Video Games

Response: Boss Fights

Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel asked in his latest video about Boss Fights what people thought about… well, boss fights. In games, specifically. In reality, he asked two questions:

  1. What are Boss fights (to you?) and what do they do?
  2. What about games without Boss Fights? Or adversity at all?

Before I start drunkenly answering these questions, you might want to go check out the video for yourselves. Click the link to watch it, then come back; I promise this post isn’t going anywhere.


Alright, welcome back. Let’s talk bosses! Or at least let me blow smoke up your respective asses about bosses!

boss

He’s listening…

Boss fights are, popularly, a test of the skills you have learned. Traditionally, boss fights are staged, closed off skill checks that require a certain amount of mastery over skills learned over the course of a game. Some games test recently acquired skills; a perfect example of this can be found in the more recent Legend of Zelda games, where the means to defeating a boss is found within the dungeon preceding it.

In these kinds of games, the boss fight is very much a licensing test, where the dungeon is a training course and defeating the boss is proof enough for the developers that a player has mastered the item, and can be counted on to figure out when and how to use it.

In other games (Enter the Gungeon comes to mind, simply because I’ve played/watched it a lot), Bosses are a pure test of in-game skill. The items you’ve acquired and progress you’ve made during a playthrough will make a boss fight easier, no doubt; but if you’re garbage at dodge rolling, you’re still going to hit the ground hard enough to make a 6 foot deep crater.

h_az_meteorcrater_02

More or less; depends on how you died.

In these games, the skills required to beat the game are typically given right at the start, and each progressive boss simply ramps up the difficulty, either by increasing the number of threatening situations or limiting the room for errors, which forces a player to hone their skill to the point where the boss can be defeated.

Boss fights aren’t necessarily one singular entity, though; in Devil Daggers, for instance, there is one boss in the game, somewhere so far into a run that under 2% of all players have ever seen it. Every other “boss” moment is either the introduction of new enemy types, which quickly become a regular and terrifyingly numerous occurrence, or a suddenly large wave of enemies to combat all at once. Moments like these are still tests, but without all the drama of a big baddy. The idea is that, once these moments are mastered, future parts of the game can be accessed and played better, leading to further boss moments.

All of this, however, requires “buy in” from the player, and this is where the second question kicks in. Can games without adversity still have boss fights?

My short answer is ‘yes,’ they can, if we look at boss fights from a different point of view.

Broken down to its essentials, a boss fight in most games is a payout for the gradual structured rise in tension brought on from mounting difficulty and more complex game mechanics. The rising difficulty of challenges designed to make players figure out how to use the bow and arrow in Ocarina of Time’s Forest Temple climaxes with the shadow Ganon fight at the very end of the ordeal. This moment only feels like a proper boss fight so long as the player understands that this moment, this fight, is the ultimate skill check before the reward the player knows is coming; they’re accustomed to having their reward at the end, damnit. In addition, the boss fight itself, being a spike in difficulty, earns its “boss” status in part because of the incredible difficulty spike.

dark-souls-3-boss-700x394

Now with 2 times the murder!

In short, change and conflict create the emotional buy-in from the player necessary to give it the oomph required of a boss fight. Good boss fights are tough, but not too tough, and you won’t find them in the middle of a section of gameplay (unless it is a “mini” boss, a fight only significant enough to break up the steady pacing of a dungeon and create a mid-point for the player to reference how far along they’ve come).

In non-adversity games the question becomes “how do you create tension when mechanics and mounting difficulty are non-issues?” Unlike more mechanically focused games, where story telling and narrative can help but are ultimately not necessary for building the tension to create a boss fight moment, narrative games create the tension required of “boss” moments through writing and story.

Journey, for example, creates powerful, beautiful moments where the player is invited to experience the adventures of their pilgrim; sand-surfing, for instance, or the terrifying crossing where you have to avoid the large, mechanical snakes lest they… do something.

friendlyrobo

Look, don’t ask questions here, I don’t want to know.

