Jaguar Type S intro sequence fragment. Collateral damage is not a problem…
It’s time to present to you another boss design from X-Morph: Defense. In this series, we have already covered the Tarantula MK V, the Scorpion, and the Bomber. The JAGUAR tank you will read about today seems relatively harmless compared to the previous entries on our list, but there is nothing harmless about it. In fact, the mayhem caused upon the city by this behemoth is one of the biggest you will encounter in the entire game.
If we were to use only two words to describe the tank, the phrase would be ‘collateral damage’. The concept for this boss fight sequence started in the early days, back when X-Morph: Defense was still a shoot’em up. You would chase down the tank over a busy highway at breakneck speed (as far as tank speeds go, at least). The tank crew wouldn’t care about either the cars they’re crushing or the bridges they’re destroying. This deadly race was the only thing that mattered, and the prize was survival.
Early prototype scrolling shooter gameplay, circa 2010-2011.
Jaguar Type S is a huge beast, taller than most buildings.
As for the visuals, we wanted the JAGUAR tank to be the biggest, baddest and the most fearsome war machine you’ve ever seen on land. Designing tanks is quite pleasant, apart from a couple mandatory modules, you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want. Not long after we started iterating on initial design, we had a model which was satisfying enough to deserve a spot in the main game.
The Jaguar tank spawns multiple automated drones that prevent the player from mindlessly shooting at its hull.
Over the 5-year development of X-Morph: Defense we had one major redesign. the game became a tower defense/shooter hybrid, as opposed to a classic shoot’em up. When the redesign hit our project, we wanted to save as much content as possible. Luckily, the tank’s design was so elastic, that designing a new map around it was enough to make it all work. Since the boss model is huge we had to give it plenty of room to drive around and crush the surroundings. Also, there are enough cars on the tank’s way to make sure there are plenty of explosions and debris decorating the players’ screens. The rest of the urban area was also designed to make the most of the tank’s ability set.
The Boss’ signature attack sequence is introduced through a cinematic cutscene. The first shot always misses its mark on purpose.
At the beginning of the fight, the JAGUAR fires off a shell in an arc aimed at the X-Morph core, over the city rooftops. The attack misses, however, due to imprecisions in the targeting mechanism. It serves the purpose of warning the player of an unprecedented possibility of a direct attack at the core. The aliens see this as a direct threat and set off to stop the war machine from firing further shells at the core. The player has to disable the main cannon before it fires. This requires a direct attack using the fighter, as the boss appears on a new part of the map that was previously locked, so the player has no stationary defenses available there. This is what can be seen in the game today.
The Jaguar tank is armed with a variety of anti-aircraft guns and a special EMP attack that can disable the player’s weapons for a time.
What changed, however, were the events after that. Originally, the player’s attack on the main cannon would damage the aiming gear so much, that the operators would be unable to raise the barrel high enough to fire in an arc. This would force the crew to fire the main cannon in a straight line. In a densely populated city. Through the buildings. Collateral damage is secondary. On a more serious note - this would make (some, but not a lot) sense if the tank remained stationary. After giving it the ability to move around the map this ‘tactic’ didn’t make much sense and seemed like wasted potential. Therefore, we decided that the alien can only temporarily disable the main cannon.
Translating the other prototype mechanics required a little bit of mental gymnastics. During the highway chase, the gargantuan tank would destroy the overpasses, as it was too tall to fit under them. Being the 80s action movie maniacs we did not want to remove this from the game. We included this in the final stages of the boss fight. As the JAGUAR tank reaches 25% health it starts rushing the alien core head-on in the last attempt to stop the alien invasion, destroying everything in its path. Apart from looking cool it also evokes a feeling of urgency, making us feel that the tank can really do damage to our core.
A good boss cannot simply be a pile of hitpoints, it also needs a special set of attacks. In our case, enemies are designed specifically to attack the core or the player. When it comes to bosses, they need to be able to do both. The tank is equipped with EMP emitters at the front. When they are fired, the X-Morph fighter loses all abilities. Then the double AA cannons the tank is equipped with pose a much bigger threat. Moreover, the boss spawns multiple sentries as a distraction. Apart from high fire rate and decent damage, they are characterized by a plasma shield, significantly raising their survivability. The JAGUAR tank can also launch a missile barrage against the alien core and fire the main cannon at it. All of these different forms of attack give the boss a complete set of abilities the players have to learn in order to defeat it.
All in all, tanks are relatively easy to design, as far as boss battles go. The ability to move in any direction, turn around while stationary and provide fire in any direction are all helpful features to use in design. The implementation of this boss in the game was also quite straightforward, as it was one of the last we actually programmed. It was also one of the first times we used our designer-programmer combo, making the whole workflow easier. The core idea behind such an approach is that both people support each other, make the necessary changes on the fly and work out the problems together.
Unfortunately, we did not avoid making a serious mistake in the boss’ design. The JAGUAR tank is equipped with many components the player may destroy in any order. They are packed so densely on the main hull that aiming at individual parts is almost impossible. The result of this is that most players simply equip bombs, shoot at the tank and damage whatever they can using the splash damage. We learned that a boss of this type must be bigger and/or the fight must be divided into phases in order for this kind of design to work.
A boss’ death sequence must be accompanied by dozens of explosions.
Even though you can always find something to fix, some bugs are not as painstaking to get rid of as others. The Jaguar Type S tank was one of the easiest bosses to implement in X-Morph: Defense. This kind of work makes for a much-needed break from woes of more complicated boss fights. Our next article is going to cover a huge area of the game that we decided to drop completely, together with its boss fights. Ironically it was also one of the first boss fights that we designed for the game - The Dreadnought battleship.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this article. We hope that the knowledge of our mistakes will help you avoid repeating them in your own endeavors. If you'd like to stay up-to-date with the latest news from our studio make sure to subscribe to our other social media channels. Thank you again and see you next time!