262: Stop Killing the Foozle!

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Stop Killing the Foozle!

Almost every modern videogame with a story or plot has a major villain or boss to be defeated at the conclusion. Rowan
Kaiser pines for a time when this was not always so, such as the RPG masterpieces Ultima IV and VI.

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Zone of the Enders didnt have a proper end boss. It was quite frustrating. It had a lot of bosses though, but not one at the end :P

Got to agree with almost all of this.
I think the problem developers have is trying to build to a climatic end of a narrative which is appropriately challenging and fits with the story.

I always felt that the boss at the end of Bioshock felt so out of place it derailed the immersion somewhat.

But as the article mentions, if having no foozle was a common occurrence then any game with one would seem unique and special.

Good article, enjoyed it.

The Mother/Earthbound bosses are like this. You beat the boss of Mother by singing to it. You beat the boss of Earthbound by praying for help.

(IMO) Rather pointless article.

As much as enjoyed the Ultima-series, the lack of a "Foozle" was disturbing. Without the climatic end boss, i felt less motivated to do anything (probably the same reason I don't like MMOs).

For me the "Foozle" provides motivation and reason, to go through the story.

Having no endgame-badguy seems pointless, and bland.
Of course, the endgame-badguy has to have motive (or alike) not to be excessive (looking at Borderlands, Darkvoid, etc).

Loved the article. I recently made a show about the history of the Ultima games and mentioned the same issues. The Age of Enlightenment Ultima games were an amazing ride in the art of game design experimentation. Each one brought something new and different, like turning the story from a standard kill the bady plot, to a lesson about tolerance, understanding, about a society build on the most noble of principles and what would happen with that society if instead of being inspired or suggested, those principles would be enforced upon pain of death.

The closest thing I've seen in recent years from the RPG genre in this field was in the Witcher, and how it treated society. To a lesser extent there was Dragon Age, that basically copied the racism element from The Witcher.

Reading this article makes me hate Electronic Arts even more for killing Origin Systems.

As an extension the the Bioware concept, I feel as though a game such as Oblivion is ripe for foozle-less-ness (and excepting the end fight of the main quest, it largely is...). Same with GTA, there's really no conceptual reason to have one enemy be super-powerful and abusive.

The problem I perceive is that largely RPG games are "world in strife, things are falling apart". Without the one driving force to peg troubles on, we might slam face-first into the concept that one person really can't make a difference in a short time span.

A foozle allows the "happily ever after" ending by saying "oh, look, the cause of all strife in the world is gone." Which is a difficult thing to do without that single easily-identified target.

And to give an example of yet another Foozle-less game: Total annihilation - Kingdoms.

While is wasn't the best game ever, and could've been much better with the implementation of just a few simple extra controls and balances, it certainly did away with the normal campaign mode that we still see today. There was only a single campaign/story available, but each mission gave you control of one of the four (five with the expansion) fractions to further the story. It was -in essence- a WC3-style campaing with side switches after almost every single mission. You could be assaulting the island state of Verona in one mission, and be sailing to the rescue in the next. Even though it was a bit jarring sometimes (But I WANT to play the OTHER side of the story) it still told a much more compelling and good story this way. The original game did have a large battle at the end, the fall of a king etc, but it wasn't a Fozzle per sŤ, there were already loose ends that hinted at a bigger picture as well as the expansion taking off where the original game ended.

If you are a gaming enthusiast who isn't scared by "dated" games and wants to try out what a Foozle-like RTS is like. Try it out. It should be dirt cheap on GOG or something.

Interesting. I have always wondered if bossless games existed. I'll have to try some of these games out. And please stop saying "foozle". Nobody calls them that. I just Googled the word and all that comes up are dictionary results for what the word means. Nobody uses that word anymore.

What about Metro 2033? You could say that

was a boss fight, but it felt more like a cinematic. It wasn't even a fight. And then there's the other ending.

Also, the one STALKER game to have a proper boss fight with health bar and all was probably the worst. Maybe that says something about the sort of game STALKER is.

There are some games where the boss fight was pretty pointless- the fight with Saren in ME? why?

The STALKER games come to mind as counter examples.

The first game never has a boss monster (except for the pseudogiants, and even they're in very non-boss like locations.)

The second game has a kinda boss fight against someone who isn't even fighting you. (It's a sniper sequence with a health bar.)

The third game has no bosses whatsoever (aside from literal faction bosses, who are (probably) as squishy as everyone else around them (most of them stay hidden inside safe zones throughout the game)).

Fable II probably counts as a foozle-less game. There is the one guy you're trying to stop but there is no boss fight, your character's motivation can be purely self interest if you so chose, and you keep playing after as if nothing much happened short of the odd comment by NPCs.

On that last point, I suppose you could argue that that was just bad design but the rest is valid.