Point is, all of these emotions and thoughts the player brings with them start to stack one atop the other in a big, unstable, tension piled mess. When the player reaches the final moments of the pilgrim’s journey, the payoff is palpable; nerves, hope for survival, and the desperate chanting of “come on, you can make it!..” These feelings are practically the same as a boss fight, where instead of the payoff coming from beating a difficult check of abilities learned, payoff comes from narrative resolution from a character overcoming the issues facing them through story and presentation.

At the heart of both of these ideas is one of conflict, and its resolution. Boss fights are just big conflicts; and if there’s one thing that good stories do to the exclusion of all else, it’s conflict and the resolution of them. Instead of boss “fights” you have boss “moments” but in the end, both kinds of games have bosses to cross, moments of gameplay where a player invested in a game will find the same kind of feeling and weight from either one.

 

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TOP 5 Reasons to love Rocco

Rocco-TERMINATORFor those who have been living under the #Awesomenauts rock, the newest patch is bringing a new Naut with it. His name is Rocco the Eagle, an ex-cop with a grudge. He’s out looking for revenge, and that’s just the engine of the “I’m a wicked badass ex-cop out on the loose” trope train that left the station.

Word is on the street he’s also going to have some sweet skins, so I’m looking forward to that: for instance, the newest teaser shows some pretty iconic ninja stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Ronin Rocco!

Every new Naut brings some trepidation though: will be be balanced? Will he be cheap? Easy to play? A list of other items that can be attributed to anybody you don’t like and have probably dated in the past? Who knows for sure until the patch hits live: until then, let’s appreciate the TOP 5 reasons why Rocco is going to be a great addition to the Awesomenauts roster.

5. His playstyle is unique
Rocco is going to be the only Awesomenaut of his kind. Unlike every other Naut who has an ability that can damage creeps and help farm them, Rocco must get solar in one of three ways:

1. Use left click to get droid kills.

2. Play Mario and collect every coin he sees because hot damn he needs the coins.

3. Kill people.

That’s it. I mean, he does have one upgrade that allows his Precision Shot to explode on hit (the explosion will hit droids), but he needs to kill. Other Nauts have a preference towards ganking and making kills, but Rocco has no other option. This ties into the next entry…

4. Rocco is really thematic
Eagles are carnivores. Rocco, obviously then, is a carnivore. You want to know why Rocco can’t farm droids? Because that stuff tastes AWFUL. It’s not like Clunk tastes much better, but you can bet that Voltar’s egg head is full of enough nutritious amniotic fluids that it’s a wonder workout geeks haven’t been sucking back brains in jars to help build muscle instead of whatever pansy-not-eagle-way of doing it.

Did you know that eagles have eyesight that allows them to see 4-8 times better than a human? Rocco can shoot 4-8 times farther than Raelynn on max snipe as far as I care. He shoots across the map with arrows capable of picking off fleeing Nauts who aren’t watching their backs. That’s a killer’s eyesight!

And I promise he’s an eagle. Although he’s modeled on this adorable raptor…

CAW CAW

He’s been passed off as an eagle many times by Ronimo themselves. Still, all the things I said about eagles apply to hawks: hawks are just cuter and far smaller.

Finally, the super awesome tie in to Hawkeye is very appreciated. I loves me some Hawkeye, and Rocco here is as close as one gets to having Clint Barton in-game (well, this game at least).

3. His amazing character theme
Just listen to the thing  would ya? I’ll wait.

That 80’s cop show feel is perfect. Cannot wait to listen to this while queuing.

2. He rewards good play with powerful affects
How do you balance an Awesomenaut so he has a mediocre though balanced early game, but has a strong late game? SYNERGY through SKILL!

It has been since Swiggins that we really saw this level of mechanical manipulation. If you turn on Vengeance, it lasts longer the more Rapid Arrows you land. Precision shot and Rapid Arrows both grants slow as well, meaning he can chase better: it also helps that his awful slowdown while shooting is nulled while in Vengeance mode.

