to make sense. <end-of-rant>
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April 30th, 2008, 15:03
Ah, come now — would it really be a *game* if it didn't have at least one of the "collapse-the-cavern-on-the-boss-to-win" fight, or at the very least a "beat-the-small-versions-to-get-to-the-big-version" (or vice versa) fight? Hardly, friends. Hardly.
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April 30th, 2008, 15:05
Imagine never fighting Sarevok in BG1, Jon Irenicus in BG2, the various dragons, liches and so on and so forth. How about the final encounter in PS:T? It all depends on the design of the boss, both in terms of fighting/gameplay, and how well they fit into the game. A solid boss encounter can be fun, challenging and progress the story in a great way.

Some bosses are pointless, others are not. Not exactly a revelation.
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April 30th, 2008, 15:29
Originally Posted by V7 View Post
I liked how FarCry handled it;

Spoiler – Spoiler
Nice example, but also rather unique in the sense that only in a "real world" (or pretty close to our real world) could an arch villain be
Spoiler – Nature of FarCry Boss


Take any high or even low fantasy setting and the arch villain would necessarily be a real bad-a … erm … "scoundrel" or his position would have been usurped a long time ago by someone more powerful.

"Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks around, the whole board could've been a republic in a dozen moves." - Commander Vimes in Thud! by Terry Pratchett
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April 30th, 2008, 21:28
I'm not a fan of boss battles. I find they usually damage my immersion, an unforgivable sin. Interestingly, boss battles don't bother me much in proper RPGs, whereas in action games I generally hate them. I think I can probably define why that is, but it'd require some consideration. It probably has a lot to do with presentation.

Like other things I dislike (like, say, the use of slow motion in film), it can be used carefully and skillfully to positive effect. But I find that rare in action games. I prefer a story-based climax rather than a combat-based one anyways. Story is so often relegated to the denouement. I know I'm in a minority on this, but I'm, I think, never disappointed by an unchallenging boss battle, because I consider such a battle trivial next to character and story development, whether it's taking place in the game or in my head.

Some things that help make boss battles more palatable for me are: (1) Freedom: the less I feel I'm on rails the less a boss annoys me. (2) Environment Integration: Going into a great big special room where the boss waits for me just, well, sucks. Although that's a general failing in games whereas I like realistic environments and AIs that make the NPC act realistically and not waiting around to pop out at me when I step on a plate or walk into a room. (3) Gameplay Integration: A boss that's just a new creature that I haven't learned yet how best to battle but then becomes a regular foe can be a clever use of a boss (this was used nicely in VtM:Bloodlines, IIRC). (4) Flow: the more I expect the boss, the more jarring the boss is. When some jerk is taunting me for a couple hours and then I get to a level change and it loads up a little level named after the jerk with a nearby closet full of ammo and magical health packs… well that's just poorly done all round. (5) Credibility: The boss can be powerful, but not absurd. Make the boss make sense. Make it possible to defeat them either through intelligent use of the environment or conventional means, not making one or the other the ONLY way. Heck, make the boss bypassable with stealth, diplomacy or guile even. (6) One-Time: While I consider this is a general rule in game design, it especially applies to bosses - don't design it so that a person has to try the battle over and over to figure out how to win. Make it challenging but not require luck or absolute gaming perfection; Make it deviously clever, but give the player a chance to learn of the boss' weaknesses through previous exploration and not just at the moment of battle.
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April 30th, 2008, 22:13
Originally Posted by Guhndahb View Post
I'm not a fan of boss battles. I find they usually damage my immersion, an unforgivable sin. Interestingly, boss battles don't bother me much in proper RPGs, whereas in action games I generally hate them. I think I can probably define why that is, but it'd require some consideration. It probably has a lot to do with presentation.

Like other things I dislike (like, say, the use of slow motion in film), it can be used carefully and skillfully to positive effect. But I find that rare in action games. I prefer a story-based climax rather than a combat-based one anyways. Story is so often relegated to the denouement. I know I'm in a minority on this, but I'm, I think, never disappointed by an unchallenging boss battle, because I consider such a battle trivial next to character and story development, whether it's taking place in the game or in my head.

