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Boss Battle Design and Structure

September 15, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

Beat 2: Intro / Reveal

What is it? At the beginning of the boss fight, the boss needs to do something to introduce himself to the player and start the fight off with a BANG.

In many games a boss will rear back, let out a huge roar, and blow something up. It's a gaming cliché, but it gets the player's attention, that's for sure.

You don't have to be cliché about it if you don't want to. This beat is a good idea no matter what you decide to do.

Why is it a good idea? It's important to sell the player on how awesome, quirky, or otherwise interesting the boss is. Following this simple step greatly increases the player's sense of tension and anticipation, and thus the game's intensity.

At this point you're still trying to promote the boss -- you want the player to desire nothing more than to take him down.

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

In Beat 2, the player finally encounters Ganon face to face. Ganon casts a horrible spell at him, rises into the air and cackles maniacally. The words "Great King of Evil: Ganondorf" appear on the screen below him.

Doesn't he scare you right now? I'm quaking in my boots, personally.

Example 2: Portal (2007)

Portal's boss fight begins in a very different way. The boss you're fighting, GladOS, has always been kind of a crazy / funny personality. It wouldn't make as much sense for her to appear in all her mechanical glory and blast a hole in something. Instead, you enter her lair and she greets you cordially.

And then, after issuing a few threats... she accidentally drops one of her personality cores. She is, of course, very embarrassed and tells you in the strictest terms not to touch the thing. But the player knows better!

Beat 3: "Business as Usual"

What is it? "Business as Usual" is when the boss gets to use the most basic attacks you created in the attack design phase earlier. During this phase the player can get used to the boss' pattern or can come to understand how the boss can be defeated.

Why is it a good idea? "Business as Usual" sets an intensity baseline for the boss fight. The player knows that from this point on, there's nowhere to go but up! Further, if you absolutely need to teach your player something new, this is the phase to do it.

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

As he learned during the "Phantom Ganon" boss fight I described in Beat 1, the player must use his sword to return Ganon's yellow energy attacks and then fire an arrow at him while he's stunned.

The player must swing his sword to return the yellow energy back to Ganon.

Example 2: Portal (2007)

The player still remembers what GladOS did to his friend, the Companion Cube. Now it's time for a little payback! The player has to take GladOS' personality core and throw it into a nearby incinerator, just like he was trained to do with the Companion Cube.

The player learns that he needs to take GladOS' personality cores (the purple sphere pictured left) and throw it into the incinerator... just like the Companion Cube. Forget what you've heard -- revenge is best served HOT!

During this whole episode, the player is under no threat of damage or death. This was a wise decision on the part of the designers. Though they've used the incinerator before, the player has never thrown a personality core into one of these before, so they are technically learning something new. If you must teach the player something new, teach it during this beat and give the player enough time, space, and safety to figure it out.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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