With the correct upgrades, Precision shot can come out and hit someone for 430 damage. Your Rapid arrows now attack super-quickly thanks to another upgrade you picked up, causing a stream of painful, damaging darts to fly across the screen at a ridiculous rate. With the help of another upgrade, the arrows are reducing the cooldown of your precision shot, which allows you to speed up your arrows again.

Keep in mind, all of these arrows are slowing people down and doing an obscene amount of damage, while also extending the duration of Vengeance.

This takes time to get all the upgrades necessary. This also takes skill to pull off, since he needs to be close enough to land the arrows without getting murdered in the process; it also means that one missed arrow could kill you.

Rewarding skill with power is contentious past a certain point, but with Rocco is a symphony of skill in its own right, and I love it.

Must type like this to play

1. People will hopefully stop complaining about Froggy G for a bit

Forggy-G-threadNothing against the people here, but when I read the Beta patch notes thread, and somehow the conversation turns to Frog when he’s not even in the patch notes, and we have a brand new character on the way, we may have a problem.

Later,

-W.

DS Backlog: Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies & tLoZ: A Link Between Worlds

So with my time away from home, I’ve been able to work on my game backlog for my DS. It’s been a great experience so far, and I’ve gotten the two games done I’ve had on my list the longest.

Here are my thoughts.

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies

Property of CapCom

Property of CapCom

If you’re unfamiliar with the Phoenix Wright games, then there’s going to be a lot of information to absorb before playing this game. Building on the (ludicrous) story from the previous games, Dual Destinies really pushes the crazy envelope. Between one case involving japanese demons, and another where your courtroom explodes, you run the full gamut. As per usual the characters offer most of the craziness available in the game. Honestly, going into any details about the many characters would be futile: after playing, I couldn’t tell the gonzo apart.

But, if you’re a fan of anime, which I’m normally not, then this will be pretty normal for you. The protagonists are still relatable and hilarious, though playing as Phoenix Wright again after so long felt really odd.

When I think about it, playing might be the wrong word though. Fans of the series, myself included, will more likely describe it as an interactive manga. Unlike TellTale Games and their games which feature choices (or the illusion thereof), the game’s story is linear. It’s your job to make the right choices to advance. However, figuring out some of the choices can be difficult. It’s resolving those issues in the court cases that make the game so satisfying, and the music does an excellent job of reinforcing a correct choice. I did feel like the game made it a bit more obvious this time around, but maybe I’m just catching on to how the Phoenix Wright stories work out.

The new look, revamped music, new cases, and bananas characters all pale in comparison to the best change compared to earlier games: the streamlined investigation. The most stale parts of the earlier games involved running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out what in the world you are trying to click on, then showing the right evidence to the right people. Not a single person I know likes those parts, and it was a relief to see them smoothed out the way they did in Dual Destinies. A sticking point for some old fashioned folks might be that the game holds your hand too much during the investigations, but I have two words for that.

Screw investigations. Seriously, the court sections were the best parts, and being able to get the story and evidence you want out of the investigations without all the pointless and frustrating running around is awesome!

As a final bonus, the game brings back some references and older characters from early in the series… and hints at even more of the same in a sequel. For instance (SPOILER?), Pearl makes a return, and there are heavy hints that Maya might come back. In addition, the mechanics unique to each character you play, such as Phoenix’s Magatama, Apollo’s Bracelet, and now Athena’s Widget combine together to make an interesting game dynamic. I wish there were more off all three of the mechanics, and that they weren’t AS scripted.

Which brings me to my biggest downside: the courtroom was really not difficult. I would really have appreciated more complex and interesting evidence: but it was rare that I had to really look thoroughly through the court record to find what I was looking for.