Some things that help make boss battles more palatable for me are: (1) Freedom: the less I feel I'm on rails the less a boss annoys me. (2) Environment Integration: Going into a great big special room where the boss waits for me just, well, sucks. Although that's a general failing in games whereas I like realistic environments and AIs that make the NPC act realistically and not waiting around to pop out at me when I step on a plate or walk into a room. (3) Gameplay Integration: A boss that's just a new creature that I haven't learned yet how best to battle but then becomes a regular foe can be a clever use of a boss (this was used nicely in VtM:Bloodlines, IIRC). (4) Flow: the more I expect the boss, the more jarring the boss is. When some jerk is taunting me for a couple hours and then I get to a level change and it loads up a little level named after the jerk with a nearby closet full of ammo and magical health packs… well that's just poorly done all round. (5) Credibility: The boss can be powerful, but not absurd. Make the boss make sense. Make it possible to defeat them either through intelligent use of the environment or conventional means, not making one or the other the ONLY way. Heck, make the boss bypassable with stealth, diplomacy or guile even. (6) One-Time: While I consider this is a general rule in game design, it especially applies to bosses - don't design it so that a person has to try the battle over and over to figure out how to win. Make it challenging but not require luck or absolute gaming perfection; Make it deviously clever, but give the player a chance to learn of the boss' weaknesses through previous exploration and not just at the moment of battle.
You managed to put into words my position quite excellently. I find myself in complete agreement with you in terms of what I like and don't like about boss battles. I also don't find them particularly jarring in certain roleplaying games, and that's probably because I generally don't get immersed in that kind of world to the same degree. I'm talking about the traditional isometric kind of RPG, and not a first person one like Oblivion. Baldur's Gate, for instance, had more strategic than immersive qualities and as such I found myself playing it with that kind of mindset. Not that I wasn't taking it seriously, I just didn't feel like the world had to be plausible in every way, and the end battle was not of the silly "guess the designer puzzle" kind, but rather a genuinely hard encounter that required careful tactical planning and a good party composition. Exactly the way I want a challenging end-fight if there has to be one.

But, in Bioshock, I was quite absorbed during the first half of the game and I truly felt like I existed in that world, and I was taking it all very seriously. But after it went downhill (around the Ryan encounter), it became increasingly obvious that it wasn't going to pay off - and the ending was more like rock bottom than satisfying conclusion. After all the Rand-inspired philosophical ideas and commentary, the best they could come up with was a staggeringly derivative fight with few or no ties to what had been established about the character (boss) during the game. The last few levels smacked of running out of steam, and the entire premise was wasted because nothing of consequence came of any of the ideas - and they never made Ryan plausible as a character - much less the possibility of creating something as monumental as Rapture. It was just a bunch of cool ideas thrown together without a solid underpinning. Like a lazy PnP session based on one or two inspired notions, that unfortunately doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny.
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May 1st, 2008, 14:37
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
I absolutely HATE boss battles where you think you've finally defeated him/her and they morph into an even more powerful form while your chars are totally spent, AND, you are unable to save either!!
Played too much Summoner ?

I did.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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May 1st, 2008, 23:53
I generally like boss battles. Last game I played and beat, that had pretty awesome bosses was Resident Evil 4, I went back and played a few of them over and over again just for the fun of it.

I actually like the fact that they stand as a gatekeeper, it's like the final coup de grace, finally kicking the level's ass for once and for all. I also know that something new is in store on the other side of them, driving me harder to beat them.

Increased difficulty? Geez, I hope so. I'm usually sleepwalking thru most games by the time I get to a boss, sometimes it's the only thing that rouses me from my somnembulescence. I wonder if I spelled that right? I'll leave it to the spelling nazis
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May 2nd, 2008, 05:47
Originally Posted by V7 View Post
I liked how FarCry handled it;

Spoiler – Spoiler



Are you talking about the PC version of FarCry? Because that's not the way I remember it, unless you're not referring to the end game boss.
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May 2nd, 2008, 13:41
Since everyone's trotting out their favourite "boss battles" ;-) I like the way Max Payne handled this - when you had to get the to company exec at the end…no ridiculous uber-weapons (I mean, why would she have them?) just a well scripted mad pursuit dash. *that* makes sense. It can be done!
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May 5th, 2008, 20:11
Shadow of the Colossus has the best boss battles. The entire game is a series of them and they're all entertaining.

The worst are the battles where you're supposed to lose, but that's mainly a convention of RPGs. It just doesn't make sense to design the game so that a player must lose at any point. If you give them a chance they'll try to win and use everything they have - then when you reveal it was all part of the plan they'll be doubly pissed at using all the rare resources and/or restarting before the big reveal.

I agree with the sentiment that boss battles that are too obvious, cliched and out of place are bad but that just seems like an argument that boss battles should only be done when they're good. That's a pretty obvious conclusion though.
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May 6th, 2008, 22:30
Originally Posted by mactbone View Post
Shadow of the Colossus has the best boss battles. The entire game is a series of them and they're all entertaining.
Sounds as if the "normal" boss battles have become too boresome.

Now, it must be something bigger, better, huge, to entertain, and so it is not ONE FINAL boss battle, but a WHOLE GAME of it …

It's like … as if what you've been eating all years long doesn't taste anymore good. And then you need something better, something more

It's like the decadent "boss" in an Asterix comic, who had everything and that everything just bored him. Except Gold.
So what did he do ? He collected Gold …

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