On the Subject of "Boss Battles" as a Concept...

Yes, this is partially because of that other thread about having an option to skip boss fights. However, it's not to do with skipping boss battles but rather the kind of boss battles I'd prefer to see in games.

I'll try to explain what I'd see as an "ideal boss battle" scenario by describing the encounter:

Enemy Elite Tank Ace Squadron Encounter:
So you're playing a tank combat game, going through the missions, taking down the enemy level by level. You're then given a mission that they're telling you is going to be "a walk in the park". Only a handful of enemy vehicles, nothing you can't handle. You could take on a larger force in your sleep.

You prep your unit and roll out to face the enemy. But you can't see them. "Where are they? I thought there were supposed to be-" *BOOM* One of your allies is suddenly hit. You spot a cloud of dust and smoke, but it's obscured behind dense bushes, and you can't see the enemy that fired on you. You suddenly realize you're up against a squadron of enemy tank aces, gathered here to put a stop to you, once and for all.

You have to constantly maneuver, hunt the enemy down through this dense forest, get around their flanks to hit their more vulnerable side and rear armor. And you're losing your squad mates, even as you take down the enemy. It ends up being a battle of minds, where you have to outsmart the enemy squadron leader to finish him off.

The two of you eventually find yourselves in a village that's been torn apart by prior combat. Buildings are barely holding together, and every shot brings down another burned out husk. You move from crater to crater, never knowing where the next attack will come from. Ultimately, you defeat the enemy tank aces. But only after managing to out-THINK your enemies. They were actually no more durable than the regular rank and file, once you got a clear shot at them. They were just a hell of a lot smarter.

And that's generally what I'd like to see for all "boss" encounters, where they're ultimately no more durable and do no more damage than the regular troops you mow down by the hundreds. It's just that they're far smarter than the rank and file.

And I'd really like if this could be applied to difficulty settings, in general. Where enemies aren't simply made tougher, more damaging or more numerous on higher difficulties, just smarter. So the player needs to take a step back and THINK through their battles, instead of making it a matter of choosing the right gear/skills/perks/whatever in order to punch through the enemies' increased health levels and resist their increased damage.

But I fear that none of this is remotely feasible, because programming smart AI for games not only makes things harder for devs, but also takes up more CPU on the end user's hardware. Doesn't it? Then again, First Encounter Assault Recon is fairly old now, the first one anyway, and is still praised for its AI, despite it actually being relatively simplistic at its core, isn't it? But I bet it still runs CPUs into the dirt with how much processing power they take up.

Dynamic AI, along with realistically portrayed environmental damage are big hurdles for even modern hardware. So many variables and points where things can go wrong, like a ripple effect. I'd also like to see more appropriate enemy damage from both visual and physical standpoints. That seems like it'd be more attainable this generation with more and more rendering being materials-based.

While I agree that a bigger better version of the enemies that you normally fight is a nifty idea, I feel like that wouldn't be a satisfying experience if every boss was basically "the same but smarter".

I think what makes a good boss fight is a challenge of everything the player should have learned up to that point, while being memorable in design or character to be remembered. Look back on the greatest bosses of all time, none of them are particularly hard, but they all have memorable designs.

Sephiroth's final fight from Final Fantasy 7 was fantastic because the way his character had been built up to the point. You as the player had this guy built up by the game's story that by the time you got to fight him, you REALLY wanted to fight him. He used devastating attacks that crippled your party but were fair enough that it wasn't hard to recover and counter attack (or beat him in a single turn if you broke the game).

Interactions with bosses are also important. How the player's abilities can play with the mechanics of the game and the boss to fantastic results.

For example the Ghost Train in Final Fantasy 6? Was it memorable because you could one shot it with a phoenix down, or because it was a hard fight? No it was memorable because you could fucking SUPLEX that bitch.

Then I'll just play an enemy player if I just want smarts. I want my bosses to be imposing and intimidating in more ways than JUST more damaging or healthy but intelligence is more enjoyable beating usually when it's a person not me able to go "goddamn CPU".

The problem is that most enemies are easy to kill so unless you can make their AI's read your input (which is just as silly as them having superhuman stamina and health) they'll be really easy to kill. Of course you can make the situation you fight them very unique to their advantage which is well known boss type:
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PuzzleBoss

I like big, epic feeling boss battles with phases and moves that you have to learn and figure out a strategy to counter. Like the best bosses in the Souls series.

I used to be GM of a WoW raiding guild back in the day (2005-2010)... Molten Core, Blackwing Lair, Black Temple... good times. The thing I miss most about it, well besides the comradery, was figuring out strategies for bosses, wiping and learning the fights, and then finally defeating them. Such a rush.

Souls games to me are a lot like that, except solo (although you can co-op). So for me, the discussion of boss fights in today's games begins and ends with the Souls series.

