Friday, September 23, 2011

Dear Game Developers, please stop.

Hello, Foldsfivesketeers!  This blog has had a phenomenal hit count since last Sunday as a result of this hurriedly written angry under-the-influence-of-ale blog post (subsequently reprinted on the very worthy EDLNews) so many of you may be relatively new readers. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's downhill from here on in. There are relatively few angry human injustice rants to be found here - but oddly enough the ones I do seem to wind up in the top ten popular posts - cast your eyes over towards the right.  It's mostly geeky stuff about videogames or board games or the Master Chief costume I've started but will never finish.

The below new post is an example of a typical FoldsFive one. Sorry.

My least favourite part of the film Return Of The Jedi is when Luke Skywalker, tricked by Tattooine crime lord Jabba the Hutt, falls into a hidden pit under his throne room and is forced to confront the Rancor. You probably remember the scene well - Luke runs around randomly and punches the Rancors knees a couple of times before the Rancor delivers a killer blow, decapitating Skywalker. And when Luke is resurrected, he tries the same activities again but this time the Rancor beast gets stuck behind a rock so Luke survives a little longer. And then on his umpteenth attempt, he comes across a small stone which he uses to activate the gate mechanism which slams down on the Rancor, killing it. And Luke gets a big enough XP bonus to level up and purchase the "Catch lightsaber thrown by R2 unit" skill which saves his life on the next mission.

Or that's how it would have played out had a video game designer had his wicked way with it. A fucking boss fight. A FUCKING BOSS FIGHT. I hate Boss fights in video games so much I'm going to say it again in as large a font as Blogger will allow.

I fucking hate Boss Fights.

This whole blog post has been inspired by Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which I'll review fully in due time. For the most part, I'm really enjoying it. The ability to develop your character in exactly the manner you require is excellently done, and one of the games great strengths. And this ability to tweak your character to suit your gaming style (stealth and hacking in my case) is also the games downfall when it comes to the inevitable scourge of modern gaming - the boss battle.

"Hi there, I'll be your Boss for this evening. I'm a bullet sponge, so please
be sure you've got plenty of ammo and a big gun. Although nothing has
hinted at you to be prepared for this."
Funnily enough the ability to hack into computer systems and sneak around doesn't really work very well when you're in an enclosed arena facing some manner of man tank carrying around a weapon that packs four times the punch of Blains chain gun in Predator. Suddenly you regret not having built up your combat statistics, because you're going to die. A lot. And when you eventually defeat said man tank, it's more through luck than skill - provided your controller has survived the sixty or so times it's been hurled to the floor or against a wall accompanied by you screaming "Fuck!  Fuckity fuck fuck!".

I'm currently stuck on the second boss battle in Montreal, and am seriously on the verge of quitting altogether and part-exchanging it. The boss battle isn't fun - just an exercise in frustration which seems out of odds with the rest of the game.

(EDIT: Beaten the second boss now through a skilled combination of luck, mines thrown in panic and running away shrieking like a girl. I'm a true hero. Have subsequently found that the boss battles were outsourced to a different development company, hence their different feel).

So, the definitive list of my opinions on Boss Battles and how we should remove this scourge of gaming. Which will be ultimately futile as no Games Designers will ever read it, almost as pointless as my letter complaining to Orange about how shit the HTC Mozart 7 phone was weeks after I'd passed my deadline for returning it. Solely an excuse to vent.

1. Don't have them at all.

They're a lazy videogame trope, something that should have been left in the eighties with the final boss in Phoenix. It would seem that when games proudly proclaim you'll get 40 hours of gameplay out of them, 30 of them will be spent dying fighting bosses. At best they're in there for a sense of satisfaction as you get to kick the crap out of the lead bad guy, at worst they're the gaming equivalent of a brick wall that you'll be hurtling yourself against for longer than you care. Find yourself in a room crammed with all the guns you've been looking for the whole level and loads of health packs? The boss himself will be around the corner wondering why his minions insist on leaving these goodies lying there for you - he'll have words with the Minion Union next opportunity he gets.

2. If you have to have them, do something original.

Bosses are rarely original in video games. They tend to all stick to the same simplistic rules - they'll either soak up the majority of your ammunition before keeling over, or they'll have some ridiculous weak spot that will only be excused when they've taken enough damage that you'll need to pummel away at exactly three times. EXACTLY THREE TIMES. They won't learn from their mistakes - indeed, they'll follow the same pattern until you force them to cash in their chips. Find yourself in an arena with walls that look like they'll collapse with any impact? Wait until the boss charges at you and sidestep away from them so he collides with them. Every. Bloody. Time.

3. If you have to have them, keep them true to the spirit of the game.

Or "You're only a human in a suit. Why does it take 200 shots to kill you?". Batman: Arkham Asylum is a brilliant game, which I may have mentioned in the past. However, the Boss Fights (much as the ones in Deus Ex) feel like they've been copied and pasted from a different one. The battle against Poison Ivy feels like a boss battle from Super Mario, and the less said about the final Joker battle the better. You've spent the game pitting your waits against the maniacal and devious Clown Prince of Crime and your final encounter just involves shooting him a number of times. How many times do you have to shoot him, you ask? Believe me, you already know the answer.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. It is possible to do Boss Battles well in videogames (and we're not including Shadow of the Colossus in this, because the game is nothing but one huge series of boss battles. Without the boss battle aspect it'd be a pretty platforming RPG with no baddies). The Metal Gear series also does them well, so I'm told by FoldsFive contributor Druid.

The aforementioned Arkham Asylum has a segment where Batman has been poisoned by the Scarecrow and the boss fight takes place in Batmans consciousness - it's original, not game-breakingly difficult and more to the point is entertaining. Shame that the rest of the boss battles in it are either dire or copies of exact bosses you've fought earlier. Let's hope that the sequel Arkham City addresses this.

But these are rare exceptions. The videogame boss fight is a horrible cancer at the heart of our gaming entertainment that must be stopped. It's a replacement for decent longevity in videogames, and each boss fight is a lazy poorly done exercise in frustration, and a replacement for originality.


  1. I'm not a big gamer (as you're about to see!) but I know what you mean. In addition to Druid's comment, I liked the boss battles in Final Fantasy 7 - you spend most fights dispatching easy-peasy mooks with a couple of basic attacks, while all your precious skills/magic/whatever sit idly by. When a major baddie does turn up, it's nothing short of grin-on-the-face joyous to unleash all the fury you've been hiding away for such an occasion, again and again, RIGHT IN HIS FACE. Plus, unless you've been grinding, most of them are tricky enough to be tactical (rather than 'just blast it!', you need to balance attack and defence/healing, etc) but simple enough that they're not frustrating.

  2. I'm really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but the old Sonic the Hedgehog games had the best boss fights of all time. OF ALL TIME.

  3. I play PC over console, but the pain in the ass remains the same. One thing Fallen Earth did that enticed us PVP'ers to go after bosses was to include a pretty decent armor drop on a few of them.Other than that, very generic as usual my friend.


I love comments. Love 'em. However, abusive or spam or Anonymous ones may well be sent straight to the bin. Thems the rules.