Great Article and it's awesome to see Scorpia getting some acknowlegement nowadays. :)

But yes, I do think that the "great quest to kill the bad thing at the end" is a bit overdone, it will be interesting to see if that actually changes though because to be entirely honest I think the gaming industry is increasingly corperate, and I think the actual creative process is suffering which is part of what leads to the endless parade of sequels with little in the way of new content or risk taking. I'd imagine the general attitude is simply going to be that players WANT a nasty final boss to stick a sword (or whatever in) so it's unthinkable to try and change that.

Consider that guys like Richard Garriot are more or less on the outs today it seems, and he was the brain behind the Ultima games mentioned.

An article that name drops Ultima IV, VI and Planescape as pinnacles of game design? Awesome - and 100% right. I'm currently in the middle of a run-through (leisurely stroll through?) of Ultima VI and it is still better than most games on the market.

Off topic, I like to thank you for mentioning Luca Blight in your list of villains. He never gets the attention he deserves, though that comes from being from an obscure game.

Drakoorr:
Fable II probably counts as a foozle-less game. There is the one guy you're trying to stop but there is no boss fight, your character's motivation can be purely self interest if you so chose, and you keep playing after as if nothing much happened short of the odd comment by NPCs.

On that last point, I suppose you could argue that that was just bad design but the rest is valid.

I would still consider him a foozle. Even though there's no proper boss fight with him (that comes from the bad game design), he's still defeated by violence (you shooting him or Reaver shooting him without warning--again, bad game design).

Also, welcome to the Escapist.

Drakoorr:
On that last point, I suppose you could argue that that was just bad design but the rest is valid.

I think we need to make a distinction between games that lack adequate resolution (Fable II) and games that are consciously designed to avoid the "Foozle" issue. Lots of games lack a decent ending - there's at least one forum thread a week on the issue - but that's not what this article is talking about.

Edit: Sorry for the double post.

In a similar vein it may be a reflection of recent media/films/Hollywood. Off the cuff, plenty of people pointed out that Star Wars kept Darth Vader alive for three films but killed the baddie numerous times in the recent three films.

Oblivion didn't have a true end boss. It had several bosses such as Mankar Camoran, but the boss that would be the standard end boss wasn't killed by you.

Hey all, thanks for the kind words, and I'm always happy to talk about classic RPGs!

Some of you mentioned non-violent ways to defeat final bosses in other games, which is interesting, and certainly related to what I was talking about, but it's not entirely the same. There's still a big antagonist who's the driving force through much of the game.

@saregos - I think you're right about that. It's a fairly easy way to make the storyline seem manageable by a single hero or small group of heroes.

@MNRA - Was it a fully fleshed-out story with characters? I only played the original Total Annihilation, and the "story" was just occasional narration before battles. If so, it sounds interesting.

@Therumancer - Although I agree with most of what you said, if anything, we've got fewer sequels these days. Ultima got to 8 or 9 before it petered out, and then there are the multiple Wizardries, Might and Magics, Final Fantasies. And those games demonstrate pretty effectively that sequels can lead to innovation.

@Crimson Dragoon - When I saw this topic in the list, I had to decide between whether I wanted to write about this topic or whether I wanted to write an article praising Suikoden II and its dual-villain approach. Luca Blight is fantastic - one of the few "pure" evil villains in game history who actually deserves the fear the other characters give him.

Might be interesting to look at subversions of the 'Kill the Foozle' stereotype as well. Two good examples pop to mind: Fable 2 and Chrono Cross.

Fable 2 is quite interesting. The 'Foozle', a "big bad" named Lord Lucien Fairfax, is a fairly well built up and established villain. The main character goes through his / her entire life with the goal of revenge against this man and, in classical fashion, he appears as the "final boss" of the game. What's unusual, however, is that instead of ungodly endgame powers and a health meter from here to Australia, Lucien is... well, distinctly human. The player can kill him with a single attack, ANY single attack, and if they opt to simply stand and listen to Lucien ramble on about his scheme for world domination long enough one of the support characters will simply draw a pistol and kill him outright. In my opinion its a brilliant gameplay twist that doubles as critique on the whole Foozle concept.

And then there was Chrono Cross... where if you kill the Foozle you actually doom the world. Really. Instead you have to literally create a "song" of elements to free the princess trapped inside the Time Devourer from her own despair, and the beast basically melts off into the void afterwards. Violence is the wrong solution to this final boss -- instead, to succeed the players must complete a story of heartbreak and reconciliation.

Both of these, I'd say, are brilliant twists and exposes of the traditional Foozle role. Should you ever decide to do a follow-up to this article, maybe such "anti-Foozles" would be a subject of interest?

