Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who's the boss?

So, I stumbled across a video showing the boss fights in the original Metroid. I never really played the first Metriod to any real extent, but I always thought that, as far as bosses go, the first Metroid didn't have much. Ridley and Kraid are little more then common enemies with extra health and Mother Brain is more of a level segment then a fight (although I do think it is nice to see a boss of that kind every once and a while). They would be drastically improved when they returned in squeals and the remake, but here they are rather lame.

The thing is though, I think a lot of old games are guilty of this kind of thing. Bowser in the first Super Mario Bros was the same way -- little more then a upgraded normal enemy then a boss. But then you have to think, what separates a boss from a normal enemy in my mind anyway? It isn't just that they are bigger and stronger then a normal enemy, nor is it that they play diffrent music and are unique.

For me, the games that really set the stage for what bosses in games mean to me, were the Megaman series. In Mega Man, there are generally two kinds of "bosses", the robot master bosses and the fortress bosses, or more formally duel-type bosses and monster-type bosses. In duel-type boss battles, you face an enemy that is fairly evenly matched in terms of size and ability and the player must outmaneuver and/or outsmart the boss.

Duel-type bosses often move and fire based on a pattern and have moves and abilities that are part of that pattern. The battle then becomes adapting to a pattern and exploiting it. The pattern can be simple and/or never change, or complex and alter it's self to different situations, but it is always there. Duel-type boss battles become like delicate waltzes where rhythm and steps are important, and where missteps can have costly consequences. On the other hand, once you get the pattern, it becomes easy. Too easy sometimes.

Monster-type boss battles on the other hand, feature bosses that are much larger and arguably more powerful then the player, but they all feature some crippling weakness that you must find. Monster-type bosses usually assault you with a number of powerful attacks that are more often then not just randomly chosen from a list and thrown about with little strategy or planing. The attacks are powerful but usually only target particular places and can be avoided easily if you keep on your toes. Pattern is less important in monster-type battles, but still comes in to play to frequently to ignore. Instead, it becomes much more important to learn the placement of things rather then the pattern of the boss's moves, and to watch for cues to when to move. Monster-type bosses are usually slow, and announce their attacks far more. Victory becomes more a game of watching and waiting, of calculating every strike and every action, of observing visual cues and watching for a moment of weakness when you can attack. Miscalculating can have as costly or more costly consequences then messing up a pattern in a duel-type boss. But once you know what to watch for and where to step it also becomes fairly easy.

I am not sure if Mega Man really started the trend, but since the Mega Man series became popular almost all game bosses fall under these two types (though more do monster-type then duel-type, which I think is sort of a shame as duel-type fights can be a lot more fun to play) or some combination of the two. Early games where bosses were just harder enemies are mostly a thing of the past. Every once and a while a new types come to play, like puzzle-type (where you solve a puzzle or mini-game to beat a boss), endurance-type (where the boss just beats the crap out of you and you just have to survive, either to a time limit, or often in RPGs, to widdle the HP away and hope your items don't run out), or chase-type (where you either have to chase and catch up to a boss, or are being chased by a boss and have to outrun it). They all share the same theme though: A unique challenge personified by an opponent that has to be overcome.

I wonder though, when and why did games and gamers (me included) become so obsessed with bosses? I hear so much stuff about bosses in games, especially on youtube. So many videos about boss music, "teh best boss EVAR", scary bosses, hard bosses, messed up bosses, etc. Bosses are such a cornerstone of games, and whole games have been made with nothing BUT bosses. The concept of a boss is even something you only ever really see in games. Battles in movies or books are almost never set up as boss battles, and villains in movies and books don't even really need to be attacked and killed directly. I guess it doesn't matter really. There have been games, very good games, some even with rich storylines and characters, that have had no bosses at all. Like Ultima VI, a rpg about a war between two races where, for once, you DIDN'T just slaughter the "bad guys" to solve the world's problems.

I do plan to have bosses in my hack at some point, but most of them are more for fun or for storyline reasons then anything else. Oh well, as long as you have a boss in mind, might as well put it in right?

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