I’m posting another comment I made after a Joystiq post – “Death to Bosses”. The post was rant about how bad bosses are for games, how they kill gameplay, artificially lengthen games, etc. While I didn’t disagree entirely, I felt an end-level boss can be a good thing. Not only that, but the idea that a boss is an interruption in the game may be backwards in terms of story telling…
“I think my take on bosses have been touched on pretty well in the previous comments. It’s really all in the implementation. To use a pretty unflattering analogy, a good boss should be like a final paper in a class. You’ve spent all this time studying your character and abilities on these lesser tasks, now lets see if you can string it all together. It’s a good test to see how far you’ve come in mastering the game. The problem occurs where the everything that lead up to the boss was absolutely no help in defeating the boss (remember the end boss for the 1st Devil May Cry? When did it become a rail shooter?). Repeating the level wouldn’t be so bad if the level offered any help beating it. Otherwise, just let me continue somewhat close to the boss so I don’t waste time honing one set of skills that will be useless in the end.
On a different level, and to restate what has been already said, bosses really are a staple of story telling. Whether it’s a physical person shooting at you, the protagonist’s own trouble mind, an uncaring mother, life in general, etc. It’s all about conflict and resolution so one can argue that bosses are really there as the bridge between Point A and Point B in a plot. The problem here is that unlike a book or a movie, developers can’t (or won’t) fill in the spaces between those conflicts with descriptions of your characters plight or witty dialogue or some random side story, instead we get more action. So we have conflict just to get to the real conflict which can make the boss seem like an annoyance when they should feel like goal post you’ve been working towards.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure you can get around this in an action game, the point of the game is the fighting. In an adventure game you spend most of the time between bosses exploring and learning about the world around you so each boss really does feel like a transition. But if you’re constantly fighting in a game how do you set the markers? You have to cut up the constant wave of fodder with something so the players feel like they are getting somewhere. Making the levels missioned based (like FPSs) is one way I suppose, but I think a well integrated boss can work too.
Its funny that DMC3 was used as an example in the post, because I think it really captures both the good and the bad. After every boss I felt I gained something. Not just a new weapon, but greater control of Dante and his various abilities. Exactly what I’m looking for in a boss, something that makes me better at the game. But this was after going through the ENTIRE LEVEL several times. There is no need for me to fight the same punk monsters and solve the same puzzles just so I just get another few minutes to recognize weaknesses and patterns…. though trying to preserve as much energy as possible during the level did make me better for the boss…”
From the comments I also found this editorial that goes into the subject a little more detail. While the author’s cynicism is a little annoying (I mean “Metal Gear Stupid”? Come on) I see where they were getting at. But for the reasons I mentioned above, bosses aren’t all that bad. They are just easily abused and used incorrectly.
Kind of like Flash.