Apparently, Kaiser missed the Halo train. I would like to posit that Halo: Combat Evolved, one of the most significant shooters ever made (if not THE most significant) did not have a final boss. Yet, the ending is still thrilling as all get out.

For the unenlightened, the last section of Halo: CE was a timed vehicle race. The race was immaculately timed; it took real effort to finish within the time limit, and the sense of accomplishment at the end of the race was palpable. Halo managed to accomplish what other games had previously done through boss battles (which, may I remark, are a dime a dozen). Now [i]that[i/] is good game design.

Kaiser, where have you been hiding for the past ten years?

P.S. No, you Valve fans, Halo was not my first FPS (that would be Unreal). I even went so far as to play Half-Life before I played Halo. Gasp. And I still consider Halo to be the better and more important FPS. Why? I'll reserve that for an entire thread, if there's interest.

92Sierra:
And please stop saying "foozle". Nobody calls them that. I just Googled the word and all that comes up are dictionary results for what the word means. Nobody uses that word anymore.

Perhaps not, but back in the golden age of Computer Gaming World, Scorpia (and sometimes others) often did. Since the article is wondering why gaming went so far away from the ideas set forth in those days by the second Ultima trilogy, it is appropriate.

Yet, as most MMOG players can tell you, there's not much sense of relaxation. There's always something you should be doing - a daily quest, a grind for better items or more gold, or a raid you can't miss - and there's always someone telling you that you could be doing it better. Those anxiety-inducing interactions and also the psychological tricks of "grinding" aren't particularly welcome in single-player RPGs, and they offer a very different experience from the comfortable exploration of single-player RPGs like the Ultima series.

This is a mechanic used in some single player games too, most notably the rather successful "Animal Crossing" series from from Nintendo. Every day that goes by is a day that you've fallen behind in your tasks or neglected your friends, and the drive to come back is solely driven by your responsibility to your community and that silly raccoon and his strip-mall building desires. The problem with this, though, is that the drive to play is less the fun of the game than the desire to not later have to slog away at busy work before doing what you want, and can be a big downfall if you just don't feel like playing it for a while.

@Dannibal - there is a distinction between a Foozle and a final boss. The Foozle is the primary antagonist, regardless of whether you fight him/her/it at the end or not. Halo has Guilty Spark, who is a pretty effective Foozle, although as you mention, not a final boss.

Not one mention of Deus Ex?????!??!?! Blasphemy.

Sure, you *could* consider Bob Page the foozle, but you can actually completely ignore him in the end-game.

@ DannibalG36

While I agree with you that Halo 1's handling of the final big action sequence (with which bosses / Fozzles are oft associated) that "race" itself reveals that the Halo games do, in fact, have a Foozle. A very big one, in fact... so big that its right in the title.

Yup. The Halo rings.

Consider: the first game begins with the ring in sight; introduction of the Foozle. Capt. Keyes later reveals that the big bad aliens (Covenant) *want* the Foozle for their war against humanity. This creates an association that the Foozle, Halo, is evil (or, at least, capable of incredible evil). This association is further cemented by the introduction of the Flood as an aspect of the Foozle (or, some might argue, a Foozle all to themselves). In that final sequence you are LITERALLY running away from an exploding Foozle.

Master Chief killed the Foozle. You gotta admit that one.

I do like foozles to kill. But the Ultima concept is interesting, I`d play a non-foozled game.

@rapa-nui As with many of the others, Deus Ex has a Foozle. He's still the primary antagonist, and you thwart his goals somehow or some way, depending on the path you choose.

Braid was also Foozle-free, when it had honestly cribbed most of its stylings from existing time-rewinding games (Prince of Persia for example) and Mario (definitely a foozly series). Although the final stage is "boss-like" in its behaviour and difficulty, there is no singular antagonist. There is even a playable epilogue that follows it.

Foozle-free games are interesting. Mother/Earthbound has unconventional Foozles, that you defeat in unexpected or unusual ways, yet utterly relevant to the core plot and thematics of each game. I would like to see more games like that. I would also like to see more games like a number of the Metroid series' games: Those that have a Foozle, but don't simply end with it. There's more than just destroying the monster to save the day. Fusion is a great example of this, with the final bosses being more obstacles to try and stop you surviving, as opposed to great enemies you have to destroy the save the day. The day is already saved; whether you get out alive or not is another issue! Utterly removes the idea of the enemy as a "foozle".

On reflection, Resident Evil had this too. Frequently, the "final boss" was just a really big, nasty monster, usually one that had been stalking you for a time, but was not actually the key to saving the day. Usually that was already in your possession - again, the monster was just a climactic obstacle to overcome, not the goal in and of itself. I feel that's a better model for the majority of games. Sure, have the heroes Talk the Monster to Death, but make sure there's a big bad angry beastie for the player to overcome too, otherwise - even though the narrative has climax - the gameplay does not.

