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Boss Battle Design and Structure

September 15, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

Beat 4: Escalation

What is it? Now that the player has learned the basics, it's time to get into it. During this beat, the boss will introduce new attacks and complications.

The difficulty, intensity, and drama begin to rise here. Choose a few more attacks from the list you made during the attack design prep-work you did earlier -- now's the time to use them!

Why is it a good idea? In addition to the standard practice of "ramping up" difficulty over the course of a boss fight, introducing new attacks or complications during this beat helps with the battle's pacing.

As crazy as it gets during this beat, the player knows it will only get crazier, and that anticipation will drive him forward with fervor.

Example 1: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Ganon gains two extra attacks during this phase: 1) He can slam down into the floor, which causes the blocks that the player is standing on to fall down into the abyss, and 2) He can fire five yellow energy bolts at the player simultaneously.

The first tests the player's basic movement abilities (he needs to move to a safe place before the ground falls away beneath him). The second gives the player a choice between executing a dodge-roll to avoid the bolts and attempting to return them, which is very difficult.

Five bolts at the same time are much harder to return to Ganon than just one. Most times, the player will take some damage if he tries. The player is encouraged to dodge these.

Example 2: Portal (2007)

After the player throws GladOS' first personality core into the incinerator, she goes even crazier than normal. First, she begins to flood the area with nerve toxin (which gives the player only six minutes to defeat her).

GladOS ratchets the intensity up by adding a time limit to the fight. She also introduces her main method of attack (and the player's main method of attacking her), the missile launcher robot.

Then she deploys a missile launcher robot. The player needs to employ the training he received in Beat 1 and use the missile robot against GladOS. Every time GladOS is hit with a missile, she drops a new personality core that the player can incinerate.

The player creates a pair of portals, lures the missile launching robot to fire a missile, and then lets it go through the portals to damage GladOS. When she is hit with a missile, she drops a personality core that the player can then incinerate.

Beat 5: Midpoint

What is it? The midpoint is the "emotional turning point" of the fight. During this beat, the boss simultaneously raises the stakes significantly and gives the player a momentary break in the action. Ideally, this beat will leave the player screaming and howling for the boss' defeat or questioning whether the boss can be defeated at all.

This beat usually takes the form of a false victory, false defeat, or transformation and this beat often involves a "death" of some kind.

Why is it a good idea? This is a one-two punch. During this beat, the player is allowed to take a short breath (which he sorely needs if you've been ramping up the intensity correctly). He's allowed a reprieve, but at the same time this beat should wow him. It should leave him eagerly anticipating what is to come.

Example 1: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

This beat is a huge one for the Ganon boss fight. The player strikes Ganon down and his "death" seems to cause his castle to collapse! The player must take Princess Zelda and flee while the place comes down around him.

When he finally arrives at the ground, the castle finally collapses entirely, leaving nothing but rubble. There is a short pause where the player is allowed to take a breath, and then Ganon erupts from the rubble! Not only is he still alive, but as he transforms into a giant monster it's apparent he's more powerful than ever!

In an echo of Beat 2, the newly transformed Ganon re-introduces himself, casts the player's sword away, and the battle is on!

Wow, I thought he was scary before! But now he's also HUGE!

Example 2: Portal (2007)

Portal's fight has a completely different take on this beat. Instead of a transformation, a false defeat, or anything like that -- GladOS simply taunts the player and invokes the idea of "death."

"I gave you every opportunity to succeed. There was even going to be a party that all your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend the companion cube. Of course, he couldn't come because you murdered him."

By invoking "death", and by talking trash about the player's one friend, GladOS performs a purely emotional version of this beat. By the time she's done talking, the player is ready for Beat 6. It's ON!

It's a very subtle version of this beat, but I found it to be just as effective as the version from Ocarina of Time. I wanted to take her down more than ever!

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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