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American Tanker:
Yes, this is partially because of that other thread about having an option to skip boss fights. However, it's not to do with skipping boss battles but rather the kind of boss battles I'd prefer to see in games.

I'll try to explain what I'd see as an "ideal boss battle" scenario by describing the encounter:

Enemy Elite Tank Ace Squadron Encounter:
So you're playing a tank combat game, going through the missions, taking down the enemy level by level. You're then given a mission that they're telling you is going to be "a walk in the park". Only a handful of enemy vehicles, nothing you can't handle. You could take on a larger force in your sleep.

You prep your unit and roll out to face the enemy. But you can't see them. "Where are they? I thought there were supposed to be-" *BOOM* One of your allies is suddenly hit. You spot a cloud of dust and smoke, but it's obscured behind dense bushes, and you can't see the enemy that fired on you. You suddenly realize you're up against a squadron of enemy tank aces, gathered here to put a stop to you, once and for all.

You have to constantly maneuver, hunt the enemy down through this dense forest, get around their flanks to hit their more vulnerable side and rear armor. And you're losing your squad mates, even as you take down the enemy. It ends up being a battle of minds, where you have to outsmart the enemy squadron leader to finish him off.

The two of you eventually find yourselves in a village that's been torn apart by prior combat. Buildings are barely holding together, and every shot brings down another burned out husk. You move from crater to crater, never knowing where the next attack will come from. Ultimately, you defeat the enemy tank aces. But only after managing to out-THINK your enemies. They were actually no more durable than the regular rank and file, once you got a clear shot at them. They were just a hell of a lot smarter.

And that's generally what I'd like to see for all "boss" encounters, where they're ultimately no more durable and do no more damage than the regular troops you mow down by the hundreds. It's just that they're far smarter than the rank and file.

And I'd really like if this could be applied to difficulty settings, in general. Where enemies aren't simply made tougher, more damaging or more numerous on higher difficulties, just smarter. So the player needs to take a step back and THINK through their battles, instead of making it a matter of choosing the right gear/skills/perks/whatever in order to punch through the enemies' increased health levels and resist their increased damage.

But I fear that none of this is remotely feasible, because programming smart AI for games not only makes things harder for devs, but also takes up more CPU on the end user's hardware. Doesn't it? Then again, First Encounter Assault Recon is fairly old now, the first one anyway, and is still praised for its AI, despite it actually being relatively simplistic at its core, isn't it? But I bet it still runs CPUs into the dirt with how much processing power they take up.

Someone's been watching White Tiger again I see.

To this day I still say Mercenaries Playground of Destruction has the best final boss of all time, as it's not just one dude but a whole level tailored to the showdown. For a start you're given a tank for the first time that is far tougher than anything you've driven so far, and yet as you start to get assaulted by all the different types of enemies you've come to know and expect, they get whittled down. First one allied tank is taken out, then the other. If you fight furiously enough yours may survive for a while longer but chances are you'll lose it and have to get through the next base on-foot. You can't just hold your ground and wait for the enemies to run out either- new enemy tanks will steadily come out of that tunnel. Your only chance at success is to push, push, push forward, using all the skills you've learned in the game so far, fighting, hiding or hijacking and trying to stealth through, before you get to the next base and see the checkpoint, nestled at the doorway of a building surrounded by sandbags, too narrow for a vehicle. So you run. A mad dash across the trench dodging gunfire from all sides, just to make it to that checkpoint and trigger the cutscene.

And that's only the first half...

image

I don't mind the idea of that tank fight in the woods, but it's very hard to genuinely create that mood in the player. I wouldn't think an enemy tank was an elite force just because it was squatting in a bush, for instance. We all saw Fury, and we all saw how stupid that Tiger managed to be despite starting with all the advantages, bush included.

image

Operation Flashpoint was great at this sense of getting hunted by tanks, even if I wasn't a fan of the tank missions themselves. There was one where I had a squad to secure a village with, and we took the road straight to it, and ran into a minefield which severely crippled our tanks. We still limped into town only to find a fresh enemy tank squad rolling in right on cue, and despite fighting valiantly my squaddies were destroyed. I took out all but one of the enemy tanks before my cannon was knocked out and I had to leave the tank, and used my RPG on the last tank as it's machine gun chewed up my legs. Lying bleeding on the ground I saw the enemy crew exit their burning tank and I switched to my compact SMG. I crawled in agony up to the central fountain in the town square and took down 2 of the three crewmen, only to swing around and see the last looking right at me. We fired at the same time, my arm got messed up badly but he got hit through the head. The mission Complete message appears as the camera pans back into the sky, showing craters, smashed buildings, six wrecked tanks, 17 dead men, and me, lying in the middle of it all in blood soaked rags that used to be clothes, barely clinging to life... but triumphant.

I'll never forget that mission. And that wasn't even a boss fight, though it easily could have been.

Ace Combat Zero pretty much had exactly what you want in terms of boss fights.