TL;DR: Foozles provide gameplay climax. You do not need a foozle to provide narrative climax.

MNRA:
And to give an example of yet another Foozle-less game: Total annihilation - Kingdoms.

While is wasn't the best game ever, and could've been much better with the implementation of just a few simple extra controls and balances, it certainly did away with the normal campaign mode that we still see today. There was only a single campaign/story available, but each mission gave you control of one of the four (five with the expansion) fractions to further the story. It was -in essence- a WC3-style campaing with side switches after almost every single mission. You could be assaulting the island state of Verona in one mission, and be sailing to the rescue in the next. Even though it was a bit jarring sometimes (But I WANT to play the OTHER side of the story) it still told a much more compelling and good story this way. The original game did have a large battle at the end, the fall of a king etc, but it wasn't a Fozzle per sŤ, there were already loose ends that hinted at a bigger picture as well as the expansion taking off where the original game ended.

If you are a gaming enthusiast who isn't scared by "dated" games and wants to try out what a Foozle-like RTS is like. Try it out. It should be dirt cheap on GOG or something.

When Warcraft 3 was mentioned in the article I immediately thought of TA: Kingdoms as well. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the very last level, after the massive climatic battles, a basic stealth naval mission for the evil side whisking away the remains of their defeated king so he could be resurected to fight again another day? It was a great campaign though how you'd switch back and forth between the 4 factions, in one level you'd establish an outpost on a beach with the naval faction, a few levels later you were driving them out with the best faction.

I also like how it took a unique spin on faction balance. Ususally you either get the simple way of making them mirrors where you had the same units with different skins, or the more standard different play mechanics but finely tuned balance, TA:K created different strengths & weaknesses among the units in land, magic, sea, and air. Depending on who you were using you had to utilize the map to your advantage. It was also a game where you could quickly build strong defenses, so good for us tower whores out there!

For the article, no mention of the ultimate boss game, Shadow of the Colossus? While the main point of the game was to fight bosses, there was no actual foozie there, and ended in an absolutely amazing and unique climax.

Suikoden II also got a shout out here in recognition of it's great and underated bad guy, Luca Blight, but acoiding any spoilers (since you can buy it on the PSN network now I believe) handled him in a very unique and memorial way.

MMO's shouldn't be considered in the foozle discusion. The whole purpose of those games to to be never-ending, and if there is no end then there cannot be a final boss fight. there will always be something after.

thats like lumping tetris (or heaven forbid farmville) into the catagory as well. After all, if there is no progressing story then there cant be a final boss fight right?

while we are at it, does a foozle have to be a sentient antagonist, or do forces of nature count as well?

hello katamri damacy your just cleaning up a mess really nothing to kill to beat the game

The Ultima games were my first foray into RPGs (some might be able to tell from my Avatar), and have shaped what I consider an RPG to this day.

I started with U4 of course, although I never quite got the hang of becoming the Avatar.

Argh. And I thought you'd mention Might and Magic or Heroes of Might and Magic.

Before Starcraft or Warcraft Heroes of Might and Magic allowed you to play either as the villain or the good guy. And in either case you had the chance to change sides halfway through.

The Might and Magic games never had bosses, or at least never had real bosses that're supposed to challenge you in the end in a big fight.

The first Might and Magic had an antagonist who was simply an alien that was trying to return home (like ET), but the process would destroy the world he was in (unlike ET... we assume). But even then, you didn't know that. You go through most of the game having no idea there's a big baddie at the end. The quest is to find the "Inner Sanctum", and you only discover Shelten (the alien) once you get there. And you don't fight him, just stop him and then follow him to another world.

In Might and Magic VII you could, like in Heroes 2, decide to either side with the bad guys or the good guys halfway through the game. But they'd not give you a boss. If you join the good guys you'd be facing the bad guys, obviously, but there's not a boss to target and defeat. In the end you'd either go trekking in a super-hard dungeon that's actually a spaceship for a McGuffin to the good guys or the bad guys, which in the hands of the good guys is used to make a portal to try and reach some benevolent old race that build all the worlds you play in through each Might and Magic, in the hands of the bad guys they use it to mass-produce blasters and unify (conquer) the medieval world of Colony (or at least the continent of Erathia).

And then in Heroes 3 and Heroes 4 you have some of the most excellent narratives ever done in strategy games. In Heroes 3 you play the campaigns alternating through bad guys and good guys (because both sides are heroes, so I can't really say villains) seeing the motivations in each faction as you progress. Then in Heroes 4 most campaigns don't even start with villains to defeat, but just with your singular hero trying to get by in the new world. Though all would eventually develop villains for you to face one way or another, but they weren't the premise at all.

@p3t3r

It's also a game that doesn't qualify the column's definition of Foozle game.

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