Overall, anyone that liked the previous games would still love it, as I did. If you wanted to get started playing Phoenix Wright games though, do NOT start with this one. Seriously, go back to the first one. It’s still my favourite, and you really do need to know the story so far before you pick up the latest one.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Property of Nintendo

Property of Nintendo

I love this game.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. I haven’t loved adventuring this much in ever. Let’s go over why.

1. Renting items. In the beginning, you have no items as per the usual. So to get items, you go through dungeons in a listed order and get the items you need to advance… yeah, never mind that crap, just rent them.

Seriously, this was off-putting at first, but in hindsight was one of the best decisions I’ve seen Nintendo make. Instead of having to do Dungeon A first and Dungeon B second, I could rent the gear I wanted to and just… go out. Explore. I had access to EVERYTHING from the start, meaning I could choose to go places and have a blast. So long as I didn’t die (and I only died 2 times throughout the whole game), those items were as good as mine. Eventually you can get to a point where you buy them for good, and it’s not hard to do. Just adventuring around, you get a LOT of rupees in this game, so renting and buying isn’t too hard to do. Heck, I had FUN doing it. That’s the point right?

2. MUSIC SO GOOD IT MAKES MY FACE GO SLACK You think I am kidding. I am not. Everything that you know and love has been re-orchestrated beautifully. I love tLoZ music a TONNE, and this game didn’t disappoint at all.

For reference, try some of these on for size.

Hyrule Field
Zelda’s Lullaby (Milk Bar)
Hyrule Castle
Lorule Field (AKA Dark World)
Death Mountain
Lorule Castle

It was an eargasm for me. It was the first thing I noticed. It was beautiful.

3. Top Down Zelda at its Finest I am a sucker for Top Down Zelda games. This has smooth gameplay, open world, fun exploration, fun characters, no dead uncles, huge amounts of stuff to do and explore, and even collecting 100 annoying squid babies was fun, not frustrating. I cannot stress enough how fucking solid this game is thanks to the wall mechanic (which forces you to think differently about the world) and renting your equipment early on. Exploration was a JOY. And normally, I HATE IT.

Most games I play that feature “exploration” feature one thing in order to make worlds seem big: waiting. Lots of it. That, or barriers that purposefully hinder your progress unless you get an item from a different dungeon… it’s jumpin’ through hoops. You know what? Watch Egoraptor’s Sequelitis on Ocarina of time, and his thoughts on Link between worlds while you’re at it. He explains everything pretty damn well about an adventuring games that have non-sensical wait times.

Link Between Worlds has none. Because of the “rent-an-item” system and a bunch of extra little things to make the whole process more fun and less tedious (stuff as little as sound hints when getting closer to a certain kind of collectible, for instance), it’s great to just wander around Hyrule and Lorule, slaying monsters, finding loot, and doing hero stuff. Not because you have to, not because “COME SAVE ME” but because it’s legit good times.

Well, there’s one thing… The game’s maps are ripped right out of Link to the Past. Though Beautifully restored and redone for the 3DS, this might be a sticking point for some. If those same people bought the remake for Ocarina of Time for the 3DS, but are unwilling to buy this because “Maps”, then they are stupid. I want to be clear: this game is a NEW game. It is different from Link to the Past in feel and play, while being familiar enough that it feels like putting on your most comfortable boxers. Yes, the ones with all the holes in it.

I loved Link Between Worlds. Seriously, if you like adventure games and have a 3DS, this game is amazing in every way I wanted it to be.

That’s all for now. I still have a backlog (Luigi’s Mansion, you’re next!), but these two titles are now finished. Phoenix Wright is gonna hit the shelf, and will have to wait until I play through the rest of the series before I pick it back up again.

Link Between World’s still has a lot of stuff for me to discover. I have 8 pieces of heart left to collect, another piece of ore for my sword, and a hard mode left to play. I have a feeling I’m going to die a lot more than twice before I’m done with that game.

So long for now. You’re all wonderful.

-Phil