Our big task for this weekend’s show is to design a boss enemy, so it got us to thinking about what makes a fun boss in a game.
A good boss is one that tests the player and all of the skills they’ve learned up to that point in the game. Though it can, and should, test those skills in new ways, there shouldn’t be any need for hints or a tutorial, because the player already knows what they have to do, it’s just whether they can pull it off or not.
Good boss design is difficult, because balancing the need to challenge players, the need to keep the game fresh, and the need to test existing skills are often at odds with each other. Too “fresh” and the player is left with a big question mark hovering over their heads. Too “challenging” and the player digs their nails into the controller, ready to toss it across the room after dying for the tenth time. Too much reliance on “existing mechanics” can make the boss fight a boring version of previous enemies with nothing but extra hit points to show for being the boss.
A bad boss is one that suddenly tests skills players have never had to use before. It tries to provide a challenge by throwing a surprise in the player’s face, rather than by being an extension of existing mechanics. This doesn’t mean the boss has to use all of the same tricks as previous enemies or level traps, it just means the player should come to the battle equipped with the skills they need to fight. If a game up until the boss was all about running, jumping and using a freeze ray, then the boss should put those three skills to the test (in new ways if possible), not suddenly require the player to use a grappling hook, for example.
An ugly boss is one of those guys that shows up at the end of some games, you know the ones. The player transforms into some super form they’ve never experienced the entire game, tutorials start popping up, camera angles change, controls change, hit point systems change, etc. leaving a confusing mess that forces players to either give up or look up what they need to do on YouTube or GameFAQs.
In Project Spaghetti, so far, all of our stages test different player skills, so if we think about bosses by area, it becomes clear what skill needs to be tested.
Town Area: Shooting enemies that dodge/dodging bullets
Graveyard Area: Setting bullets bouncing on bumpers/managing fast enemies that swarm
Desert Area: Getting behind enemies armored in the front/running from charging enemies
Night Area: Maneuvering enemies into hitting each other/hitting shielded enemies the moment their shield drops
Christmas Area: Dealing with enemies that grow more difficult and vary behavior as they get hit