Enemy ace squadrons were never anything more than planes with a special paint job, an into cutscene and either access to special weapons or employing unique tactics.

As much as I love ace squadron style boss fights in the Ace Combat series, it would be boring if every boss was like that. The final boss of Ace Combat Zero wouldn't be anywhere near as satisfying if he could be defeated with just two missiles.

ProfMcStevie:
Then I'll just play an enemy player if I just want smarts. I want my bosses to be imposing and intimidating in more ways than JUST more damaging or healthy but intelligence is more enjoyable beating usually when it's a person not me able to go "goddamn CPU".

Gotta agree with this.

As much as I really enjoy it when developers push the envelop with enemy AI, if I really wanted to play against a smart enemy I'd play online against actual people. No matter how good you make your AI we're still far away from a computer that reacts in a smarter way than a player.

In most games the player has a ton of advantages over the rank and file enemy, not just smarts. You are often straight up tougher and deadlier, you often have a ton of gadgets, you can often move faster etc. Bosses ostensibly go the other way, but the player usually still has a lot of advantages over the boss, typically the ability to avoid all the bosses attacks while the boss has no way to avoid the player's attacks.

In Unreal Tournament the bots have exactly the same capabilities as human players on higher difficulty settings. They're not actually doing anything clever, but the overall experience is similar to playing against humans. The final battle against Xan feels a lot like a duel against a decent player.

So I reckon it's probably enough to give the enemies the same capabilities as the player, and not necessarily to make them super smart.

Dirty Hipsters:

ProfMcStevie:
Then I'll just play an enemy player if I just want smarts. I want my bosses to be imposing and intimidating in more ways than JUST more damaging or healthy but intelligence is more enjoyable beating usually when it's a person not me able to go "goddamn CPU".

Gotta agree with this.

As much as I really enjoy it when developers push the envelop with enemy AI, if I really wanted to play against a smart enemy I'd play online against actual people. No matter how good you make your AI we're still far away from a computer that reacts in a smarter way than a player.

You really missed out, then. I can think of shooters on both PC and console that had AI on par or greater than human opponents- one example listed just above me here. We've reached that milestone- we even surpassed it. Game dev's just don't do it anymore because it's 'hard' and takes 'effort'. Bots also have many, many advantages over playing online, such as these:

image

Squilookle:
image

This image pretty much explains the entirety of why I prefer offline single-player games over multiplayer of any sort.

I never have been able to stick with any gaming groups long-term, and I've never really had much luck with random pubbies either. Which has increasingly led to me playing more single-player games, to the point where I'm playing exclusively SP anymore.

And I'm just going to say: I just never have liked the concept of a "boss battle" as it is typically understood. I find it screws with the pacing of the game, and they often act like sudden difficulty spikes.

gigastar:
Ace Combat Zero pretty much had exactly what you want in terms of boss fights.

Enemy ace squadrons were never anything more than planes with a special paint job, an into cutscene and either access to special weapons or employing unique tactics.

You know, I've got a copy of that but I've yet to actually play it.

I liked the non traditional boss battles in Demon's Souls.

Well, I suppose what I'd like to see with boss battles is more actual skill involved, bosses with weaknesses and tactics with some level of randomness to keep the player on their toes and give repeat fights much more value. For instance, say the first time you fight a boss the boss is weak against fire, and it primarily attempts to stop you from casting spells on it, while the second time you play the game the same boss has a weakness against water and boosts it's speed to make it all but impossible to hit and lets it hit you more often, but also on the second run it could have a weakness to darkness and flies around dodging your attacks. Most bosses I've found have the same weaknesses and do the same things over and over again especially with bosses the player can't directly attack, which makes boss battles the same if you do fight and beat the thing once or a dozen times. Hard bosses are only hard because they either have access to abilities the player doesn't, outright defy the established rules, or spam some insanely powerful move over and over again. Beating bosses quickly either becomes rote because the same tactics that worked to beat the boss the first time work now or extremely frustrating because the boss is very cheap.

I don't necessarily have a definite opinion on the best forms of Bosses. Somewhere between smart (because a big guy that just flails at you as you dodge in repeat patterns is kind of boring) and uniquely designed.

A few of the bad varieties though:

Higher number bosses (Whether just to a static player damage, or a DPS check in more RPGey stuff) tend to be boring and monotonous.

The singular weakness boss. Outside of occasional puzzle use. When literally only one attack or item or spell will defeat the boss. Sometimes to a certain level of logic, but more often then not just arbitrary.

The other one that tends to be more of a nuisance is when the dev has had the brilliant idea to jam mechanics in from other genres that the game really doesn't support. While not actual bosses, to take an example, Destiny's raids have often tossed in platforming in a game with first person jumping, and particularly floaty imprecise jumping on top of that (they've also taken a few jabs at godawful stealth, which they don't have any mechanics supporting at all).

 

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