A version of this article first appeared in the October 2010 article of Game Developer magazine. It is effectively a ripoff — er, a REVISITING of a previous article I wrote for them here. Hey, crunch sucks.
I’m a pretty mellow guy, for the most part. I’m relaxed and easy going when it comes with design. But some things can make me go purple with rage. One of those things are boss fights apparently designed as afterthoughts by otherwise capable and talented design teams.
I find it inconceivable that truly terrible boss fights still infect our games. You would think we’d be better at this now. Our genre is now middle-aged – Pong is 40 years old, for Pete’s sake. We’ve had decades to hone our skills and practice. And yet still, I’m playing triple-AAA games with boss fights pulled straight out of amateur hour.
A poorly designed boss can cripple or kill a game. This is even more true nowadays, where many games are linear – which means the unfortunate player can’t move on without finding some way past your design abomination. In such a scenario, stumped players have no choice but to reach for the strat guide, dial in the cheat codes — or quit playing altogether.
Disdain for crappy boss-fights is not new. Some designers nowadays think that the idea of bosses are obsolete, and should ultimately suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs. I disagree – a well-tuned, well-balanced boss fight can provide an epic capstone to a chapter or game, and can help create an emotional flow through the gamespace that makes the entire experience more compelling. Great boss fights provide epic, memorable game experiences that will often live with the player longer than grinding through the cannon fodder to get there.
Unfortunately, a lot of boss fights are still a long way from ‘great’ or ‘epic’, and lousy bossfights can kill a game. Too many design teams are still failing the basics. And so, written in the glint of my incandescent rage at a game-that-shall-remain-nameless , here are a couple of things for designers to remember as they put together the ultimate showdowns in their own gaming experiences. Continue reading