If you have had the opportunity to play Deus Ex: Human Evolution you may have experienced difficulty in defeating the main bosses. Nearly a month after the game's release, it was revealed that Eidos Montreal had actually outsourced the development of these encounters to another studio. The noticeable disconnect between the game's main gameplay and its overwhelming boss confrontations forced me to think about what I may have done differently. As we design games, we need to constantly evaluate the cohesiveness of our design choices. These five simple critique points can help you reevaluate your boss battle decisions.
4.) Second Chances
1.) Expectations: Is this a challenge my players can expect to beat?
"Please make the bad man go away."
As game designers we are often blinded by our design choices. Designing these scenarios may prevent us from determining whether or not our boss is beatable for the average player. Being the inherent creators of the content, we unfortunately have an advantageous insight into our boss's move sets and exploits. For example, we may know that we need that rocket launcher a level back to make the fight easier; but can we expect our players to know that? If our game has a myriad of accessible play styles, is the boss battle designed to consider all of the different player techniques?
2.) Knowledge: What knowledge will the players need to defeat the boss?
Players should be familiar enough with gameplay controls and their abilities before they encounter a boss. Introducing new mechanics or abilities during a boss battle fails to provide a "unique" challenge. Forcing guesswork during an intense moment may convince players to give up on your game. Establishing the balance between a rewarding challenge and with player skill levels is a difficult design process. Tweaking and play testing your battles will help mitigate player anxiety.
3.) Preparation: Are my players well prepared for the battle?
Often times players are forced into boss battles without the proper resources to defeat their upcoming foes. As a designer you should provide obvious clues or signals that warn the player about the forthcoming scenario. Supplies, pickups, ammunition; typical items your player uses should be found in ample supply before the confrontation. You may want to consider adding ammo and health gathering opportunities during the battle too.
4.) Second Chances: Keep the players going.
"Uh, I'm not ready for this. Can I go back to grinding?"
Boss battles are designed to test what players have learned; challenging them in difficult situations that can be realistically beaten. Sometimes designers create a boss battle that feels like a brick wall; making it very difficult for the players to scale and overcome (I'm looking at you Final Fantasy). Provide check points or opportunities for the player to regain their composure. Long battles and constant deaths can easily result in player fatigue. Think about the different phases that allow for good check points, to help players who are having difficulty defeating your boss.
5.) Rewarding: Is my boss battle fun and rewarding for my players?
Always award your players. When a player defeats a boss they should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Either because they enjoyed being tested or because they are rewarded with a game enhancement or unlock. Make your battles meaningful. A typical game gives you a boss battle because most gamers expect that challenge to be there. Creating unique challenges establishes a great foundation for player accomplishment and reward. Always ask yourself: Is this fun?
How does your boss battle stack up? By asking yourself these questions, you can reevaluate your decisions on how to make a fun and exciting challenge for your players.