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June 13, 2006



Boss fights are meant to break the routine, consolidate the play techniques that the player has learned so far, act as milestones in the player's progress, and be epic and memorable. Of course, they are VERY hard to get right, you can easily err on the side of frustration or on the side of pointlessness and tedium.

Ideal boss fights are one or two minutes long, intense without being overwhelming, include different dynamics to create a sort of puzzle the player has to figure out, and FEEL epic and rewarding. When I think back of boss-based games, the good boss fights are the kind of stuff I remember with a smile. Think of them as the spice that can make a meal tasty if used well, or unpalatable if done wrong.

Ninja Gaiden is one of the most obvious recent titles to suffer from a bad boss design. Or maybe I'm the only one who stopped playing after the first boss and never bothered to buy the game after eagerly awaiting it for months?

Boss fights are antinatural in games meant to be a relaxing passtime, so they may be slowly phased out in favor of safer, less climactic dynamics. But I think we'll be losing something in the process.


Forgot to mention: good boss fights let the player control the pacing of the fight, so you can still feel in control of the game. It's the player who should have fun fighting the boss, not the other way around. ;)

Carl Pinder

Boss fights are meant to beat the player, so they have to drop in another quarter. They are leftover remnants from the days of the coin-op. They should stop.


Boss fights are still done well, though, from time to time. Most of the bosses in God Of War were immaculate; the high points of the game, because they really did rely on the player using the skills they had learned.

But, as mentioned, they are difficult to get right.


From an MMO perspective, the bosses are mostly there as sources of the much sought after 'ooh shiny!' type of things that players like to show off. Granted, MMO's are a whole different animal all together, but most single player hack-and-slash games like to use their bosses for the same purpose, and they also tend to not change the gameplay on bosses as well.

What makes bosses special in other games? For me, it's a number of factors. Is the setting memorable? Is the fight more challenging, not different mechanically, rather a better test of how well you can use the mechanics? Are the rewards for beating him especially memorable (cool cutscene, uber item, etc)? Does the encounter make sense in the overall scope of the game?

I think bosses are a fun and rewarding element of some games, but not all games need bosses. With platformers, I can be perfectly happy just navigating a particularly tough level, but on an RPG, I expect there to be a boss at the end of wherever it is I'm going(just let me save before hand damn you). Is it a useful gameplay mechanic that merits the time spent on them? Usually yes, but their usefulness varies wildly from one game to the next.

What type of game are you making? Are you making a game where people expect cool boss fights all over the place or are you building a game that's more about the entire experience (think Ico)? These are questions we should be asking ourselves before we design a level and automatically ask 'Ok, what is the boss going to be here?'

Max Szlagor

The cliche seems to be that of a discrete level with a boss fight at the end. The trouble is, whenever you look at the reviews or forum posts about a game that is light on bosses you invariably run into complaints demanding more of them. I don't buy into the argument that they are bad from a resource point of view - any good game is going to require a lot of iteration, resources, special cases, and polish whether or not it is spent on bosses. If you try and take shortcuts for resources you end up with very generic game sections that get reused way too often. The boss battle at least provides some variation. I suppose the problem with Tomb Raider in this case was that you were more into the platforming and exploring so the bosses ended up detracting from your primary form of enjoyment. In theory the bosses should be more challenging and varied and thus provide you with some sort of elation from beating them. I tend to agree that boss battles are harder to balance but when they are done right I really think they help to create some of the memorable moments that constitute amazing games. Metal Gear Solid and Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker are both games where I felt the boss battles added character and drama. I think the more important question to ask is when we are going to start seeing fewer games centered around power fantasies.

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